While we watch the playoffs and celebrate the teams who had great 2012s, it's time to bring a much-needed dose of realism, sadness, and cynicism to the table. With that outlook in life, it's shocking that my social calendar has so many openings. As we look back to see who deserves the title of Most Unhappy Bunch of 2012, you'll notice that no Cubs, Astros, Mariners and their ilk are included. There's nothing wrong with a bad season or a rebuilding year, hell, sometimes they're fun what with the sloppy errors and cheap tickets. But to truly have the worst year in baseball, one that is so miserable and nasty, you need to mix high expectations with a healthy dose of underperformance, preferably with a scandal or two.
As noted scholar and philosopher, Bane, once said, "There can be no true despair without hope." Nowhere is this more true than Pittsburgh. After the team surprised the baseball world through the beginning of August, at one point 16 games above .500 and in position to take the wild card, the Primanti Bros-eating folk that cheer on this team saw their hopes rise, thinking that the Pirates had finally stopped being an easy punchline. While the team had been playing above their heads, plenty of people of people thought they'd remain competitive, at least in comparison to those ridiculous, run differential-defying Orioles (Oh, how one day we'll laugh). Instead, outside of Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, and AJ Burnett, everyone else forgot to hit, pitch, field, or do whatever it was that they were paid to do.
Thanks to some poor play by the Cardinals and Dodgers, the Pirates were left to linger at the fringes of the playoff field, like the corpses of real pirates, their bodies rotting as a warning for others considering their path. Pirates fans could have accepted another October at home, but playing Astros-like baseball for the last two months and bringing the team a 20th straight sub .500 record was cruelly tacked on, like a new George Lucas prequel. It was gross.
Toronto Blue Jays
The AL East is supposed to be impossible to navigate. You have the payroll behemoths in the Red Sox and Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays who use voodoo, sleight of hand, and royalties from Jonah Keri's book to keep pace. And that's just the way God intended it when he created the AL East 5,000 years ago. But with Alex Anthopoulus stocking the farm system, Jose Bautista growing beards and hitting home runs with equal aplomb, and a starting rotation lead by Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, 2012 was supposed to be the Blue Jays chance to pry open the maw of the beast. Hell, the Blue Jays found a way to get rid of Vernon Wells, a move alone that should have granted them a World Series title. Despite Edwin Encarnacion's best efforts, the team struggled: Jose Bautista was cold then hot then injured, Colby Rasmus continued to disappoint (ability to leap face first into walls notwithstanding), Brett Lawrie became a gay icon but struggled at the plate and in the field, and their starting staff foolishly opened a Dibbuk box on Opening Day, cursing them all to a year of misery.
Only two pitchers made at least 30 starts: Henderson Alvarez who posted the lowest K/9 among qualified pitchers (3.8) and Rickey Romero, coming into the year with a career 3.60 ERA, saw his walks spike, his strikeouts drop, and his ERA rise to 5.77. To further add to the season's misery, frustrating shortstop Yunel Escobar scrawled a gay slur in his eyeblack before defending himself by saying that he has a gay hairstylist. Please note, Yunel, unlike sitcoms would have you believe, not all male hairstylists are gay.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays finished in fourth place and had to watch the Orioles take the Wild Card that was at one point rightfully theirs.
Boston Red Sox
Where is the demarcation line beween the Red Sox's 2011 and 2012? Do we go from Theo Epstein's exit and the prolonged wait to receive players in return? Terry Francona's dismissal followed by disgusting slander of his name? Or do we begin once the calendar flipped over to 2012 and Carl Crawford got injured and Bobby Valentine ran Kevin Youkilis out of town? Or from Daniel Bard's ill-advised move to the rotation and possible future as a fireballing insurance salesman?
Or maybe we should jump ahead to when the Red Sox further tried to wipe the slate clean when they sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto to the Dodgers just to be rid of their toxic chicken-and-beer history? Oh! Oh! But what about Bobby Valentine claiming his coaching staff was conspiring against him? Or when "The V" told a radio host he would punch him in the face? And that's leaving out my personal favorite: Kelly Shoppach using Adrian Gonzalez's phone to text ownership that the players wanted Bobby Valentine gone.
Wow. When you put it all in a list like that, it seems even worse.
It's hard for a team that had the worst September collapse in baseball history come back and have a worse season afterwards (while also posting their worst record since 1960 in the process), but the Red Sox may just have pulled it off. Kudos to them, I guess.
There was no joy in Colorado this year. No Rocktober, no Troy Tulowitzki smashing homers to Miley Cyrus songs, not even a surprisingly effective Todd Helton. There was, however, Jason Giambi's hoboesque facial hair, Wilin Rosario's attempt to surrender more passed balls than home runs hit (sadly, he finished with 21 PB to 28 HR), and and an endless series of starting pitchers, each less effective than the one before.
Just like the true meaning of life or what exactly constitutes "Natural Flavoring," pitching will forever remain a mystery in Colorado. Until 2012 it seemed, if not solvable, at least something you could live with, like a hamster or a benevolent spirit. For fun's sake, let's look at all of the pitchers with at least three starts in Black and Purple:
- Jonathan Sanchez: 3 GS, 9.53 ERA
- Jorge De La Rosa: 3 GS, 9.28 ERA
- Guillermo Moscoso: 3 GS, 6.12 ERA
- Josh Outman: 7 GS, 8.19 ERA
- Jamie Moyer: 10 GS, 5.70 ERA
- Juan Nicasio: 11 GS, 5.28 ERA
- Tyler Chatwood: 12 GS, 5.43 ERA
- Jhoulys Chacin: 14 GS, 4.43 ERA
- Jeremy Guthrie: 15 GS, 6.35 ERA
- Christian Friedrich: 16 GS, 6.17 ERA
- Alex White: 20 GS, 5.51 ERA
- Drew Pomeranz: 22 GS, 4.93 ERA
- Jeff Francis: 24 GS, 5.58 ERA
That's right, 13 pitchers, with only two posting ERA's below 5. And sure, it's partly because of Jim Tracy's wacky, "I've got to do anything, ANYTHING" 75 pitch limits he enforced for the second half of the season, but only one pitcher finished the year with more than 100 IP. That would be Jeff Francis who came in with the astronomical total of 113. That's a level of scary bad that no amount of humidoring or begging John Elway to consider a baseball career will be able to cover up.
I think this is a good metaphor for the Marlins season: After their new and expensive closer, Heath Bell, complained about Ozzie Guillen on the radio, his teammates forced him to sit down and listen to Guillen's radio response. That seems healthy. Oh yeah, and rumor has it that Guillen, despite the Marlins giving him a four-year deal and giving up prospects to acquire him, will be fired. So it's not like the crew has reason to remain loyal to the captain.
Strike that, I think this is actually the better metaphor: The Marlins were the subject of a Showtime show that was cancelled with one episode left. Yeah, that seems about right.
So yes, while the club upgraded the look of the team and rolled out neon grass and constructed a terrifying, whirling home run device, this is the same mess of a franchise that existed when they were still called the Florida Marlins. With Jeff Loria still at the head and the SEC looking into the shadier aspects of the publicly financed stadium, the fanbase rightfully stayed away, not willing to be swayed by a few cosmetic upgrades into believing true change was afoot. Not only that, but after the Marlins went spending crazy in trying to win over the Miami faithful, signing Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle, and offering contracts to Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson, the team shed Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez during the season and have already announced that payroll will be lower next year. Those moves may very well make sense from a baseball perspective, but sometimes you have to do things in the name of community outreach. Which was probably the reasoning behind giving Adam Greenberg his one at-bat on the second to last day of the season against RA Dickey.
Small PR flourishes aside, you can't fool a fanbase that has already scene two teams dismantled in front of their eyes. With a fractured team on and off the field, it should come as no surprise that the Marlins had the worst attendance for a team in a new ballpark this millenium and finished in last place in the NL East, coming behind everyone's favorite punching bag, the New York Mets.
And there you have it. While I'm partial to the Red Sox simply because their meltdown made many diehard Sox fans consider ditching the team and/or committing hari-kiri, I think the Marlins, with the media paying far less attention to their every move, have a good chance at the crown. But this isn't about what I think, it's about what you, the reader thinks. There's a poll (link here) and a comments section, so reach out and with our universal consciousness now connected and flowing, tell me who deserves the title of Worst 2012.
No mention of the Indians? I'd say expectations were at least as high as those of the Rockies and Blue Jays, but they wound up being far worse than either of those teams. The Rockies' pitching numbers look worse by ERA, that's in part the Coors effect. I think the Indians had a worse starting rotation. The link below runs through some of the gory details:
They had six pitchers make 15+ starts, but none of them had a positive bWAR. How many teams in history had ever done that before??? ZERO!
Boston gets my vote for worst 2012, because there were reasonable expectations they'd be very good, and instead they were very bad.
The Pirates would get my support for heartbreaking 2012 though, because close but not quite is harder to go through than simply terrible, in my opinion, especially with a team/fan base that's gone so long without a successful season.