MLB Metrics 101: MLB's Worst Players of the 1st Half
Major League Baseball just played a game that featured only the best players from the first half of the 2017 season. The worst, meanwhile, were kept well out of view.
Here comes Bleacher Report's MLB Metrics 101 to weed them out.
Hello and welcome back. This week's topic is the worst players from the season's first half. The following players qualify for inclusion:
- 339 hitters who played in at least 40 games
- 143 starting pitchers who made at least 10 starts
- 143 relief pitchers who made at least 30 appearances
That's a list of 625 total players to choose from. That's a lot. Better whittle it down.
Read on for more on how that's going to work.
To assess overall productivity, this series usually takes cues from Baseball Reference's version of wins above replacement.
But while Baseball Reference WAR (rWAR) is a good go-to, it's not the only version of WAR. There's another popular version at FanGraphs (fWAR). This week, that version is welcomed into the mix.
There aren't actually many differences between rWAR and fWAR. They both seek to weigh offense, defense and baserunning for hitters and workload and effectiveness for pitchers, and do so in mostly similar ways.
The only major differences are:
- For defense: rWAR uses defensive runs saved as a primary measuring stick, while fWAR uses ultimate zone rating. The metrics strive for the same outcome, but in different ways.
- For pitcher effectiveness: rWAR uses runs allowed while fWAR uses fielding independent pitching. It's like ERA, except focused on four things within a pitcher's control: strikeouts, walks, home runs and hit-by-pitches.
These aren't small differences, but they're usually not significant enough to create huge disparities in player valuations.
So, it's safe enough to take the rWAR and fWAR for each of the sample's 625 players and average them together to get "WAR Avg." In this case, players with the lowest WAR Avgs win lose. In the event of ties, higher rankings will go to players with more games played.
For complete results, go here. Otherwise, it's on to dishonorable mentions and then a bottom 10.
Jeff Mathis, C, Arizona Diamondbacks (Minus-0.8 WAR Avg)
In light of the Arizona Diamondbacks' resurgent pitching, there is something to be said about the work Jeff Mathis has done behind the plate. But he's been a total black hole at the plate. He has just a .542 OPS and is tied for dead last with his adjusted OPS+ of 36. For perspective: 100 is average.
Brandon Moss, DH, Kansas City Royals (Minus-0.8 WAR Avg)
Mathis at least gets the benefit of playing a premium defensive position. Brandon Moss doesn't have a defensive position, so he needs to hit. With a .657 OPS and well-below-average 70 OPS+, he's not.
Ryan Goins, INF, Toronto Blue Jays (Minus-0.8 WAR Avg)
The Toronto Blue Jays don't play Ryan Goins for his bat, but it still hurts to give 219 plate appearances to a hitter with a .590 OPS and 55 OPS+. Making matters worse is that his typically strong defense isn't rating well for either DRS or UZR.
Tom Koehler, SP, Miami Marlins (Minus-0.9 WAR Avg)
Tom Koehler gets to pitch in the National League's relatively weak offensive environment and at a huge home ballpark to boot. Nevertheless, his returns in 10 starts have been disastrous. In 45 innings, he's allowed 54 hits, 24 walks, 12 home runs and 40 runs for an 8.00 ERA.
10. Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Tyler Glasnow has been a regular in top prospect rankings since 2014. As a 6'8" giant with sizzling stuff, why wouldn't he be?
But as John Perrotto warned at Baseball America: "He has the ceiling of a No. 1 starter, but many evaluators outside the organization believe his future lies as a dominant reliever due to his poor control."
Before he was sent back to the minors in June, Glasnow continued to fan those flames in his 12 starts with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He walked 29 batters in only 54.1 innings. He also gave up 45 earned runs (53 total) for a 7.45 ERA. That's second-worst among pitchers with at least 12 starts.
The tradeoff for Glasnow's control issues is supposed to be extreme unhittability. But he struggled with that as well. His rate of 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings was solid and did his FIP (and, thus, his fWAR) some favors, but he nonetheless served up a .326 batting average and 12 homers.
The 23-year-old's upside is still through the roof. But how to tap into it remains a mystery that would baffle even Edward Nigma.
Until the Pirates figure it out, they should keep Glasnow on the farm.
9. Gorkys Hernandez, OF, San Francisco Giants
It feels a little mean to be picking on Gorkys Hernandez.
He's only a fourth outfielder, so nobody's expecting him to be the next coming of Barry Bonds. And it's not his fault the San Francisco Giants are deep in last place in the NL West.
Still, he hasn't helped.
As a right-handed reserve outfielder, Hernandez should be helping the Giants by hitting left-handed pitching and playing solid defense. He's doing neither.
He has a .597 OPS and 62 OPS+ in 178 plate appearances overall, and just a .557 OPS against lefties. That's sixth-lowest among all hitters with at least 80 plate appearances against southpaws.
Meanwhile, the 29-year-old has accounted for a minus-nine DRS and minus-1.0 UZR on defense. His relatively small sample size of 382.2 innings means these numbers must be taken with a grain of salt. But at times, he sure hasn't looked the part of a stud defender.
On the bright side, maybe the only way from here is up?
8. Albert Pujols, DH, Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels don't want to hear that Albert Pujols is one of the worst players in baseball. And not just because they're still paying his $240 million contract.
“Our analysis, our viewpoint is that in Albert’s case, we’re seeing a guy that still has a lot of presence in the middle of the order,” general manager Billy Eppler said in June, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. “He impacts the baseball, and he has big at-bats.”
And you know what? They have a point. As Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs highlighted, Pujols has been money in high-pressure situations. That counts.
On the whole, though, what he's become isn't pretty.
In his heyday, Pujols was an elite hitter who could play a mean first base and run the bases. Age and injuries have robbed him of his wheels and restricted him to DH duty. So, he must hit to earn his keep.
To that end, he has a .675 OPS and an 81 OPS+ that places him 19 points below the league average. With both his walk habit and his power worse than ever, pretty much all of his avenues to good value are closed.
7. Bartolo Colon, SP, Minnesota Twins
Technically, Bartolo Colon is with the Minnesota Twins. But he's featured here because of his tumultuous time with the Atlanta Braves.
Colon logged 63 innings in 13 starts. In those, he gave up a staggering 92 hits and 57 earned runs (66 total). He finished with an 8.14 ERA, the highest of any pitcher with at least 12 starts.
The silver lining is that the 2.3-WAR gap between Colon's rWAR and fWAR is the biggest gap of any player in the sample. With a 6.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and 1.6 HR/9, his peripherals were weak but not outright terrible.
Between the two, however, it's rWAR that offers the more accurate perception of Colon's value.
His M.O. in prior seasons was to throw a ton of strikes, thereby limiting walks and making hitters beat him. Trouble is that his 2.9 BB/9 this season was nearly double his average of 1.5 per nine innings over the last six seasons. That crunched his margin for error. His numbers were punished accordingly.
The Twins stand to gain a solid innings-eater if they get Colon squared away. If not, the 44-year-old's stint with the Braves could finally be his last in the majors.
6. Jace Peterson, INF, Atlanta Braves
It's best to think of Jace Peterson as the Gorkys Hernandez of the infield.
He has played some outfield for the Braves, but he's spent most of the season at second base and third base, with time at shortstop and first base for good measure. As a left-handed hitter, he's played almost exclusively against right-handed pitchers.
To reiterate, Mathis at least holds his own at a premium defensive position. According to DRS and UZR, Peterson has mostly struggled at non-premium defensive positions.
The Braves did send him down to the minors in June. While down there, Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported Peterson was able to “get the confidence back."
Since his return on June 24, he's played in seven games and collected one hit in 14 at-bats. So as per usual, things could be going better.
5. Ben Revere, OF, Los Angeles Angels
They don't make 'em much faster than Ben Revere. That should make him a weapon on the basepaths and on defense.
But he has to get on base if he wants to be a weapon on the basepaths. He struggled to do that with a .260 on-base percentage last season, and he is now down to .254 this season. Overall, his .258 OBP since 2016 is the second-lowest among players with at least 500 plate appearances.
Revere is perhaps the least powerful hitter in baseball, so pitchers go right at him and bar him from drawing walks. He thus has to hit his way on. He has the contact skill for it. But without the ability to hit the ball hard or precisely where he wants to, it's not good for much.
On defense, Revere does make the occasional highlight-reel grab. But it's no fluke that he's rated as a below-average defender. He's known for taking indirect routes to balls. And baserunners have every incentive to test his arm, which has the firepower of a rubber band gun.
The thinking goes that Revere is a useful reserve outfielder despite his limitations. But at the rate he's going, that notion is on thin ice.
4. Amir Garrett, SP, Cincinnati Reds
This season wasn't always bad for Amir Garrett.
He entered the year as a top-rated prospect and got off to a terrific start once he arrived in the majors, posting a 1.83 ERA in his first three outings. The last of the three saw him whiff 12 batters in seven innings.
Per MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price had this to say:
"Of all the accolades we've piled on Amir through his first three starts, the one that stands out the most is just his willingness to compete every moment he's on the field. That is not something that everybody just has because they're a big leaguer. There's a lot of guys who will fold their tent when things get tough, even at this level. And he doesn't."
Then it all crumbled. Over his next nine starts, the 25-year-old lefty put up a 10.24 ERA in 38.2 innings. He allowed 48 hits and struck out only 28 while walking 26.
The latter number reveals that Garrett's control needs help. That remains a work in progress even now. In four starts since the Reds sent him down to Triple-A Louisville, he's walked eight batters in 20 innings.
However, Garrett hasn't been the Reds' worst pitcher this season...
3. Bronson Arroyo, SP, Cincinnati Reds
If nothing else, the fact that Bronson Arroyo is even still around is worth appreciating.
The veteran right-hander wasn't seen at all in the big leagues in 2015 or 2016. He was sidelined by Tommy John surgery and returned to make only two minor league starts for the Washington Nationals last season.
The Reds took a chance on the 40-year-old anyway. It would be a cool story if it was working out.
But it's just not.
Arroyo has made 14 starts and coughed up 58 earned runs in 71 innings. That's a 7.35 ERA, which is by far the worst among pitchers who've made at least 14 starts.
Driving Arroyo's struggles is a familiar foe: the long ball. He led the National League in home runs allowed in 2011 and 2013. He's allowed 23 homers this year, a rate of 2.9 per nine innings. That, also, is by far the worst mark among pitchers with 14 starts.
Chances are these numbers will remain fixed in time. A sore shoulder put Arroyo on the disabled list in June, and he's since been moved to the 60-day DL. He might as well have been moved into retirement.
2. Danny Espinosa, 2B, Los Angeles Angels
After Danny Espinosa expressed his unhappiness with the Nationals last winter, the Angels were quick to swoop in and trade for him.
So far, though, the Angels have gotten nothing out of it.
There are some bad hitters covered in the space above, but none is on Espinosa's level. He's logged 254 plate appearances and put up just a .513 OPS. That comes out to a 39 OPS+, the lowest of any hitter with at least 250 plate appearances.
Espinosa's offensive profile has always been limited by an extreme strikeout habit. But as he showed in hitting 24 homers last year, the tradeoff can be good power. With a 35.8 strikeout percentage to go with only six homers, that tradeoff is not there in 2017.
Espinosa also typically offers strong defense to offset his hit-or-miss offense. Although DRS and UZR disagree slightly on the quality of his defense, they both rate him close to average.
Because they gave up little to get him, the Angels' trade for Espinosa isn't a total disaster. But it's been nothing if not disappointing.
1. Carlos Gonzalez, RF, Colorado Rockies
Carlos Gonzalez said it first.
“I know what it feels to be the best player in the game and the worst player in the game,” he said this month, per Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post. “Right now, I feel like I’m the worst player in the game.”
Well, he's not wrong.
The Colorado Rockies veteran normally puts up numbers that are impressive even by Coors Field standards. But he's come to the plate 298 times and managed just a .637 OPS this year. That comes out to a 57 OPS+, which is tied for third-worst among qualified hitters.
There's no blaming bad luck for this. Exit velocity reveals Gonzalez's sweet swing just hasn't packed the same punch:
- 2015: 89.9 mph
- 2016: 90.1 mph
- 2017: 86.4 mph
The bright side, such as it is, is that DRS and UZR allow for some debate about the quality of his defense. But since he plays right field, one of the least important positions on the defensive spectrum, even good defense can only save him so much.
Gonzalez's track record suggests he could be in for a big second half. But no matter what happens, it'll be hard for him to be any worse than he was in the first half.