The Pirates might not have been the worst hitting team in baseball last season, but they ended up the worst overall by no small margin. The Mariners, at 6.1 wins, produced -138.4 wRAA to the Pirates’ -99, but an 88-run difference in fielding left the Mariners with 6.1 Wins Above Replacement, more than doubling the Pirates’ 2.8. This represents the lowest team batting/fielding WAR since the Diamondbacks finished with -1.2 WAR in 2004. Yet that’s not the most interesting part. Clicking through to the Pirates team WAR figures, one thing stands out. It will make you laugh or cry, depending on your allegiances.
Andrew McCutchen produced more WAR than the entire Pittsburgh offense and defense, himself included.
Since the Diamondbacks’ foray into negative WAR values in 2004, we have for the most part seen the bottom teams produce somewhere around 6 WAR. These teams might have a few quality players contributing to their WAR totals, but they lack a single one who creates more value than the rest of the team squanders. It happened in 2007, when the White Sox produced 3.6 WAR and Jim Thome accounted for 3.7, but that was the only occurrence, other than McCutchen last season, since 2004.
What’s a bit odd is that from the start of the FanGraphs’ era, in 2002, through 2004, one team produced a negative WAR. They therefore had at least one player who out-WARred the entire team. Yet since 2004 we’ve seen just two players out-WAR the team, and we’ve seen zero teams drop below zero wins. It’s a phenomenon for which I have no explanation. But I can dive into the records and show which players produced for these teams, and which players offset that production.
2002: Detroit Tigers, -0.1 WAR
The Tigers were not only the worst offensive team in 2002, they had about a win between them and the second worse offensive team. To make matters worse they were also the worst defensive team in the league. The Expos were close, but both of those teams were more than a win worse than the third-worst team (the Yankees). Surprisingly, the Tigers had two players who produced more than 1.0 WAR. Unfortunately, they also had two players who produced worse than -1 WAR.
2003: Detroit Tigers, -1.1 WAR
While the 2002 Tigers stunk, the 2003 Tigers ended up as one of the worst teams of the last 20 years. They finished at 43-119, and their offense and fielders produced -1.1 WAR. They were again the worst offensive team in the league, but they managed to avoid the cellar on defense. Still, the offense was bad enough to again drag them into the negatives. In this year they had one player who produced more than 2 WAR, but again had a nice list of trailers who completely ruined that production.
2004: Arizona Diamondbacks, -1.2 WAR
The Tigers made a complete u-turn in 2004, going from -1.1 WAR to +22.2. The Diamondbacks fell on hard times, though, finishing with -1.2 WAR. This came mostly on the batting end, where they were three wins worse than the next worst team. That tends to happen when you have three players who drag you down by a win or more. Unsurprisingly, two of these are pitchers. But they were still bad enough, even when batting just every five days, to put a damper on the Arizona offense.
The All-Out-Produce Team
There are players beyond the ones outlined above who out-produced their team in WAR during those seasons. It was kind of hard not to, seeing as the teams were in the negatives. For the moment let’s leave them out. After all, producing a -0.9 WAR, even if you out-WAR the team, isn’t much to brag about. There are four players since 2002 who have out-WARred an entire team while the team was in the positive.
Andrew McCutchen, 2010: 3.3 WAR — Pittsburgh: 2.8 WAR
Jim Thome, 2007: 3.7 WAR — Chicago (AL): 3.6 WAR
David DeJesus, 2005: 3.5 WAR — Kansas City: 2.9 WAR
Joe Randa, 2004: 3.4 WAR — Kansas City: 2.9 WAR