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It was another pitcher named Josh who inspired this exercise, in the wake of another disappointing season of under-achievement.

Josh Towers. We owe him so much.

And I liked Josh Towers. I fully endorsed his absolute commitment to throwing strikes, strikes, nothing but strikes. I admired his willingness to challenge absolutely anyone with his 87 mph  heater, foolish and misguided though it often turned out to be. Josh isn't a big guy (he was listed at 6-1 185, but he looked smaller and skinnier), and there was something almost endearing about watching this slight figure challenging the likes of Ortiz and Thome with little more than a well located fastball and what looked like several pots of very strong coffee.

Nevertheless - after his near-magical run in the second half of 2005 Towers completely imploded, to such a degree that it seemed necessary to find some way to actually measure his Level of Awfulness, and put it in some kind of perspective. Hence the Suckage Index

It's an extremely simple formula, as I am an extremely simple fellow: (ERA+ minus 80) times IP. Using 80 as the base factor means you have to pitch quite poorly to rack up a lot of points. If we used the league average (100), by far the most important factor would not be the degree of awfulness so much as the quantity of innings. For example, if we use 100 as the base, Jim Clancy's 1984 season scores as the third worst season ever by a Blue Jay starter, worse than Towers last year or Halladay in 2000. Clancy did have a pretty lousy year, but he was nowhere near that bad. Hence we use 80 - a kind of replacement level - as the base factor.

I had originally limited the Index to pitchers who made at least 10 starts in a season, to eiliminate the relief pitchers and the general riff-raff. This wasn't necessary - if you pitch this badly, they simply don't let you throw that many innings as a rule. So this time we're including everybody who threw at least 20 IP in a season. And the main reason for that is just to eliminate those guys who didn't allow an earned run, and hence have no ERA+ (hello, Frank Menechino! And several others) - as well as the guy who didn't retire a batter (Steve Luebber 1979) and hence has an ERA of Infinity. Infinity is a hard number to work with.

The original Suckage Index ended with Jeff Byrd at #10 - not-so-young-anymore Jeff has slipped to 14th since then, thanks to the work of two recent starters and two relief pitchers who've now been caught up in the net. But I don't want to forget Jeff Byrd  - you think you're off the hook, Jeff? Sorry -  so we'll extend the this new list to fifteen.

And that means we get to start with:

15. Mark Lemongello
(1979) -  1-9, 6.29  Suckage Index: 913
Lemongello was a 22 year old year old RH who had gone 9-14, 3.33 for the Astros in 1978. There were no shortage of warning signs, however - he was pitching in the Astrodome which at that time was the most forgiving ball park in the majors. And he couldn't strike out anybody. Nevertheless, the Jays traded their current catcher and future broadcaster Alan Ashby to obtain Lemongello for the 1979 season. Outside the friendly confines of the Astrodome, Lemongello did not fare so well. He started the year 1-7, 7.06, was yanked from the rotation, and according to one observer "threw more chairs than strikes." The Jays sold him to the Cubs in the spring of 1980 but he never pitched in the majors again. (There's a phrase you can expect to hear again.) In 1982 he was arrested for kidnapping and armed robbery, and from there I lose track of the story.

14. Jeff Byrd (1977) - 2-13, 6.18. Suckage Index: 1048
Jeff Byrd was a 20 year old right-hander who was thrown into the Toronto rotation midway through the inaugural season. Really, what were the chances that was going to work? Byrd stayed right there, bravely taking his turn every five days for the rest of the year, and getting his hat handed to him on a regular basis. He managed to win twice in 17 starts. Byrd's main problem was not unheard of in young pitchers - he couldn't throw strikes. In 87.3 innings, he managed to walk 68 batters which is... well, I don't know if there are words for that. He never pitched in the majorsagain.

13. Jerry Garvin (1982) - 1-1, 7.25 Suckage Index: 1050
The unfortunate Mr Garvin - it makes sense that he'd show up in the 13th spot - is the only man to make two appearances on this list. There's a dubious distinction for you. I think Garvin's saga is an interesting story and a cautionary tale for the ages. He was a 21 year old left-hander who was taken from Minnesota in the original expansion draft. The Jays put him in the rotation to begin that inaugural season, and Garvin somehow won his first five decisions. He is probably best remembed for his pick-off move - he picked off an astonishing 28 base-runners in his rookie season (and committed just two balks in the process.) The team was truly, truly terrible, and Garvin would lose 10 straight decisions later in the year. Nevertheless, it really was an impressive season - he gave up almost exactly a hit an inning, despite the hideous defensive play behind him, and he didn't walk a lot of people. He had some trouble keeping the ball in the park, and it certainly would have been nice if he could have struck out more people (4.67 K per 9 IP) - but for a 21 year old rookie on an expansion team, it was a pretty remarkable season.

Alas, in the process he had worked 244 IP. He was just 21 years old, remember. The year before, as a 20 year old in the Twins system, he had pitched 233 IP, and the year before that, still a teenager, he worked 205 IP.  He started falling apart in 1978 (see # 5 below) and while he would rally to post a couple of decent seasons as a LH reliever, he finally fell apart for good in 1982. He never pitched in the majors again.  I can't help but wonder if his career might have turned out very differently if he'd come along ten or twenty years later, in an organization that had some idea of how to develop young pitchers.

12. Bill Singer
(1977) - 2-8, 6.79. Suckage Index: 1074
One of the reasons young Jeff Byrd (# 14 above) was in the rotation at all was because Opening Day starter Bill Singer had gone down with an injury in early June. Singer had been a fine pitcher in his day, twice winning 20 games and three times striking out 200 batters. Twice, in fact, his managers had seen fit to let him throw more than 300 innings. Of course, both times Singer responded to that workload the next year by either: a) getting hurt; b) pitching poorly; or c) both. Singer in 1977 was coming off a 13-10, 3.69 season in which he had worked 236 innings. He had nothing left in 1977, He never pitched in the majors again

11. Todd Stottlemyre (1988) 4-8, 5.69. Suckage Index: 1078
Unlike many of the guys on this list, Stottlemyre actually had a future. But in 1988 he was a rookie. He began the season as the fifth starter. By late May, he had started eight times, and sported a 1-6, 5.54 log. That put him onto the Jimy Williams shuffle - he switched back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation for the next two months before being dispatched back to Syracuse in late July. He came back up in September, and got in five relief appearances as a call-up. While his numbers don't look all that bad com[pared to some of these others ne'er-do-wells, two things to note: a) he had a far, far better team behind him; b) in 1988, AL teams apart from Toronto scored 4.33 runs per game; in 1977, AL teams apart from Toronto scored 4.59 runs per game..

10. Brian Tallet (2010) - 2-6, 6.40 Suckage Index: 1083
It's extremely hard for a relief pitcher to be bad enough to crack such a list - they just don't throw enough innings. But Tallet, like Garvin before him, was up to the task. Or down to it, I don't know. Both men made a few starts as well (Tallet 5, Garvin 4) which helped extend their suckage over sufficient innings to really, really hurt the team. Tallet had put in three seasons as an effective LH reliever (131 ERA+ from 2006-2008), but the sudden disappearance of 4/5 of the team's starting rotation by April 2009 - and the GM's rather odd decision to do nothing whatsoever about it (he knew he was already toast, I guess) - saw Tallet pushed into a starting role in 2009. He immediately starting losing his effectiveness, and by 2010 he was simply a bad, bad pitcher.

9. Jack Kucek (1980) 3-8, 6.75. Suckage Index: 1088
Does anyone actually remember this guy? Because I don't. History tells us he was a 27 year old right-hander who'd had a few cups of coffee with the White Sox and Phillies. The Jays signed him after the Phillies released him, and in June 1980 they called him up and stuck him in the rotation. He started out just fine, going 2-1, 2.89 in his first five starts. He then got roughed up a couple of times and was sent to the bullpen. He pitched very badly in three relief appearances, and was returned to the rotation. He made another five starts, and was truly horrible - 0-3, 12.86, giving up 29 hits in 15.2 innings - which got him banished to the bullpen for the rest of the season. Sing it with me - he never pitched in the majors again.

8. Danny Darwin
(1995) 1-8, 7.62. Suckage Index: 1170
Danny Darwin actually seemed like a reasonable idea at the time. Granted, he was 39 years old. Granted, he was coming off a dismal (7-5, 6.30) 1994 season. But he'd won 15 games for Boston the year before that, and had been a decent major league pitcher for a long time. I always regarded him as a lesser version of Dennis Eckersley (same build, same delivery, same problems with LH batters); like the Eck, Darwin had also had his best results pitching out of the pen. But in Toronto, he was only expected to be an adequate, low-cost fifth starter (behind Cone, Guzman, Hentgen, and Leiter), and in fact his first two starts were just fine (1-0, 1.80). Then the wheels fell off - he lost each of his next eight starts. He pitched well just once, a complete game loss to the Indians, before being yanked from the rotation at the end of June. After two poor outings in relief, the Jays released him in mid-July.

7. Josh Johnson (2013) 1-8, 6.60 Suckage Index: 1221
Wait and see - this one is unfolding before us and could still go either way. In the meantime, we could speculate on just how much money this awful season has cost him. $70 million dollars?

6. Ricky Romero (2012) - 9-14, 5.77 Suckage Index: 1267
This one is fresh in our memories, and the awful smell still lingers. Everyone has a theory about Romero: it's all in his head, he's forgotten how to throw his changeup, his biorhythms are bad, his mechanics are messed up. Here's what troubles me about his mental state: he doesn't seem to have achieved a sufficient level of denial. A professional athlete needs to live in denial, at least to some degree. This is part of why professional athletes usually respond to failure with defiance - they don't believe it, they don't accept it, they don't expect it to happen again. This is very often highly delusional, but it's pretty much a necessary trick of the mind for most of them. You need to believe that you'll get them tomorrow. Romero seems to be having trouble convincing himself of that. That might speak well for him as a person, it generally being better to live in the real world than some fantasy - but I don't know that it's the best thing for him as a pitcher.

5. Jerry Garvin (1978) - 4-12, 5.54 Suckage Index:
This is when the butcher's bill first came due for Garvin, who was discussed at some length earlier (see # 13 above.). By mid July 1978, he was 2-11 when Roy Hartsfield first pulled him from the rotation. After a couple of relief outings, he went back into the rotation before being shut down for most of September.

4. Jack Morris (1993) 7-12, 6.19. Suckage Index: 1374
There was no reason on earth to expect what happened to Jack Morris in 1993. OK, he was 37 years old when the season began. But he seemed to be aging rather well. You will recall that in 1991 he won 18 games and took Minnesota to the World Series; in 1992, he came to Toronto and did the same thing (the two seasons are actually quite similar.) But his first three starts of 1993 completely redefined the concept of Awfulness: 0-3, with an ERA of 17.18. His next three starts were merely bad (1-1, 7.02), but that was quite enough - the Jays stuck him on the DL for three weeks while everyone speculated as to what had gone wrong. (one school of thought was that he was tipping his pitches, but other long-time Morris watchers maintained that he had always tipped his pitches.) Upon his return, Morris finally pitched a good ball game, but he then offered up stinkers in three of his next four outings. By mid-June, after his first 11 starts, his record stood at 3-7, 9.91. He actually recovered somewhat at this point, beginning with a five-hit shutout of the Twins, and went 4-5 4.23 over his next 16 starts. But he was having some physical problems - he came out of one start after two scoreless innings and was shut down for good in early September.
Morris was not the most popular player in Blue Jays history. He did not come up through the system - on the contrary, he had been a troublesome opponent for a very long time. He did not have a warm and cuddly personality, and he seemed in many ways the embodiment of the athlete as mercenary - after going to Minnesota and heroically pitching his hometown team to a championship, he lit out for where the money was. But I was always on his side. I never forgot that Morris was one of the players caught up in the owner's Collusion Conspiracy. The older readers in the house may remember Morris actually flying up to Minnesota to offer the Twins his services in the off-season of 1987. But for some reason, the Twins just couldn't find room for a 20 game winner. Neither could the Yankees or the Angels. None of them even made him an offer. I never forgot that, and I promise you that Morris himself still hasn't forgotten.

3. Josh Towers (2006) - 2-10, 8.42 Suckage Index: 1550
You probably remember this one, and wake up in the middle of the night trembling and whimpering as a result.  After his usual replacement level performance in the first half of 2005 (6-8, 4.85), Towers quite unexpectedly stepped into the void created by Roy Halladay's season ending injury and put together a remarkable run. He made 12 consecutive Quality Starts (something Halladay himself had never done) and ended the season with a 7-4, 2.42 log over his final 14 starts. Just in time for free agency, too. I noted at the time that Towers was a very old-fashioned type of pitcher. His game as you will recall, was based on two things: 1) he could throw strikes at will, a skill surprisingly rare amongst young pitchers; 2) he was willing to throw strikes, and willing to challenge anyone. Anyone at all. As I say, that's an old-fashioned style of pitching: this is how Catfish Hunter and Ferguson Jenkins pitched, it's how Robin Roberts pitched before them (although Roberts threw much, much harder than the other guys.) Like Towers, these guys were all fly ball pitchers. As a pitching strategy, this used to work very well. While these types of pitchers will give up lots of home runs, they're always working ahead of the hitters, they get lots of first pitch outs, and because they don't give away free passes, they can get by allowing lots of home runs. But I was still not sure if this style of pitching could actually work in the post 1994 era, with the smaller ball parks, and the bigger hitters, and everybody holding the bat down at the end and trying to hit home runs. Well, it didn't work for Towers in 2006. Or very often afterwards.

2. Roy Halladay (2000) 4-7, 10.64. Suckage Index: 2234
These final two entries, the scrapings off bottom of the barrel, are in a class of Awfulness all by themselves. The arrival of Roy Halladay had been anticipated long before he actually showed up in Toronto, and he arrived with a splash at the end of 1998, coming within one out of pitching a no-hitter in his second major league start. As a 22 year old rookie in 1999, he had gone 8-7, 3.92 in a season split evenly between the rotation and the bullpen. HIs K-W ratio (82-79 in 149.1 IP) was a little worrisome, but his future was assumed to be very bright. As it would be indeed, but the future had to wait a while. Doc beat the Royals 6-3 in his first start of the 2000 season, and from there it all went downhill. He ran off six straight terrible starts, allowing more than a run per inning each time - he went 1-4, 13.50 and you're probably wondering how he managed to win one of those games. Easy - the team staked him to an 11-1 lead, before Doc gave up six runs to let the Angels back into it. The team finally sent him to the bullpen - he emerged once to allow four hits and three runs in one inning and finally they sent him to Syracuse. He didn't pitch particularly well there, but came back a month later. He made three starts and one was pretty decent. The other two were terrible, and he went back to the bullpen, and then back again to Syracuse. He was back in September to make one nondescript relief appearance, another terrible start, and finally closed his season by allowing 7 runs, all unearned, in two-thirds of an inning against Baltimore.

1. Dave Lemanczyk (1978) 4-14, 6.26. Suckage Index: 2324
The surprise winner, just barely nosing Halladay's historically awful season. Lemanczyk was the Jays top winner in 1977, and he would pitch well again in 1979 (he even got to go to the All-Star Game as a result.) But the year in between was pretty ugly. He made five April starts and went 0-5, 7.67. He was worse in May, but managed a 1-3, 8.00 log - he got the win despite allowing 12 hits and 7 runs. In June, he took his 1-9, 8.52 log to the bullpen. He pitched poorly there for a few weeks, and returned to the rotation, for no apparent reason. Yet at this juncture, he suddenly seemed to recover his form. He put together three strong starts in a row, winning twice and throwing a complete game in a 2-0 loss. After a few more rough outings, he closed the month strong and actually posted a 2.85 ERA for the month. Alas, 'twas a mirage. He made two poor starts in August, went on the DL, and came back to pitch poorly out of the pen in September. Lemanczyk was nowhere near as bad as Halladay in 2000 - he was probably not even as bad as Towers in 2006. But he was indeed pretty bad, and he pitched about as much as Doc and Josh put together. And to him goes the No-Prize.

Just outside the Top 15, probably hoping a) Josh Johnson doesn't turn it around, b) that old fool Magpie doesn't decide to disqualify Garvin (1982) and Tallet as relief pitchers: Marty Janzen (1996), Phil Huffman (1979), Luke Prokopec (2002), Pat Hentgen (2004) - that one hurts my heart - and Kyle Drabek (2011.)

Shiver. I think I'd better do something similar about the best seasons, or I'll be depressed and surly for the rest of the day...

The Suckage Index! Updated! With Relief Pitchers! | 13 comments | Create New Account
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Mike Green - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 12:10 PM EDT (#277472) #
Beautiful, Magpie.

The comments about the ability of a pitcher who gives up a lot of home runs to survive in the current environment deserve some follow up.  The upshot is that I think that a pitcher can survive in the current environment provided they don't walk too many and they strike out plenty (i.e. Ferguson Jenkins will work; Josh Towers may not).  This matters in the case of Marcus Stroman. Here are team totals per game in the AL over a longer time frame:

Year HR/G Runs/G
2012 178 4.41
2006 181 4.97
1996 196 5.36
1986 164 4.7
1977 144  4.53
 1966  136  3.89
Mike Green - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 12:13 PM EDT (#277473) #
Sorry, that should be home runs per season per club.
Mike Green - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 12:39 PM EDT (#277475) #
The fly-ball leaders in the AL over the last 3 years are Phil Hughes, Colby Lewis and Jered Weaver.  Lewis gave up lots of homers but was successful until his elbow injury last year. 
Magpie - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 01:18 PM EDT (#277480) #
Thanks for the chart. It's clear that Towers was simply born at the wrong time. Which happens to lots and lots of players, of course. His decade was all wrong for him (and the 1990s would have been even worse.)

He clearly should have been active in the 1970s. Offense was depressed in the 1960s because of the enormous strike zone. That wouldn't have helped Towers that much - he threw strikes already (the big zone helped all those hard throwers who had big trouble finding home plate. It helped them a lot. They dominate the decade.)

Of course, Towers made much more money working at the time he did. On the surface, anyway. Because hey - thirty years of inflation, a much shorter career... who knows.
Mike Green - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 01:39 PM EDT (#277484) #
Towers had a couple of other things working against him.  He gave up quite a few line drives,  and didn't induce many popups.  He was a below-average fielder.  All of which led to a career opposition BABIP of .308.  If you are not going to strike out many and you are going to give up more than your share of home runs, you better do the other things to keep runners off the bases in addition to avoiding the walk. 
John Northey - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 01:47 PM EDT (#277486) #
Got me thinking about career suckage. Grabbed the stats from B-R, put into Excel, and got...
Worst ever...
Brad Mills 1394.9 2009 2011
Giovanni Carrara 1327.2 1995 1996
Josh Johnson 1217.6 2013 2013
Danny Darwin 1170 1995 1995
Jack Kucek 1088 1980 1980
Bill Singer 1065.6 1977 1977
Robert Person 1063.2 1997 1999
Jeff Byrd 1045.2 1977 1977
Mark Lemongello 913 1979 1979
Phil Huffman 865 1979 1979

and couldn't help but check the other extreme, the highest.
Dave Stieb-12353919791998
Roy Halladay-108448.619982009
Jimmy Key-69503.219841992
Roger Clemens-57791.219971998
Jim Clancy-50696.619771988
Pat Hentgen-4908019912004
Tom Henke-4898119851992
Juan Guzman-37671.219911998
David Wells-3444619872000
Duane Ward-31209.619861995

Interesting. Didn't notice Brad Mills was _that_ bad but I guess he was - 48 1/3 IP with an ERA+ of 51 will do that.  On the reverse Stieb and Halladay being #1/2 by a landslide over all others is not a shock.  Clemens being #4 despite just 2 years points out how amazing those 2 years were.  Henke & Ward making it mainly as relievers also shows their dominance. 
Mike Green - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 01:52 PM EDT (#277487) #
Negative suckage?  Interesting concept.
John Northey - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 01:53 PM EDT (#277488) #
FYI: if you use a 100 inning minimum then Robert Person, Phil Huffman (865), and Jo-Jo Reyes (110) are the only ones with a positive score in Jays history.  Kyle Drabek, Justin Miller, and David Purcey are all at 0.
For 200+ IP your top 5 are (in order) Joey Hamilton, Balor Moore, Erik Hanson, Jack Morris, Mike Willis.
For 500+ IP your top 5 are (in order) Jesse Jefferson, Dave Lemanczyk, Brett Cecil, Josh Towers, and Jerry Garvin.  Next is Brandon Morrow.
Just 8 guys had 1000+ IP here ... in suckage order ... Todd Stottlemyre, David Wells, Juan Guzman, Pat Hentgen, Jim Clancy, Jimmy Key, Roy Halladay, Dave Stieb.
Magpie - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 03:27 PM EDT (#277493) #
Negative Suckage. Cute!

I went with The Wonderfulness Index, and you'll see it tomorrow.

So you can think of this as the guys who came in 712 to 726 on the Wonderfulness Index!
John Northey - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 03:46 PM EDT (#277494) #
It is fun playing with this stuff.  Just thought, since you used 80 for ERA+ for horridness, what about 120 for goodness? Doing that I got for career...
Roger Clemens (37k), Roy Halladay (26k), Tom Henke (26k), Mark Eichhorn (10k), Dave Stieb (8.6k), Scott Downs (8.5k), and at #7 Aaron Loup (!!) (6.5k), Paul Quantrill (5.6k), Duane Ward (5.2k), Victor Cruz (5.1k, last of the 5k'ers).

Huh.  Two of those names were pretty big surprises.  Victor Cruz was here for just one season, but did very well 229 ERA+ over 47 1/3 IP.  But Aaron Loup?  Really?  198 ERA+ lifetime is in the Rivera range (207). Who knew?
Magpie - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 04:49 PM EDT (#277495) #
what about 120 for goodness?

I actually tried that, and didn't like what happened. For example, Jeff Musselman's 1988 season comes out way better than Chacin and Towers in 2005 (because a 120 ERA+ will only give you a Zero, whereas a 123 ERA+ at least gives you something.)
Mike Green - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 04:55 PM EDT (#277496) #
Seasonal ERA for relievers doesn't at all capture suckiness or negative suckiness.  It's way, way too random, with Aaron Loup's standing among the career leaders after 80 major league relief innings being a classic example. 
Magpie - Friday, August 02 2013 @ 05:53 PM EDT (#277498) #
Didn't notice Brad Mills was that bad

I kind of liked Brad Mills, and thought he could become a good major league pitcher - and maybe he still could, a 3.87 ERA in the PCL is nothing to sneeze at. However I thought Mills was extremely unlikely to get an opportunity. Because I think he's the type of pitcher who would be really, really bad at first - and that he'd persist in being bad for, oh, about a year or so. While he figured out how to get major league hitters out. I thought he would figure it out, and be good - but I thought no one would put up with the intervening badness. Not from a guy who doesn't sting the radar guns.

Y'all noticed that David Purcey is back in the Show?
The Suckage Index! Updated! With Relief Pitchers! | 13 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.