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The Chicago White Sox are bad, but are they one of the worst teams ever?

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The Chicago White Sox are bad, but are they historically bad?

There is still more than half a season to play, and at least one thing is clear: the team won't have the worst record in baseball history.

According to Baseball Reference, that distinction goes to the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who finished 20-134. 

Factoring in their 13% winning rate, the Spiders would have won perhaps one or two more games over a modern-day 162-game season.

The White Sox (20-54) have already equaled the Spiders and have won 27% of their games. At that rate, the team would finish 44-118. 

However, it's important to remember that the team was 0-3 in March and 6-21 in April. They got nine wins in May and are on pace for a similar number in June.

So, improvement.

The worst team ever in baseball

There was a big reason for the Spiders' no-good, terrible season.

It was the first year after Cy Young, the best pitcher in history, left after nine seasons for the Boston Americans. With the Spiders, Young won 240 games and lost 135, a 64% winning rate.

Cy Young (Photo by Iconic Archive/Getty Images)

Young's Win Above Replacement (WAR) was an astonishing 75.7. WAR measures a player's value by determining how many more wins he's worth than a replacement-level player in the same position

Young went on to record 511 wins, still a record. His strikeout record lasted for more than 100 years. 

Among modern-era teams, the White Sox won't come close to being one of the ten worst teams if current projections hold. More losses could mount if the team trades their most marketable players, like Luis Robert and Garrett Crochet. 

Are the White Sox among the worst in recent decades?

However, they could very well rank among the worst teams in a long, long time. Nothing has gone right for the White Sox in 2024. 

The Detroit Tigers lost 119 games in 2003 and 114 games in 2019, while the Baltimore Orioles lost 115 games in 2018. Remember, the Sox are pacing for a 118-loss season. 

Detroit Tigers second baseman Warren Morris drops a ball hit by Kansas City Royals' Desi Relaford in the eighth inning, Sept. 22, 2003, in Kansas City, Mo. Relaford reached first and Aaron Quiel scored from third on the play. The Royals won 12-6, handing the Tigers their American League-record 118th loss of the season. AP

According to Baseball Reference, no other teams in the past 60 years have had a worse winning percentage than those teams.

The Philadelphia Phillies had some very terrible baseball teams, but those were in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The New York Mets lost 120 games in 1962. They posted the third-worst winning percentage since 1901. 

Baseball Prospectus is publishing a series on the "most-dominated" teams in major league baseball. The project has yet to reveal the worst teams.

The rankings are based on a points system:

  • 20 points for the worst record in the league, 10 points for the second-worst
  • 10 points for losing 100 games and an extra point for each loss over 100
  • One point for each half-game worse than the league leader in excess of 40 games
  • 10 points for being last in the league in runs scored, 5 points for being second-to-last
  • 10 points for being last in the league in run prevention, 5 points for being second-to-last
  • 1 point for each tenth of a run by which the negative run differential per game exceeded 1
  • 10 points for being eliminated from the league or division title with 30 games remaining, 1 point for each additional game
  • 10 points for a won-lost record percentage when trailing after six innings below .050.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the White Sox would need around 90 points to crack the top 50 most terrible teams.

The worst of the worst in baseball

Of course, it's hard to predict what will happen over the next several months, but currently, the Sox would get 20 points for having the worst record and quite likely 10 points for losing 100 games.

They are currently the worst team in the league for runs scored and the second worst for runs allowed, and they will clearly be eliminated well before the end of the season. It's impossible to know how soon. However, they will accumulate several points regardless of how the season ends. 

Even so, the team could still stay out of the top 50.

Baseball Prospectus notes the 2023 Colorado Rockies, who lost a National League-worst 103 games and finished 45 games behind Atlanta, the best team in the league, scored 69 points. That only makes them the 112th most-dominated team under the Baseball Prospectus scoring system.   

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