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Giants May Be Next Member of First-To-Worst Club

The Giants have not had a great year, to put it plainly. In first place as late as May 26, things went south in a hurry, and they have spent most of August in last place. The race for the bottom in the National League West remains tight — only two games separate the third-place Rockies and last-place Giants. Still, the team’s predicament begs the question of whether or not San Francisco will be the next member in the selective first-to-worst club.

By my count — and keep in mind that I could have overlooked someone — the club is comprised of only eight teams, and three of them come with asterisks. First, the list:

Tm Yr 1 Record W-L% Finish Playoffs Yr 2 Record W-L% Finish
MIN Twins 2010 94-68 0.580 1st of 5 Lost LDS (3-0) 2011 63-99 0.389 5th of 5
TEX Rangers 1999 95-67 0.586 1st of 4 Lost LDS (3-0) 2000 71-91 0.438 4th of 4
PHI Athletics 1914 99-53-6 0.651 1st of 8 Lost WS (4-0) 1915 43-109-2 0.283 8th of 8
OAK Athletics 1992 96-66 0.593 1st of 7 Lost ALCS (4-2) 1993 68-94 0.420 7th of 7
MON Expos 1994 74-40 0.649 1st of 5 N/A 1995 66-78 0.458 5th of 5
FLO Marlins 1997 92-70 0.568 2nd of 5 Won WS (4-3) 1998 54-108 0.333 5th of 5
CIN Reds 1981 66-42 0.611 1st of 6 N/A 1982 61-101 0.377 6th of 6
SD Padres 1996 91-71 0.562 1st of 4 Lost LDS (3-0) 1997 76-86 0.469 4th of 4

The 1998 Marlins are a bit of a compromise, because as wild card turned World Series winners, the 1997 Marlins didn’t actually finish in first. Still, I had to include them because they were the only team to actually win the World Series one season and then finish in last place in the next. The 1982 Reds finished last on the heels of what was technically a first-place team, but due to the screwy way the 1981 season played out, Cincinnati didn’t make the postseason. They were second in each “half” of the season, and had the best record overall, but the playoff contestants were those that won each “half.” The 1994 Expos were robbed of a chance to take their crown, and the strike was the start of their ending. They didn’t have a true fire sale in the way the Marlins did because Larry Walker was free to sign with whomever he wanted, but the trades of Marquis Grissom, Ken Hill and John Wetteland in one 48-hour period were pretty damaging.

The worst offender on this list is also the first — the 1915 Philly Athletics. The team nearly 100 games in the regular season, but during the World Series they were either distracted by the newly formed Federal League or willfully tanking to spite manager Connie Mack and his cheapness. Whatever the reason, they were promptly broomed by the Boston Braves and then went on to seven straight last-place finishes. From 1915-1921, they went a collective 323-710-8, for an unfathomable .310 winning percentage.

All of the teams are more recent, when smaller divisions make it a little easier to go from first to worst. The Athletics became the first franchise to have two first-to-worst episodes when they bottomed out in 1993. Jose Canseco was gone, Mark McGwire was injured and Carney Lansford had retired. His replacement, Craig Paquette, posted a 67 wRC+, which couldn’t even compare to what Lansford had done in his last gasp. Ruben Sierra and Dave Henderson combined for -2.9 WAR as the starting right and center fielder, respectively. Henderson had only played nine games in center the previous season, but in ’93 he started 57 games there. The next season he would start in 37 games and then retire.

In 1999, two of the Rangers’ four best players were Juan Gonzalez and Aaron Sele. They were able to replace Sele with Kenny Rogers, but no one shined in Gonzalez’s wake. In addition, the team only received 89 games from Ivan Rodriguez — who still managed to compile 1.6 WAR more than the team’s next-best position player (Rafael Palmeiro, who played a full season). The starting pitching was worse, the hitting was bad and the fielding ranked dead last in the game.

In 2011, the Twins began a tailspin that they don’t figure to come out of any time soon. After a productive season in 2010, Delmon Young went back to being Delmon Young and Tsuyoshi Nishioka happened. The team’s five-best players in 2010 had been Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Francisco Liriano, Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson. In ’11, Hudson went elsewhere, Thome and Liriano weren’t up to par (that’s putting it kindly in Liriano’s case) and Mauer and Morneau got hurt. If that isn’t a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is.

Then there are the 1997 Padres. If they seem relevant to this discussion, it’s because their manager was one Bruce Douglas Bochy. They were also the best of the last-place teams here. At 76-86, they weren’t that bad. The hitting was actually pretty good. When you remove pitcher hitting, San Diego’s 108 wRC+ ranked eighth in baseball. Tony Gwynn, Ken Caminiti, Wally Joyner and Rickey Henderson all posted wRC+’s of 127 or better. The pitching and the defense, however, were terrible. Both ranked dead last in the game, and their -132 Fld mark still stands as the fourth-worst team mark since 1947.

This year’s Giants have been nowhere near as poor with the leather. In fact, they rank sixth in fielding as a team, and their wRC+ ranks 11th when you strip out pitchers. They would probably just like to strip out pitchers in general. While not as bad on their face as the ’97 Padres, but they’re close. The ’97 team had a 114 FIP-, and this year’s Giants are sporting a 109 FIP-. The odd thing is that this Giants team does have good pitching. But the combination of none of their good pitchers being great and their bad pitchers being really bad have conspired to torpedo the staff as a whole.

Even with the shaky pitching though, the Giants still don’t seem like they deserve to be in the company of the other denizens of the first-to-worst club. To wit:

Team NP wRC+ Rank FIP- Rank Fld Rank
1915 Athletics 92 13 of 16 127 16 of 16 -62 16 of 16
1982 Reds 87 23 of 26 95 9 of 26 -56 23 of 26
1992 Athletics 101 14 of 28 116 28 of 28 -40 22 of 28
1995 Expos 94 21 of 28 94 6 of 28 -7 18 of 28
1997 Padres 108 6 of 28 114 28 of 28 -132 28 of 28
1998 Marlins 92 23 of 30 121 30 of 30 -12 22 of 30
2000 Rangers 97 18 of 30 103 23 of 30 -61 30 of 30
2011 Twins 93 25 of 30 106 25 of 30 -12.8 20 of 30
2013 Giants 103 11 of 30 109 26 of 30 19.9 6 of 30

The Giants are in the top half of the league in two of three categories, and aren’t last in anything. The other teams here weren’t above average in more than one category, and five of the teams finished last in at least one of the three categories — the ’15 A’s and ’97 Padres came in last in two of the three. And yet, here the Giants find themselves — last place for a month. They may not wind up there, but either way it certainly has been a sobering season.