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The 10 worst pitching seasons in Cubs history, by bWAR, since 1900

Some of these pitchers were actually good, but had one really bad year.

Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images

This companion article to yesterday’s list of the 10 worst seasons by a position player in Cubs history requires an explanation.

I could have limited this to pitchers who qualified for the ERA title, as I limited the batter search to players who qualified for the batting title. But in researching this through baseball-reference’s Stathead search, I discovered there were many, many (as in nearly 100 more!) Cubs pitchers who had worse bWAR seasons who did NOT qualify for the ERA title.

So this one’s just going by bWAR alone.

As with the offensive season list, I’m starting with the “best” of these negative bWAR years. Let’s remember some guys!

Ruben Quevedo, 1999, -1.9 bWAR

The Cubs, out of contention, sent Terry Mulholland and Jose Hernandez to the Braves for Quevedo, Micah Bowie and a PTBNL who turned out to be Joey Nation.

The Braves, of course, were in the middle of their run of 14 consecutive NL East titles. They were supposed to be developing great pitching. Quevedo, Bowie and Nation were all considered top prospects at the time.

They weren’t. Quevedo was awful, posting an airplane ERA (7.47) and allowing 21 home runs in 88 innings. They eventually traded him to the Brewers for two months’ worth of David Weathers. Nation pitched in two games for the Cubs in 2000 and then was out of baseball. Bowie was released by the Cubs after the 2000 season and eventually had a couple of decent years as a reliever for the Nationals, and unfortunately is now having serious health issues.

Darold Knowles, 1975, -1.9 bWAR

Back in the day, relievers like Knowles were known as “firemen,” guys who would come in and put out a proverbial “fire” from the other team’s hitters. Knowles had some really good years for the A’s, particularly in the 1973 World Series. Appearing in all seven games, Knowles was one of the key reasons the A’s won that Series. Since then only one other pitcher (Brandon Morrow, 2017) has appeared in all seven Series games.

Anyway, Knowles’ numbers declined in 1974 and the A’s traded him, Bob Locker and Manny Trillo to the Cubs for Billy Williams.

And those of us in the bleachers back then quickly nicknamed him “The Torch,” because he was a reliever who made those “fires” worse. He posted a 5.81 ERA in 58 appearances. He posted 15 saves, but also had seven blown saves.

Knowles pitched a bit better for the Cubs in 1976, and the Cubs traded him to the Rangers for Gene Clines before the 1977 season. That one worked out all right.

Lew Richie, 1913, -1.9 bWAR

Richie had posted three good years prior to this for the Cubs, including for the 1910 NL champions.

His SABR biography gives the reason his performance declined in 1913:

That winter, Richie was down in Florida coaching at the Kentucky Military Institute. In late January, he was riding his motorcycle on the Daytona Beach automobile speedway and hit some sand, crashing at a high rate of speed. His bike was destroyed, and he was “badly cut, bruised and shaken up.” According to [Frank] Chance, it was not the first incident with his bike — he and [Heinie] Zimmerman had been arrested once after losing control of a motorcycle, speeding down the street, blaming it on not knowing the controls and talking back to police.

He reported to camp on time in 1913 and was with the Cubs as the start of the regular season, but he was never the same. Richie posted a 4.98 ERA through five starts and was relegated to a relief role, where he fared worse in 11 appearances, pitching to a 6.75 ERA. On August 9, the Cubs traded Richie to Kansas City in the American Association for pitcher Hippo Vaughn, who would win a pitching Triple Crown in 1918 and earn 151 victories over nine seasons with Chicago.

Richie had a rough life afterwards, spending many years in a sanatorium due to tuberculosis, from which he died in 1936, aged just 52.

Carl Lundgren, 1908, -2.0 bWAR

It seems incongruous to have a year like this on a 99-win World Series champion, and in fact Lundgren had pitched very well for the Cubs from 1902-07.

His SABR bio tells of his inexplicable decline in 1908:

Coming off his finest season, the 28-year-old mysteriously lost his stuff. By late season, he was left in Chicago when the Cubs went on road trips. “Carl Lundgren seems to have shot his bolt and the big leagues will probably soon see the last of this gentlemanly ballplayer,” lamented sportswriter W.A. Phelon. Lundgren managed to complete the season in a Cubs uniform, finishing at 6-9, with an inflated 4.22 ERA, on a team that otherwise went 93-46, with no other starter posting an ERA higher than Chick Fraser’s 2.27 mark. Given this, it came as no surprise when Lundgren saw no action in the Cubs’ repeat conquest of Detroit in the five-game 1908 World Series.

He came to spring camp with the Cubs in 1909, and pitched in just two regular season games before being released. If I had to guess what happened, it was likely undiagnosed arm injuries. He lived in Marengo, near Rockford, for the rest of his life, which also ended young, with a heart attack at age 54, in 1934.

Jake Arrieta, 2021, -2.1 bWAR

Much has already been written about Arrieta’s awful 2021 season, which actually began with a good April. He was injured, likely tried to come back too fast and was just terrible the rest of the year, including four horrific starts with the Padres that made his overall bWAR for the year -2.8.

None of this ruins Arrieta’s Cubs legacy, his great 2015 season, his two no-hitters and his fine postseason performances in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Those, we will remember forever.

Tex Carleton, 1938, -2.2 bWAR

This is weird, that’s now two of these from pennant-winning years. Again, Carleton had been a very good pitcher for the Cubs from 1935-37, but suddenly had an awful year in ‘38. Guess what? Injuries:

Forgoing elbow surgery again, Carleton was bothered by pain which worsened as the 1938 season progressed. After a complete-game 6-2 loss to Cincinnati in his first start, on April 21, he tossed a ten-inning complete game to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 on the 26th. Despite completing seven of his first 12 starts, Carleton was not able to pitch as often as he had in previous years and was surrendering more hits than he ever had. Consequently, when Gabby Hartnett replaced Grimm as player-manager on July 20, he relegated Carleton (whose ERA was hovering around 6.00) to the role of spot starter and long reliever. While the Cubs rolled to the pennant by playing 44-27 ball for Hartnett, Carleton limped to a 10-9 record with a career-high 5.42 ERA in 167⅔ innings. He was relegated to mop-up duty in the Cubs’ four-game sweep by the New York Yankees in the World Series. Relieving Larry French in the eighth inning of Game Four with the Yankees leading 4-3 and two runners on base, Carleton faced three batters, walked two of them, uncorked two wild pitches, and surrendered a double before being relieved having given up two runs (on a double by Frank Crosetti off Carleton’s successor, Dizzy Dean) as the Yankees took a commanding 8-3 lead and sewed up the Series. In December, citing Carleton’s poor attitude and inadequate “zeal for work” the Cubs sent him outright to the Milwaukee Brewers, their affiliate in the American Association.

Carleton eventually pitched one more year in 1940 for the Dodgers, then retired. More from his SABR bio linked above:

After retiring from baseball, Carleton engaged in various professions, working for Consolidated Aircraft in Fort Worth, operating sporting-goods stores, and owning an insurance agency. He died in Fort Worth on January 12, 1977, at the age of 70.

Edwin Jackson, 2014, -2.3 bWAR

This is the one you’ve been waiting for. Jackson pitched only 140⅔ innings in 2014, and yes, they were mostly really bad innings. To Jackson’s credit, he never complained or made excuses, he continued to work hard to try to improve. Unfortunately, that never translated into results on the field. The Cubs wound up releasing him and eating the last year of his contract, but on August 22, 2015 he came back to Wrigley pitching for the Braves and served up a pair of home runs, one to Miguel Montero and Jorge Soler, the difference in a 9-7 Cubs win. So they got some value out of the last year of that deal after all.

Jim Bullinger, 1996, -2.4 bWAR

Here’s another guy who pitched (reasonably) well for the Cubs for a few years (1992-95) before having an awful year that landed him on this list.

After seven starts he had an 8.02 ERA. Then he shut out the Mets on two hits May 12, keeping him in the rotation for a time, but he followed that with an 8.62 ERA in three subsequent starts, which got him banished to the bullpen. He was back and forth the rest of the year between bullpen and rotation, and after 1996 he left the Cubs as a free agent. He pitched for several years in indy ball in the Northern League and Atlantic League and was in affiliated ball as recently as 2005 with Charlotte in the White Sox organization.

Kyle Farnsworth, 2002, -2.5 bWAR

The Cubs just didn’t seem to know what to do with Farnsworth. They tried him as a starter, that didn’t work. He had a good year in relief in 2001 (2.74 ERA, 1.146 WHIP, 2.1 bWAR) but seriously regressed in 2002, with the ERA jumping to 7.33. He had a better year for the 2003 NL Central champion Cubs, and after 2004 he was traded to the Tigers for Scott Moore, Roberto Novoa and Bo Flowers. None of those guys had any real impact on the Cubs, while Farnsworth pitched for another decade and in four postseasons.

If the Cubs had just installed him at closer and left him there, it might have worked out. He certainly had the right mindset for a closer.

Speed Martin, 1920, -2.5 bWAR

One thing is for sure: Martin had one of the better baseball names in Cubs history. He had pitched well for the 1918 Cubs NL champions, and again in 1919, but 1920 — blech.

There’s no real information available about Martin online, so I only know what I see in his baseball-reference page. He pitched again, not well, for the Cubs in 1921, had one game in 1922, then pitched again in the minors from 1925-28. He lived a long life, dying at age 89 in California in 1983.