MLB's Worst: Is Derek Jeter One of the Bottom 20?
Over the many years of player comparison and analysis, our understanding of what it means to be a great baseball player has continually evolved.
Along with that, we have also formed a better comprehension of the concept of a "bad" player.
There was a time when we would assess shortstops, catchers, and center fielders based merely on their offensive contributions, a practice we now understand to be shockingly limited. If ballplayers are to be judged, they must be judged for all of their contributions, both their hitting and their defense.
With this in mind, we take a look at the 20 worst players of the 2010 baseball season, guys who just kill their team in all facets of the game.
Honorable Mention: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
Jeter is having a nasty year.
He is slogging through the worst offensive year of his career, and his soon-to-be 100-plus runs scored is more of a testament to the mighty Yankee offense around him.
Jeter has also gone backwards on the defensive side of the ball.
As an indication of what a bad overall player he has been this year, his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for 2010 is 0.5, which puts him in the company of guys like Mike Aviles and Blake DeWitt.
To put that into perspective, Jeter's 6.5 WAR last season was the 10th best in baseball.
Nevertheless, the point of this exercise is not to antagonize Yankees fans or bash Derek Jeter, and I don't want a comment board dominated by Jeter defense, so we'll leave him out of this.
Even though he would have been in the top five if I included him.
20. Zach Duke, Pittsburgh Pirates
This isn't going to be a pitcher-heavy list, because there are lots of bad pitchers out there, and individual pitchers don't necessarily sink entire teams (see Kyle Kendrick).
But there is room for Zach Duke.
Someday someone will have to explain Zach Duke's 14-game 2005 debut to me. Duke went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 84.2 innings for the Pirates, and looked like the next great thing.
Since then, Duke has gone 36-67 in 142 starts, and never looked like a Major League-caliber pitcher.
He led the NL in losses last season with 16, and is one behind league-leader, and teammate, Paul Maholm this year. He allows way over 10 hits per nine innings–this season he's over 12–which is historically bad, and his ERA is always awful.
This season, Duke is in danger of becoming the 22nd player since 1901 to pitch enough to qualify for the ERA title while allowing over 12 hits per nine innings.
19. Nyjer Morgan, Washington Nationals
I defended Nyjer Morgan in his tiff with the Florida Marlins because I thought Wes Helms and his Florida teammates were being ridiculous.
Nevertheless, there is nothing defensible about Morgan's play.
A supposed stolen-base threat, he has only 33 steals to go with a league-leading 17 times caught stealing.
The supposed leadoff hitter bats .258 with a .318 on-base percentage.
As a speedy light-hitting center fielder, you'd expect him to be a great defensive player.
But he is not.
His Ultimate Zone Rating is only slightly above league average, his five errors in center field are the second-worst in the league, and he only has two outfield assists.
18. Casey Kotchman, Seattle Mariners
Kotchman was once one of two players traded for Mark Teixeira, and then traded straight up for Adam LaRoche.
The Mariners probably couldn't get a bag of balls for him now.
He has never been a heavy hitter, but it was thought that he might one day emerge into a John Olerud type. Instead, in 2010 he is hitting .221 with a .284 on-base percentage and, despite 20 doubles, a .342 slugging percentage.
And don't go blaming Safeco Field, either: Kotchman hits only .226 on the road.
His league-average defense has done nothing to justify continually sticking his bat in the lineup.
17. Ryan Theriot, Chicago Cubs/Los Angeles Dodgers
As an infielder, you better be able to field your position well or hit well. Unfortunately, Ryan Theriot seems to have lost the ability to do either.
His .644 OPS (72 OPS+), -22 batting runs, and league-average Ultimate Zone Rating show him to be a miserable player.
It is stunning to think that after Theriot helped sink the Cubs' playoff hopes (though they didn't need much help in that department), he moved over to the Dodgers and helped sink theirs, too.
16. Skip Schumaker, St. Louis Cardinals
Schumaker is a converted outfielder playing second base; what's a brother gonna do?
As a hitter, Skip isn't killing the Cardinals, though his .270/.334/.348 and five home runs in 122 games isn't exactly contributing, either.
However, as a fielder, he is absolutely standing in the way of success.
Not only does Schumaker lead the National League in fielding errors by a second baseman with 16, second in the majors only to Chone Figgins, but he also has–by far–the worst zone-rating numbers in Major League Baseball.
15. Miguel Tejada, Baltimore Orioles/San Diego Padres
I won't go too deep into stats to describe Tejada, who has been a bad hitter and a terrible third baseman.
But know this:
The Orioles were 32-70 when they traded Tejada to the Padres, and are 26-18 since.
The Padres were 60-40 when they acquired Tejada, and have gone 22-24 since.
14. Garrett Jones, Pittsburgh Pirates
Let's get this out of the way: I told you so.
After a terrific 21 home run, .293 average, 147 OPS+ debut with the Pirates last season (in 82 games), Garrett Jones has gone 20 home runs, .249 average, 93 OPS+ in 144 games this season.
And . . . he's one of the worst defensive first basemen in the National League, which is fine as long as you hit like Prince Fielder, Adam Dunn, or Ryan Howard.
13. Ivan Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
Not much to say here.
He is no longer one of the game's elite game-callers, and his throwing arm is becoming less of a distraction from his annually-awful offense.
His ridiculous 24 double plays grounded into in 102 games is one of the worst of all time, in the same company as double play legends George Scott, Ernie Lombardi, Gene Green, Joe Adcock, and Billy Hitchcock.
12. Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies
In the month of September, the Colorado Rockies are hitting .309 as a team. Todd Helton is hitting .182.
It has been that kind of year for Helton.
His numbers are bad enough–six home runs, 31 RBIs, .253/.355/.357 in 105 games–but when you consider that he plays his home games at a resurgent Coors Field, the reality starts to set in:
Todd Helton's career may be coming to an end.
Helton isn't even playing valuable defense at first base any more.
11. Scott Kazmir, Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim
Kazmir's 2010 line: 8-14, 5.99 ERA (68 ERA+), 74 BB, 87 K, 23 HR in 136.2 innings.
10. Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
Quite simply, Ian Desmond is a mediocre hitter who strikes out too much and can't get on base.
Meanwhile, despite having one of the worst ranges in Major League Baseball at shortstop, he has committed a Major League-high 33 errors.
He is on pace to enter the Jose Offerman stratosphere.
The good news is that he's young, and has nowhere to go but up.
The bad news is that he committed 189 errors in 631 career minor league games, so it ain't like he's having a bad year.
9. Adam Lind, Toronto Blue Jays
Adam Lind is the designated hitter for the Toronto Blue Jays, which means all he has to do is hit.
Unfortunately, he isn't very good at hitting, or at least hasn't been in 2010. Lind has cobbled together only 38 walks to go with his 135 strikeouts, and is batting .228 with a .282 on-base percentage.
8. Aaron Hill, Toronto Blue Jays
Aaron Hill's upside?
I dunno—easy-to-spell name? Not bad looking?
His downside could be a chapter in a book: for a guy with 24 home runs, he has had a miserable season.
He is batting .211 with a .277 on-base percentage. He has 63 runs and RBIs, which means if he isn't hitting a home run, he likely isn't scoring or driving in runs.
He is also a slightly-below-average defensive second baseman who has committed the third-most errors in the AL.
7. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
If not for some really good competition, I might be willing to call Matt Kemp the worst player in baseball.
He may win the award for being the most deceptively bad player.
He leads the NL in games played, has 22 home runs, 23 doubles, and 18 stolen bases. On an underachieving offense, Kemp has scored 72 runs and has 74 RBIs.
So, what's the problem?
The problem is that Kemp does several different things that hurt the team more than his meager home run and RBI help:
His 18 stolen bases came at the expense of being caught stealing 15 times.
He strikes out three times as much as he walks, and doesn't make contact nearly enough. For a middle-of-the-order guy, .248/.309/.429 simply won't do.
And somehow, he hits worse on the road than he does at home (.758/.718 OPS split) despite playing in hitting-oppressed Dodgers Stadium.
The cherry on top is his defense. He has played the second-most innings at center field in the National League in 2010, and has some of the worst range and zone-rating numbers in all of baseball.
6. Carlos Lee, Houston Astros
Oh, Carlos Lee, what has become of you?
With 21 home runs, 84 RBIs, and a .245/.286/.411, Lee is on the next train to Kingman-ville, where he can spend the rest of his days hanging out with Dave Kingman, Tony Armas, Joe Carter, and the rest of the least productive sluggers in baseball history.
Humorously, Lee's defense in left field has been so bad this season that his WAR is the fourth-worst of all time for a player with 20 or more home runs, after Dante Bichette, Rico Brogna, and Ruben Sierra.
5. Cesar Izturis, Baltimore Orioles
Cesar Izturis has been a liability at the plate and a wizard in the field, but now he is pushing the concept a bit far.
In 2010, Izturis has hit .237 with a .557 OPS, joining what I call the "2-2-2 Club" for guys whose average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage are all in the 200's.
Izturis's OPS+ is a 53, which is historically bad.
But here's the clincher: Izturis isn't playing great defense.
According to FanGraphs.com, Izturis has been a league-average defensive shortstop this season. His range, his errors, and his double plays have all been middle of the pack.
If you're going to be a middle-of-the-pack fielder, you have to be a middle-of-the-pack hitter as well. Izturis has just killed the Orioles this year by being one of the worst hitters in baseball.
4. Jason Kendall, Kansas City Royals
Going from Miguel Olivo to Jason Kendall in consecutive seasons may be one of the worst single-season catcher position flip-flops in recent baseball history.
Ask Zack Greinke how he feels about the switch.
To say that Kendall has been a bad offensive player is not to say much: no home runs and 37 runs scored in 118 games tells you what you need to know, with .256/.318/.297 fleshing out the picture a bit.
But on defense, Kendall has killed the Royals.
Only Yadier Molina has caught more innings than Kendall, but while Molina is one of the game's finest catchers, Kendall has been a mess. He has a major league-leading 13 errors behind the plate, and he has allowed 101 stolen bases while throwing out only 29 percent of potential base stealers.
To put that 101 in perspective, after Kendall, only Victor Martinez (90) has allowed more than 77 steals, and only three players have allowed more than 70.
3. Pedro Feliz, Houston Astros/St. Louis Cardinals
In 2008, I thought the Phillies were crazy to acquire Pedro Feliz from the San Francisco Giants.
Boy, was I wrong.
He provided adequate offense and a great glove at third base, and was one of the guys who brought the Phils a World Series championship.
In 2010, I thought the Phillies were crazy to get rid of Pedro Feliz.
Boy, was I wrong again.
He has simply fallen off the cliff this season, batting .217/.239/.298 with five home runs and 37 RBIs in 123 games.
His defense, once his strong suit, has also suffered, as he has fallen below the league average in several metrics.
At -2.5, he has the worst WAR in Major League Baseball, according to baseballreference.com.
2. Melky Cabrera, Atlanta Braves
In his six years in Major League Baseball, I have never ever ever understood Melky Cabrera's appeal.
I never understood what the Yankees saw in him, never understood why he was the heir apparent to Bernie Williams, and never understood why the Atlanta Braves would trade Javier Vazquez to get him.
Melky has always struck me as a zero-tool player: he can't hit for average, he has no power, he can't get on base, he isn't fast, and he isn't a contact hitter. He isn't a rangy outfielder, and despite 28 outfield assists over two years in New York in 2007 and 2008, he doesn't appear to have a great outfield arm.
Cabrera has played 139 games for the Braves in 2010, and has four home runs with 41 RBIs and 46 runs to go with his appalling .255/.318/.357 and .675 OPS.
He has played all three outfield positions in 2010. At least from an Ultimate-Zone-Rating perspective, he has been somewhere between Ryan Braun and Carlos Lee as a defender.
1. Yuniesky Betancourt, Kansas City Royals
Yuniesky Betancourt isn't just a bad player, and he isn't just the worst player in baseball today.
He may be the worst player of all time.
Betancourt is a career shortstop, and has the types of numbers you'd expect from a defensive specialist: career batting average in the .270's, career on-base percentage under .300.
His OPS+ is in the 80's, and has been in the 60's. He has negative batting runs every year, and for his career he has -74.2 batting runs.
He strikes out almost three times as much as he walks (98/268), hits into too many double plays (an inexplicable 23 in 2008), and doesn't run the bases well (24/23 SB/CS ratio).
Four times in five years, Betancourt has batted over 500 times and failed to score 70 or more runs or collect over 160 hits. He has never had an on-base percentage over .310, or more than 21 walks in a season.
But that is all fine. A baseball team can accept bad offense from a gold glove shortstop.
But Betancourt is no Gold Glover. Indeed, he isn't even an adequate shortstop.
Hell, he isn't even a bad shortstop.
Yuniesky Betancourt is Derek Jeter. He is Hanley Ramirez.
He is the worst of the worst.
Of all shortstops in baseball, Betancourt has the second-worst Ultimate Zone Rating, behind Jeter and ahead of Han-Ram. In 2009, he was dead-last; the year before, he was second-worst again, ahead of Stephen Drew.
Of full-time shortstops in the AL, only Jeter and Erick Aybar have a lower total of fielding runs, according to baseballreference.com. Last season, only Orlando Cabrera was worse; in 2008, Betancourt was tied with Jason Bartlett for the worst.
Looking at the defensive component of WAR, again only Aybar and Jeter have been worse than Betancourt this season among AL shortstops.
It is a dizzying array of statistics, all of which point to one undeniable conclusion:
Yuniesky Betancourt is the worst player in Major League Baseball.
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