We'll do this by decades, so as to keep each entry mercifully brief. First up: five poor saps from the first decade of the twentieth century (the decade known as "the aughts").
(ERA+ data: seasons under 150 IP are shown in italic type and shaded in blue.)
Our five pitchers combined to win just over 40% of their decisions (that exact WPct, for those who like numbers on the right side of the decimal place, is .403). Out of a total of twenty-six season-years where they pitched at least 150 innings, they had only four years in which their league-relative ERA (ERA+) was above league average. None of them did it more than once.
Harry McIntire is the only one of these guys who never had a league average season (though he was reasonably close in his age-28 season, which happens to be 1907). Oddly, he's the only pitcher here who was actually coveted by a good team: the Chicago Cubs, falling out of first place in 1909 after three consecutive trips to the World Series, gave the Brooklyn Superbas--a sad misnomer of a nickname at that point, given that the team had just completed a five-year stretch where they'd managed a collective .378 WPCT (287-472)--not one, not two, but three warm bodies for McIntire (two of them mysteriously surnamed Smith).
Odd behavior for such a storied franchise, given that McIntire had actually pitched under his team during those seasons (42-82, .318 WPCT, allowing 4.31 runs per nine innings).
|Irv Young, no relation to Cy, about|
as blue-collar a pitcher as you can get
As is often the case, older and out-of-favor performance measures (WPCT) work reasonably well when used comparatively: McIntire's own WPCT consistently trails the WPCT of the team he's pitching for, which is what we might call the "pre-sabermetric indicator of a below-average starting pitcher." Many of these guys demonstrate this pattern as well--although Irv Young, a stocky left-hander who was dubbed "Cy the Second" by some wishful-thinking Boston sportswriters after his 1905 rookie season, fits the profile of someone who was pushed too hard and who faded away prematurely as a result.
|Casey Patten, looking a bit worse for wear...|
|No reason to be cheerful: "Happy" Townsend|
|Brooks Stevens: template/guru for the|
post-modern small-market GM?
We'd be remiss in not noting that the economic/contractual changes in the game have probably had as much to do with defining and blurring the concept of replacement level. In today's game, there's no reason to keep respectably bad players on a team for more than three years: they will get arbitration rights and their salaries will escalate beyond the point where they are worth having around. Back then, however, such an idea was more feasible, since the salary structure of the game was what we might call "more self-correlated." You could pay low wages to mediocrity for an extended period of time, an economic model that would soon be supplanted by the now-pervasive (and still controversial) concept of planned obsolescence.
We'll conclude by looking at how often these pitchers managed to post winning seasons, and summing up their simple won-loss performance by year. (There are a total of seven winning seasons here, but only four of them came with sub-.500 teams. That's the same total of higher than average ERA+ seasons we'd seen earlier: the old and new "metrics" are often more in accord than is commonly thought.)
Cy Young: their collective won-loss record is 342-514.
It's not much of a legacy, but sometimes there's no choice but to just take what you can get.