If the early 20th century was known as the dead-ball era because of the lack of home runs, then the early 21st century, which has seen baseballs clear the fences at a record pace, might best be described as the home run era (also known, not coincidentally, as the “steroid era”). Shortly after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa shattered Roger Maris’s long-held single-season home run record, Barry Bonds topped them all by launching 73 long balls in 2001.
But while league attendance and enthusiasm for the sport went up, not everyone was happy about the sudden surge in homers, as pitchers were forced to watch as ball after ball left the yard. Naturally, as the number of home runs increased, so too did the number of home runs allowed. Never was it more difficult to be a starting pitcher than in the 21st century, and some more than others have suffered as a result of the offensive push.
Here are the 15 worst starting pitchers of the 21st century.
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15 Luke Hochevar
Since making the move to the bullpen in 2013, Royals hurler Luke Hochevar has turned his career around. Combined over his last three seasons, he has an ERA below 3 and averages more than a strikeout per inning, making him one of the best relievers in the game. As a starter, however, he was one of the worst. From 2007-12, he had a record of 38-59 with a 5.39 ERA.
Hochevar’s not the first pitcher to excel after going from a starter to a reliever. He’s in good company. Mariano Rivera and Andrew Miller both struggled as starters at the beginning of their careers before becoming two of the most dominant late-inning pitchers of the 21st century.
14 Roberto Hernandez
Former Cleveland starter Roberto Hernandez bounced back from an awful rookie season (1-10 5.42 ERA) by going 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA, finishing fourth in AL Cy Young voting. But he went right back to being awful the next season, following up his breakout sophomore season by going a combined 13-10 with a 5.89 ERA over the next two years.
Following a comeback season in 2010, wherein he made his first and only All-Star team, Hernandez struggled for the rest of his career, finishing with a 71-99 record and a 1.411 WHIP.
Even his All-Star season was weak by All-Star standards, with a losing record and a subpar 1.72 strikeouts/walks ratio.
13 Daniel Cabrera
There have been some great players with the last name Cabrera in the MLB: Miguel Cabrera, Asdrubal Cabrera, Melky Cabrera. Not joining the list of great Cabreras is Daniel, who spent five terrible years in Baltimore as a starter, going 48-59 with a 5.05 ERA. But his negative win-loss percentage and high ERA were the least of his worries. The 6-foot-7 Dominican couldn’t hit the strike zone if his life depended on it. From 2006-08, he led the league in batters hit once, wild pitches twice, and walks twice.
Because of his electric stuff (a high-90s fastball and a sharp curve), Cabrera racked up his fair share of strikeouts. But no matter how good your stuff is, it’s useless if you can’t throw a strike.
12 Jamey Wright
Unlike most of the pitchers on this list, former 1st round draft pick Jamey Wright enjoyed a long career in the bigs, pitching for 10 teams in 19 seasons. His longevity, however, was not the result of consistently good performance. Instead, he was able to last so long because he was a durable workhorse who could eat up innings.
For his career, he pitched over 2,000 innings (not all of which was as a starter), striking out just over five batters per nine innings while averaging nearly as many walks. Apparently infected by the same Y2K bug that got Jose Lima, Wright’s worst seasons came right after the turn of the century, leading the league in hit batters from 2000-01 while going 18-25 with a 5.06 ERA.
11 Carlos Silva
With a respectable 70-70 career record, you might be surprised to see Carlos Silva ranked among the worst of the century. But if sabermetrics have taught us anything, it’s that wins aren’t always the most important measurement of a pitcher’s success. For example, In 1,241.2 career innings, Silva struck out just 554 batters (his single-season career high was just 89). In 2006, he let up a league-worst 38 home runs and finished with a 5.94 era.
With an average of just 1.7 walks per nine innings, Silva was the kind of pitcher who just threw the ball in there and hoped for the best—often, however, he got the worst, finishing his career with a 4.68 ERA and a 1.397 WHIP.
10 Nick Blackburn
Like his former teammate and fellow crappy 21st century pitcher Carlos Silva, former Twins starter Nick Blackburn walked very few batters but also struck out very few batters, choosing to let the law of averages do the work for him—that is, he would throw his underwhelming fastball in the strike zone and hope that the batter, who only has roughly a 30% (at best) chance of getting a hit, would get out on his own. This, however, proved to be a losing strategy, as Blackburn went 43-55 for his career with a below-average 4.85 ERA, and in 2009 he let up a league-worst 240 hits in 205.2 innings of work.
In 2012, MinnPost claimed he was the worst pitcher in the league for three years running, citing his high ERA, high opponents' batting average, high opponents' slugging percentage, and high... well, everything except strikeouts.
9 Zach Duke
In recent years, Zach Duke has found success in the majors as a reliever, but before making the trip to the bullpen, he struggled as a starter. Despite winning some accolades as a starter, including finishing fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting and being named to the All-Star team, Duke was arguably one of the least productive pitchers in the late 2000s, going 37-68 with a 4.80 ERA and just 447 strikeouts in 879.2 innings of work, giving up 11.1 hits per nine innings (he led the league in hits allowed with 255 after his impressive rookie season).
Oddly enough, Duke’s sole All-Star season was also arguably his worst, as he led the league in losses and averaged less than 4.5 K/9.
8 Josh Towers
After what appeared to be a breakout season in 2003, going 13-12 with a 3.71 ERA in over 200 innings, Blue Jays starter Josh Towers would follow it up with what might be called a “breakdown” season, going 2-10 with a 8.42 ERA and letting up 17 home runs in just 62 innings in 2004. Believe it or not the Jays stuck with Towers for another season, which wasn’t much better (5-10 5.38 ERA), at which point he was signed by the Rockies and promptly demoted to the minors.
Combined, Towers went 45-55 with a 4.95 ERA and less than 400 strikeouts in 731.1 innings pitched. But the numbers don’t do Towers’s awfulness justice. With lanky, methodical pitching mechanics, he threw a subpar high-80s/low-90s fastball with a looping curveball that was less Barry Zito 12-6 and more El Duque eephus.
7 Jo-Jo Reyes
Not including the year in which he only threw 0.1 innings, Jo-Jo Reyes has never finished a season with an ERA below 5.40. With such consistent crappiness, it’s hard to tell which exactly was his worst year. 2008, when he went 3-11 with a 5.81 ERA and a 1.646 WHIP, is certainly a contender.
In seven seasons, Reyes has a record of 13-26 with a 6.06 ERA. At one point he went 28 straight games without picking up a win, which has to make you wonder how he even had (and continues to have) a job in the league to begin with, let alone 62 career starts.
6 Ryan Rupe
Ryan Rupe’s career 5.85 ERA in five seasons is bad enough, but when you look at just his four post-2000 seasons, it’s abysmal. From 2000-03 he went 16-29 with a 6.41 ERA. Were it not for the fact that he pitched for the newly formed Devil Rays, Rupe’s career likely would have been much shorter.
His awful record is somewhat excusable, seeing as though he wasn’t receiving much support from his offense, but he has no one but himself to blame for his astronomical ERA, which topped out at 6.92 in 2000.
After essentially flunking out of the majors, Rupe tried his hand in Japan. He didn’t fair much better in the Eastern Hemisphere, however, going 1-4 with a 6.67 ERA.
5 Jose Lima
Those who are old enough to remember the year 2000 will recall the fears about the so-called “Y2K problem”—the belief that, as soon as midnight struck, bringing in the 21st century, the world would devolve into chaos. These fears, of course, turned out to be unfounded, but the 21st century would prove to be disastrous for at least one person: Dominican right-hander Jose Lima.
Prior to 2000, he was one of the best starting pitchers in the league, having made the All-Star team and finishing fourth in AL Cy Young voting in 1999 after winning 21 games. The wheels fell off in the 21st century, however. From 2000-2006, he went 43-62 with a 6.00 ERA and a WHIP of 1.505.
4 Mike Maroth
Mike Maroth completed the “crappy pitcher trifecta” in 2003 when he led the league in losses (21, against just 9 wins), earned runs (123), and home runs (34). He rounded out the historically bad season with a 5.73 ERA and just 87 strikeouts in 193.1 innings pitched.
While he would somewhat improve over the next two seasons, he would return to god-awful form in 2007, going 5-7 with a 6.89 ERA (including a brief stint in St. Louis where he was 0-5 with a 10.66 ERA) in what would turn out to be his final season.
Unsurprisingly, Maroth did not have overwhelming stuff, with a fastball that sat in the mid to high-80s and “offspeed” pitches that might have been more appropriately described as “slightly less fast” pitches, seeing as though they were hardly discernible from his heater.
3 Sidney Ponson
Before being called the “least valuable pitcher of the 2000s” by ESPN in 2009, Sidney Ponson was a promising young prospect. From 1997-98, he was named one of the top 100 prospects in all of baseball and would finish 5th for AL Rookie of the Year voting after going 8-9 in 20 starts for the Orioles in 1998. He would fail to live up to his solid start, however, as he would go on to put up some of the worst numbers of the 21st century for starting pitchers, going 71-92 with a 5.05 ERA and a 1.489 WHIP from 2000-09.
The big Aruban right-hander’s MLB career finally came to an end after going 1-7 with a 7.36 ERA in 9 starts for the Royals, his sixth team in four seasons.
2 Kei Igawa
The (awful) numbers alone are not what make Kei Igawa one of the worst pitchers of the 21st century (and arguably one of the worst in MLB history); what makes the Japanese lefty so bad is the fact that the Yankees shelled out roughly $46 million to get him. Igawa would reward New York by spending most of his time in the minors, winning just 2 games at the big league level in 13 starts with a WHIP of 1.758.
With just 71.2 career innings pitched, Igawa earned roughly $640,000 an inning. Leave it to the Yankees to make such an investment.
1 John Van Benschoten
Former top prospect and first-round draft pick John Van Benschoten came in at number one on our list of the worst pitchers of all time, so it only makes sense that he also takes the top spot on the list of the worst starting pitchers since 2000.
After an impressive college career, where he not only was a standout pitcher but also led all of D1 in home runs his junior year, Van Benschoten was expected to be a future MLB All-Star. The Pirates took him 8th overall, deciding he had more potential as a pitcher than a hitter, despite the fact that he hit .440 and averaged more than a home run every other game his junior year. This would prove to be a bad choice on Pittsburgh’s behalf, as Van Benschoten would last just three brief seasons in the majors, compiling a record of 2-13 with an unheard of 9.20 ERA in 19 starts.
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