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The 9 worst games in fantasy baseball history

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We’ve examined the good, and today, it’s time to (sigh) turn our focus to the bad.

Poor single-day performance, strangely enough, isn’t something that’s as widely discussed in baseball circles as great results. Perhaps the reason is that we recall the bad moments rather than the full-game performances, and many of those happened during the postseason, when the spotlight shines brighter.

Still, if you’re a baseball die-hard, you probably remember some of the big, bad historical games: Allan Travers’ 24-run, 26-hit, seven-walk complete game as a replacement player for the Detroit Tigers in 1912; Wayne Garrett’s 0-for-10, four-strikeout game in 1974; or perhaps Joe Torre’s 1975 game in which he grounded into a double play in each of his four at-bats.

As with last week’s column that highlighted fantasy baseball’s best, today’s column focusing on the worst includes the 40 seasons that cover the rotisserie era, which began in 1980. Presenting the nine worst single-game, single-player performances in fantasy/rotisserie baseball history, which might bring to mind some of your more painful memories in past competitions. Hey, they’re all still good stories!

We’ll again use ESPN’s standard fantasy points scoring system, which credits a single point per total base earned (i.e., one for a single, two for a double, three for a triple and four for a home run); single points for an RBI, run scored, walk or stolen base and minus-1 per strikeout on the hitting side; five points each for a win or save, one for each recorded out and strikeout, minus-5 for each loss, minus-2 for each earned run allowed, and minus-1 for each hit or walk allowed on the pitching side.

It’s a subjective list, being that pitchers are the ones considerably more likely to cost you fantasy points, and many of the poorer performers are ones who would never have been fantasy-relevant at the time. For example, the worst single-game score by any player at any time during the rotisserie era was Jason Jennings’ minus-36 on July 29, 2007, but practically no one would’ve had him active for that contest. ADP and Player Rater data is therefore relevant in selecting the list.

Here they are, the nine worst performances in fantasy baseball history:

1. Randy Johnson, Seattle Mariners
April 10, 1994, at Toronto Blue Jays (minus-30 points)

Though five years shy of the prime of his fantasy career — he would win the National League’s Cy Young Award every year from 1999-2002 — Johnson was still an exceptional pitcher during the final five full seasons of his Mariners tenure. He’d win the 1995 American League Cy Young Award after finishing second in 1993 and third in 1994, but it was this game that represented the worst, fantasy-wise, of his entire 22-year big league career.

A favorite for the top pitching honor entering 1994, Johnson pitched eight effective innings on Opening Day, only to be hammered for 11 runs (10 earned) on eight hits (two of them home runs) and six walks in 2 1/3 innings in his second start, at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. It was the only time in his 618 big-league appearances that he posted a negative Bill James Game Score (minus-5).

Johnson reverted to excellence in his very next start, a complete-game, one-run, 11-strikeout victory over the Milwaukee Brewers — and he went 13-5 with 17 quality starts, a 2.73 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 200 strikeouts in 21 starts the rest of the 1994 season.

2. John Smoltz, Atlanta Braves
April 6, 2002, versus New York Mets (minus-25 points)

In perhaps one of the more memorable closer meltdowns of the rotisserie era, Smoltz served up eight runs on six hits and two walks while retiring only two of the 10 batters he faced in his second appearance of his first full year as the Braves’ closer. What’s worse, Mike Piazza, the Mets’ cleanup hitter and star slugger, had been knocked out of the game with a bruised left knee two innings earlier, and their second most-productive slugger, Mo Vaughn, had the day off.

Smoltz’s eight runs allowed were his most in a single inning for his career, and helped the Mets set a franchise record with their nine runs totaled in the ninth inning.

Smoltz’ ADP was 68 (No. 10 closer) in ESPN leagues in the preseason after going 10-for-11 converting saves with a 2.08 ERA and 28 strikeouts in the Braves’ final 42 team games in 2001. It turns out, though, that this was only a one-day disaster, as he saved 55 games and had a 2.37 ERA and 0.84 WHIP the remainder of the season.

This game reiterated the lesson never to take a highly drafted player’s missteps to heart in the season’s opening days.

3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Aug. 15, 2015 at Boston Red Sox (minus-29 points)

The prime of King Felix’s career — ages 23-28, 2009-14 — was magnificent, as he posted a collective 2.73 ERA and averaged 226 strikeouts while capturing an American League Cy Young Award (2010) and registering two second-place finishes during that six-year period.

The 2015 season, unfortunately, was when his performances began to look less regal, with three performances of minus-12 or worse. This game at Fenway Park remains the worst of his 418 career starts, as he surrendered a career-high 10 earned runs on 12 hits, three of them home runs (by Pablo Sandoval, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Alejandro De Aza), in 2 1/3 innings. It is the only time Hernandez has ever posted a negative Bill James Game Score (minus-6).

Hernandez’s second-worst fantasy performance also came in 2015, when he allowed eight runs on five hits and two walks while retiring only one of the nine Houston Astros batters he faced, scoring minus-26 fantasy points on June 12.

It wasn’t all bad for Hernandez in 2015, though. Take those two starts out, and he’d have been 18-7 with 20 quality starts, a 2.76 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 188 strikeouts in his other 29 starts.

4. Eric Davis, Cincinnati Reds
April 25, 1987 at Houston Astros (minus-5 points)

Hitters can’t possibly cause the kind of fantasy-point carnage that pitchers do, being that their only negative-point category is strikeouts, but it’s the storyline that drives some of their historical performances high in the rankings. Take Davis: His 1986-87 performance remains one of the most exciting two-year periods in the history of rotisserie baseball, as his 1986 was one of two 25-homer, 75-steal campaigns in all of baseball history (he had 27 and 80, to be exact), and his 1987 concluded with a .293 batting average, 37 home runs, 100 RBIs, 50 stolen bases and 120 runs scored.

This 10-inning game at the Houston Astrodome was the worst fantasy performance of any of Davis’ 1,626 games over a 17-year big league career, as he whiffed in every one of his five at-bats, three against Nolan Ryan and one apiece against Larry Andersen and Dave Smith.

Expanding the story further, Davis’ entire trip to the Astrodome was a nightmare, as he was 0-for-5 with a “golden sombrero” of four strikeouts the day before, three of those coming against Mike Scott and another against Andersen. In the process, Davis whiffed in nine consecutive trips to the plate, earning a share of the major league record previously set by four other players and since matched by Mark Reynolds.

Granted, Ryan (270) and Scott (233) were first and second in the NL in strikeouts that season, and Davis was a combined 10-for-67 (.149 BA) with 19 strikeouts and only four extra-base hits, all home runs, against the flame-throwing pair. It still hurt Davis’ fantasy teams: He finished the week of April 20-26, 1987, with only six fantasy points.

5. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
July 14, 2002, at Cleveland Indians (minus-20 points)

Yes, Mariano Rivera is human. It’s difficult to believe in retrospect, especially with his becoming the first player unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame, but on this date at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field, this cutter-throwing machine surrendered more earned runs (6) than he did in any other relief appearance in his entire career (postseason included), and second most if you include his work as a starter in the mid-1990s.

Rivera’s cutter simply didn’t hit its spots on that day, as he served up six runs on five hits, including Bill Selby’s walk-off grand slam, while retiring only two of the six batters he faced. To illustrate how unusual Selby’s big hit was, he hit only 10 other home runs in his entire career and batted .223/.279/.360 in 198 big league contests.

Rivera had entered 2002 as the No. 1 closer and No. 20 overall player selected in ESPN drafts, but he’d finish the season with only 28 saves (his fewest in any season between 1997 and 2011) and outside the top 150 overall on the Player Rater.

6. Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates
Aug. 9, 2013, at Colorado Rockies (minus-31 points)

Liriano’s career has been one of more hype than substance, but it has had its share of peaks, such as his breakthrough 2006 that earned him his only All-Star nomination, his 200-K campaigns of 2010 and 2015, and his debut season for the Pirates in 2013 that came on the heels of disappointing, back-to-back campaigns with an ERA above five.

An almost entirely undrafted player in ESPN leagues — his ADP was outside the top 500 overall — Liriano became one of the year’s hottest in-season pickups, posting a 12-4 record, 11 quality starts, a 2.02 ERA and 106 strikeouts in his first 16 starts. Then came this first-ever trip to Coors Field: He was shellacked for 10 runs on 12 hits in 2 1/3 innings’ work, and the opposing Colorado Rockies managed to send all nine batters in their lineup to the plate in each of his first two frames.

Liriano told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette afterward, “My slider wasn’t that sharp and my two-seam sinker wasn’t moving at all. Just trying to go two-seamer away, stayed right down the middle, straight up.”

As is often the case, pitchers just can’t get the same break on their pitches at mile-high altitude, and sure enough, Liriano’s season settled down thereafter: He was 6-of-9 in quality starts with a 3.38 ERA the rest of the way.

7. Sammy Sosa, Chicago Cubs
April 15, 1996 versus Cincinnati Reds (minus-5 points)

You might remember Sosa today more for his monstrous home-run totals around the turn of the century, or the steroid allegations that have clouded his career in retrospect, rather than his 30/30 ability of the mid-1990s. In 1995, he managed 36 homers and 34 steals in 144 games, which if scaled to a traditional 162 game schedule — remember that the 1995 season began late due to the strike that ended the previous season early — would’ve resulted in 40.5 and 38.3, darned close to 40/40. That earned Sosa a top-10 place in the majority of fantasy drafts entering 1996.

This game marked the only time in Sosa’s 18-year, 2,354-game career that he struck out as many as five times without registering a hit, and three of the five K’s came against Dave Burba, who averaged only 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings in his own career. It extended Sosa’s career performances against Burba to 0-for-20. It was also one of Sosa’s career-high three “golden sombrero” (4 K’s) games in 1996, but he did still finish with 40 homers and 100 RBIs and a top-75-overall valuation.

8. Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
May 31, 2011, versus Houston Astros (minus-22 points)

It’s easy to forget how thoroughly dominant Marmol was as a closer at the dawn of the past decade, mainly because of how quickly he faded into obscurity. From Aug. 23, 2009, through May 30, 2010 (the day before this outing), a span that covered 255 Cubs games, Marmol totaled 59 saves, a major-league-best-among-relievers 192 strikeouts and a 2.36 ERA. He was the No. 6 reliever in terms of ADP entering 2011.

Unfortunately, on this day, Marmol surrendered six runs on five hits — those generated by Brett Wallace, Chris Johnson, Matt Downs, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence — while retiring only one of seven batters he faced, with that out coming on a sacrifice bunt.

Marmol, who always had issues with control, never came close to the same level of effectiveness at any point the remainder of his career. In fact, he was only 24-of-31 converting save chances with a 4.26 ERA after that date in 2011 alone.

9. Geoff Jenkins, Milwaukee Brewers
June 8, 2004 at Anaheim Angels (minus-6 points)

Jenkins was never considered a fantasy superstar — never exceeding 34 home runs or 94 RBIs in a single season, and batted .275 over an 11-year big league career — but in the 2004 campaign, he was universally regarded as a roster-worthy player. He was drafted 162nd overall in ESPN leagues, finishing the season 131st on the Player Rater.

By late May, though, Jenkins had fallen into a funk, batting .230/.284/.333 with one home run over a 22-game span entering the date in question. In this 17-inning, 1-0 Brewers victory at Los Angeles’ Angel Stadium, Jenkins went hitless in seven at-bats, matching the record for strikeouts in a game of any length by becoming the eighth individual with six in a single contest.

Three of those came against starter Kelvim Escobar and, interestingly enough, the final strikeout came with two on and two out in the 15th inning in his first career at-bat against Ramon Ortiz, against whom he’d go 9-for-17 (.529 BA) with four homers the remainder of his career.

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MLB rejects 114-game plan, tells union no counteroffer

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Major League Baseball has rejected the players’ offer for a 114-game regular season with no additional salary cuts and told the union it did not plan to make a counterproposal, sources confirmed to ESPN.

Players made their proposal Sunday, up from an 82-game regular season in management’s offer last week. Opening Day would be June 30, and the regular season would end Oct. 31, nearly five weeks after the Sept. 27 conclusion that MLB’s proposal stuck to from the season’s original schedule.

MLB told the union it had no interest in extending the season into November, when it fears a second wave of the coronavirus could disrupt the postseason and jeopardize $787 million in broadcast revenue.

While management has suggested it could play a short regular season of about 50 games with no more salary reductions, it has not formally proposed that concept. Earlier this week, multiple players told ESPN that they would not abide a shorter schedule, with one saying, “We want to play more games, and they want to play less. We want more baseball.”

The Athletic first reported on MLB rejecting the players’ offer.

Teams and players hope to start the season in ballparks with no fans, and teams say they would sustain huge losses if salaries are not cut more. The sides agreed to a deal March 26 in which players accepted prorated salaries in exchange for $170 million in advances and a guarantee that if the season is scrapped each player would get 2020 service time matching what the player accrued in 2019.

That deal called for “good faith” negotiations over playing in empty stadiums or at neutral sites. The union has said no additional cuts are acceptable.

MLB’s May 26 proposal would lower 2020 salaries from about $4 billion to approximately $1.2 billion, establishing a sliding scale of reductions. Players at the $563,500 minimum would get about 47% of their original salary, and those at the top — led by Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole at $36 million — would receive less than 23%.

The union’s offer would have salaries total about $2.8 billion, leaving each player with about 70% of his original salary.

Information from ESPN’s Jeff Passan and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Pirates’ Chris Archer out until 2021 after surgery

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Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Chris Archer underwent surgery Tuesday to address thoracic outlet syndrome and will not pitch again until 2021.

The Pirates announced Wednesday that Archer had the operation after “consulting with several leading vascular and orthopedic surgeons in recent weeks.”

The surgery was performed in St. Louis by Dr. Robert Thompson. The Pirates say Archer is “projected to return to full competition for the 2021 season.”

The Pirates scratched Archer from a scheduled spring training start this past February because of neck tightness. He returned on March 6, however, and threw two scoreless innings in a spring game against Toronto.

Archer, 31, was a two-time All-Star with the Tampa Bay Rays but struggled last year in his first full season with the Pirates, going 3-9 with a 5.19 ERA in 23 starts.

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Fantasy Insights – Will Kevin Newman outperform Josh Bell for Pirates?

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Spring is here and Eric Karabell misses baseball, so he is going to write about all 30 MLB teams, covering myriad player values and his general thoughts for what he hopes will ultimately be a fruitful 2020 season.

Next up, the Pittsburgh Pirates!

Top fantasy storyline: One lonely Pirate is likely to go in the first 15 rounds of a standard mixed league, and that is All-Star first baseman Josh Bell, who slugged 37 home runs and knocked in 116 runs last season. Nearly a third of the home runs came in a magical June, when he blasted 12 and hit .390. The entire year prior, Bell hit 12 home runs with 62 RBIs. Yeah, quite a change. Fantasy managers like power, of course, but Bell had a poor second half, hitting .233 with only 10 blasts, so there is reasonable concern this is not a safe, reliable player after all.

What’s new: Longtime outfielder

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