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, 1995, and 2004 ball clubs, and today we'll bring an end to the series with the worst team in Milwaukee Brewers history: the 2002 squad.
2002 would begin kindly enough with a 9-3 win over the Astros behind the strong performance of Ben Sheets on Opening Day, but unfortunately that would not be a sign of things to come. Milwaukee started the season just 3-12 before firing manager Davey Lopes on April 18th. His replacement Jerry Royster couldn't coax much better results out of the club, and overall they finished with a ghastly 56-106 record and 41 games back of those damned Cardinals. The Brewers had the worst offense in the league and scored just 3.87 runs per game that year, while their pitching staff finished second-worst in the NL with a 4.73 ERA. Overall the team was outscored by an incredible 194 runs, though Pythagorean W-L thought they should have been a 61 win team. Doug Melvin would go to replace Dean Taylor as General Manager following the season, and after years of wandering through the wilderness the team would finally start heading in the right direction.
Best Hitter - SS Jose Hernandez
The Brewers signed veteran Jose Hernandez as a free agent prior to the 2000 season, after he had spent most of his eight-year career to that point establishing himself as a member of the rival Cubs. He wasn't very good in 2000 and then was okay in 2001, but the shortstop enjoyed the finest season of his career in 2002. He made his lone career All-Star appearance while producing a .288/.356/.478 line with 24 home runs in 152 games. He did lead the league in strikeouts, which was taboo at the time, but overall he posted a strong 120 OPS+ from the shortstop position. He also drew positive reviews for his work defensively and lead the team with a career-best 4.4 WAR. 2002 was Hernandez's last season in Milwaukee, and he'd go on to hang around the league with another seven organizations before his career ended in 2006.
Worst Hitter - 2B Ronnie Belliard
Belliard began his big league career with Milwaukee in 1998 and was actually quite a productive player during his first few seasons in the majors. He became a fixture in the lineup starting in 1999 and over the next three seasons accrued 8 wins above replacement. Things changed drastically in 2002 however as Belliard endured the worst season of his career. In 104 games Ronnie hit a putrid .211/.257/.287 with just three home runs, posting an OPS+ of just 45 (!!!). He was viewed as a negative defender for the first time in his career and overall he cost the Brewers -2.2 wins above replacement. The club released him following the season but Belliard would go on to enjoy a productive and lengthy career that lasted until 2010.
Best Pitcher - RHP Ben Sheets
As a 23 year old in 2002, Sheets was only in his second year in the majors and still hadn't come close to touching his true potential, but he was still the most valuable member of the pitching staff in 2002. Sheets pitched 216.2 innings while allowing a 4.15 ERA, giving him a nearly league average ERA+ of 98. He struck out 170 opposing batters while walking 70. Benny posted an 11-16 record and accounted for nearly 20% of all the victories that Milwaukee had that season. He lead the staff with 2.6 WAR. Sheets would continue to improve before breaking out in a big way in 2004, but injuries marred his career in almost every season following. It's a shame to have to wonder how much more impressive Ben's career could have been if he'd been able to stay on the field more.
Worst Pitcher - RHP Jose Cabrera
Cabrera made his big league debut with Houston at age 25 in 1997, but it wasn't until 1999 that he had established himself as a regular member of the Astros bullpen. After spending 2001 putting up strong numbers in Atlanta, the Brewers acquired him during Spring Training in 2002 with Paul Bako in exchange for Henry Blanco. Despite having worked solely as a reliever to that point in his career, for some reason the Brewers had Cabrera start in 11 of his 50 appearances that season, and the results were ugly. Overall he posted a 6.79 ERA in a career-high 103.1 innings pitched and allowed an average of two home runs per nine innings. He struck out 61 batters while walking 36 and posted a 1.62 WHIP on the season. Overall he was valued at -2.4 WAR, which was even worse than the awful production that the club got from Ruben Quevedo that year. Cabrera was granted free agency following the season and never appeared in the major leagues again.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference