Sunday, June 19, 2011


The loss of Josh Johnson is a major reason why
the Florida Marlins have been free-fallin'...
While we were all elsewhere watching, the Florida Marlins have thrown their season into reverse. That grinding sound is what you hear when a team shifts while still moving...

So, the question 'round the mulberry bush is: what happened?

The answer is that the Fish pitchers stopped pitching. (Losing Josh Johnson didn't help.) In the last 21 games through June 18, Florida's hurlers have posted a 5.69 ERA--and this in what the glibocracy has taken to calling the "new deadball era." (Not--and certainly not if the Fish keep up this "pace." They seem to be doing whatever they can to reverse that trend all by themselves.)

But, as is usually the case around here, that led to a larger question. Just how often does a team go 2-19 over a 21-game run? Thanks to Forman et fils, we can answer that question (though--Sean...Mr. Chairman--you can make this easier to do than how things are currently set up: remember who gave ya yer first break...).

IT turns out that 2-19 isn't all that uncommon. The chart at right shows the worst 21-game stretches over the past dozen years (2000-2011). In seven of those twelve years, there has been at least one team who has tanked down to this level of decrepitude.

What makes things a bit different in 2011, however, is that the Fish were 29-19 when this 500-mile stretch of bad road came up to greet them. When you look over the winning percentages of the teams appearing on this list, there is only one other playing .600 ball when they suddenly vaporized more than a tenth of the season.

Who was that, you ask? The 2006 Arizona Diamondbacks, who were 34-22 when they hit the skids.

The key characteristic of these teams when they go bad is that their pitching goes south. In the case of the 2007 Orioles (who actually won three games), the pitching is more like T-ball. I mean, jeez, 196 runs in 21 games--hell, even the 1930 Phillies weren't givin' them up that fast.

(Check out those 2006 Cubs, though. 3-18 but they were projected to win nine games. That has to be some of the most concentrated examples of bad luck in a season--we're going to have to look more closely at that sometime.)

All this brings up, of course, another question. Just how many teams have actually been worse than 2-19 over a 21-game stretch? Has anybody actually lost at 21 games?

The answer is: hell yes, somebody did. Two somebodies became nobodies in just this fashion. The most recent: the 1988 Orioles (roll over, George Will). As shown in the chart at left, they joined the 1961 Phillies in the long walk off a short pier department.

Some of these teams were only respectably bad (and I think we know how they got that way). But there are several of the worst teams in the history of baseball (OK, not our old pals the Cleveland Spiders--we'll have to break out their season sometime, too). You can tell which teams are in the deepest part of the slag heap by noting which of them have not one, but two separate 1-20 stretches during the same season.

Yes, the 1916 Philadelphia A's and the 1935 Boston Bees are clearly in a league of their own. (Note that the A's 1-20 streaks are adjacent to one another, meaning that they went 2-40 over that stretch. Outside of those Spiders, this has got to be the worst fourth of a season ever turned in--even the Bees went 7-35 in their worst 42-game stretch!)

Our last chart shows the distribution of fewest wins over any 21-game stretch in all seasons from 1901 to the present. The range is 0 to 4. The average crept upward by decade until the 1960s, and then has declined a bit ever since. There hasn't been a year where the lowest 21-game win total was 4 since 1986.

Of course, the Fish still have a chance to get to 1-20 (they are 1-18 in June). No one other than Anibal Sanchez has won a game for them since Memorial Day. As Chester A. Riley used to say, it's a revoltin' development...