Breathe easy Eugenio Velez, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has erased you from the record books. The 33-year-old went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts Monday against the Oakland Athletics, extending his hitless streak to 49 consecutive at-bats and eclipsing Velez’s record of futility set in 2011 (0 for 46).
A slow start to the season isn’t necessarily a bad omen, but Davis was pretty much the worst hitter in baseball history last season as he batted .168 with a .539 OPS over 470 plate appearances, the lowest batting average ever for a hitter qualifying for the batting title since 1909. He also struck out in 37 percent of those plate appearances, reducing his worth to 3.1 wins below a replacement-level player. The only hitters less valuable than Davis over a full season include Jim Levey (minus-4.0 fWAR in 1933 and minus-3.3 fWAR in 1931), Tommy Thevenow (minus-3.6 fWAR in 1930) and Jose Guillen (minus-3.1 fWAR in 1997). That’s it. That’s the list.
Surely, Davis wasn’t expected to be worse in 2019. But he’s experiencing awful luck mixed in with his poor performance.
Preseason projections had him batting .200 with a .687 OPS, production on par with a replacement player. If we take this forecast as gospel, the chances of him going 0 for his last 49 at bats, are a minuscule 0.002 percent, odds of roughly 56,000 to 1. Davis would be five times more likely to be injured by a toilet, at least according to data from 2008. He would be three times more likely to be struck by lightning in his lifetime.
But Davis is not alone in his ineptitude. Baseball’s history has been littered with dubious streaks. We’ve rounded up a few to see how unlucky, in terms of odds, some of these players and teams have been. The saying goes that even a blind squirrel finds a nut. These players and teams? Not so much.
Anthony Young’s losing streak
Mets fans had a front-row seat to one of the most frustrating stretches in MLB history. In 1992-93, Young lost an MLB record 27 consecutive decisions, breaking Cliff Curtis’s record from 1910 to 1911.
Young got ample support in his outings during the 1992 campaign (3.8 runs per outing in support) but much worse during the 1993 portion of his futile record (2.1 runs per game). Based on those runs and his runs allowed, we would expect Young to lose 17 of his games during that span, not 27.
Odds of the streak: 657,798,168,087 to 1
Aaron Judge strikes out in 37 consecutive games
Judge clobbered 52 home runs as a rookie in 2017 but he also struck out 208 times, including at least once in each game from July 8 to August 20, fanning 63 times in that span.
It’s impossible to know how often Judge would strike out that early in his career, but if we use the league-average strikeout rate of 22 percent in 2017 instead of Judge’s actual career rate of 32 percent, we would expect a hitter to strikeout at least once per game for 37 games just 0.00001 percent of the time.
Odds: 9,040,758 to 1
Phillies’ 23-game losing streak in 1961
Manager Gene Mauch has the dubious honor of being in charge of a Philadelphia squad that lost 23 games in a row from July 29 to Aug. 20, 1961. Over that span his pitchers allowed 290 earned runs over 457 innings (5.71 ERA) during a year where the league ERA was 3.98. Surprisingly, based on their runs scored and allowed, we would have expected them to win nine more games than they did, making the 23-game losing streak all the more remarkable.
Odds: 51,000 to 1
Cleveland Indians World Series drought
The Chicago Cubs waited 108 years for their first title, and the Boston Red Sox had to endure an 86-year drought in between championships. Now the Cleveland Indians are the franchise with the most seasons without a ring (71 years).
To their credit, they’ve made the playoffs 12 times since, giving them a dozen chances to break the skid. In half of those seasons they had an estimated win rate greater than that of an average AL playoff team, earning them an approximately 59 percent chance to win a five or seven-game series after accounting for home-field advantage. If we use that series win rate for all 12 of their playoff appearances, we would expect Cleveland to win at least one championship 89 percent of the time. Instead, they have none.
If that championship probability sounds high consider the 1954 season in which the Indians were one of two teams to make the playoffs. Yes they were swept by the New York Giants, but if you play that seven-game series over again and again, you would expect Cleveland to win at least 60 percent of the time based on their actual and expected records.
Odds: 8 to 1
H/T to Chad Thornburg and his 2018 article ‘MLB’s worst streaks and how they ended’
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