A comment from my friend Murray that the Yankees have more home runs (39) than the Detroit Tigers have runs (34-actually Texas has more, 35, too) got me to thinking. The Detroit Tigers are 17 games into their schedule and are 13 full games behind the Royals in the AL Central with their major-league worst 1-16 record and an anemic .059 winning percentage
That means that they are a third of the way to their 39 games back from 2002, when they were tied for the worst record in baseball (with Tampa Bay at 55-106, .342). They were only 6.5 games behind Kansas City at the end of 2002 and were supposed to have a dogfight with the Royals for last place this year. The biggest change in Detroit was hiring former Tiger star Alan Trammell as manager. Even though this was his first managerial gig ever (well, discounting little league ball), the move was heralded by many analysts (aka Joe Morgan).
The Tigers divested themselves of their 2002 leader in OPS (Randall Simon) and top-two home run hitters (Simon and Robert Fick). In 2002, they had six starting pitchers who threw 10 or more starts. Four of those six are no longer in the rotation (Jose Lima, Mark Redman, Jeff Weaver who was traded mid-2002 to the Yankees, and Steve Sparks who is now in the pen). They added a 20-year-old who had never pitched above Single-A (Jeremy Bonderman), and who now sports a 10.22 ERA and a 0-3 record.
How bad is this team? It may be unfair to evaluate them given that they are barely one-tenth of the way into the season and have only faced three clubs, but given that it should be fun, I will risk it. The Tigers are batting .180 as a team. They have a .493 OPS (on-base plus slugging), which is lower than the Yankees and Rangers' slugging average. They have five home runs and have allowed 23. They have two doubles in 538 at-bats. Their on-base percentage (.247) is worse than every other team's batting average and is 56 points behind the second worst team (the Mets). Their slugging average is over one hundred points behind the second-worst team (the Pirates). They have scored half as many runs as the second-worst team in that category (Arizona). They have three stolen bases in 11 chances. Their OPS leader is Greg Kingsdale with a .725 average. Eric Munson leads them with two home runs. They have five regulars below the Mendoza line.
All of that sounds pretty bad, but is it historically bad?
Well, if they play as well as they did last year the rest of the way, they will end up with 51 wins and 111 losses. There are only 14 teams all-time that have lost that many games, the last being the 1965 Mets at 50-112. Keep in mind that it would be a seemingly Herculean task for the 2003 Tigers to catch up with last year's team. If they could be a .500 club the rest of the way, they would end up about 73-89 anyway. For them to end up with a .500 record, they would have to go 80-65 or win 55.2% of their games (comparable to an 89-73 record over 162 games). If the Royals go .500 the rest of the way, the Tigers would have to go 86-59 or win 59.3% of their remaining games to pass them (that would 96-66 based on a 162-game schedule).
Still not convinced? How does this grab you, Kyle?
The only year in which one team had more home runs than another team scored runs was 1884. The Chicago White Stockings (now Cubs) hit 142 home runs, had four men with at least 20 each, and were led in the statistic by Ned Williamson, whose 27 stood until Babe Ruth broke it in 1919. It seems that they changed the ground rules in their last year at Lake Front Park: in previous years, balls over the right field fence only 196 feet away from home counted as a double. In 1884, they became home runa and Chicago increased their homer output 10-fold. They also scored 7.38 runs per game. The NL passed a rule after that season that the minimum distance for outfield fences would need to be at least 210 feet.
Chicago's 142 dingers were more than the number of runs scored by four Union Association teams (the one-year UA is recognized as a major league though it is arguably the weakest one in history). Those four teams were the Milwaukee Brewers (53 runs in only 12 games), Mountain City club of Altoona (Pa., 90 runs in 25 games), St. Paul Apostles (24 runs in 9 games), and Wilmington Quicksteps (35 runs in 18 games). As you can tell, a number of these teams did not last the entire season.
The closest anyone has come to out-homering another teams run output in the "modern" era was in 1981 when the Oakland A's hit 104 home runs and the Blue Jays scored only 329 runs, with a difference of 225. So no one has come close over a full season to the comparative weakness of the Tigers offense using this as a measuring stick.
Here are a few more tidbits that might interest you:
As I said, the Tigers are only batting .180 as a team. There have only been seven teams in baseball history that have hit .200 or less, and none have done it since 1884:
Year BA Team
1873 .156 Baltimore Marylands (NA)
1875 .197 Brooklyn Atlantics (NA)
1875 .180 Keokuk Westerns (NA)
1875 .195 Washington Nationals (NA)
1884 .199 Kansas City (UA)
1884 .180 St. Paul (UA)
1884 .175 Wilmington (UA)
The Tigers have scored exactly two runs per game (34 runs in 17 games). The only other major-league team to do that was the 1884 Wilmington UA club that scored an average of 1.94 runs per game (or 35 runs in 18 games).
The Tigers are on pace to hit just 47.6 home runs for the season based on their 5 in 17 games. No team has ever hit that few home runs over the course of a 162-game season. The 1981 Padres hit just 32 home runs in 110 games, which projects to 47.13 home runs in 162 games. If you don't want a strike-interrupted season, the 1949 White Sox hit 43 dingers in 154 games (or 45.23 in 162 games). The lowest in a 162-schedule was the 1979 Astros who hit 49 homers. The team leader in home runs was Jose Cruz (Sr.) with nine.
So there you are. If you don't believe me that the 2003 Tigers, at least in their first 17 games, are the most anemic offensive team in history, then nothing will convince you. Tiger fans should take heart given that no team has performed this badly over the course of the season. However, one hundred losses appear more certain than ever for Detroit. It's hard to believe that they were just 4 games under .500 just three years ago.