What is this feeling? I can sense an anticipatory twitching about my person, like a half formed fetal twin attached to my nape, awakening from it’s mutant slumber. Oh that’s right… Baseball season is nigh. And as always there is much to look forward to. Topping my personal list is that the Padres will be watchable if not very good. Kris Bryant will debut. MLB.tv, my favorite product on this earth, is no longer running off a stupid plugin that doesn’t work, and they have enabled ballpark overlay as permanent feature. Plus, we can close our eyes tight and sing from the highest rooftops of our hearts “Matt Harvey is coming back!”
But each year also delivers unto us a bouquet of tantalizingly awful ass roses. The 2015 season is shaping up to be especially rife with the potential for carnage. Here is a rundown of the trainwrecks I am most excited about watching unfold this season.
TV Category: Kirk Gibson
Kirk Gibson is going to be a color analyst for the Tigers TV broadcasts this year. The only possible explanation for this miracle is that the executives at Fox Sports Detroit are trolling the world televised sports. More shocking still is that Gibson has been a TV broadcaster before.
I have documented what an ass clown Kirk Gibson is. But just to quickly recap. Kirk Gibson is an arrogant, ignorant brute. Koko the gorilla doing sign language in a picture-in-picture format as a color analyst makes 34% more sense than allowing Kirk Gibson back into the booth, and that’s not just from the perspective of analyzing the content the gorilla or Koko (zing!) would add to the telecast. I’m talking purely about the ability to smush thoughts out of one’s brain. Gibson appears to be on such a devastating amount of pain medication that he barely makes words. Watch that video. I’ll wait for you.
I think we both understand how that sample falls short of asserting the notion that this man belongs on television. I’m going to be watching a lot of Tigers games just for a dose of the lolz.
Stadium Category: Cubs Bleachers
The Cubs are doing everything right on the field but nothing right off it. Last year they added a stupid mascot and a renovation plan that looks like it was created in 1994 (rant here). This year they decided to wait until halfway through the offseason to start knocking down and rebuilding 5,500 bleacher seats, so they won’t be ready until May 11th at the earliest. Even a one week delay would mean the Cubs would play a full quarter of their scheduled home games with 2,000 season ticket holders out on their asses. Expect lots of angry fans, non-stop meaningless updates accompanied by cameras panning over scaffolding, and most of all: sad home run balls orphaned in the hard hat zone.
Stats Category: Dee Gordon
After Dee’s flukey All Star appearance in ’14 the Marlins proved they have not even the most cursory understanding of advanced statistics by leaping at the chance to acquire this most vile regression candidate. Dee was already an insufferably lucky slap hitter with below average defense when he made that fateful All Star team. But it’s what he did after the break that you, dear reader, should be sitting down for, preferably on a toilet, as the following sentence is not for the faint of sphincter. Dee Gordon walked only four times after the All-Star break. Four! That’s almost impossible to do. That’s 1.6% of the time. His BABIP also came crashing back down to earth for short stints after the break, so all told Dee was below average in the second half.
I really hope the Marlins ice their idiot cake and bat him leadoff.
Prospect Category: Maikel Franco
Much to the delight of the other 29 organizations, Ruben Amaro is still employed. As a result they have essentially stockpiled old newspapers so high there is just a path from the stained, threadbare futon to the crusty microwave and the horrifying toilet.
But best of all, because Cody Asche is a below average runner, fielder and hitter (damn, that’s all the things), Maikel Franco will likely be their starting third basemen. I have long felt he is tremendously overrated and now we should get definitive proof. Franco is a 22 year old who swings way too much, which results in him making a ton of bad contact, and he saw his ISO drop at both AA and AAA after temporarily impressing in the low minors. But because the Phillies have no idea what makes good baseball players, they are hyped about him. Let’s watch their hopeful smile morph into a twisted grimace of agony together!
Media Specatacle Category: Alex Rodriguez
Even Ruben Amaro knows that A-Rod is coming back. It’s been covered to a level beyond what is reasonable. But let me just say how excited I am to watch him try to play baseball. This guy is a 39 year old asshole whose body has been ruined by PED use, and he hasn’t played baseball in two years. But he doesn’t understand what that means.
He’s been alone for two years telling himself how great he still is. He says his mission is to come back and hit 109 home runs to overtake Bonds as the all time home run leader. He’s even been making the rounds, apologizing and in his head everyone is totally buying it.
When he gets back and everyone still hates his guts and he is helplessly swinging through 90-mph fastballs down the dick he isn’t going to understand why. He’s going to be awful, confused and frustrated. I can’t wait to see the look on his face. I can’t wait to see how long it takes before he realizes he needs to give up and go home. But best of all, once he does, he won’t. He’ll hang around all useless and depressing for two years because he can’t walk away from money and the Yankees won’t cut him. This is going to be delicious.
Last Straw Category: Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton is the shameless owner of the weakest mind in the game. Every year he comes up with more outrageous excuses for why he’s being an idiot. Let’s recap: Injuries, eyes are too blue, too many energy drinks, quit energy drinks, quit tobacco. Now he’s getting shoulder surgery to repair his AC joint. Despite knowing about the injury last September he and the organization waited until February to make a decision on what to do about it, because sometimes magic things can happen to your bones and cartilage right? Nope.
Now he won’t be ready until around May 1. But I’m sure he won’t use it as an excuse for why he just lazily flaps the bat through the zone regardless of what or where that pitch was, I mean he said so himself, there are no excuses this year.
Pitchers and catchers are reporting soon. Won’t you pop your corn, unfold your lawn chair and sit at the intersection of a broken stoplight with me?
Baseball is unique. Because of it’s relatively mellow nature, it can be played nearly every day for 5 months, producing large sample of data. But due to the flukey nature of a single baseball game’s outcome, the sport also happens to necessitate large sample sizes in order to determine which clubs are really better than others in a given season.
So not only can you play a 162 game schedule, you kind of need to, in order to determine who the best teams are. That is the purpose of the regular season afterall.
Unfortunately, the current playoff format, along with a weighted divisional schedule undermines the value of a large sample and could have serious implications for the 2015 Padres.
The Wild Card game provides a real incentive for winning your division, which is good. It levees a disadvantage to the Wild Card team that advances, which is good, too. It kickstarts the playoffs off with a thrilling winner-take-all contest, which is fantastic. The issue is that teams are awarded a spot in this game based on their win-loss record, but they’ve played totally different schedules.
Take 2015 for example.
Teams play 76 games against their own division and just 33 against each of the other two divisions in their league.
If you’re the Marlins and you added some helpful if deeply flawed pieces to a nice young core, you can consider yourself a contender because you get to play 57 games (nearly a third of your schedule) against the shaky Mets, the rebuilding Braves and the clueless Phillies. The 19 games against the Nationals are admittedly no picnic.
But if you’re the Padres, you play 38 games against the World Champion Giants, and the super-talented and super-funded Dodgers. In the NL West even the bad teams, the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, despite being no serious threat to make the playoffs, will at least cause problems for 38 games.
Again, the Padres play the NL East only 33 games compared to the Marlins’ 76. This means that in total, the divisionally weighted schedule accounts for 43 games where teams in different divisions see their schedules diverge.
Interleague play further piles on to the “strength of schedule” problem. The 2015 Marlins/Padres example doesn’t look too out of balance here (the Marlins play the AL East and the Padres play the AL West), but it adds another 20 games to the schedule where the two teams play different opponents.
That brings us to 63 games against competition that differs from the team you are directly competing with for a Wild Card spot. It’s safe to assume those 63 games affect playoff outcomes every season in at least one league. This imbalance, which is at extreme logical odds with the win-loss based assessment of who gets to go to the playoffs, shouldn’t exist. Furthermore, it doesn’t need to.
The only reason the schedules are so damn whacky in the first place is because of Interleague play, which MLB is convinced fans love. The debate over whether that is true is the topic for a different article, but suffice it to say that if people actually do like it, they probably wouldn’t if people actually understood what it’s costing the game.
If Interleague didn’t exist you could use the 20 games you’re currently wasting against teams against whom you aren’t even competing against for a playoff spot and say, play them against teams you actually ARE competing with for a playoff spot!
That would leave us with a 162 game season played against 14 opponents. That’s 11 games against each team in your league, with 8 left over. So you play 12 games against 8 teams and 11 against the rest. This of course also means that one team in each league would always be without an opponent. The solution? Give more days of rest for teams. I have a feeling three extra days off every month or so would be a welcome change for players.
A bit untidy? Yes. But not nearly as messy or stupid as adhering to a system where 38% of your schedule directly interferes with the goal of ensuring the best teams get in the playoffs.
For teams like the 2015 Padres, who are fringy contenders, this incredible imbalance could mean another year without post-season baseball. For the Marlins, it may provide a way to divert attention from five years of stringing fans along with a sequence of front office decisions that were not in the best interest of baseball, mixed in with the occasional bold-faced lie.
When Yasiel Puig came into the league, his energy, talent and high level of performance made me and many others fall instantly in love with him. He also frustrated many, by making a good dose of boneheaded mistakes; often trying to do too much. “He’s immature,” they said, “he’s reckless.” “He’s going to hurt himself or someone else.” This negative storyline within his rapid rise was covered with a stupendous fervor across the internet and it stampeded across television and talk radio because it was a point of view people could understand and because we love to trash our stars.
Baseball broadcasters heard so much of this take on Puig that they became indoctrinated as well. They began to default to using “Puig being Puig” as a fallback explanation for all of his errors large or small, mental or physical. Eventually, they got so lazy they just started talking about it to fill airtime, even when he began making many fewer mistakes. More unfortunate still, they threw their candy bar wrappers and bags of rotting leftovers on him even as he played a huge role in lifting the Dodgers into first place in the NL West while effortlessly switching to a more challenging defensive position.
As of today, his maturity is not an issue that warrants discussion (it barely did to begin with). Yet his progress in this area has received only minor attention. The real story of Puig, which is that he is one of the best and most exciting players baseball has to offer, has been under-publicized as a result. Instead, airtime is still filled by announcers shaking their heads and groaning about stuff they wouldn’t even notice about other players.
And then, yesterday, Dick Enberg said something that showed us just how divorced from reality the perception of the Wild Horse has become and just how much that has contributed to a warped Yasiel Puig viewing experience.
A game that had been 8-4 in favor of the Dodgers entering the 8th inning was now hanging in the balance with two out in the 9th, the score now 8-6. Abraham Almonte was on second after a throwing error by Kenley Jansen. Jedd Gyorko stepped up to the plate and fired a line drive single to center fielder Yasiel Puig, and you’d never know it based on Enberg’s description of the play, but what actually happened is that Puig charged the base hit, came up and made a great throw that would have surely nailed Almonte at the plate if it had been allowed to continue its flight. This surprised Almonte and caused him to scramble back to third. But the throw was hard and low (right out of the textbook), enabling Adrian Gonzalez to cut it off and fire the ball to third base where he nailed Almonte to end the game.
But that was not what was relayed by the broadcast team, operating seemingly with it’s eyes closed. While recapping the action during a replay Dick Enberg, like so many before him, pretended Puig was disgracing the game instead of winning it.
“And it’s one of those mistakes Puig makes. He shouldn’t be trying to throw out the runner at the plate, because that would move Gyorko into scoring position. But because Puig is Puig…”
Ludacris. This has nothing to do with the action on the field. It is just a regurgitation of what Enberg has heard others brainlessly repeating for a year. The reality is, Yasiel Puig made a great play to stop the bleeding for a Dodger bullpen that had seen Jansen and Brandon League allow two runs on four hits in just one and two-thirds innings between the eighth and ninth frames. Puig provided a special moment, sealing what was becoming a very uncertain victory.
Continuing to dispense pure bullshit about “Puig being Puig,” while completely ignoring fact that the guy is saving his club’s ass in spectacular fashion isn’t just dishonest, it is robbing us of the ability to enjoy Puig’s star.
But for all the negative things on-air personalities have done to distort the common man’s view of Puig, they can do just as much to dissolve our dated, cliché collective thinking about him as well. If we focus on his prowess, as opposed to dwelling on an exaggerated version of his past, we can enjoy Yasiel Puig for what he is: one of the hungriest and most gifted players in the game.
Please, Broadcasters: Let’s properly revere Yasiel Puig’s unique ability and style of play. Let us acknowledge the fact that we are lucky to watch a player building his legend, just like we do when Mike Trout steps into the box.
Baseball as a game has been changing between the lines for as long as the game has been played. Since the beginning of free agency alone, we have seen an era of speed on artificial turf give way to a game of power in beautiful, classic parks. That age, too has come to pass and we enter a period of balance, with due attention paid to defense and baserunning. Baseball as a business has boomed, and as TV networks are built in its service, it booms again. But strangely, the richest clubs do not have as much of an advantage as they did before. Indeed the era of balance has reached into baseball’s economics as well.
In 2008 The Tampa Bay Rays found themselves analyzing how to build upon the success they had just achieved, having made the World Series after enduring a decade of humility in the cellar of the AL East. They could not spend their way into perpetual contention like the Red Sox and Yankees. Nor could they trade away the young talent that had just won them an American League Championship, in exchange for established stars; at least not sustainably. They struggled now with question of how to retain their own players, as they headed toward the open market. They would solve this problem for themselves in a way that would have wide influence on the league and could be permanently altering the nature of how organizations and players approach free agency.
Traditionally, the transformation from draftee/signee, to prospect, to Major Leaguer, to free agent would have unfolded like this: A franchise drafts and signs a player out of high school or college, or at the age of 16 internationally. Then the player works his way up to the Major Leagues, where the club enjoys 3 years of very fixed cost performance, followed by modest increases in pay (compared to free agents) through arbitration, each year for the next three seasons. After these six years of “club control,” the player becomes a free agent, and in the case of the young star, the player hits the open market at age 28 or 29 with considerable ability to earn prime wealth during his prime years.
The Era of “Prime Shrink”
During the PED era a star player’s prime could last from ages 28-36 – perhaps longer – during which he could possibly sign 2 rich free agent contracts. One at the end of the club control phase, and one after the expiration of the first free agent deal. One major aspect of the astronomical sums paid for free agents surrounding that era was the fact that the player could be expected to sustain a high performance plateau into his mid 30s.
Now, a player’s prime again lands within a sweet spot of about 28-32, with a natural decline coming more surely. This means that players reaching free agency at age 28 are far more likely to live up to a rich new deal than players reaching free agency at the age of 32 or older. This fact is still not being totally reflected in the market for players over 30, but it is being reflected in how general managers are dealing with players still under club control.
The Present Trend
in April 2008, after just half a season in the big leagues, Evan Longoria signed a $17.5MM, 6 year contract extension, and signaled the beginning of an era. The Rays had began to buy out years of club control and arbitration years at a cost slightly higher than they would have payed, if they had let the player reach arbitration naturally. But they also began buying out several free agent years at a substantially cheaper price than the player would have commanded on the open market. In 2011 Matt Moore became the most recent of the Rays to signin this way. After a phenomenal call-up and post season, he signed a 5 year extension worth $14MM, plus three club options, which could bring the total contract to 8 years and $37.5MM.
The rest of the league took swift note. One month after the Rays inked Longo to his extension, the Brewers locked up star leftfielder Ryan Braun for 8 years and $51MM. A year later, the Nationals got third baseman Ryan Zimmerman signed to a $45MM pact covering his arbitration years, as well as 3 free agent seasons. Even the Pirates, one of the most poorly run and perpetually underfunded clubs in the league, managed to extend star center-fielder Andrew McCutchen for 6 years.
But the clubs aren’t the only party benefitting from this wave of early extensions. The players realize that $30-50MM after one or two years of productive baseball, has the ability to make them a rich man for life. They know that nothing is guaranteed in professional athletics, and the security of tens of millions of dollars today, outweighs the appeal of an uncertain jackpot 4 or 5 years down the road. The players union has made no effort to work against this practice, and we have yet to see a club get truly burned by one of these deals. So, thus far it appears both sides have found something equitable and secure about doing business this way, which seems to suggest it will face no obstacles in its proliferation.
What is Next
With the rise in club friendly extensions, a lot of great players will not hit the open market until they turn 30, 31, or 32. This, coupled with the increasing ineffectiveness of aging players, means that lengthy, super-rich contracts like the one Albert Pujols received last year from the Angels, are going to become increasingly rare. It’s a long shot, but if aging superstars become a market inefficiency, watch for Billy Beane to exploit this in order to fill out his rosters for a couple of years.
Additionally, as teams who have extended young stars fall out of contention, they will be able to garner considerable prospect hauls by trading players under such club-friendly pacts. This incentive to trade in the service of rebuilding quickly could lead to a rise in trades, that see teams entering or already within contention selling quality prospects for players in their mid-20s. Whereas the Yankees model of buying high-priced, aging stars should see a steep decline.
With aging stars no longer looking as attractive to teams, more short-term deals can be expected for players 32 and older. Players like Shane Victorino probably could have expected to get a longer deal in the past, instead of settling for 3 years at $39/MM, as he did this off-season. So concerned are teams that players are going to break down sooner, that Victorino was talked about as a fourth outfielder in rumors this winter. Meanwhile, even guys that are just comfortably above average, who hit free agency at age 28 can expect ferocious competition for their services. Anibal Sanchez is certainly an example of this phenomenon.
The Test of Time
Early extensions are still young, but already seem entrenched in the economy of the sport, and appear poised for a long stay. Their tests will come, as players who turn out to be one year flukes, or as players who end up extremely limited by injury become beneficiaries of the practice. In the 2000s advanced statistics changed baseball strategies regarding what to spend money on. Now, we can watch a chain reaction started by their most ardent disciples, the Rays, do the same by maximizing returns based on when, in a player’s career arc, to spend it.
The most furious internet trash talking and fist shaking of 2012 has been, without compare, over who should win the AL MVP award. Now that the votes have been shat, and Miguel Cabrera is the mantle guy’s new best customer, we may feel that the storm is over. But this ordeal is still with us. The rift between those of us who are willing to assimilate new information and the militant traditionalists mirrors society in some disturbing ways.
Much like the debate between people of faith (traditionalists in a more extreme sense) and atheists, there is one side bonded by sentimentality and fear, and another, operating on reason. You cannot combat emotion with reason.
The specific arguments have been made by so many over the last few months, I would rather address Mitch Albom and those like him, who resort to a cast of logical fallacies to make their “argument.”
They filled their ballots out with Miguel Cabrera’s name at the top, but make no mistake: They did not vote for Miguel Cabrera. They voted for ignorance, the status quo, themselves. They masquerade as the “Common Man,” against rationalists, who they have painted as the intellectual elitists. Why being an elite intellectual is something people have become so averse to being is absurd, but has it’s roots in mass culture.
The traditionalists have said that Cabrera’s team made the playoffs and that is why he is their MVP. Trout’s team won more games against far better competition.
The traditionalists claim purity because they stick to the old guard stats. But batting average, home runs, and RBI have nothing to do with defense or baserunning. How exactly can you claim purity when you ignore two thirds of a position player’s game? How is paying equal credit and attention to defense and baserunning tantamount to blasphemy?
The traditionalists have said it is ridiculous to vote based on a bunch of stuff “nobody can recalculate, anyway,” to paraphase Albom. This assumes that just because he can’t figure it out, that it has no function, or if it does, it couldn’t possible fulfill it. Do you know how to calculate the force of gravity, Mitch? No? And yet, somehow it has managed to keep you from floating into the sky, where you can get mulched by an jet engine.
Perhaps his most compelling argument is as follows. Ahem… “Nerrrds!”
Yes, traditionalists, increase ignorance in your own image. Let us promote the notion that having the desire and ability to learn something is to be chastised.
These scribblers of nonsense should be embarrassed. Albom says that baseball is being bogged down by “situational stats.” When in fact the mission of advanced statistics is to provide comprehensive measures of value. This demonstrates that he doesn’t even know what he professes to be a nemesis of.
As men who are paid to write about baseball, these men have not only a responsibility, but every opportunity to read up on advanced statistics, to review the new figures until they know them well, until they can measure players using them, until they understand what each stat measures or predicts. They choose ignorance in their profession, and promote it in public. The arrogance that chooses, enforces and promotes ignorance is beyond all other arrogance.
In itself it does not matter that Miguel Cabrera is the MVP and Mike Trout is not. It does not matter that CBS and so many others are promoting ignorance, when it comes to baseball. In fact, there is justice in baseball. MLB franchises are not run by luddite, hack writers. They are run by people who must constantly adapt, and that means that they pay advanced statistics a high degree of attention.
What disturbs me is that it accurately represents a part of our culture. A large sector of our society chooses traditionalism, falling for commercial love, and commercial patriotism. And all because anti-intellectualism is promoted by those who stand to benefit most from ignorance and indifference. An intellectualized general public is a positive force. Do not believe the shit vendors.
To read Mitch Albom’s latest bon mot, click the following: Ass hat.
In the continued spirit of making fun of year end articles proclaiming the Best and Worst of everything, I have created the Bizarro Clemente Award. The Roberto Clemente Award is annually handed out to baseball’s finest sportsman. Past Winners of the Roberto Clemente Award include such d-bags, cheaters, and weirdos as Steve Garvey, Pete Rose, and Sammy Sosa. The Bizarro Clemente is an opportunity to forego honoring somebody who we think is good, but might be a jerk. Instead honoring a player who we made out to be a jerk, but who is actually a decent guy.
Presenting the 1st Annual Bizarro Clemente Award
Let us not hold up what we already know is good. And let us not proliferate a culture that focuses attention on idiots. Carl Everett believes in demons, but not dinosaurs. Does he really deserve space in the public forum? No. Let us dig through some jerks to find the wrongly accused, and salvage a good…well, mediocre name.
People forget that Miguel Cabrera was caught driving drunk before the season began. He is not this year’s Bizarro recepient. This is because salvaged his reputation on his own, with a Triple Crown season and an American League Pennant.
On the other hand, Melky Cabrera tried, and failed, to fully salvage his image. His team disowned him, won the World Series without him. Dropping out of the NL Batting Title race after cheating and trying to cover it up with an elaborate internet charade was not enough to win him this finest of awarded thingies.
And as for the hotheaded Alfredo Aceves, he is on the Red Sox, so we don’t talk about him here.
And the Winner is…
This year I am proud to present the Bizarro Clemente award to Indians closer, Chris Perez. I don’t pay much attention to overblown sound bite pusher sites, but even I heard tell of Perez’ supposedly awful remarks about fans, the Indians organization and his teammates.
However, upon revisiting the tape available to me, his remarks seemed harmless. Once again the terms tirade and rant had been ejaculated across the empty, attention starved pages of so many traffic obsessed pseudo news sites, with nothing to back up the headline.
Chris Perez did what a player should be able to do. He told the fans not to boo a first place team at home. He told them to come to the park and show support for a franchise heading in the right direction. He pointed to the fact that the Tigers spend money and that the Indians don’t, which is why Detroit has been able to acquire talent and finish strong the last two seasons, while the Indians fade, their roster unaltered. And Perez never bashed his teammates. In fact, he said that he wanted to be in Cleveland. His reason: his teammates were good.
I am sure he will barf upon completion of this redemptive victory, I hope somebody quickly fetches him a glass of sparkling water. It is well deserved. While most of the country is so self unaware, they dismiss criticism of all kinds with their motto “haters gonna hate,” Perez has demonstrated to us a great lesson: When somebody tells you something you don’t want to hear, listen even more intently to what they are saying, and consider it carefully. Do not dismiss it.
Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Perez: Your 2012 Bizarro Clemente Award Winner!
Recently I have had the misfortune of beginning a series of research heavy posts, which have been squashed before birth because they were quickly rendered irrelevant by either events, or the discovery of similar (or superior) articles on the subject. So here is an article, which, being totally irrelevant at it’s conception, is impervious to the phenomena that have been befalling my other recent attempts. I must give a huge nod to a recent Fangraphs Audio, which initiated the half-cocked train of thought that led to this article.
Every team has a best player. I wanted to know, which team’s best player was the worst. It’s that simple. By the raw numbers Houston’s Jed Lowrie had the lowest WAR (2.5), and there was a tie between Oakland’s Josh Reddick and Seattle’s Kyle Seager for lowest wRC+ (108). But owing to Reddick’s terrific defense (an AL Best 18.5 Fielding Runs Saved), he comes out with a 4.4 WAR. Second lowest by WAR was Dexter Fowler, who despite a 123 wRC+ produced just 2.9 WAR, primarily due to his defense, which cost his team 13.9 runs. When you calculate WAR produced per game you have Seager and Cleveland’s Carlos Santana tied at .023, which just slightly edge Fowler at .020.
So by this admittedly basic strategy, Congratulations Dexter Fowler! You are the Best Player on the Rockies, which means nothing! Also, Congratulations, Rockies!
Same thing as Worst-Best, but opposite, duh.
In each case I used a minimum of 300 PA as my baseline. It comes into greater effect on the Worst list, because it limits how ridiculous things can get. It should surprise nobody that the Best Worst player with a minimum of 300 PA comes from a good team. It shouldsurpriseyou to learn that it is Freddie Freeman. He actually had agood season at age 23, showing improvement and giving Braves fans and brass a reasonto believe he can be a cornerstone of their future.
Freeman led the worstees with 2.0 WAR, 115 wRC+, and .014 WAR/G. Trailing close behind and tied at 1.1 WAR each, were Cincinnati’s Scott Rolen and Boston’s Daniel Nava. Each barely made the 300 PA required to appear on the list, with Rolen missing time to injuries and Nava heavily platooned. Nava produced .013 WAR/G and Rolen managed .012.
This time of year, you’ll find a lot of shiny “Best of 2012” articles out there, and for this reason it is likely a welcome respite to delight in the ineptitude of some players. It was for me. Besides, there are several players, whose folly deserves to be enjoyed while pretending I could do any fucking better.
In the course of producing this article, I looked at a lot of crappy stat lines. Dee Gordon’s was by far the most fecal. While his defense was miserable (-13 Fielding Runs), he played offense like the path to first base was blanketed with contaminated needles (for more Dee-Gordon-is-a-very-bad-hitter jokes, just wait). By wRC+ Gordon created runs at just over half the rate of an average player. He amassed -1.1 WAR in just 330 plate appearances. Casey Kotchman soiled his career line with this year’s lowest raw total (-1.5) and that took him 500 PA.
Gordon is not without company, however.
Many teams desire a utility man that can play many positions, but the Marlins have cornered the market in those who can’t play any. At -1.1 WAR in just 342 PA Greg Dobbs eloquently summarized the 2012 Miami Marlins. While not particularly inept at the dish (84 wRC+) Dobbs managed to personally chauffeur 13.9 runs across home plate for the opposition from RF, LF, 1B and especially 3B.
If Greg Dobbs is the Leonardo DaVinci of awful defense, making contributions in many areas, then Lucas Duda is its Vincent Van Gogh. From rightfield alone Duda gave 19.8 opposing players piggy back rides around the bases, convincingly eclipsing the 15 home runs he hit in 2012. Ladies and gentlemen, the New York Mets!
Remarkably, the Royals had two players with 600PA (okay one of them had 598), that produced over -1 WAR each. First baseman Eric Hosmer (-1.1) and Rightfielder Jeff Francoeur (-1.2) teamed up to horrify Kansas City baseball fans in a season that was supposed to mark the team’s turnaround. Francoeur was a 2.9 WAR player last season and in his age 22 season, Hosmer was good for 1.6 WAR in 2011. Royals fans can enjoy more of the same with Ervin Santana joining the fray. He was 2012’s only starting pitcher with over 170 IP that managed to net a negative WAR (-0.9).
In 2012 Dee Gordon played offense like…
home plate makes all your nightmares come out your butt.
like Robin Williams’ life depended on it.
the first baseman was a pound of muscle, seriously.
a blasted out pair of Hanes.
a whistle that just don’t dang whistle no more.
a dog in a corn fight.
a member of the 2005-2011 San Diego Padres.
* I would like to dedicate the dog-in-a-corn-fight joke to my father, who I am sure is the only person capable of fully appreciating it (if anybody is).
Chase Headley produced a higher WAR. The argument over whether Mike Trout is better than Chase Headley is a short one.
The New Playoff Format, Unexplained
So, let me get this straight. The Braves, in the tough NL East, won six more games than the Cardinals (who got to play a generous portion of their schedule against the Astros and the Cubs) and they have to play them in a one game playoff to see if they are better? Weird.
Let’s have a W-L cutoff for this game. If the top Wild Card seed is five games better than the second, we should not have this game.
The play in game is decided by terrible Braves defense and one of the most thoughtlessly applied judgement calls in history and then the Cardinals get homefield advantage for the first two games against their next opponent? Are you sure? Are you sure the first games of this series shouldn’t be played in Washington since they were 10 games better (in a stronger division) than STL during the regular season, and the Cardinals are a Wild Card?
Are you sure that Detroit should get home field advantage for the first two games of their series against Oakland, who were six games better in the regular season against much tougher competition? Detroit won fewer games than two teams that didn’t even make the playoffs!
2-2-1 format for the first round. The impact of travel is nullified in the Post Season since both teams are on the same schedule.
NL Wild Card Game
The fact that Sam Holbrook’s now infamous call, which directly affected a major rally, is technically within the definition of the Infield Fly rule, does not make it excusable. The issue is that what was already an extremely liberal invocation of the rule (we’re talking men in drag in the ladies bathroom liberal), was made too late. The ball had completed 90% of it’s flight when he finally stopped scratching his crotch to point at what one can only assume Sam Holbrook realizes is the sky. Good luck flying Delta in the future Sam. Good luck wintering in Savannah. Hell, good luck figuring out which side of the newspaper is the top, so you can read through your 15 minutes of fame. You earned it, pal.
The fact is, Sam Holbrook is only the tip of the Shit Berg. 162 games of Chipper Jones’ last season, 162 games of the Braves playing steady and defensively sound baseball, keeping relatively healthy, was wasted. Several errors, one miserable call, and the lucky, lucky Cardinals spoiled 5 months of accurate tests in a game played under protest. It’s compelling to consider that throwing garbage onto the field was actually the most appropriate reaction under the circumstance.
The most unsettling part of this whole circus was that even if Freddy Gonzalez’s protest had not been against a call of the “judgement” variety, Bud Selig’s office would not have upheld it, no matter how compelling the evidence. And the reason for this is so trivial: scheduling. MLB would have tossed this out, not in the interest of baseball, the correct result of this particular game, and not in the interest of history, but in the interest of keeping things neat. All that lies between the Wild Card Game and the NLDS is one travel day. There simply would have been no convenient time to make up the end of the game. The league office would have issued a statement in support of the umpire’s call, while secretly ignoring the evidence in order to avoid inconvenience.
All critics of the Wild Card Game were well represented on the field in Atlanta on Friday night, but baseball, and it’s best interests were not.
Just before the wave of classic new stadiums, we had the rise of mascots, fireworks, contests, a meaningless and unbelievably redundant string of ceremonial first pitches, whacky sound effects and cheesy 80’s stadium rock. With the wave of beautiful new parks there has been a continued rise of a phenomenon we can call Ballpark as Destination, but the direction of the trend has changed. We have reclaimed a more adult feel, but we have continued to keep alive the bizarre carnival of obligatory stadium minutiae passed down to us from the 70s and 80s. And this season the crests of these two separate eras of stadium culture have met at their most foul pinnacle: Marlins Park. Let us look to this place and realize that we have the opportunity to cleanse stadium culture of it’s faded hand-me-downs.
After 20 years of paltry attendance figures at Joe Robbie/Pro-Player/Land Shark Field, the Marlins had seen quite clearly that they were a baseball franchise that needed to market itself to people who didn’t care at all about baseball. So they sold the city of Miami the idea of building a new stadium. It would have to be as attractive as possible for reasons in no way related to baseball. The only logical result of any endeavor with that goal in mind, is Marlins Park.
Marlins Park is like a casino, a neon bouquet of stimulus, a market of the senses. It is the bulletproof facade of shallow entertainmentism. There is a bobblehead museum, and what has been referred to as a “sculpture” that features leaping cartoon dolphins. There are tanks full of tropical fish, a nightclub, and a pool with slutty waitresses swimming around in it. Plus it looks like a moon base.
For the fan that is really not a fan, all of this stupid garbage is fine, and hey, they are giving their money to baseball. But for the fan who goes to the yard to watch baseball as a thread of American history, it is an impediment, and it is the sad, symbolic truth of our cultural moment. The timelessness of the experience is disrupted by the kiss cam, the clown dancing on top of the dugout. If somebody is throwing a perfect game, I don’t want to see Southpaw trying to squeeze his way into the middle of it, cheapening history with the heavy sludge of whacky bullshit, that a country of bored, hypnotized children has become reliant on just to get them through what is already an unbelievably entertaining display of the limits of human ability. Do you think Nolan Ryan watches the hat shuffle?
I am not kicking out the sushi chefs, and fish taco places, or crying out for only day games and organ music, though I truly wouldn’t mind that last one. I am simply proposing that if we boot the distractions from our pastime, we might reclaim what is truly unique about it: That it is filled with time for thought. The only way to make baseball palatable to people who don’t like it yet is to give them the opportunity to be immersed in it. Let us discontinue the practice of walling off the nutritious kernel of baseball with the barrier of diluted and meaningless tinsel we have hoisted above all else and called “fun.” And let us rejoice in the poetic justice of Marlins Park, that shrine to shallow pursuits: They still rank 18th in home attendance.