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Race to the Bottom: #4 1945 Phillies

38-year old “Kewpie Dick” Barrett was the workhorse of the ’45 Phils, pitching over 190 innings and posting a 8-20 record with a 5.39.

This is the second entry in the countdown of the five worst teams in Phillies history. For the introduction and criteria used for this series, please check out the first entry here.

Team: 1945 Phillies

Record: 46-108 (6th least wins in any season, 5th least wins in seasons with 140 games played or more)

Winning Percentage: 29.9% (6th worst winning percentage in any season, 5th worst winning percentage in seasons with 140 games played or more)

Run Differential: Minus 317 (worst in team history)

An older team doesn’t directly equate to a bad team. In fact, the five teams with the oldest average age among positional players in Phillies history (1983, 2010, 2011, 2009, and 1981) all won division titles and two of those teams won pennants while number 11 and 13 on that list won the World Series. And of the 15 Phils’ squads with the oldest pitching squads, seven were playoff teams, a group that includes three pennants (2009, 2008, and 1983) and a World Series winner (2008).

Obviously, older teams do have some measure of risk as older players are at greater risk for injury. Finishing 52 games out of first place, the 1945 Phillies, known for the second season in a row as the Blue Jays, had the 14th oldest hitting and fifth oldest pitching group in Phillies history. In part because of World War II, the Phillies, as well as many other teams in the Major Leagues, relied on veteran players too old to serve.

In the line-up, the Phils enlisted the help of 39-year old former multiple-time All-Star and World Series winning catcher Gus Mancuso behind the dish, 36-year old outfielder Jake Powell, and 37-year old first baseman and future Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx making his return to Philly. Mancuso hit .199 while Powell occassionally spelled Coaker Triplett (one of the best names in club history) in the outfield, and Foxx struggled to displace 31-year old Jimmy Wasdell who hit .300/.346/.412 with eight triples, seven homers, and seven steals. Wasdell was one of the team’s top offensive contributors along with former All-Star center fielder Vince DiMaggio (19 HR, 12 SB), perhaps starting the long-running Phillies tradition of having the slightly less-talented, usually older, brothers of Major League superstars.

The 1945 line-up found itself ranked 14th out of 16 teams in runs scored, 15th in batting average (worst in NL), 14th in onbase percentage (second-worst in NL), and 15th in slugging (worst in NL). While the Phillies’ line-up lacked consistency and punch, their defense was historically bad, ranking at minus 50.9 runs per FanGraphs’ defensive stats measure, an amazing 59.6 run difference between them and the second-to-last Chicago White Sox, costing themselves nearly four games in just defensive value alone.

The Phils set a team record for pitchers used in 1945, sending 22 different pitchers to the bump (note: the exception that proves the rule that more pitchers used equals a bad thing is the 2007 Phillies who used a club-record  28 pitchers and won the division.). The ’45 squad posted the worst ERA in baseball and had the lowest K/9 in baseball while (retroactively) leading the league in saves. Dick Barrett was the staff’s most-used pitcher, tossing 190.2 innings with a 5.38 ERA with eight complete games. The ’45 club had six pitchers age 31 or older, including 37-year old Oscar Judd (5-4, 3.81 ERA) and 38-year old Dick Coffman (2-1, 5.13 ERA).

Unlike the Phils’ line-up, which featured cameos by future Whiz Kids Andy Seminick, Putsy Caballero, and Granny Hamner, as well as Hamner’s brother Garvin Hamner, the Phils’ staff had almost no young talent. Ken Raffensberger, who represented the Phillies in the 1944 All-Star game after leading the National League in K/BB and FIP and was named by Stan Musial as the toughest lefty he ever faced, was perhaps the Phillies’ best pitcher and missed much of the 1945 season after being drafted by the Navy in May.

Similarity to the 2015 Phillies: High. The current incarnation of the Fightin’ Phils have a patchwork staff, have a missing ace (has anyone seen Cliff Lee?), an aged, slugging first baseman past his prime, and horrible defense (the current Phillies are 28th of 30 in FanGraphs’ defensive ratings). Sadly, the ’45 Phils had more potential on the Major League team and in their system than the ’15 incarnation. And they certainly had better baseball nicknames: “Kewpie Dick” Barrett, Putsy Caballero, Granny Hamner, Bitsy Mott, and Coaker Triplett.

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