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Are the 2023 Oakland Athletics going to be the worst team in MLB history?

The answer is... “Maybe.” Let’s look at the numbers.

The A’s celebrate a walkoff win Tuesday vs. Arizona. You won’t see scenes like this very often this year
Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

It’s a bit odd to be writing this article a day after the Oakland A’s actually won a game, and in dramatic walkoff fashion in extra innings after trailing 8-4 going into the bottom of the seventh.

The win put the A’s in double digits in wins, finally, the last 2023 team to reach the 10-win mark. Interestingly, four of the A’s 10 wins have been walkoffs. That’s one more walkoff win than the Cubs have in 2022 and 2023 combined.

That weird factoid notwithstanding, the Athletics are not a good team. Their current winning percentage is .227, which would equate to a 38-124 record over a 162-game season. That would be the worst in the 162-game era (since 1961), a couple of games worse than the 1962 Mets, who are often held up as the gold standard of bad teams over the last 60 or so years.

There are two pre-expansion teams that had winning percentages below .250. The 1935 Boston Braves — the team Babe Ruth ended his career with! — finished 38-115, a .248 winning percentage. And another Athletics team, that one playing in the team’s original city of Philadelphia in 1916, went 36-117, a .235 percentage that’s pretty close to what their brethren 107 years later are doing at this time.

The Athletics’ 10-34 record is right where their run differential of -159 says they should be. That run differential over 44 games projects to -585 over a full season.

That is a frightening number. The 1962 Mets had a run differential of -331. The worst in the Modern Era of MLB (since 1900) is -349, set by the 1932 Red Sox, who had a W/L record of 43-111. In recent years, the 2003 Tigers (43-119) had a run differential of -337 and the 47-115 2019 Tigers were -333. (The famed 1899 Cleveland Spiders, generally acknowledged as the worst team ever, were 20-134 with a run differential of -723.)

Oakland’s current run differential, now posted over 27 percent of the season, does indeed suggest that this year’s A’s could be the worst MLB team ever.

The A’s offensive numbers aren’t too... offensive. They’ve scored 170 runs, which is... not last! It’s tied for 26th. Their 52 home runs are 11th — one more than the Cubs! Their OPS ranks 23rd, which is bad, but not “worst team ever” bad.

So it’s got to be the pitching, right? Yup. The A’s team ERA is 7.18. That’s about a third of a run worse than the worst in MLB history, 6.80, set by the 1930 Phillies. 1930 was an outlier of an offensive season largely caused by baseballs that were easier to hit and harder for pitchers to grip. In recent times, the worst team ERA for an entire season was 6.38, by the 1996 Tigers, who went 53-109. The only other team since 1939 that posted an ERA over 6 for an entire season was the 1999 Rockies, whose 6.03 ERA gave them “only” a 72-90 record largely because that team was an offensive juggernaut that scored a N.L.-leading 906 runs.

The 2023 Oakland Athletics are not going to score 906 runs. They are on pace to score 626 runs, which isn’t terrible — but they are also on pace to allow 1,211 runs, which would be the most in MLB history in the Modern Era. The current record is 1,199, held by those 1930 Phillies.

The A’s issues stem from the fact that they’ve already traded away pretty much everyone who was a good player for that team over the last two or three years. Brent Rooker, a 28-year-old journeyman who had never played more than 58 games in a season before 2023 and who was acquired by Oakland on waivers, is having a very good year: 304/.418/.624 (38-for-125) with 11 home runs, and as of today he is leading MLB in SLG and OPS. But he and first baseman Ryan Noda are the only Oakland position players with more than 1.0 bWAR (Comparison point: the Cubs have four in Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, Nico Hoerner and Patrick Wisdom.)

It’s the pitching that’s atrocious. Just one A’s starter has an ERA under 5, and that’s rookie Mason Miller, who is now on the injured list. Their entire pitching staff looks like a waiver wire list, and that’s because many of them were acquired that way. They have already used 25 different pitchers (plus position players Carlos Perez and Jace Peterson as pitchers) this year.

It’s like putting a Triple-A (or even Double-A, for some of these guys) team on a MLB schedule as an experiment to see what happens. Well, now we know — it could be the worst to ever play a MLB schedule. The A’s have won consecutive games this year only once, and those were over another bad team, the Royals. They have been 2-9, 4-16, 6-26, 8-31 and now 10-34. Some of those records aren’t too much different from the 1981 Cubs at various stages before that year’s strike. I am convinced that if not for the strike, that team would have set a Cubs franchise record for losses, probably somewhere around 105-106.

As will this A’s team, most likely, even though the bar is set pretty high for that franchise record at 117, by the 1916 club noted earlier. In the team’s Oakland tenure — which has now lasted longer than they played in Philadelphia — the most is 108, set in 1979, and the A’s seem poised to shatter that one.

It’s going to get much worse for the A’s in the near future. After they finish a series against the Diamondbacks tonight, they play at Houston and Seattle, then host the Astros and Braves. That’s going to be an ugly two weeks. And they have upcoming series remaining against the Rays, Yankees and Dodgers.

That 38-124 record is looking pretty likely. What do you think?


How many games will the A’s win this year?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Fewer than 35
    (23 votes)
  • 27%
    (57 votes)
  • 37%
    (79 votes)
  • 14%
    (31 votes)
  • 8%
    50 or more
    (18 votes)
208 votes total Vote Now