For the sake of comparison, I’ve considered only starting pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched (or approximately 20 or more games started). While this method eliminates historically “ideal” candidates such as the Shawn Chacons or Sidney Ponsons of the world, it keeps spot starters from skewing the otherwise perfectly terrible results of otherwise perfectly terrible contenders.
2006 | Scott Elarton, Kansas City Royals: Elarton posted an atrocious 5.34 ERA, 6.76 FIP, and a 6.24 xFIP. If those numbers weren’t wretched enough, his stat line was also highlighted by so-bad-they-can’t-possibly-be-real-can-they rates stats: 3.85 K/9, 4.08 BB/9, and 2.04 HR/9 (26 HR surrendered, sound familiar?).
Unsurprisingly, nearly his entire pitch arsenal was rated “ineffective” (-5.9 wFB, -3.3 wSL, 0.6 wCB, -5.5 wCH). Perhaps the most excruciating facet of this lopsided arrangement with the Royals was the fact that they were paying approximately $4M for Elarton’s services when his -0.8 fWAR suggested he was worth about $-3.6M. Unfortunately for Scott, he hasn’t been allowed to see the light of day in professional baseball ever since. Since his unsuccessful 2006 stint, he has journeyed through several franchises’ AAA squads.
2007 | Mike Bacsik, Washington Nationals: This monster proved to be a vital cog in the Nationals’ attempt-to-get-worse-annually machine. Over the course of 106.2 innings pitched, Bacsik hurled (a rather ironically fitting description) to the tune of a 5.57 ERA, 6.42 FIP, and a 5.43 xFIP (good for a -1.1 fWAR valued at a $-4.3M). His appalling 3.46 K/9 was “bolstered” by a 2.11 HR/9 ratio.
Needless to say, one common trait discovered among each of his pitches (-7.4 wFB, -5.2 wCB, -7.3 wCH) was the fact that none were particularly capable of deceiving anyone. Since then, Bacsik has suffered the same fate as Elarton; that is to say, he’s become another soulless ballplayer condemned to aimlessly roam the vast abyss of minor league baseball. On to the next one.
2008 | Tom Gorzelanny, Pittsburg Pirates: In my eyes, Gorzelanny’s 2008 campaign epitomizes the debacle that is the Pirates — feeble and without hope. In 2008, he impressed the National League with a 6.66 ERA, 6.35 FIP, and a 5.84 xFIP (-1.0 fWAR valued at $-4.5M). To his credit, of the players being recognized within this article, he did boast the second-best K/9 ratio (5.72/9).
Unfortunately, he also offered a Farnsworthian (that’s right, I’m turning Farnsworth’s ineptitude as a pitcher into an adjective) BB/9 rate (5.98/9) as well, which also happens to be the worst of the group. Between the opposing hitters’ gaudy .293/.392/.517 (.909 OPS) triple slash and Gorzelanny’s -1.7 WPA, the Pirates’ chance of survival was, quite frankly, minimal. Interestingly enough, this tale doesn’t have a completely somber ending. Gorzelanny actually pitched fairly well for the Cubs in 2010, posting a 4.09 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 4.49 xFIP, and 2.3 WAR over 136.1 innings, and was recently traded to — drumroll, please — the Nationals.
2009 | Braden Looper, Milwaukee Brewers: This one was strange at first. At surface value, Braden didn’t seem half bad; he pitched 194.2 innings and concluded the season with a 14-7 record. Yet Looper simultaneously generated a 5.22 ERA, 5.74 FIP, 4.87 xFIP and a -0.9 fWAR. Thankfully, Baseball-Reference provides some insight. Looper pitched in 10 games where his team scored three to five runs. He pitched in 17(!) games in which the Brewers scored six or more runs.
In other words, his positive W-L record is indicative of massive team support which basically mirrors the crappy-pitcher-can-still-succeed-with-sufficient-offense-theorem employed by the Yankees in the later half of the past decade. He threw three primary pitches (-14.2 wFB, -13.7 wSL, 2.8 wSF), and two of them registered as abominable. Evidently, the Brewers (or anyone else for that matter) didn’t see Looper fit to pitch in 2010.
2010 | Ryan Rowland-Smith, Seattle Mariners: Surprise; I bet you didn’t see that coming (except for you, JGS). Rowland-Smith posted a 6.93 ERA, 6.77 FIP, 6.02 xFIP, and a -1.7 fWAR. His 3.64 K/9 and 3.64 BB/9 rates were identical (never a good sign) and he allowed 2.13 HR/9. He didn’t have one pitch that rated positively (-24.2 wFB, third-worst in baseball; -1.6 wSL; -5.1 wCB; -2.3 wCB) and his 1.69 WHIP was perpetually suggestive of disaster. Given the lack of offensive production supplied by the Mariners, it’s of little surprise he ended the season (and perhaps his Major League career) with a 1-10 W-L record.
2010 “Honorable Mentions” are awarded to Scott Kazmir (5.94 ERA, 5.83 FIP, 5.62 xFIP, -0.8 fWAR in 150 IP) and our very own Javier Vazquez (5.56 ERA, 5.72 FIP, 4.93 xFIP, -0.3 fWAR in 144 IP). These fine gentlemen combined for a tota
l salary of $19.5M while providing negative $3.8M in value. I suspect the return on investment here would have made Bernie Madoff proud.
Here’s to hoping the Yankee faithful doesn’t have to witness a second consecutive season where one of our team’s starters vie for this miserable title. If you’re a “glass half full” kind of fan, I suppose you can take solace in knowing Sergio Mitre or Ivan Nova will be hard-pressed to “outperform” this sorry lot. Of course, maintaining the status quo in this realm isn’t particularly appealing either.