|The All Loser Team||| Print |||Send|
Written by Tom Lindsey (Contact & Archive) on May 12, 2008
When I started this (really) modest two part series, I had no idea what to call it; there’s really no need for me to explain this to you, I’m sure: When an article is titled the “Segmented All-Star Team,” it’s pretty obvious the author has run out of ideas. The ultimate goal here is to break down the best and worst teams at certain spots on the field, and I think it occasionally comes across as a list more about the players. But with goofy lists like these, who really cares anyway, right? ...err, right?
Ladies and gentleman (or, more accurately, Mom (Hi!) and the athomeplate webmaster), today we’re here to mock the horrible teams of baseball. It’s an event I relish with great intensity. Unless you find your team on this dubious list, I think it’s likely you feel the same way, because (ah, yes!) we love to kick other teams when they are down.
In my last article, I decided to title the “good” team the “Team That Doesn’t Stink.” It wasn’t my most creative moment, but they can’t all be winners (though it would be nice if it actually happened once or twice). Well, rather than tempt fate again, I’ll call this team simply the “inverse” of the aforementioned “Team That Doesn’t Stink.”
“Inverse of the Team That Doesn’t Stink.”
Who is worse right now: Mike Rabelo or J.R. Towles? While it’s almost a given that Towles has the brighter future, even in 2008 (which is why he ranks higher on this list), both have been pretty awful so far. Towles doesn’t look ready to play in the major leagues yet, but some good things can be said about him. For one, he’s already demonstrated a modicum of power with four dingers and three doubles, despite just twelve hits overall. He’s also had a very decent walk rate with 10 free passes in 89 plate appearances, and figures to do alright if he can lower his strikeouts and improve his Line Drive percentage (just 10.3% in limited PA’s). In short, Towles figures to do O.K. once he gets past the learning curve and receives a little bit more luck on balls put in play. What hurts the Astros further, however, is that while Towles struggles, Ausmus gets more playing time, which is always a bad thing. Ausmus was often cited as the worst player in baseball before the emergence of the Latin Trio of Terror in Kansas City (Neifi Perez, Angel Berroa, and now Tony Pena Jr.), and this was before Ausmus was threatening to turn forty.
Unfortunately for the Marlins, the same optimism that surrounds Towles isn’t present with Rabelo. He’s there as a stop-gap until something- anything- can supplant him. His OBP in the minor leagues is .326, and even that’s helped out quite a bit by 242 plate appearances as a twenty-six year old in AA. Mike Treanor, the backup catcher, is better (though only a little bit: his “Zips” projection for this year is .235/.324/.302), and is likely the guy who will put Rabelo out of his misery. It all depends on whether or not the Marlins see Rabelo as their future, and I cannot imagine they do.
At this point in the “All-Star” team article, I compared the three-year OPS+ of the best middle-infield and corner-infield tandems. This is simply not possible with the bunch of losers that we are examining here. Guys who are this bad do not last as starters for major league teams for much more than a year, and almost never three.
The first couple of players we’ll take a look at play for the Giants. Ray Durham, the second baseman, has lost it. There was a time when he made Sabean looks almost crafty, as Durham’s imminent decline actually made him undervalued on the market. Like Sabean’s team in general, however, this is no longer the case. Durham absolutely fell off of a cliff in 2007, hitting .218/.295/.343 and isn’t playing much better this year. To make matters worse, he’s never been known as a “gloveman,” his value tied up mostly in his offense.
With the decline of Durham, it’s almost like playing Brian Bocock in the same infield is intended to be some sort of sick or twisted joke. I’m not going to get into it too much, mostly because Bocock is a joke just by himself, and clearly not a major league player, but if Magowan wanted to fire Brian Sabean merely because he’s doing battle this year with Bocock as his shortstop (even as the #2 option), Sabean could offer little in his own defense. Just to illustrate how bad it is, Bocock was a minor league .239/.310/.333 in Class A (!!!) ball. That’s right: the Giants are not only starting a kid who has never progressed even to the AA level, but a player who has never shown he’s even ready to progress to the AA level. It’s truly an embarrassment to professional sports.
Luckily for the Giants, their originally planned starter at shortstop is coming off of the DL; unluckily, that player is Omar Vizquel. In case you need reminding, Omar “hit” .246/.305/.316 last year, and is 41 years old. He probably won’t be as bad as Bocock, but he’s going to be plenty bad.
The Royals’ infield is remarkably similar, but not quite as pathetic. Grudzielanek has aged remarkably well, even experiencing a slight up-tick in his offense performance last year, but that’s likely an aberration and he’s never been much more than an above average player, anyway. And after winning the gold-glove in 2006, Grudz’ range has slipped. He ranked close to last in range-factor (below the likes of Jeff Kent and Dan Uggla) in ‘07. With Grudzielanek, the Royals don’t have a bad player, but he’s a player not talented enough to keep them off of this list with Tony Pena Jr. also in the fold.
Tony Pena is superb defensively, and I encourage you to watch a Royals game if you have never seen him work in the field, but he’s almost worthless on offense. He’s no Brian Bocock, but he is a career .252/.282/.332 minor league hitter, who would be awfully lucky to even replicate those numbers as a major league player. He’s a future defensive replacement for a major league team; he happens to be starting because the Royals have no other options at shortstop.
Immediately, we are brought again to the Giants. While it may seem merciless to drone on about how bad the Giants’ infield is, these guys have earned it. This infield is not just bad: it’s historically bad. You really have to go back to the 1972 Rangers to find one that looks much worse.
The Giants start Rich Aurilia and Jose Castillo, respectively. Aurilia is the type of grizzled veteran that many general managers fall victim to every once in a while. It keeps Doug Mientkiewicz, Ross Gload, and Steve Trachsel on major league rosters, despite the fact that their employers usually have better options. Not one of “many” GM’s, Sabean falls victim to these types of players nearly every time.
The guy they start at third is a Pirates castoff by the name of Jose Castillo. You know you are bad when you’re yelling “Somebody find me a freakin’ pen!” when a player that the Pirates don’t want enters your office. I won’t get into a detailed analysis of his stats, because frankly one isn’t needed.
Third base has been a big problem for the Marlins ever since they traded Mike Lowell to the Red Sox. It would be hard to say they “regret” making the deal for two reasons: This deal netted them Hanley Ramirez, whose rights are probably worth Josh Beckett and Lowell combined, and second, the Marlins simply don’t like to take on any money they can’t use ( i.e. they are extremely cheap). Because of this, they’re left with Jorge Cantu (whose bat doesn’t even play well at second) and Mike Jacobs, who may or may not be able to hit a curveball.
The Royals weren’t far off from making this list, with only the assumed progression of Alex Gordon keeping them off of it.
As I write this, the Padres have just released Jim Edmonds. It’s a sad day for me as a baseball fan, not just because Jim Edmonds looks finished, but also for the way he’s probably going to leave the game. I don’t think we can ever be completely certain how much of this was Edmonds’ natural regression, and how much of it was related to the head-trauma he suffered when crashing into a wall in 2006. While I think it’s most likely that most (or all) of the regression was natural, he was a different player from September of 2006 (just after the concussion) on; the possibility that it ended his career is there.
The rest of the outfield consists of Brian Giles and Paul McAnulty. Giles is still a walks machine, but has little power, and McAnulty’s Zips projection is .255/.323/.391.
It’s bad, folks.
Scott Hairston, who has already logged a bunch of at bats this year, figures to take over as the starter in centerfield, while Jody Gerut takes his job as the fourth outfielder. I’m more than surprised that a front office with minds like Kevin Towers and Paul DePodesta cannot find better options for the outfield, and frankly, my opinion of them both has been negatively affected by this colossal failure. If the Padres had done a better job at finding sticks to play in the outfield, they would be legitimate contenders. Instead, they find themselves last in the standings.
The other team here is the Oakland Athletics who start Ryan Sweeney in center, Emil Brown in left, and Travis Buck in right. Sweeney was a pretty mediocre prospect with the White Sox, which is probably why they traded the guy when they acquired Swisher. On the other hand, Beane traded for Sweeney to keep A’s prospects from accruing major league service time. The same goes for Emil Brown in left field, who is a far more atrocious defender than any metric has ever rated him, and not all that great with the bat either. Buck is a decent player who takes walks, much like Giles. He managed a good .474 slugging percentage in half of a season in 2008, but I’m not convinced the power is real (not yet, at least).
The Marlins and the Nationals start an interchangeable mix of veterans and unremarkable young pitchers. What’s truly scary about both these rotations is that Scott Olsen is quite possibly the best pitcher on either of them. Even with his blazing start to the 2008 season, Olsen’s career ERA+ is still just 94.
The Marlins have more potential in their rotation, especially with the rushed Andrew Miller as a prominent fixture, but they are extremely rough around the edges. There aren’t many rotations more boring to root for than the Nationals’, but because they are slightly more advanced than the Marlins, they save themselves from last place. The Marlins are truly a blessing to the Nationals, who must consider Odalis Perez their best starter at the moment; any time that’s the case, you have some serious problems to iron out organizationally.
This, too, has been a pattern of horrendous teams on the list. Terrible teams will often take players a merely “bad” team has no use for, and put them in a starter’s role. The Giants did it with Jose Castillo; the Rockies are doing it with Mark Redman and Jorge De La Rosa; even the A’s, who look to be better than Royals overall, had a need “filled” by Emil Brown.
Let me preface this by saying that the bullpen was undoubtedly the most difficult position area to evaluate. Almost every team has a few good relievers and a few bad ones. Relievers’ ERAs change so often that you almost have to look simply at their strikeout to walk ratios to get an idea of who is good, who is bad, and who is lucky. And even still, it’s difficult, as guys like Todd Jones defy this logic, and players like Joe Borowski still manage high WxRL’S (Expected wins added by relievers, based partly on leverage).
I can say this for certain: the Brewers and Tigers don’t have good bullpens. The two relievers who were supposed to be the most “dominant” on the Brew-Crew, Turnbow and Gagne, have had horrid starts. Turnbow was so bad that he was DFA‘d, cleared waivers, and is now in the minor leagues. Gagne is, in fact, only on the team because of the $10 million contract he signed. He’s giving up a bunch of walks and home runs, and wasn’t particularly effective when he played for the Red Sox last year. Unfortunately for the Brewers, there’s not just a ton of help on the roster. Riske and Torres figure to be above average (which is, somehow, a remarkable improvement), and Matt Wise will probably be fine. The problem isn’t that the Brewers don’t have any decent relievers, it’s that they don’t have enough of them, and that the guys that they do have are only above-average, rather than excellent. As I said earlier, just about every team has a few decent relievers. Teams are really measured by the depth of their good relievers or by the quality of their best or (in the cases of the very best) both.
One of the best kept secrets this year is that it has been the Tigers’ rotation, not the bullpen, has been absolutely dreadful. The bullpen isn’t quite “dreadful,” but it should end up being worse than the rotation in short order; it’s made even worse by the absences of Rodney, Zumaya, and breakout candidate Denny Bautista.