They say hitting is one of the hardest things in sports to do, but it can't be much easier trying to throw a ball with a 9-inch circumference past a muscle-bound slugger at a target that is less than a foot and a half wide. For that reason, we want to make it clear that we have the utmost respect for what these guys do, and this list is therefore meant less as a reproach and more as a reminder of how tough the game of baseball can be.
Even the so-called "worst" pitchers of all time had to be great in order simply to make it to the big league level. Take Kei Igawa, who won the MVP award in Japan before struggling with the Yankees, or Jamey Wright, who had a decorated high school career and was drafted 28th overall before playing on 10 different teams in the majors. Even though they weren't the greatest pitchers in MLB history, their careers, at least by certain measurements, should still be considered successful.
Keep that in mind when you're reading this list of the 15 "worst" pitchers in MLB history. As Bill James once pointed out, you have to be a good pitcher just to lose 20 games in the majors.
19 Kei Igawa
The Yankees compensated for not signing Daisuke Matsuzaka (which turned out to be a blessing in disguise) by going all in on Kei Igawa, signing him to a five-year, $20 million contract after paying $26 million just for the chance to negotiate with him.
To say that Igawa turned out to be a disappointment would be like to say that Hank Aaron was a so-so home run hitter—that is, an understatement. In just two incomplete seasons in the majors, he went 2-4 with a 6.66 ERA and a 1.758 WHIP in 71.2 innings pitched.
All told, the Japanese lefty spent just four years in the Yankees’ system, mostly in the minors, before returning to Japan.
18 Sidney Ponson
After finishing in the top five for AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1998, it looked as though Sidney Ponson was destined to have somewhat of a successful career in the majors, but that quickly proved not to be the case, as the rotund right-handed hurler from Aruba would go on to put together some of the worst seasons pitched in the early 21st century, including a 2005 season that would see him go 7-11 with a 6.21 ERA and just 115 strikeouts in 215.2 innings.
In 2009, ESPN called him the “least valuable pitcher of the 2000s” and “a veritable Bermuda triangle of disappointment,” saying, “No pitcher in recent memory was more adept at raising expectations and then dashing them through a combination of stubbornness, immaturity and a lack of discipline.”
16 Les Sweetland
The only thing sweet about Les Sweetland’s five-year major league career was his last name. Splitting time as a starter and a reliever, he compiled a record of 33-58. But his .363 win-loss percentage was just the tip of his terrible pitching iceberg. In 704.2 innings pitched, he let up over 500 earned runs for an atrocious ERA of 6.10. Still, it gets worse. He struck out just 159 batters compared to 358 walks.
Sweetland put together arguably two of the worst pitching seasons, statistically speaking, in the history of the league, combining for a record of 10-30 in 1928 and 1930 with an ERA north of 7 and 59 Ks to 157 BBs.
15 Bill Greif
Bill Greif’s last name is appropriate, given the amount of grief he inflicted upon his managers over his six years in the majors, compiling a record of 31-67.
Greif’s best season came with the Padres in 1973, when he finished with an impressive 3.21 ERA, but he still managed to lose 17 games (although, to be fair, his team, which finished dead last in the NL with a 60-102 record, has to take a lot of credit for that). But he had no one but himself to blame for the rest of his miserable career, going 15-33 with a 4.63 ERA and nearly a 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio after 1973.
14 Jesse Jefferson
Many a terrible hurler took to the mound for the Toronto Blue Jays in the late 1970s, but perhaps none was worse than Jesse Jefferson, who went 22-56 with 266 walks and just 307 strikeouts in 666.1 innings pitched over four seasons.
Jefferson’s worst year, however, came the season before joining the Jays, when he averaged nearly one earned run per inning for the White Sox. For his career, he went 39-81 with a 1.539 WHIP and just two more strikeouts than walks. Other career highlights include finishing in the top ten in losses twice, the top ten in walks three times, and the top ten in earned runs allowed twice.
13 Jamey Wright
Drafted in the first round out of high school in 1993, 6-foot-6 Jamey Wright appeared to have all the tools necessary to be a successful big leaguer, including a low to mid-90s fastball and a biting curveball, but instead he would turn out to be a draft bust.
Because of his size and his status as a former top prospect, Wright was able to stick around at the major league level for 19 seasons, but, unlike most players who had long careers, his numbers were not good. In over 700 games pitched, he compiled a losing record of 97-130 with a 4.81 ERA and a strikeout to walk ratio that was shockingly close to 1:1. He also led in hit batters, with 38, in back to back years from 2000-2001.
11 Jason Bere
Jason Bere’s first two seasons in the big leagues would suggest anything but “worst pitcher” caliber, as he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1993 with a 12-5 record and a 3.47 ERA and followed it up by making his first, and only, All-Star appearance after leading the league in win-loss percentage.
But 1995-2003 was a completely different story. Due to a nagging case of tendinitis, he would follow up his 12-2 1994 season by leading the league in losses, with 15, in ‘95. That same year, he would also walk over 100 batters in just 137.2 innings with an ERA of 7.19. His numbers would only improve slightly after that, and he would finish with a career 5.14 ERA and a .522 win-loss percentage, both numbers that would have been a lot worse were it not for his first two seasons.
10 Jose Lima
Even with his incredible 1999 season with the Astros, when he won 21 games and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting, the rest of Dominican right-hander Jose Lima’s career was so awful that he has to be considered one of the worst pitchers to ever take the mound.
After going 37-18 with a solid 3.64 ERA from 1998-99, Lima would finish his colorful career with an even 6 ERA in the 21st century. At one point, Lima himself admitted he was a terrible pitcher. After combining for a 13-28 record for the lowly Detroit Tigers from 2001-02, he said, “If I can't pitch on this team—the worst or second-worst team in baseball—where am I going to pitch? If I can't start on this ballclub, I must be the worst pitcher on Earth.”
9 Crazy Schmit
Born in 1866, Frederick “Crazy” Schmit was one of the pioneers of the game, and his terribleness in the late 19th century has stood the test of time. From 1890-93, his awfulness was minimized due to limited innings, but in 1899, he inexplicably made 19 starts for the Cleveland Spiders, going 2-17 with a 5.86 ERA and just 24 strikeouts compared to 64 walks in 138.1 innings. For his career, he was 7-36 with nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts.
For those wondering how he earned his nickname, Schmit was indeed crazy—or at least wildly eccentric. For example, legend has it that he used to bring with him to the mound a notebook with opposing hitters’ weaknesses, which he would read, sometimes aloud, before every at bat. He was also arrested after beating up a player with a brick during a fight.
7 Bobo Newsom
Statistician and father of sabermetrics Bill James once said that “[i]t takes a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games.” Well then what does that say about Bobo Newsom, who lost 20 games three times, to go along with a 19-loss and 18-loss season. I know wins and losses aren’t the best measurement of a pitcher’s success, but with that many losing records and a career 211-222 mark, not to mention nearly as many walks (1,732) as strikeouts (2,082), there’s really no statistic that does him any favors. Even with a long career and a respectable 3.98 ERA, Bobo’s losing ways have to make him one of the worst pitchers of all time.
6 Tommy Lasorda
Tommy Lasorda is in the Hall of Fame, but it’s certainly not for anything that he did during his playing days. Although one of the greatest managers of all time, he was arguably one of the worst players, proving true the old adage of “when you can’t do, teach.”
In three seasons in the bigs (two with the Brooklyn Dodgers and one with the Kansas City Athletics), Lasorda went 0-4 with a 6.48 ERA and far more walks (56) than strikeouts (37). In fact, with just 58.1 innings pitched, he averaged nearly a walk per inning. He also let up nine home runs and threw 11 wild pitches (including four in the same amount of innings in 1955).
4 Jaime Navarro
While terrible, Jaime Navarro’s superficial stats (116-126, 4.72 ERA, 1,113 Ks, 2,055.1 IP) only tell half the story of just how bad the Puerto Rican right-hander was over his 12-year career. During seasons in which he pitched at least 80 innings, he finished with an ERA over 6 three times. He also led the league in losses once, hits allowed twice, earned runs allowed twice, and wild pitches twice.
A once promising starter, having won 17 games with the Brewers in 1992, Navarro’s numbers got worse with age, going 0-6 with an ERA in the triple digits in his final two seasons in the big leagues.
3 Pat Caraway
Had tighter baseballs and more hitter-friendly rules not done away with the dead-ball era by 1920, right-handed pitcher Pat Caraway, who played for the Chicago White Sox from 1930-32, would have single-handedly ushered in the live-ball era. In 1931 alone, he let up 152 earned runs on 268 hits in 220 innings of work. He also walked over 100 batters that season while striking out just 55, finishing with an ERA of 6.22 and a league-worst 24 losses.
According to The Neyer/James Guide of Pitchers, Caraway possessed “a good fastball, a good curve, and excellent change of pace,” all while pitching with a “deceptive underhand delivery,” but command issues ultimately kept him from reaching his potential.
2 Milt Gaston
Despite showing no signs of improvement (and in fact getting worse as he went along), for some reason Milt Gaston was handed the game ball for over a decade, allowing him to rack up some of the worst career pitching stats of all time, including a 97-164 record and a 0.74 strikeouts to walk ratio. From 1925-34, he finished with at least 12 losses each season yet only reached double digits in wins five times, with a low of 2 (compared to 13 losses) in 1931.
Even though he was terrible, Gaston was surrounded by greatness throughout his career. He has the distinction of having played with the most Hall of Fame players and managers of all time. Apparently talent isn’t contagious.
1 John Van Benschoten
Former first round draft pick and Baseball America top prospect John Van Benschoten is a prime example of how hype doesn’t always translate into success. It would take him three years to claw his way back to the majors after a disappointing debut in 2004, when he went 1-3 with a 6.91 ERA, but things would only get worse his second time around.
In 20 games and 14 starts from 2007-08, Van Benschoten went 1-10 with a 10.27 ERA, walking more batters than he struck out. His career 9.20 ERA over 90 innings still stands as the worst for pitchers with at least 75 innings of work, making him quite possibly the worst pitcher of all time.