This time of year presents some of my favorite baseball writing. Beat writers struggling to make PFP drills and AAAA scrimmages as exciting as the real thing, often with weird and hilarious results. Authors rating the “best” offseason, analyzing rookies and naming sleepers. These are all fun, but one of my favorite types of articles is the “bounceback” story. Call me a sucker for redemption.
I read dozens of these every spring, yet it has only now occurred to me the amusing subtext in many of these pieces. Sugarcoat it all you want, throw in fancy words and compliments both back and front-handed, many baseball “bounceback” stories boil down to a most basic human sense of dread – it can’t get much worse.
So without dancing around the issue, here are the guys who can’t get much worse in 2013. Seriously. If they did it might break math or something:
Maybe Michael Young got old (let’s be clear: he’s 36, so in real-people years his life is just kicking into full-on grown up gear – but in baseball years…). I doubt that has to do with his crappy 2012. If indeed he did get old…. damn did it happen fast. Bizarrely so. No, I imagine such suckitude was an anomaly. Young has long been compared to Paul Molitor (or at least I always have), another guy who played wherever he was asked to, DH’ed a bit, and always went bout his business – the business of hitting. Young had 9 straight years of 170+ hits, and that is with a 2009 season cut short with a hammy injury. He had been a model of consistency. So just how bad was he? Let’s look at some numbers! Hooray numbers!
Young had a negative WAR, -1.4. You need to know very little about numbers and even less about WAR to know that a negative stat is probably bad. In this case, that number signifies that a replacement player would have been a BETTER OPTION THAN MIKE YOUNG. Yikes (For those of you unfamiliar with this and any following statistics, I refer you here, to Fangraphs’ Glossary, where much smarter people have explained them in much more intelligent ways).
Wanna know who had a better WAR than Young, just for kicks? Carlos Pena did, and he hit below .200. Jemile Weeks did, and his WAR was zero – they could’ve put any schmo in the minors in his spot, right statistics? Both Juan Uribe AND Juan Pierre had a better WAR’s and they’re, well, Juan Pierre and Juan Uribe.
WAR is not the be all, end all – just ask Mike Trout – but it is a useful measure in comparing players against the league norms. Maybe you don’t like WAR. Maybe you like ‘old school’ ideas and stats. Sabermetricians and old fogie scouts can all agree that a great measure of a player (given enough At Bats or sample size, depending on your era) is OBP. If a guy gets on base, whether you see it in numbers on paper or with yuor own fading eyesight, he’s generally a useful player, as Mike Young had once been. In 2012, Young had an OBP of .312. Which is gross. Howie Kendrick was 20 points better, and he swings at everything (154 BB career). Hunter Pence’s OBP was higher and if he doesn’t swing 48% of the time the bomb in his bat detonates (Hunter Pence is a big, big Keanu Reeves fan).
Toss aside numbers for a moment, though. If you had the misfortune of rooting for Mr. Young last year, whether it be for your fantasy team (me) or your real team (Rangers) or both (sorry, friends), you could see he looked plain bad. Some skills fade with age, sure. Young won’t be stealing double digit bases again. But his hand eye and batting eye have simply not fallen off the map. With an ADP well over 200 (230 at the time of this article), I assure you Young is worth taking a flyer on in Fantasy Baseball. As for the real thing? The Phillies also took a flyer, betting that Young will hit until he quits ( Molitor had 225 hits when he was 39 years old). After all, it can’t get much worse.
Pairing Hosmer and Young together in this list seemed… poetic. Young is riding out his last few years in the league, striving to be productive. Hosmer is the cornerstone of what is a recurrently ‘up-and-coming’ franchise. We all assume he is really, really good. He demolished each minor league level, then stepped up into the bigs and had a damn fine rookie year. Dare I say sophomore slump? Sophomore slump. Yes, I dared, it’s right there in the previous sentence. I even remembered that stupid ‘O’ in ‘sophomore.’ Pay attention.
As good as Hosmer’s 2011 was, so too was his 2012 not (good, that is). Sentence structure aside, many were left disappointed by the young slugger’s campaign. He declined in every important offensive category, save for steals. So at least he was trying. When you dive into the numbers, his season is just plain yucky.
Here’s another fun statistical measure: wRC+ (ahem, Fangraphs). Here’s what you need to know about Weighted Runs Created (wRC): it’s an improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs. Cool right? That James guy is a superweirdo, but he’s wicked smaht. The stat itself makes sense in a very basic way, right? Well Hosmer sucked at it. Technically, he was ‘above average’ with his wRC+ of 81 (80 is above average, in general), but when looked at a comparative, larger context, we see the idea of ‘above average,’ measured statistically or not, is subjective. Here are four players (minimum 400 PA, which Hosmer had easily) with better wRC+ than Hosmer. Tell me if any of them are guys you MUST have on a team in a non-ironic way:
None of these guys are genuinely BAD players, but Hosmer is a Franchise player and once played like one.
Skate Play better, man. Not to pick on Carlos Pena, but damn, Hosmer, even HE had better value metrics. Speaking of sexy new player-value statistics, Hosmer also clocked in under zero at a robust -1.1 WAR (RAR, Runs Above Replacement, is not only hilarious thing cats say, but also a negative measure of Hosmer badness (-10.4)).
Tired of these WAR’s and LOL-ing and RAWR’s and tweetsnapping? Forget the new statistical measures, his basic numbers stunk too, from BA to RBI. Check his splits. He stunk prior to the AS break. He stunk after. He had a decent month of August… and that’s about it. LHP/RHP splits – both bad. I could go on. He stunk. On top of all that, anecdotally, you will not find a person who said he looked good last year not named Hosmer (and his Mom even admitted he ‘probably could have been better against off speed pitches’). The best news? You can draft him in fantasy at a bargain price. The further good news? Sophomore slumps only apply to Sophomores and Freshmen who decide to go to private school and get held back a year so they can still somehow be ‘Freshmen.’ Also? He can’t get much worse.
Honorable Mention: Carlos Pena, who might actually get worse than his sub-.200 batting average. Sorry Carlos.
Where to start with Ricky? As someone who is unfortunately a Red Sox fan, I witnessed the abomination that was 2012 Ricky Romero several times closely. As someone who drafted him in fantasy baseball 2012, I said horrible, horrible things about Romero regularly. He made the 2012 Valensox look like sluggers and in several games I streamed on MLB.tv looked like he was throwing a damaged wiffle ball, having no idea where his (hopefully) better thought out pitches were going to end up. I know, I know – cool story, bro.
More numbers? More numbers.
FIP/xFIP or (Expected) Fielding Independent Pitching are really cool measures, far more relevant as they attempt to look deeper and normalize (in statistical, not Stepford, terminology) the crude measure of ERA and how good/bad a pitcher was. As a general (ahem, Fangraphs) rule, an FIP/xFIP of 4 is average and an FIP/xFIP of 5 is AWFUL (Their word). Romero’s line? FIP: 5.14 xFIP: 4.86
Whether you want an expected or calculated measure (a difference of how HR rates are calculated), Romero was about as bad as it gets. To pile on the crappy numbers, his K rate, usually a high point, fell to just over 6 (mediocre). His BB/9 inning rate was an absurd 5.22. His swinging strike rate dropped a full percentage point – it’s easy not to swing and miss when the guy has to groove it over the plate in desperate need of a pitch in the strike zone. The best thing you can say about his 0.5 WAR season? He pitched. In an injury plagued year for Toronto pitchers, Romero started 32 games. So… good job, good effort. He didn’t even have a better year than the internet’s favorite SP (starting punching-bag), Bruce Chen (more wins, higher K/9, 1.4 WAR on and on…). The good news for Toronto? They made a few move this offseason, I think. As for Romero? It cannot get much worse.
You may be saying, “gosh, Romero was bad, but is there a guy who threw a random 1-hitter in June yet somehow managed even worse numbers?” IF you are saying that, I’m guessing you were an Ervin Santana owner in 2012. He gave up 39 homers. Honestly, I thought about ending the paragraph right there. That’s really bad. I’ll add a few more. He had a -0.9 WAR, a 5.63 FIP (jeebus christ!), and had a HR/Fly Ball rate of 18.9%, which is simply bananas. I will not pile on Santana, as his issue was more inconsistency (numbers were FAR better second half of the year). However, his numbers were not good, and given his up and down nature,
I assure you – it can’t get much worse actually, he might get worse. Heads up.
Aceves blew at least 8 games in spectacular fashion for a 2012 team that captured awfulness in spectacular fashion. He was inconsistent on the field, unhappy off the field and was (well, is, I guess) a weirdo overall. Just when you though it was safe to own him in fantasy baseball or root for him in real baseball, he would walk 4 guys in an inning and look wholly uninterested. He had an unseemly 5.36 ERA but that was helped by a few decent spurts. Even when he was pitching “well,” he would walk a batter for every strikeout. The numbers fib, in this case. As someone who watched more of the turd stain that was the Boston Red Sox 2012 season, I can attest to the fact that Aceves, save for perhaps one 15 day stretch in the spring, was a bad guy to have on any team, in any sense. Plus, his disgusting sweatiness made me uncomfortable watching games and must be very difficult on the hardworking laundry staff at Yawkey Way.
His FIP was a poor 4.33. He pitched worse as the god-awful season went on. He blew saves and holds. He had a BB/9 inning of 3.33. But most important of all, when he came into a game, there was an audible groan in the Northeast. This guy made an awful season worse.
Axford blew 9 saves and forced the Brew Crew to realign their bullpen. Bell blew 8 saves and was the first domino to fall (2nd game of the year) in a disastrous Marlins season. Bell looked old and lost, regaining and losing his job and looking like a man who lost his mojo. Axford, on the other hand had enough sense to regain his gnarly facial construction when chopping it off caused catastrophe. I include Axford because he led the league in blown saves and did so in a short period of time in mesmerizing fashion (his June-beginning of August was BRUTAL). For Axford, it can’t get much worse. As for Bell and Aceves… Relievers are notoriously up-and-down, so one would assume they’ve already bottomed out. I’ll say it – they can’t get much worse, either.
There you have it, the players who scraped the bottom of the barrel in 2012. Here’s to new beginnings and sneaky ADP’s going forward.