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Is this the worst Orioles team in recent history?

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There’s a good argument to be made that it is. The truth hurts sometimes.

MLB: JUN 23 Astros at Orioles
Defense, just one facet of the game the 2021 Orioles aren’t good at.
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After last night’s latest mind-numbing loss, a 9-0 shutout to Toronto on the heels of a 13-0 shutout against Houston before that, some fans are starting to ask if so much limp, unwatchable baseball indicates that the 2021 Orioles are flirting with all-time disastrousness. Technically, the franchise’s worst season of all time was 1939, when the St. Louis Browns skidded to a .279 winning percentage (with 43 wins and 111 losses). In modern history, the 2018 Orioles have that honor, with a .290 win percentage in Buck Showalter’s last year.

Badness is not just about the record, though. You’d agree that a team that features Cal Ripken, Jr. in his last season at third base is less sad than one where Rio Ruiz takes all the hacks? To get a fuller sense of the lowest lows, I took a look at how the team hit as a collective, how they pitched, and who filled out their roster. So here is a list of the worst Orioles teams in recent history. They comprise all of the post-2000 teams with a winning percentage below .400, and all of the post-2017 Orioles teams who’ve helped make this period we’re currently in (“The Rebuild”) as dark as it is.

Here are The Contenders.

2001
Win-Loss record: 63-98 (.391 winning percentage, 4th in AL East).
Manager: Mike Hargrove, in his second of four seasons. The Orioles finished fourth in the AL in all of them.
Team Batting: .248 AVG, .319 OBP, .699 OPS
Team Pitching: 4.67 ERA, 6.5 WAR, 1.2 HR/9
Most Valuable Orioles: 1B Jeff Conine (2.9 WAR, hit .311 with 97 RBIs in 139 games, MVO Award); CF Melvin Mora (hit just .250 but played good defense, 2.5 WAR); DH Tony Batista (.266 average, .733 OPS); LF Chris Richard (.265, 61 RBIs). The better pitchers included Calvin Maduro (5-6, 4.23 ERA in 12 starts), Josh Towers (8-10, 4.49 ERA in 20 starts), Jason Johnson (10-12, 4.09 ERA in 32 starts), and closer Buddy Groom (3.55 ERA, 11 saves in 35 tries).
Least Valuable Players Who Got Regular Playing Time: It was the great Ripken’s last season, and unfortunately, not a good one (a -0.6 WAR in 128 games). Catcher Brook Fordyce didn’t add much on offense or defense (.209 BA/.268 OBP, with -6 runs saved in 95 games).
Verdict: Far from the saddest Orioles team in history. Did not, actually, finish last in the AL East, thanks to a crappy 62-100 season by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Pitching was not “standout bad,” either, with an ERA that was just average. Also featured some notable Orioles (Brady Anderson and Ripken in their last seasons, Mike Bordick, Melvin Mora, and a rookie Brian Roberts.)

2009 –
Win-Loss record: 64-98 (.395 winning percentage, 5th in the AL East)
Manager: Dave Trembley, in his third season, and his last full one (he’d be fired in June 2010). Trembley’s .398-win percentage with the team (187-283 record) was the second-lowest in team history (but today, Brandon Hyde has him beat, at .357).
Team Batting: .268 AVG, .332 OBP, .747 OPS
Team Pitching: 5.15 ERA, 9.1 WAR, 1.4 HR/9
Most Valuable Orioles: Brad Bergersen, believe it or not (3.3 WAR, 3.43 ERA). Followed, in order of WAR, by Brian Roberts (.283, 179 hits, Most Valuable Oriole winner), Nick Markakis (.293, 188 hits), Nolan Reimold (eh?), Adam Jones (.277, .792 OPS), and Jeremy Guthrie (10-17, 5.04 ERA).
Least Valuable Players Who Got Regular Playing Time: LHP Rich Hill (7.80 ERA, 1.873 WHIP), IF Ty Wigginton (-17 runs saved), 1B Aubrey Huff (-1 WAR), SP Jason Berken (6-12, 1.738 WHIP)
Verdict: A disastrous staff, ranking 14th of 15 AL teams in most important categories: ERA, hits, runs, and home runs allowed. But the team gave fans some reasons to watch: Adam Jones in a dynamic rookie year with the O’s, Nick Markakis, cracking the 100-RBI threshold, Matt Wieters, with a .288/.340/.412 line and 102 hits, Luke Scott’s 25 home runs, another solid year from Brian Roberts. As a team, this group had the fifth-best team average and total hits in the AL. Too dynamic and good at hitting to be historically bad.

2018 –
Win-Loss record: 47-115 (.290 winning percentage, 5th in AL East).
Manager: Buck Showalter
Team Batting: .239 AVG, .298 OBP, .689 OPS
Team Pitching: 5.18 ERA, 8.8 WAR, 1.5 HR/9
Most Valuable Orioles: Manny Machado (4.6 oWAR, in just half a season), Jonathan Schoop (.244, 17 HRs in 85 games), Kevin Gausman (2.4 WAR), Renato Núñez (1.6 WAR in 60 games), Jonathan Villar (.258 and 27 RBIs in 54 games), Adam Jones (2.4 oWAR, MVO winner)
Least Valuable Players Who Got Regular Playing Time: Chris Davis (-3.3 WAR), Adam Jones (-14 runs saved in CF), Chris Tillman (-1.1 WAR).
Verdict: Strong contender for saddest. There was something especially sad about this team, which admitted midway through the season that the party was over, swapping Machado for Tim Beckham, Schoop for Jace Peterson, and a struggling Adam Jones for a not-yet-ready Cedric Mullins. The pitching was some of the worst in the AL, too.

2019 –
Win-Loss record: 54-108 (.333 winning percentage, 5th in AL East).
Manager: Brandon Hyde, taking over with the thinnest of rosters and expectations historically low.
Team Batting: .246 AVG, .310 OBP, .725 OPS
Team Pitching: 5.59 ERA, 8.0 WAR, 1.9 HR/9
Most Valuable Orioles: John Means (3.60 ERA, 130 ERA+), Jonathan Villar (4.5 WAR), Trey Mancini (3.9 WAR, MVO winner), Hanser Alberto (3.5 WAR) and Andrew Cashner (9-3, 3.83 ERA)
Least Valuable Players Who Got Regular Playing Time: Most of the pitching staff, headed by Dan Straily (-1.3 WAR), David Hess (7.26 FIP, 3.2 HR/9), Gabriel Ynoa (a W-L record of 1-10), and Shawn Armstrong (1.546 WHIP). Even Paul Fry sucked this year (a 5.13 ERA and 4.6/9 walk rate). Black holes at the plate included Richie Martin (who hit .208 in 120 games) and Chris Davis (a .179 average and 139 K’s in 307 at-bats). And in the field: Richie Martin again (-8 runs saved), Dwight Smith Jr. (-6), and Pedro Severino (-6).
Verdict: Poor Brandon Hyde, having to watch this team give up more home runs than any other in history. A doctored ball partly explains it, but there’s no denying this may have been the worst pitching staff in Orioles history. When Jesús Sucre and Stevie Wilkerson come out to finish games, you know things are serious. On offense, there were some fun times: Jonathan Villar mashed, so did Trey, and Hanser Alberto flirted with a batting title through September. But overall, a distinct lack of talent in this bunch.

2020 –
Win-Loss record: 25-35 (.417 winning percentage, 4th in AL East).
Manager: Brandon Hyde, dealing with . . . a lot this Covid-shortened season.
Team Batting: .258 AVG, .321 OBP, .750 OPS
Team Pitching: 4.51 ERA, 9.0 WAR, 1.4 HR/9
Most Valuable Orioles: Anthony Santander (MVO in just 37 games, Gold Glove finalist), José Iglesias (.373 BA, .956 OPS in 39 games), Tanner Scott (1.31 ERA, 1.065 WHIP, and a 358 ERA+), and Alex Cobb (4.30 ERA, 108 ERA+).
Least Valuable Players Who Got Regular Playing Time: That’s the thing, only Chris Davis, Dwight Smith Jr., Mason Williams and Bryan Holaday had negative WAR as hitters, and they played 21 or fewer games each. The only pitchers with a negative WAR were Cody Carroll, Wade LeBlanc, Asher Wojciechowski, Cole Sulser, Jorge López, and Bruce Zimmermann.
Verdict: Surprising that this Orioles team did as well as they did: it was a minor miracle to outplay the Red Sox in the AL East, and seemingly all the team got for it was a worse draft pick in 2021. Somehow, bad performances were limited all around, but in a fluky-feeling way given the small sample size.

2021 –
Win-Loss Record: 23-52 (.306 winning percentage, 5th in AL East through 75 games)
Manager: Brandon Hyde, still suffering through it, as we all are.
Team Batting: .235 AVG, .299 OBP, .693 OPS
Team Pitching: 5.35 ERA, 2.9 WAR, 1.6 HR/9
Most Valuable Orioles: TBD, but at this point Cedric Mullins and his out-of-nowhere success at the plate seem a good choice. Or John Means, who threw a no-hitter, if he bounces back from the IL. Each has at least 3.0 WAR in not even half a season. That’s crazy. Trey Mancini’s bounceback from cancer continues to be a wonderful story.
Least Valuable Players Who Got Regular Playing Time: Maikel Franco (-10 runs in the field, -0.9 WAR). Pat Valaika and Ryan Mountcastle have followed up great offensive years with bad ones, so far. Among the pitchers, the worst have been Matt Harvey (-1.6 WAR), followed by Travis Lakins Sr. and two pitchers who have already been DFA’d, even on a team as thin as this one: Mac Sceroler and Shawn Armstrong.
Verdict: The lows are as low as the highs are high, and somehow the talent deficits feel worse this year than any save 2019, possibly. The pitching is barely better than in 2019, but still posting the worst ERA in the AL and the most home runs allowed. And the contributions of Mancini, Mullins, and Mountcastle are being dragged down by negative offense from the bottom of the lineup.

To summarize, the news ain’t good: the 2021 Orioles have an almost identically bad offense to the 2018 team that owns the worst Orioles’ record in modern history (2018: .239 AVG/.298 OBP/.689 OPS and 2021: .235 AVG/.299 OBP/.693 OPS). The good news, if you tend to optimism, is that the Killer M’s do stand to outperform the best Orioles hitters from 2018, with the exception of Machado. But the pitching has been deplorable, almost matching the 2019 Orioles, and this is a year pitching is supposed to be dominant, which makes the comparison even worse.

What’s the good news? Well, I guess that we knew that this season would be about unearthing talent for the future. There’s been a bit of that, I guess. And, uh, the Diamondbacks are worse. Strap in for a long season.