Sporting News recently released a list ranking the most miserable fanbases in baseball over the last 30 seasons. As Brewers' fans we were ranked 28th overall, or the third most miserable group ahead of only the Rockies and Padres. We've had to endure 19 losing seasons since 1985, including twelve straight from 1993-2004. With just two postseason appearances since 1985 and no championships, it's not hard to see why we've had to get used to disappointment.
Since taking a trip down memory lane is always fun, we're going to take a closer look at some of the worst teams that the Brewers have run out on to the field over the last 30 years. The teams are ranked by games back of first place, to give us an ever better sense of just how futile each club's efforts was. We've already looked at the 1985, 1998, and 1995 ball clubs, and today we'll recall the 2004 Milwaukee Brewers.
2004 was thankfully the final season that the Brewers were owned by Wendy Selig-Prieb. According to Cot's Contracts, the Brewers' Opening Day payroll that year was just over $27.5 mil total, or less than Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to make by himself in 2016. That lack of investment in the team manifested itself in their poor 67-94 record, which placed them sixth in the NL Central by a whopping 37.5 games behind the Cardinals. The club was outscored by a total of 123 runs on the season and closely matched their Pythagorean W-L of 68-93, meaning they really were THAT bad. Fortunately better days were not far off, as Doug Melvin had already taken the helm as General Manager and began rebuilding the the club and farm system and a group lead by Mark Attanasio would purchase the team at the end of the season.
Best Hitter - OF Brady Clark
One thing that Doug Melvin proved quite adept at during his time as GM was getting value out of scrap-heap players, and Brady Clark is a shining example of this. The Brewers claimed Clark off of waivers in January of 2003, and he immediately slotted in as a starting outfielder. From 2003-05 Clark hit a cumulative .290/.366/.412 and accrued 4.9 WAR, excellent production from a player that was picked up for free. In 2004 he posted a .280/.385/.397 slash in 420 plate appearances, good enough for an OPS+ of 104. Combined with some strong work in the field, this added up to a team leading 2.1 WAR that season.
Worst Hitter - 3B Wes Helms
Wes Helms played his entire 13 season career in the National League, including the 2003-2005 with our own Milwaukee Brewers. How Helms stayed in the league long enough to accrue over 3,000 plate appearances is a testament to how far player evaluation has come since the sabermetric revolution began. Helms was a below replacement level player overall for his career and had only three seasons where he posted a positive WAR value, and 2004 was not one of them. Actually, it was the worst season of his career. Across 92 games and 306 plate appearances, Helms hit just .263/.331/.361 for an OPS+ of 80. On top of that, he posted an incredibly awful -17 Defensive Runs Saved in just 546.0 innings at the hot corner. Altogether it added up to a putrid -1.8 WAR value.
Best Pitcher - RHP Ben Sheets
Ben Sheets may arguably be the best pitcher in Brewers' history, and his 2004 season may very well be the best performance a Brewers' pitcher has put together. In 34 starts and 237.0 innings, including five complete games, Sheeters posted a 2.70 ERA (3rd in the NL) with an even better 2.65 FIP (2nd in the NL). He struck out over 28% of the batters he faced while walking a minuscule 3.4% (!!!). His K:BB ratio of 8.25 that season was far and away the best mark in the league and he had the second best WHIP in the NL at 0.983. His 7.2 WAR was second among NL pitchers to only Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. It's truly difficult to even fathom just quite how dominant Benny was in 2004. In today's climate Sheets would have been among the top candidates for the Cy Young Award, but unfortunately Sheets was only able to put together a 12-14 win-loss record that year thanks to nonexistent run support. Because of the value that was (mis)placed on pitcher wins once upon a time, Sheets only finished eighth in voting that year to 18 game winner Roger Clemens despite having a superior season by far.
Worst Pitcher - RHP Wes Obermueller
2004 was apparently a bad year for Brewer players named 'Wes.' The Kansas City Royals drafted Wes Obermueller in the second round of the 1999 draft, and the once well-regarded prospect with a terrific changeup was dealt to Milwaukee prior to the 2003 season as part of a package for reliever Curtis "The Mechanic" Leskanic. Wes finished fourth on the team with 118.0 innings pitched in 2004, however they were anything but quality innings. Obermueller appeared in 25 games and started 20 of them, allowing a 5.80 ERA and averaged more than one home run allowed per nine innings. He walked nearly as many hitters (42) as he struck out (59). Wes did manage to throw a complete game shutout in his final start of the season on September 25th against the Astros, but managed only a -0.4 WAR for the whole season. He was eventually dealt to the Braves in exchange for Dan Kolb but was out of the big leagues by 2007. He ended his with a 5.82 career ERA and -1.4 WAR in 315.1 innings.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference