Billy Ripken's Play Was Obscenely Bad In 1988
First things first. If you’re not familiar with the WAR (Wins Above Replacement Player) statistic, there’s a definition of it here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Wins_Above_Replacement_Player If you’re not inclined to click the link, the stat “attempts to express the total number of wins that a given player adds to his team over the course of a season by comparing the player’s performance with that of a fictitious “replacement player”. A “replacement player” is assumed to be an average Triple-A callup who might appear in the majors only as replacement for an injured player, and whose hitting, fielding, and (if applicable) pitching skills are far below league average.”
Some players performance falls so far short of acceptable levels that they accumulate a negative WAR total for a given season, usually costing them their job in the process. However, teams sometimes keep giving playing time to guys who absolutely aren’t earning it. That brings us to 25-man roster of the worst WAR totals in the 57-season history (1954-2010) of the Baltimore Orioles. Some players were so terribly bad in limited play that their WAR scores would’ve “earned” them a spot on this team, but I’ve selected the roster using players who actually spent the bulk of the season on the active roster.
We’ll start in the bullpen with a handful of guys who pitched so poorly in limited innings that a hypothetical Triple-A callup probably would’ve helped the ballclub more in the standings. MIKE FLANAGAN (-1.3 WAR in 1992) is the token lefty, based on his career-ending 40-year-old season in which he posted an 8.05 ERA as a LOOGY in 42 appearances. The league batted .338 against him, and he walked more men than he struck out. DICK HALL (-1.4 WAR in 1971)’s raw numbers don’t look so bad compared to a lot of these guys with a 4.98 ERA as a 40-year-old for a pennant-winning team, but like Flanagan he went into retirement after a campaign that landed him here. JIM McDONALD (-1.4 WAR in 1955) didn’t retire after stinking it up in his only season as an Oriole, but “Hot Rod” got traded before the season was even complete and took nearly a year and three transactions to get back to the big leagues and finish up his nine-year career with little distinction. JIMMY HAYNES (-1.6 WAR in 1996) wound up in the bullpen after recording an unbelievable 10.08 ERA in 11 starts as a touted youngster. He didn’t fare much better in relief, and got dealt away for Geronimo Berroa the following year. He actually recovered enough of his promise to last a decade in the bigs and win 63 games. KEN DIXON (-1.7 WAR in 1987) was another kid the Orioles once expected big things from. Less than a year after striking out 13 Chicago White Sox, “Boom Boom” found himself in the midst of an mystifying campaign in which he surrendered 31 longballs in just 105 innings, flunked a trial in the closer role, and hurled what proved to be the final innings of his major league career.
The rotation features DAVE SCHMIDT (-1.9 WAR in 1989), the Opening Day starter for the “Why Not?” squad, who won 10 games despite getting mostly pounded and striking out just 46 men in 159 2/3 innings. DAVE JOHNSON (-2.0 WAR in 1991) was a hometown boy with a feel good story in two previous seasons with the Birds, but he was so godawful in ’91 when the league slugged .563 against him that he was unceremoniously released and finished as a major leaguer save for a 12.96 ERA in a half-dozen appearances for the Tigers. ARNIE PORTOCARRERO (-2.0 WAR in 1959) had been a 15-game winner the previous year, but suffered through a miserable year in which he coughed up 107 hits versus just 23 strikeouts over 90 innings. Pitchers still hit back then, and he was a minus with the bat in his hands, too. JACK FISHER (-2.2 WAR in 1962) had three decent seasons after arriving as part of the Kiddie Corps, but everything changed for “Fat Jack” when was tagged for a 1.507 WHIP as a 23-year-old. The Orioles dealt him away after the season, and he eventually lost 73 games in just four years with some pitiful early Mets clubs. JEFF BALLARD (-2.3 WAR in 1991) was just two years removed from an 18-win season when the southpaw recorded the worst season based on WAR by any Orioles pitcher in history. His Baltimore career was over, and his big league career would be as well after some forgettable work for the Pirates.
At Designated Hitter, it pains me to point out that my childhood hero, KEN SINGLETON (-2.3 WAR in 1984), wrapped up his distinguished 15-year career on such a downer. After rebounding during Baltimore’s World Series run the previous year, the switch-hitting Singy was equally inept from both sides of the plate and retired at age 37 to get into broadcasting.
In the outfield, you could platoon JAY GIBBONS (-1.8 WAR in 2007) with DICK WILLIAMS (-1.7 WAR in 1961). Gibbons, a former Rule 5 draftee who had highs of 28 homers and 100 RBIs in Baltimore, was named in the Mitchell Report and posted a .620 OPS before disappearing from MLB…only to work his way back and resurface with the Dodgers this year. Williams responded to being acquired for a third time by Baltimore with an all-around poor performance. Before the decade was over, he’d commence a managing career that landed him in the Hall of Fame. Centerfield sadly (in this case) belongs to PAUL BLAIR (-2.2 WAR in 1976), who batted an anemic .197 in his final season as a regular and failed to win a Gold Glove for the first time in eight years. The Orioles dealt him away to the Yankees, and Blair earned two more World Series rings as a reserve. Former All Star KEVIN BASS (-1.6 WAR in 1995) gets the call in right, where he wrapped up his 14-year career with a largely lousy effort after signing with Baltimore as a free agent. LARRY SHEETS (-1.6 WAR in 1988) had been a lethal left-handed power bat for three seasons, but his magic mostly disappeared in the year of the 0-21-starting Zer-O’s.
Catcher AL PARDO (-1.4 WAR in 1985) was a switch-hitter in name only. His .133/.167/.147 slash line in 1985 was almost identical to the results he managed in parts of three other seasons. GUS TRIANDOS (-1.2 WAR in 1962) had been a three-time All Star for Baltimore, but Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleball gave him fits and he was a mess in hitting just .159 in 207 at bats. The Orioles traded him after the season, and three teams gave him chances the next three years, but the slugging backstop never regained his form.
When JIM TRABER (-1.7 WAR in 1988) hit his first eight major league homers in a 17-day span two years before, some people in Baltimore actually wanted to dump Eddie Murray to make room for him. Actually, the Orioles basically did that after this debacle of a season, and Traber’s offensive numbers actually got worse the following year. TONY MUSER (-1.8 WAR in 1976) had a reputation as a good glove man, but a .227/.270/.264 slash line at a power spot just wasn’t getting it done. That was the year before Murray arrived, so these two are bookends of the Eddie era, so to speak.
Eighteen-year-old bonus baby WAYNE CAUSEY (-1.7 WAR in 1955) was overmatched as a rookie when he batted just .194, but carved out a solid big league career starting six years later after the Orioles had traded him away. TY WIGGINTON (-2.0 WAR in 2009) became Baltimore’s first player in the Camden Yards era to finish two games below replacement level after signing as a free agent, but rebounded with a strong first half the following year to earn an All Star selection for the first (and probably only) time in his career.
Shortstop BILLY HUNTER (-1.4 WAR in 1954) didn’t distinguish himself much on the field with the first modern Orioles squad before being dealt away in a massive 17-player deal after the season, but of course he returned years later as a coach for some of the greatest teams in franchise history.
Second base is where I’ll list this team’s utility infielder, FRED MARSH (-1.4 WAR in 1955). Marsh didn’t hit much at all, and wrapped up his seven-year big league career in a Baltimore uniform the following year. Last, and in this case least, comes BILLY RIPKEN (-2.5 WAR in 1988), who recorded the worst WAR figure in Baltimore Orioles history. To be fair, his dad got canned as manager a mere six games into the season, and the team kept running him out there in the hopes that the .308 he hit as a rookie the previous year wasn’t a mirage. It was. No matter how you slice it, a .207/.260/.258 slash line for a guy that started 146 games is awfully bad.
Honorable mention: David Segui began his career with three straight seasons at least one full game below replacement level for the Orioles from 1990-92. As far as I know, no other Oriole got enough rope (or playing time) to be that sub par for so long. Hayden Penn also deserves a mention for finishing a full 1.9 games below replacement level despite appearing in only six games!!! How is that possible, you may ask? The 15.10 ERA and 2.593 WHIP Penn posted in 2006 is how.
BASS: .244, 5hr, 32rbi
HUNTER: .243, 2hr, 27rbi
SINGLETON: .215, 6hr, 36rbi
SHEETS: .230, 10hr, 47rbi
WIGGINTON: .273, 11hr, 41rbi
TRABER: .222, 10hr, 45rbi
TRIANDOS: .159. 6hr, 23rbi
BLAIR: .197, 3hr, 16rbi
RIPKEN: .207, 2hr, 34rbi
CAUSEY: .194, 1hr, 9rbi
GIBBONS: .230, 6hr, 28rbi
MARSH: .218, 2hr, 19rbi
MUSER: .227, 1hr, 30rbi
PARDO: .133, 0hr, 1rbi
WILLIAMS: .206, 8hr, 24rbi
BALLARD: 6-12, 5.60
FISHER: 7-9, 5.09, 1 save
JOHNSON: 4-8, 7.07
PORTOCARRERO: 2-7, 6.80
SCHMIDT: 10-13, 5.69
DIXON: 7-10, 6.43, 5 saves
FLANAGAN: 0-0, 8.05, 0 saves
HALL: 6-6, 4.98, 1 save
HAYNES: 3-6, 8.29, 1 save
McDONALD: 3-5, 7.14, 0 saves