There's nothing more frustrating than when pitching derails the efforts of a good offensive output. Sometimes it's the starters who are off, at which point the game feels like a lost cause if a lead is given up early. Sometimes it's the bullpen, which may be the least glamorous part of a ball club, save for rare exceptions such as Mariano Rivera or Aroldis Chapman, but it's arguably as important as any other component of the roster.
The 2020 Phillies have experienced this frustration time and time again. On Thursday afternoon, for instance, the Phils' seven-run first inning seemed to promise an easy victory in the second game of a doubleheader. The bullpen proved that wasn't the case, as two pitchers combined to allow five runs in the penultimate inning of play -- though only two of them were earned. Regardless, the damage had been done. The bullpen had blown another game, and fans were left slamming their hand down on the couch and shutting off the game in frustration. It was made worse by the fact that the bullpen had blown another lead -- albeit a one-run one -- in the first contest in the doubleheader.
Play-by-play announcer Tom McCarthy may have said it best during the broadcast: it would be an "understatement" to call the bullpen a "huge disaster." That's never a good sign. But the Phillies pitching staff isn't even the worst that the Majors has to offer.
In fact, when using ERA as the primary statistic, Philadelphia owns just one of five staffs in the 2020 Major Leagues that rank among the worst 40 in MLB history (post-1900). That's out of 2,580 eligible teams, the best of which was the 1907 Chicago Cubs World Series team whose pitchers recorded a dazzling 1.73 ERA.
Two American League teams -- the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox -- currently sit at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Detroit's 6.04 ERA is the worst in 2020 MLB, and both Detroit's ERA and Boston's 6.01 ERA in relief are two of the bottom 10 figures the game has ever seen.
Coincidentally, the worst pitching performance of the last 50 years also belongs to the Detroit Tigers, whose 1996 pitching staff put up a 6.38 ERA and led to an abysmal 53-109 record. The clear best starter was Omar Olivares, who went 7-11 with a 4.89 ERA. The bullpen wasn't much better, with a 51% save percentage and 24 games won in relief as opposed to 29 lost. Reliever Richie Lewis "led" the way with a 4.18 ERA in 90 innings pitched, while Gregg Olson (5.02 ERA) led the team with eight saves. Brian Williams led all relievers in innings pitched, which was a questionable decision, considering he was 3-10 with a 6.77 ERA.
The Mariners' 5.67 ERA is "good" for the bottom 20, whereas the aforementioned Phillies rank in the bottom 25 with a 5.58 ERA. Lastly, rounding out the group is the San Francisco Giants' group of pitchers, whose 5.45 ERA is inside the bottom 40.
Two teams from 2019 made the list then (the Orioles and the Rockies), but have so far shown improvement this season.
See the full list of MLB's worst pitching staffs in history (sorted by ERA) below.
The Pirates (5.30 ERA), the Angels (5.27 ERA) and the Diamondbacks (5.16 ERA) are also posting bottom-100 numbers.
If you sort it by adjusted ERA+ instead, which takes into account the league average ERA and the teams' ballparks, the Mariners descend into the bottom 10, the Red Sox and Tigers are Nos. 28 and 29, and the Phillies and Giants rank just outside the bottom 100.
FanGraphs' list of data alters slightly -- some numbers may be sorted slightly differently, or some runs may have been accounted for on one site and not another -- but their list looks largely the same. FanGraphs also shows FIP (fielding independent pitching), the 1996 Tigers remain at the top, but it's actually the 2020 Marlins who rank at No. 2 (5.61 FIP vs. 4.61 ERA). Give those Miami fielders some credit!
It's worth noting that the game has changed drastically over time, and offenses are certainly more potent right now than during other periods of MLB history. Even in a season where many of the games are shortened to seven innings, the average team is scoring 4.71 runs per game, a number which is slightly on the higher side. For instance, the figure in 2014 was 4.07, and that was when all games were nine innings.
While 2020's crop of horrendous pitching teams have time to redeem themselves, fans of these respective franchises certainly won't be able to watch their favorite team finish a game with confidence. Just ask the Phillies phaithful and how long the euphoria of a seven-run lead lasted.