The “L” in Orioles & the “O” in Loss
In recent years, I’ve been told over and over again by wannabe sabermetricians that pitchers’ won-lost records are “meaningless” or “worthless” or some such nonsense. The effects of run support, defensive support, plain old luck and the litany of things beyond a hurler’s control are not foreign to me; but I’m not about to swallow nonsensical overstatements when it comes to this. Maybe it’s because I used to be a pitcher myself, but I tend much more towards the school of “you are what your record says you are”.
With that in mind, here –by one measure, anyway– are the biggest losers in the history of the modern (1954-present) Baltimore Orioles. We’re zooming in on the ten pitchers in franchise history who lost at least ten more decisions than they won.
JOSE BAUTISTA (1988-1991) – A Rule 5 acquisition from the New York Mets prior to the disastrous 1988 season (54-107), Bautista went 10-20 in his Orioles career, primarily in a starting role. He was arguably the best pitcher on the horrendous ’88 squad that started 0-21, though he only had a 6-15 won-lost mark to show for it. After leaving Baltimore, he went 22-22 for four clubs the rest of his career, mostly out of the bullpen.
DANIEL CABERA – (2004-2008) – The tallest pitcher in club history had a .500 career mark for teams considerably worse than that until mid-May 2007 after being rushed to the majors after a cup of coffee in Double-A. Since then, he’s mostly been pounded as his velocity and K-rate have dipped dramatically & his elbow started hurting. The big Dominican’s future with the Orioles is very much in doubt with his career record currently at 48-59.
JOSE MESA (1987-1992) – “Joe Table” had the crummiest ERA+ (74) of any pitcher on this list during his time with the Orioles, and rang up a 13-24 record in 47 starts (plus two relief outings) for Baltimore. A year-and-a-half after he was traded away, Mesa moved to the bullpen, saved 321 games, made two All-Star appearances and helped the Cleveland Indians win a pair of pennants.
JAY TIBBS (1988-1990) – He went 11-22 for Baltimore, including 4-15 for the 1988 horror show. A 26-year-old with a 27-32 career mark when the Orioles traded three players for him and a minor leaguer, Tibbs threw only seven more major league innings after leaving the O’s. Just one of the three players Baltimore traded for him ever saw the majors, posting an 11.57 ERA in less than five innings.
SIDNEY PONSON (1998-2005) – One of the most maddening pitchers ever to wear a Baltimore uniform, few have ever provoked the ire of the fans like Sir Sidney. His girth, his arrests, his notorious drinking…none of them could be offset by his 73-85 won-lost record. After waiting five years for him to realize his potential, the Orioles traded Ponson after a 14-6 start in 2003 with him about to test free agency. Baltimore actually outbid his other suitors to bring him back, then watched him go 18-26 less than two years later.
JORGE JULIO (2001-2005) – It’s tempting to make excuses for Julio’s 11-24 won-lost record as an Oriole by pointing out that he spent much of his time in the closer’s role, and is the only pitcher on this list with a better-than-league-average ERA, but the way he’s bounced through six uniforms in three seasons since leaving Baltimore makes you suspect the numbers weren’t really deceiving you after all.
ERV PALICA (1955-1956) – Palica finished up his major league career with a couple seasons for some bad Baltimore clubs, but going 9-22 along the way with sub-mediocre peripherals makes me believe he was part of the problem rather than some sort of victim.
JEFF BALLARD (1987-1991) – The Stanford southpaw had split Orioles careers. There was 1989, when he went 18-8 for the “Why Not?” surprise contenders, and the rest of the time, when he went 18-43. He resurfaced briefly as a reliever with the Pirates, but was out of pro ball to stay by age 31.
JASON JOHNSON (1999-2003) – For three of his seasons in Baltimore, he was a competent pitcher for some bad teams, compiling won-lost marks of 8-7, 10-12 & 10-10. The other two years? We’re talking 1-10 and 5-14 for an overall Orioles record of 34-53. It ain’t just bad luck folks. J.J.’s pitched for seven other big league teams, going 22-47 for a 56-100 career mark though 2008.
DON LARSEN (1954 & 1965) – When the Orioles returned to Baltimore in 1954, Larsen was a sought after trade commodity, but the brash youngster suffered through a 3-21 learning experience. (That season will be the subject of a whole post one of these days). Traded to the Yankees, he went 39-17 the next four years and famously pitched the only perfect game in the history of the World Series. Larsen returned to the O’s as a reliever in 1965 and pitched well, but went 1-2 to wrap up his Orioles career with an amazingly inept 4-23 record! For seven other teams, he went 77-68 in a 14-year career.