Everyone has a bad day every once in awhile, but fortunately for most, they can forget about them easily enough. If you’re a Major League baseball player, it’s not so simple. Your bad days are in the record books for good, and there are plenty of people like yours truly to scour those books. Evaluating statistical excellence is like watching an Oscar-winning social commentary, but finding the worst of the worst is like the gory slasher. Nobody confuses it with something of substance, but we can’t look away nevertheless. This is the story of a handful of pitchers who are not too different from the victims of a violent movie.
The way baseball used to be played, where the starting pitcher is also the finishing pitcher unless he gets hurt, skewed statistics a little bit. It didn’t matter if a pitcher has thrown 200 pitches already, if it’s 100+ degrees outside, or if he is just overmatched by the opposing offense (ahem, 1927 Yankees, ahem). He finished the game. And sometimes, that meant he racked up quite a few earned runs before he left.
Before WWII, the pitcher with the most games of 10+ earned runs was Bobo Newsom with 7. (Newsom, by the way, played for 9 different teams at a time when there were only 18 teams in baseball. He went back and forth between them over a 20-year career, and he changed teams a total of 18 times! That includes being acquired by the Washington Senators 5 different times!!)
More recently, managers rarely leave a pitcher in the game long enough to accrue double digit runs. Since WWII, 4 pitchers are tied for the most games of 10+ earned runs. Jerry Reuss, David Wells, Jamie Moyer, and James Shields all have 3 in their careers. As you might imagine, their numbers in these starts are not good. They have ERAs ranging from 19.47 to 25.31, WHIPs ranging from 2.86 to 3.75, and in a combined 48.1 IP they gave up 126 hits, 125 runs, 23 home runs, 34 walks, and 30 strikeouts.
Just like for greatness, evaluation of extreme suckiness is often empty. When looking at Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds, all one can say is “wow”. Likewise, when looking at these numbers, all one can say is “wow”. Next time I stub my toe or get stuck in traffic, I’ll remember that these guys had it worse: their worst days are immortalized.