Guy Hecker’s 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys: The Least Talented Team Ever

Guy Hecker had an incredible 1884 season. The 28-year old righty started an American Association-leading 73 games for the Louisville Eclipse (completing 72 of them and making 75 appearances overall). He also led the league with 52 wins (against just 20 losses for a .722 winning percentage), a 1.80 ERA, 171 ERA+, 0.868 WHIP, and 385 strikeouts.

At the plate, he made 328 appearances and hit .297/.323/.430 for a 149 OPS+. His WAR was 16.6 as a pitcher and 2.0 as a hitter. His combined total of 18.6 led the league by a full seven wins (over Tony Mullane).

Hecker’s name has come up quite a bit in my research, but it recently popped up again as I was calculating Wins Above Expectancy for managers. Wins Above Expectancy simply calculates how many wins a team should have won and assigns the difference to the manager. Obviously the manager is not the sole reason a team performs over or under expectation. Wins Above Expectancy is just a junk stat I’ve been playing with since we don’t have a good way to calculate WAR for managers.

Hecker’s name came up because he was a player/manager in the final year of his career. Hecker also pitched and played first base for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys in the National League. The team was awful—they went just 23–113, setting a new loss record that would stand until 1899.

I calculate Wins Above Expectancy in two ways. The first uses Pythagorean record, which is the record the team was expected to finish with, given their runs scored and runs allowed. The Alleghenys scored 597 runs and allowed 1235, giving them a pathetic Pythagorean record of 28-108. So, by their runs scored and runs allowed, they should have won five more games than they actually did.

The second approach I used was to add up the combined WAR of all players on the team and calculate what the expected win-loss record would be. It is by this measure that the Alleghenys are the worst team ever.

The team’s hitters were worth –119 runs at the plate and –99 in the field, a horrible combination that adds up to a total of –4.9 WAR.

And the hitters were amazing compared to the pitchers.

22 pitchers took the hill in Pittsburgh that year. 21 were below replacement level. Only 25-year old Phenomenal Smith was able to produce 0.6 WAR (in 44 innings). Hecker himself was 2.4 wins below replacement. A pitcher named Fred Osborne managed to finish 4.3 wins below replacement in just 58 innings. The total of the pitching staff was –37.5 WAR.

The combined –42.4 WAR is simply incredible. Based on that total, the Alleghenys were expected to win just 1.8 games. As in 2–136, if you round up.

5 Replies to “Guy Hecker’s 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys: The Least Talented Team Ever”

  1. Wow. This is a great story from the depths of history. Didnt know about this team. I guess that is because they are not memorable


  2. The Alleghenys featured two players who built borderline Hall of Fame careers: Fred Dunlap and Paul Hines (who wWAR actually has as a deserving Hall of Famer). Both were in the twilight of their careers and both left the team (Dunlap via release, not sure about Hines) mid-season.

  3. Adam, slightly off-topic question, but I’m curious how you convert team WAR into expected W-L record. How many games would a team of replacement-level players win? Is there a set number? And then do you simply add the cumulative team WAR to that total?

    Interesting stuff, by the way. I’m curious who the worst team ever was by Pythagorean W-L. The ’62 Mets lost 10 more than their expected loss total (Does that make Casey Stengel a bad manager?) and the ’03 Tigers six more, but is either of those teams the worst ever?

  4. Hi Alex,

    From my original story: “By Baseball-Reference’s WAR, a replacement level team has a winning percentage of .320 (52–110). If all players on the team totaled 40 WAR, then that team should be expected to win 92 games.”

    Also, these are the 25 worst teams by pyth win percentage:

    1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys 0.209
    1883 Philadelphia Quakers 0.215
    1897 St. Louis Browns 0.247
    1942 Philadelphia Phillies 0.256
    1884 Pittsburgh Alleghenys 0.257
    1916 Philadelphia Athletics 0.267
    1909 Washington Senators 0.269
    1904 Washington Senators 0.275
    1908 St. Louis Cardinals 0.278
    1910 St. Louis Browns 0.286
    1915 Philadelphia Athletics 0.290
    1898 St. Louis Browns 0.291
    1919 Philadelphia Athletics 0.292
    1932 Boston Red Sox 0.293
    1954 Philadelphia Athletics 0.294
    1905 Brooklyn Superbas 0.299
    1969 San Diego Padres 0.299
    1906 Boston Beaneaters 0.300
    1941 Philadelphia Phillies 0.301
    1903 Washington Senators 0.302
    1945 Philadelphia Phillies 0.303
    1903 St. Louis Cardinals 0.304
    2003 Detroit Tigers 0.305
    1909 Boston Doves 0.305
    1896 St. Louis Browns 0.305

  5. And the 25 who fell short of their pyth the most:

    1993 New York Mets -14.5
    1905 Chicago Cubs -13.4
    1986 Pittsburgh Pirates -13.0
    1907 Cincinnati Reds -13.0
    1911 Pittsburgh Pirates -12.6
    1935 Boston Braves -12.1
    1984 Pittsburgh Pirates -12.0
    1975 Houston Astros -11.9
    1906 Cleveland Naps -11.9
    1905 St. Louis Browns -11.8
    1967 Baltimore Orioles -11.8
    1937 Cincinnati Reds -11.4
    1904 Cleveland Naps -11.3
    1939 St. Louis Browns -11.2
    1999 Kansas City Royals -11.1
    1924 St. Louis Cardinals -11.1
    1946 Philadelphia Athletics -11.0
    2006 Cleveland Indians -10.9
    1919 Washington Senators -10.6
    1993 San Diego Padres -10.5
    1962 New York Mets -10.4
    1972 Baltimore Orioles -10.1
    1894 Chicago Colts -10.1
    1936 Philadelphia Phillies -10.1
    1917 Pittsburgh Pirates -9.9

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