The WOATs: The 5 All-Time Worst Franchises in Baseball

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By Justin Rivers – Staff Writer

In Major League Baseball, some franchises knock success out of the park, while others strikeout. Most baseball fans can easily identify the all-time great franchises. There are the Yankees and the Athletics in the American League plus the Dodgers and the Cardinals in the National League; however, could those same fans tell you the all-time worst franchises? The ones that routinely strikeout? With Opening Day just a few days away, it’s time for another WOAT ranking! In this edition, I am taking a swing at the MLB, and – no – MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t on this list. Previously, I brought you The 5 All-Time Worst Franchises in Basketball and The 5 All-Time Worst #1 Picks of the NBA Draft Lottery Era. Now, in this installment of the WOATs, I leave my bias in the dugout and take a crack at America’s Pastime. So, let’s play ball!

Regarding my methodology, I analyzed data on all 30 Major League Baseball teams across the following eight categories: All-Time W-L%, Seasons Per Manager, Seasons Per Playoff Appearance, Seasons Per Division Title, Seasons Per Pennant, Seasons Per Championship, Playoffs Per Pennant, and Playoff Per Championship. Since there were no divisions prior to the 1969 season, the Seasons Per Division Title category uses end-of-season finish within the division if applicable. If not applicable, I considered a franchise’s first place finishes within their league’s standings prior to ’69 as a quasi-division title. Additionally, I included two binary categories, Championship and Multiple Championships, where a team received a one for yes or a zero for no. Adding the “Multiple Championships” category permitted teams who’ve won multiple championships to stand out from those who’ve only won one, because both teams have a one in the “Championship” category. All of these categories are defined in the methodology section at the bottom of the article. Due to the manner in which certain categories are more indicative of overall success than others, and because names are made in October, the following categories were weighted by 1.25, 1.5, 1.75, and 2.5 respectively: Seasons Per Playoff Appearance, Seasons Per Division Title, Seasons Per Pennant, and Seasons Per Championship.

Once these were compiled, each franchise was given a z-score in each category, because simply ranking them would not account for how dominant or how abysmal one franchise is in a given category. Therefore, by using z-scores, the data captures how far above or how far below one franchise is from the overall average of all 30 observed. After summing each team’s z-scores, each franchise was then ranked accordingly. This ranking is illustrated in the following graph:

The five franchises that ranked the worst constitute the following ranking. Below, you will find each franchise’s summed z-score and statistical values in the aforementioned eight categories, as well as how they ranked amongst the other 30 MLB franchises in parentheses. PHEW! Now that you know the method to my madness, let’s see who makes this edition of the WOATs!

5.) The Philadelphia Phillies (1883 to Present)

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

All-Time W-L%: 0.472 (26th)

Seasons Per Manager: 2.357 (21st)

Seasons Per Playoff Appearance: 9.786 (25th)

Seasons Per Division Title: 10.539 (23rd)

Seasons Per Pennant: 19.571 (16th)

Seasons Per Championship: 68.5 (24th)

Playoffs Per Pennant: 2 (15th)

Playoffs Per Championship: 7 (20th)

I find it hard to believe that even the City of Brotherly Love possesses enough love to support this moribund franchise. At least the Philadelphia 76ers had a process to trust, the Phillies – on the other hand – appear to stumble upon success about as often as you find a needle in an ocean-sized haystack. While I am old enough to recall their five year stretch of NL East crowns from ’07 to ’11, during which they won the pennant twice and captured the franchise’s second championship in ’08, the Phillies franchise remains historically abysmal. 

In their 137-season history, they have made the playoffs only 14 times and boast an all-time W-L% of 0.472. They have also only won their division (or league, if prior to the 1969 season) 13 times. Out of all 30 MLB teams, they ranked 26th in All-Time W-L%, 21st in Seasons Per Manager, 25th in Seasons Per Playoff Appearance, and 23rd in Seasons Per Division Title. 23rd is bad; however, once you realize only 28 franchises have at least one division crown to their history, 23rd appears even worse. Out of the 26 franchises that have won at least one championship, they ranked 24th in Seasons Per Championship. On average, they win a championship about once every 68 seasons. If you’re lucky, you may see the Phillies win one in your lifetime. On the brightside, when they make the playoffs, they are successful. This is illustrated by their middle of the pack ranking in Seasons Per Pennant and Playoffs Per Pennant. With 14 total playoff appearances, seven pennants is pretty good; however, when you can only make the playoffs about once every decade – on average, you aren’t good enough often enough. 

4.) The Baltimore Orioles (1901 to Present)

Source: NY Times

All-Time W-L%: 0.474 (24th)

Seasons Per Manager: 4.628 (1st)

Seasons Per Playoff Appearance: 14.214 (30th)

Seasons Per Division Title: 18.091 (28th)

Seasons Per Pennant: 28.429 (25th)

Seasons Per Championship: 66.333 (23rd)

Playoffs Per Pennant: 2 (15th)

Playoffs Per Championship: 4.667 (14th)

It’s easy to forget that the Baltimore Ravens aren’t the city’s only pro sports franchise. The city of mouth-watering crab houses is also home to the Baltimore Orioles. Unlike the Ravens, the Orioles haven’t given their fanbase much of which to be proud. The team hasn’t had a 100-win season since 1980 – four decades ago. Since 1980, the majority of their seasons have been sub-500 seasons (i.e. losing seasons). In fact, from 1998 to 2011, they gifted the people of Baltimore 14 consecutive losing seasons. 2012 was the first time I had ever seen the Orioles resemble some semblance of good. Growing up, Orioles prosperity was about as common as someone winning the lottery thrice.

As a franchise, their winning percentage of 0.474  ranked 24th in All-Time W-L% and dead last in both Seasons Per Division Title and Seasons Per Playoff Appearance. On average, they make the playoffs about once every 14 years. Out of the 29 franchises who’ve won a pennant, they ranked 25th in Seasons Per Pennant. Moreover, they ranked 23rd in Seasons Per Championship out of the 24 teams who’ve won a championship. Since 1983, they’ve neither won a pennant nor a championship. At least, Baltimore’s crabs are amazing and well-known, because their ball club is anything but renowned.  

3.) The Washington Nationals (1969 to Present)

Source: Getty Images

All-Time W-L%: 0.489 (17th)

Seasons Per Manager: 2.833 (14th)

Seasons Per Playoff Appearance: 8.5 (21st)

Seasons Per Division Title: 10.2 (21st)

Seasons Per Pennant: 51 (tied for 27th)

Seasons Per Championship: 51 (19th)

Playoffs Per Pennant: 6 (tied for 26th)

Playoffs Per Championship: 6 (tied for 17th)

Albeit the defending World Series Champions, the Washington Nationals, are currently not a bad team, their history is almost as bad as it gets. It’s what’s earned them the 3-spot on this WOAT ranking. The franchise has never had a 100-win season, yet they have four 100-loss seasons to their name. Ok, 100-wins might be too high an expectation. If that’s the case, then the fact that they’ve only ever had nine 90-plus win seasons is pathetic, too. During their 36-season long stint in the Great White North as the Montreal Expos, they made the playoffs just once. Yes, once in 36 seasons. In the Nation’s Capital, they’ve since gone on to make the playoffs five more times; however, prior to their 4-game run to a World Series title in 2019, the Nationals were 0-4 in the playoffs. Nevertheless, six total playoff berths and five total division crowns in a 51-season history is awful. 

In the rankings, their sub-500 W-L% of 0.489 ranked 17th in All-Time W-L%. Additionally, the franchise ranked 21st in both Seasons Per Playoff Appearance and Seasons Per Division Title. Of the 29 franchises that have won at least one pennant, they tied for second to last in Seasons Per Pennant and Playoffs Per Pennant. Moreover, they ranked in the bottom five in Seasons Per Championship as well as in the bottom third in the Playoffs Per Championship category. On the brightside, with their 2019 World Series victory, National fans finally have something to celebrate and a reason to hope again. 

2.) The Milwaukee Brewers (1969 to Present)

Source: ESPN.com

All-Time W-L%: 0.481 (19th)

Seasons Per Manager: 2.684 (17th)

Seasons Per Playoff Appearance: 8.5 (21st)

Seasons Per Division Title: 12.75 (26th)

Seasons Per Pennant: 51 (tied for 27th)

Seasons Per Championship: N/A

Playoffs Per Pennant: 6 (tied for 26th)

Playoffs Per Championship: N/A

Yes, it gets worse – much worse. The Milwaukee Brewers are the proud proprietor of the 2-spot on my list. The woeful Brewers are one of six MLB franchises to have never won a championship and have only a single pennant to their name. While they have more 100-loss seasons than 100-win seasons, it gets worse. They have only eight seasons with even 90-plus wins. Worse still, they’ve only 18 total winning seasons, which highlights their propensity for losing. In contrast, they’ve recorded 15 90-plus loss seasons – including their abysmal and historically bad 56-106 campaign in ’02. By the grace of god, this was their only 100-plus loss season, because they were clearly closing in on 100-plus losses in ’01, ’03, and ’04 when they lost 94 games. In total, they’ve underwhelmingly made the playoffs six times in their 51-season history, and a third of those appearances occurred in the last two seasons. Plus, their only pennant was nearly 40 years ago! As a franchise, they are clearly often about as good as getting teeth pulled. 

In terms of rankings, they were 19th in All-Time W-L% with a winning percentage of 0.481. Furthermore, they ranked 21st in Seasons Per Playoff Appearance, and, out of the 28 teams that have at least one division crown on their franchise’s resume, they ranked  26th in Seasons Per Division Title. They also tied for second to last in Playoffs Per Pennant. It ain’t easy being great, but – historically – the Brewers have made it appear damn near impossible to be even somewhat alright. 

1.) The Los Angeles Angels (1961 to Present)

Source: LA Times

All-Time W-L%: 0.49947 (13th)

Seasons Per Manager: 2.810 (15th)

Seasons Per Playoff Appearance: 5.9 (13th)

Seasons Per Division Title: 6.556 (10th)

Seasons Per Pennant: 59 (29th)

Seasons Per Championship: 59 (21st)

Playoffs Per Pennant: 10 (29th)

Playoffs Per Championship: 10 (23rd)

And, we’ve officially arrived at rock bottom. Last but most definitely least, we’ve arrived at our WOAT, and, unfortunately for the Los Angeles Angels, it ain’t 1994. There aren’t any angels in the outfield coming to save the day. Since their inaugural season in 1961, the Angels have historically been a far cry from great. In fact, they’ve only made the playoffs ten times – only thrice prior to this millennium. Since 2000, they have made the playoffs seven more times, winning the World Series in ’02; however, ten playoff appearances in 59 seasons illustrates a glowing degree of managerial ineptitude. In Los Angeles, they’ve been relegated to the position of the woeful little brother franchise stuck in the huge shadow of its astronomically more successful big brother, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

On the brightside, Mike Trout is currently on the Angels, right? Nope! The franchise has been so inept that they are wasting away the career of an all-time great player. With Trout – the best player in baseball – on their roster the past nine seasons, they have posted more losing seasons than winning ones. In Trout’s 9-season career, the Angels have only won a single division crown and earned a sole playoff berth in 2014 – during which they were promptly swept by the eventual World Series champions, the San Francisco Giants.

The Angels ranked 13th in both All-Time W-L% and Seasons Per Playoff Appearance. They were 10th in Seasons Per Division Titles. They were dead last in Seasons Per Pennant and Playoffs Per Pennant as well as in the bottom-5 in Seasons Per Championship. Lastly, they were second to last in Playoffs Per Championship. For a franchise that’s been around for nearly six decades, they have only been somewhat respectable for one of them. While all franchises can’t be great, most fans will thank god that “WOAT” is a designation reserved for only one sorrowful franchise, and the Angels are as sorrowful as it gets. Like their name suggests, divine intervention is sorely needed in Anaheim. Let’s start with the front office, because signing Albert Pujols – who may or may not have been 30 years old – to a ten year $240 million contract was not only absurd, but demonstrated an insane asylum-worthy level of idiocy. There’s swinging for the fences, but the Angels have been swinging for some alien’s fence on the far side of Pluto in free agency.  

Methodology:

Here are the ten categories I used to make this installment of The WOATs:

  1. All-Time W-L%: A measure of the percentage of games a team has won, using the amount of wins a team has accrued divided by the total games played (total wins + total losses).
  1. Seasons Per Manager: By dividing the number of seasons a team has been in a pro sports franchise by the total number of managers that the franchises has employed, this statistic measures the rollover rate of a given team’s managers. I used this, because continuity illustrates stability. Plus, stability is typically positively correlated with overall franchise success.  
  1. Seasons Per Playoff Appearance: How often does your team make the playoffs? Making the playoffs is an obvious indicator of success, because currently a third of the league makes the playoffs – the winningest third. By dividing the amount of seasons a team has existed by the total number of playoff appearances it has made, this statistic measures the average number of seasons it takes for a franchise to make the playoffs. Obviously, the lower the better. 
  1. Seasons Per Division Title: How often does your team win their division? A division crown is rewarded with a playoff berth and home field advantage. Therefore, by dividing the number of seasons a team has been in existence by the number of division crowns it’s won, the resulting value demonstrates the average frequency with which a team wins their division; however, I expanded the meaning of division to include a team’s finishes prior to 1969 when there were no divisions. During this period, teams just competed in their respective league’s standings and not also in divisional standings like they currently do. 
  1. Seasons Per Pennant: How many seasons does it take for your team to win their respective league – the National League or the American League? By dividing the number of seasons a team has been in league by the number of pennants it’s won, the resulting value illustrates – on average – how often is your team the best team in the NL or AL.  
  1. Seasons Per Championship: Given how long your team has been a part of pro baseball, how often do they win the championship? By dividing the number of seasons they’ve existed by the number of titles garnered, the resulting value displays on average how many seasons it takes for a team to win a championship.
  1. Playoffs Per Pennant: Once your team makes the playoffs, how often do they win the conference? By dividing total playoff appearances by pennants won, this statistic measures how often a team wins the pennant once they’ve made the playoffs, on average.
  1. Playoffs Per Championship: Once your team makes the playoffs, how often do they win the championship? By dividing total playoff appearances by championships won, this statistic measures how many playoff appearances it takes for a team to win a championship, on average.
  1. Championship: A binary category that gives a one to teams that have won a title and a zero to those who have not.
  1.  Multiple Championships: A binary category that gives a one to teams that have multiple titles and a zero to those who have either never won a title or have only won one championship.

Complete Ranking:

In case you missed it above, here is a table illustrating the full ranking of all 30 MLB franchises. In this complete ranking, one represents the GOAT franchise, the best all-time baseball team, and 30 denotes the WOAT. As a native New Yorker, I am pleased to say that The Bronx Bombers ranked pretty well. I suppose The Sox did alright, too.

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