Ranking the 8 Worst Pitchers in Major League Baseball This Season
The 2012 MLB season has been a great one for pitching. The race for the Cy Young Award in each league is competitive, with multiple candidates making a strong case for postseason honors.
Defending Cy Young Award winners Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw are both pitching well enough to win the award again, though other ace pitchers like Jered Weaver, Chris Sale, Johnny Cueto and R.A. Dickey are among those presenting a strong challenge.
Yet there has also been some awful pitching in the major leagues this season. There have been some performances that have been painful for fans to watch (and reporters and bloggers to write about). It's been so bad for some unfortunate pitchers that you can hardly bear to look each time they take the mound.
Before listing the pitchers we think have been the worst this season, it's worth mentioning that a couple of names that could be on the list aren't because of their previous achievements.
The San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum and Boston Red Sox's Jon Lester have been two of the worst starters in baseball this year. Yet each has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball during his career. And both appear to be turning themselves around later in the season. So they're not on this list.
With that qualifier out of the way, these eight pitchers have been terrible this season, giving their team no chance to win when they take the mound or blowing games at the end.
Your suggestions for other pitchers who should be on the list are welcome in the comments. But in our view, these are the eight hurlers who likely can't wait for the season to end.
All statistics are current as of August 14.
8. Ricky Romero, Toronto Blue Jays
We may be stretching our idea of "worst" a bit here.
Is Ricky Romero one of the worst pitchers in baseball? In terms of talent, no. Certainly not in terms of achievement either. Last year, Romero compiled a 2.92 ERA pitching in the AL East, racking up 225 innings for the Toronto Blue Jays.
That makes his performance this season all the more disappointing, however. Romero is winless in his last nine starts for the Blue Jays. During July, he was 0-6 with an 8.04 ERA and 2.01 WHIP.
What's been the problem? As the Toronto Sun's Bob Elliott wrote, Romero has had trouble locating his fastball this season. That's resulted in a walk rate of 4.8 per nine innings, the highest of Romero's four-year major league career. Consequently, his rate of strikeouts per nine innings has also dropped from 7.1 to 6.2.
To be fair, Romero has pitched well in his past three appearances, allowing a total of six runs in 20 innings.
But during a season in which the Blue Jays have suffered terrible luck in keeping their starting pitchers healthy, the guy expected to be at least a strong No. 2 behind Brandon Morrow has pitched like, well, number two, if you know what I'm saying.
7. John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Last year, John Axford saved 46 games for the Milwaukee Brewers, helping them to an NL Central title. During the season, he blew only two save opportunities.
So much can change in a year.
This season, Axford has 18 saves and leads the majors with eight blown saves as of Aug. 14. The Brewers as a team have blown 22 saves, according to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy, three more than they squandered all of last year. As a result, both Axford and Francisco Rodriguez have lost the closer job while manager Ron Roenicke attempts to find a reliable ninth-inning pitcher.
Axford is actually striking out more batters this year, sitting down an average of 11.3 batters per nine innings compared to 10.5 last season. But he's also allowing more hits (8.6 per nine), home runs (1.3) and walks (4.9) than he has in his career.
Finding better control of his pitches will be the key to Axford turning himself around. Can he do so through the final two months of this season or is this a project that will carry over to spring training next year?
6. Josh Tomlin, Cleveland Indians
Josh Tomlin was a middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Cleveland Indians to begin with.
Last year, his 4.25 ERA was the second-best among Indians starting pitchers. But Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez were considered the Tribe's top two starters. The acquisition of Derek Lowe pushed Tomlin down to the No. 4 spot in the rotation.
With a 6.36 ERA this season, Tomlin has barely pitched well enough to keep his spot among the Indians' starting five. In his most recent start on Aug. 12, he was lit up for seven runs in less than two innings of work.
Tomlin's biggest problem is that he's been extremely hittable. He's allowed 11 hits per nine innings this season. Tomlin's not a strikeout pitcher, so he's going to pitch to contact and give up some hits. As his .309 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) shows, batted balls are finding open space on the field.
As it turns out, Tomlin has been dealing with pain in his elbow for the past month. After his last start, it finally got bad enough, according to the Plain Dealer's Dennis Manoloff, that Tomlin finally told manager Manny Acta about the pain.
With a sore elbow, Tomlin likely wasn't getting the same movement and location on his pitches. That would explain why opposing batters have been able to tee off.
5. Francisco Cordero, Houston Astros
Leaving the National League was not a good career move for Francisco Cordero.
Last year, the 37-year-old reliever compiled a 2.45 ERA and 37 saves for the Cincinnati Reds. Cordero signed with the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent after failing to find the money or multi-year deal he sought on the open market.
The AL East grinder chewed up Cordero and spit him out. In 41 appearances for the Blue Jays, Cordero notched a 5.77 ERA and a hits per nine innings rate of 12.8.
Mercifully, Cordero was traded back to the NL, albeit to the lowly Houston Astros. It was a curious move for the Astros, who had no need for a veteran reliever. But perhaps general manager Jeff Luhnow was hoping to flip him to a contender for a minor league prospect or two.
Unfortunately, Cordero developed a toe injury that put him on the disabled list. That might explain why he allowed 11 runs and 13 hits in just five innings with the Astros. That's good for a 19.80 ERA.
4. Heath Bell, Miami Marlins
Heath Bell was supposed to be a part of the Miami Marlins' renaissance this season, signing a three-year, $27 million contract during the offseason. Instead, he ended up being one reason for the team's disappointing downfall.
After notching 43 saves for the San Diego Padres last season, Bell has saved only 19 games this year with the Marlins. He's blown six saves, prompting manager Ozzie Guillen to take him out of the closer role on more than one occasion.
The Marlins probably should have been more suspicious of a reliever whose strikeouts per nine innings rate dropped from 11.1 to 7.3 last season. Perhaps they thought pitching for a better team might change that pattern. Instead, they got a pitcher with diminished velocity and out-of-whack mechanics.
Bell now looks more like trade bait as the Marlins look to shed overpaid, underperforming players from their payroll. But finding a taker for a reliever with a 6.07 ERA who lost his closer's job and has $18 million remaining on his contract could be a tough task for the Marlins this offseason.
3. Nick Blackburn, Minnesota Twins
The Minnesota Twins were going to be a bad team this season. But performances from pitchers like Nick Blackburn ensured that the Twins wouldn't be any sort of surprise.
Maybe very little should have been expected from Blackburn after going 7-10 with a 4.49 ERA last year. But the Twins had to hope they'd better production than the 7.33 ERA Blackburn is carrying this season.
In July, Blackburn was optioned to Triple-A Rochester to work on his sinker. He pitched well for the Red Wings, compiling a 2.57 ERA in four starts. Since returning to the big leagues, however, he hasn't shown much improvement.
Blackburn has always been a hittable pitcher, giving up an average of 11 hits per nine innings during his six-year major league career. But Blackburn is allowing 12.7 hits per nine this season, the highest rate of his career. He's also serving up an average of two home runs per game, also the highest he's ever allowed.
According to 1500ESPN.com's Phil Mackey, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Blackburn will be "one of our pitchers again next year." Gardenhire also called Blackburn the veteran of their staff, which should give Twins fans shivers. How is that pitching staff going to look in 2013?
2. Ervin Santana, Los Angeles Angels
Ervin Santana wasn't projected to be a top-of-the-rotation starter this season. But he may have been expected to be one of the best No. 4 starters in baseball.
That wouldn't have been unreasonable for a pitcher who logged 228.2 innings last season and notched a 3.28 ERA.
But it's fallen apart for Santana this year. In 22 starts, he has a 5-10 record and 5.82 ERA. Among the 100 pitchers who qualify for the ERA title this season, Santana is No. 99. He's also allowed 28 home runs this season, the most in baseball.
Some of Santana's struggles have been attributed to his mechanics, as the Los Angeles Times' Lance Pugmire reported in late July.
Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Mike Butcher felt that Santana wasn't throwing out of the correct arm slot and thus getting on top of the ball. That resulted in less movement on his slider and velocity on his fastball.
Butcher also believed that Santana needed to be more aggressive early in the count.
Santana allowed five runs (four earned) in his most recent start on August 10 versus the Seattle Mariners. So more work is apparently still needed.
1. Jeremy Guthrie, Kansas City Royals
Only one starting pitcher among the 100 who are qualified for the major league's ERA title is worse than Ervin Santana. That distinction goes to Jeremy Guthrie of the Kansas City Royals.
Guthrie has a 6.10 ERA this season. Most of the damage occurred while Guthrie pitched for the Colorado Rockies, in what had to be one of the most disastrous transactions ever made. Jason Hammel went to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange and became one of the O's best pitchers. Meanwhile, Guthrie showed how bad of an idea it is to use a fly ball pitcher at Coors Field.
The veteran right-hander was expected to provide some leadership for a young Rockies pitching staff. If he demonstrated anything, it was how not to pitch in the major leagues. The Rockies eventually put Guthrie in the bullpen before the team decided to go with a four-man rotation and limit each starter to 75 pitches.
Guthrie was unloaded to the Royals in mid-July in what could generously be described as a challenge trade for Jonathan Sanchez (7.76 ERA for Kansas City in 12 starts).
Returning to the American League didn't look like a good move for Guthrie in his first two starts with the Royals, as he allowed 11 runs in and 15 hits in 10.1 innings. But in his past two appearances, Guthrie has pitched well. In his most recent start, he pitched eight scoreless innings against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
Perhaps Guthrie isn't the worst pitcher in MLB this season, after all. He has to pitch a lot more scoreless baseball to erase the memory of the terrible performances he subjected baseball fans to earlier this season, however.
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