The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have lost 15 of their past 18 games and have the second-worst record in the American League. The Angels also have Mike Trout, who is unquestionably one of the elite players in baseball and who again leads the majors in Wins Above Replacement this season.
This raises the question: How often do we see truly elite players on terrible teams? In the Angels’ case, maybe never.
The Angels currently have a .416 win percentage this season, on pace to be their worst under Mike Scioscia and the fourth-worst in franchise history. Trout is on pace for 10 Wins Above Replacement. The Angels’ win percentage would be the second-worst in major-league history by a team with a 10-WAR position player.
In fact, there have been 55 instances in major league history of a position player producing a 10-WAR season. Of those 55, only three of those players’ teams even finished below .500, and those 55 teams averaged 92 wins.
Despite that, there are a number of great players who have played on not-so-great teams. We take a look at some of the notable ones, including pitchers (in reverse chronological order):
2010 Seattle Mariners – 61-101 (.377)
Felix Hernandez won the 2010 AL Cy Young Award with a 13-12 record, but a league-leading 2.27 ERA. His 13 wins are the fewest by a Cy Young-winning starter in a full season, and the Mariners went 17-17 in his starts, the worst winning percentage by a team in starts by a Cy Young winner.
Seattle went 61-101 in 2010, the worst winning percentage by a team with a Cy Young winner, and finished with the worst record in the American League and second-worst in the majors.
2009 Kansas City Royals – 65-97 (.401)
Greinke won the AL Cy Young Award in 2009, finishing the season with a 16-8 record. He led the major leagues with a 2.16 ERA and the American League with a 1.07 WHIP. Greinke allowed a career-low 11 home runs, leading the AL in fewest per 9 IP.
Greinke’s Royals finished 65-97 tied for worst record in the AL Central and second-worst in the league.
2004 Seattle Mariners – 63-99 (.389)
In 2004, Ichiro set the major league record with 262 hits in a single season. Ichiro hit .372 that season, leading the major leagues, a mark that has not been equaled since. He finished the season with a career-high .869 OPS in addition to winning his fourth consecutive Gold Glove Award.
The Mariners finished the season last in the AL West, with the second-worst record in the American League and third-worst in the majors.
Cal Ripken Jr.
1991 Baltimore Orioles – 67-95 (.414)
Ripken won the MVP in 1991 as well as his first career Gold Glove Award. His 368 total bases led the majors, something only Alex Rodriguez, Robin Yount, Ernie Banks and Honus Wagner have done as shortstops.
Ripken’s WAR was 11.5 that season, tied with Wagner for the highest ever by a shortstop. But the Orioles finished 67-95, making them the worst team ever to have a 10+ WAR position player.
1987 San Diego Padres – 65-97 (.401)
Gwynn hit .370 in 1987, leading the major leagues with his best average in a season at that point in his career. He also led the majors with 218 hits, making the All-Star team and winning both a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Award that season.
The Padres finished with the worst record in the National League and second-worst in the majors.
1972 Philadelphia Phillies – 59-97 (.378)
Carlton won the first of his four Cy Young Awards in 1972, finishing the season 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA and 310 strikeouts, leading the National League and setting career bests in each of those categories.
All other Phillies pitchers went 32-87 that season as they finished with the worst record in the National League and second-worst in the majors.
1958-59 Chicago Cubs – combined 146-162 (.474)
Banks won back-to-back MVP Awards in 1958 and 1959. In 1958 he led the major leagues with 47 homers and 129 RBIs, and followed that up with 45 homers and a major-league-leading and career-high 143 RBIs in 1959.
Banks never reached the postseason with the Cubs, who finished fifth in the National League in each of those two seasons. He played 2,528 career regular-season games, the most by any player who didn’t reach the postseason in major league history.
1947 Pittsburgh Pirates – 62-92 (.403)
In 1947, his second year in the majors, Kiner hit 51 home runs, tied for the major league lead. He led the majors in slugging (.639) and led the National League in OPS (1.055), trailing only Ted Williams in the majors.
He also led the major leagues with 361 total bases that season, tied for his career best, and finished sixth in the MVP voting.
Despite that, the Pirates finished that season 62-92, the worst record in the National League and second-worst record in the majors.
1935 Philadelphia Athletics – 58-91 (.389)
Foxx hit .346 in 1935, finishing tied for the major league lead with 36 home runs. He also led the major leagues in slugging (.636) and led the American League in OPS (1.096).
The Athletics finished that season 58-91, good for the worst record in the American League and second-worst record in the majors.
1924 St. Louis Cardinals – 65-89 (.422)
In 1924, Hornsby hit a major-league-leading .424, the best single-season batting average by an NL player in the modern era (since 1900).
Hornsby had a .507 on-base percentage and a 1.203 OPS, both of which led the National League and were second only to Babe Ruth in the majors. He also led the NL in runs (121), hits (227), doubles (43) and total bases (373), finishing second in MVP voting to Brooklyn’s Dazzy Vance.
Despite that, Hornsby’s Cardinals finished the year 65-89, the fifth-worst record in the majors.