Sabermetricians like to compare MLB players to "replacement players." But sometimes it's a hard to grasp the concept. How exactly do they quantify "replacement level?"
Detroiters need look no further than that Tigers bullpen for the perfect example: Brad Thomas.
Thomas is the epitome of replacement-level talent in Major League Baseball.
Here's a working definition of replacement player from Big League Stew:
"A replacement player is defined as someone who is below average and should be easily obtainable, the sort of fringy cup-of-coffee guy you can find in AAA, on the waiver wire, or acquire for a PTBNL, a warm body who hurts the team the more he plays."
That pretty much sums up Thomas' career.
This is the fourth season that the 32-year-old has seen time in the big leagues. He appeared in Minnesota in 2001, 2003, and 2004. He spent 2005 and 2006 in Japan before coming back stateside in 2007 to play AAA ball in the Mariner's organization. 2008 and 2009 were spent in the Korean League.
So far, he's existed his entire career being exactly that fringy type guy described in the quote above (or maybe even a bit worse). He's now amassed 28.1 innings in the Major Leagues and put up some downright awful numbers.
Zero wins, three losses, 38 hits allowed, 23 walks given up, and a sky-high 9.85 earned run average. Fangraphs.com estimates his MLB career numbers add up to a -0.1 WAR (wins above replacement). Meaning that any old AAA or dirt-cheap free agent type pitcher should be able to at least duplicate his performance if not improve upon it.
And yet, Brad Thomas has pitched more innings this season than any other Tiger reliever. His 7.2 innings of "work" account for nearly 25 percent of all relief innings.
I understand the need for a "mop up" pitcher, but the use of Thomas is getting ridiculous.
Last night in Seattle was the perfect example of his Chris Spurling-like approach to relief pitching. Jeremy Bonderman was lifted for the lefty after loading the bases in the fifth. Thomas wasted little time in allowing all of Jeremy's runners to score while plating one of his own.
It would have been difficult enough coming back being down five or six, but the Tigers weren't going to score nine more runs. Not against Felix Hernandez.
How can the Tiger's take their division championship aspirations seriously if Brad Thomas is coming out of the pen more than any other pitcher. He's not effective at getting Major League hitters out—never has been.
There are plenty of guys in Toledo that would love to have a shot at playing in the big leagues. Guys that are younger and that have more potential—guys that probably would do a better job getting guys out. I'd take Casey Fien, Robbie Weinhardt, Josh Rainwater, or Daniel Schlereth right now.
It's time for Jim Leyland to have a conversation with Brad Thomas. A conversation involving Jim informing Brad that his position with the club is no longer available.