Note: I have no idea if I’m the first to do this, but quite frankly I don’t care.
There’s always been something strangely romantic to me about being the absolute worst at something. And when I say worst, I don’t just mean one of the worst–I’m talking about being the absolute worst period whatever period ever period. I can’t explain why it is–perhaps it’s because I’ve been last at virtually everything throughout my life, or perhaps it’s because I’m a fan of the Orioles–but for some reason, I’m transfixed by the idea of being the floor, the ultimate, the person or entity that everyone else looks down upon.
Now, what do my strange, borderline masochistic feelings towards the awful have to do with three of the better all-time players, two of whom are enshrined in Cooperstown and one of whom probably should be? Well, they all have one thing in common, which no one has seemed to realize: At one point or another, they were all the worst qualifying position player in the majors.
How, you ask? When? Why? I’ll answer your questions, but first I’d like to share with you some of the other big names that fit this criteria. Since the season ended on the 29th of September¹, there are now 143 seasons, meaning 143 worst players (or LVPs, for the sake of this exercise). I gathered up each of them, and saw that of the 143 atrocious seasons, many of them involved players that had good–or in some cases, great–careers. I then proceeded to order each player season by career WAR, to present you, the unedumacated reader, with…The Best Of The Worst.
By that, I mean: the following post consists of the top-10 careers (as measured by career WAR) for position players that were the worst in the major leagues for a particular season. I classified the general area of their career that the LVP season happened in: start-of-career bump, middle-of-career fluke, or end-of-career decline; I also put in my attempt at an explanation as to why the bad season happened. Oh, and I also divided them into groups (as they were somewhat similar), à la Bill Simmons’ NBA Trade Value Rankings.
Off we go!
GROUP I: AGING IN THE OUTFIELD²
10. Marquis Grissom
Career WAR: 26.9
LVP year/WAR: 2000/-1.8
Classification: End-of-career decline
Grissom had a solid career for the most part–he won a World Series, with a club that doesn’t tend to do well in the postseason; he won four consecutive Gold Gloves (from 1993 to 1996); at the time of his retirement, he was one of only seven players all-time with 200 home runs, 400 stolen bases, and 2000 hits (a club later joined by Johnny Damon); and he is now, to paraphrase Drake, 46 sittin’ on 51 mil ($51,946,500, to be exact). Also, as you can see above, he compiled a decent career WAR total, including two 5-win seasons in 1992 and 1993 for the Expos. However, you sure as hell wouldn’t have known that from watching his horrid 2000 season.
Traded to the Brewers in 1998 after the Indians resigned Kenny Lofton, Grissom was never able to recapture the magic from his early days north of the border, or at the very least, his sufficing days in Atlanta or Cleveland. At this point, his fielding in center (which peaked at 20.7 Def³ in 1994) was in decline, but his glove work in 2000, while unsatisfactory (-3.8 Def), wasn’t particularly bad for him, as he’d proceed to have Defs lower than that in four of his next (and last) five seasons. His baserunning was also trending downward; his BsR (which peaked at 10.5 in 1992, when he stole 78 bases) had plummeted all the way to -0.5, as he swiped a mere 20 bags. Again, though, this is a relatively minute contribution.
His batting was the major reason for his hideousness in 2000: He put up a Starlinesque triple-slash of .244/.288/.351, in a season when 16 players hit 40 home runs, 15 batted at least .330, and the major league-average triple-slash was .270/.345/.437. This all added up to an Ichiroesque wOBA of .282 and an Hechavarriaesque wRC+ of 59, which, combined with the aforementioned poor baserunning and defense, was enough to give him -1.8 WAR and edge him past Mike Lansing (-1.7) for the LVP.
This disappointing offensive season, while not all that unusual, was certainly a fluke to some degree. In terms of plate discipline, he was basically the same in 2000 (6.1% BB, 15.5% K) as he was for his career (6.2% BB, 13.8% K); it was when he put the ball in play that he got in trouble. His ISO of .108 was his lowest since 1991 (his first full season), and it convalesced the next year to a much healthier .183 (albeit in 172 fewer plate appearances); in addition, his BABIP was at .270, the second-lowest of his career to that point, although it dropped even further, to .242, the next year. It wasn’t like he had a huge rebound in 2001, either; however, the increase in ISO (and not qualifying for the batting title) was enough for a lofty -0.9 WAR in 468 trips to the plate the next year.
9. Carlos Lee
Career WAR: 28.2
LVP year/WAR: 2010/-1.5
Classification: End-of-career decline
El Caballo clearly had some late-career struggles (as Richard Justice sure liked to point out); the huge (for the time) $100 million dollar deal that Houston signed him to certainly didn’t help the fans’ image of him. The contract notwithstanding, Lee had a decent career–two Silver Sluggers (2005, 2007), a five-win season in 2004 with the White Sox, and the career WAR that precedes this section. He also had the rare (for this era) distinction of never striking out 100 times in a season, and to top it all off, he was a player who acknowledged, and embraced, his critics. Plus, you can’t blame him for signing the contract–blame that dipshit of a GM, Ed Wa-wait, what’s that you say? Lee wasn’t signed to the ridiculous contract by Wade, but by…Tim Purpura? The guy with one reference on his Wikipedia page? Who the hell is he? Oh, whatever. Where was I?
Ah, yes. Lee’s final years. It should be noted that Mr. Lee’s abominable antepenultimate⁴ season was bookended by respectable seasons in 2009 and 2011, when he put up a combined 3.9 WAR–not exactly Mike Trout, but also not Delmon Young. With aaaaaalll of that said, though, the fact of the matter is: Carlos Lee was really goddamn awful in 2010. He provided typical Carlos Lee defense (-23.2 Def, edging his -22.3 Def from 2006 for the worst of his career) and baserunning (-3.6 BsR…pretty much in line with his career numbers), which commiserated with a .246/.291/.417 triple-slash (.310 wOBA, 89 wRC+) to give him a WAR of -1.5.
I brought up earlier that his 2010 season was, to some extent, a fluke. The main reason for his poor offensive showing in 2010 was twofold: a low BABIP (.238, 21 points lower than his previous career low of .259) motivated by a 15.6% line-drive rate, well below his career average of 20%; and a decrease in free passes (5.7% BB, much lower than his career rate of 7.5%). Both of these measure bounced back the following season, to .279 and 9%, respectively.
And lest we forget, 2010 was a year with a looooot of bad players–Melky Cabrera (-1.4 WAR) getting run out of Atlanta, Adam Lind (-1.0) and Jason Kubel (-0.4) coming crashing down to Earth after breakout seasons, Jonny Gomes (-0.4) and Carlos Quentin (-0.3) showing off their fielding prowess, Cesar Izturis (-0.4) being Cesar Izturis…But I digress. The main takeaway: 2010 Carlos Lee=horrible. Basically all other years Carlos Lee=not (to varying degrees).
GROUP II: THEY DON’T RACKA THE DISCIPRINE
8. Ray Durham
Career WAR: 30.3
LVP year/WAR: 1995/-1.4
Classification: Start-of-career bump
The Sugarman’s career met a premature end, but he was a trusty player for most of it. He was never a star player–his career-high single-season WAR was 3.9 in 2001, in his last full year with the White Sox–but he was always a contributor, putting up at least a two-win season for nine of the eleven seasons from 1996 to 2006. He made two All-Star teams (in 1998 and 2000), scored 100 runs in every year from 1997 to 2002 (if you care about such things), and stole at least 23 bases a season over that span (plus 30 in 1996). When his career started, though, he was just a fifth-round draft pick by the White Sox in 1990, who worked his way up through the farm system and won the starting second baseman job in 1995 spring training. How did that first season go?
Well, let’s start by saying he was never a very good defender. His career high Def was 8.1 in 2001, and he followed that up with -11.9 in 2002; for his career, his Def was -62.5, 2nd-worst among second basemen over that time. In the year in question, though, he took his defense to a new level. He put up…a -20.7 Def. Now, that doesn’t sound particularly (or at least historically) shitty, at least at first glance; after all, three players had worse figures this year alone⁵. However, one must consider the position that Mr. Durham manned was (and is) one of the premier defensive positions on the field, such that there have only been two–count ’em, two–players ever with a Def lower than that at second: Todd Walker (-21.5) in 1998, and Tony Womack (-24.2) in 1997. What’s more, Durham achieved that in only 1049.2 innings (in 122 games played); supposing he played 20% more innings (~1250, a standard 7 of the 19 qualified second basemen reached in 2013), he could have easily had a -25 Def, a depth the likes of which no second baseman has sunk to.
As dreadful as he was with the glove, he was still pretty reprehensible with the bat. In 517 plate appearances, he posted a .257/.309/.384 triple-slash and a .306 wOBA. In this day and age, those numbers are all right; in 2013, Brandon Phillips was able to put up a 91 wRC+ with similar lines. During the height of the PAWSTMOMNEP⁶ Era, in the Cell? Those numbers are unacceptable, and this was reflected in Durham’s 82 wRC+ and -10.9 Off. His awfulness in these two areas was not offset by his relatively solid baserunning (1.3 BsR), and he finished the season with a WAR of -1.4, which tied him with Kevin Stocker for the honor of ultimate player.
Durham’s defense never became great, but his offense rebounded after this fluke rookie season. His 6% walk rate as a rookie was much lower than his career average of 9.7%, and was by far the lowest of his career; his .127 ISO as a rookie was also considerably lower than his career ISO of .158, and was the third-lowest of his career. He was inconsistent for a few years after 1995, alternating between solid (2.0 WAR in 1996, 3.2 in 1998) and not so solid (0.3 in 1997, 1.2 in 1999), before accruing 2.7 WAR in 2000, the start of a seven-year run of at least two wins. But, despite what this article might lead you to believe, he was not, in fact, a good rookie.
7. Ron Fairly
Career WAR: 35.3
LVP year/WAR: 1967/-0.8
Classification: Middle-of-career fluke
In terms of hitting, Fairly is akin to the players that precedes him (and the player that he precedes): They all have so-so averages and power numbers, in addition to undesirable defense, but have fairly good plate discipline, which allowed them to enjoy fruitful careers. Hence, the cheesy and racist title for this section⁷.
Anyway…Fairly was another player like Durham–never elite, but always productive. He had two 4-win seasons (1970 and 1973), made the All-Star team in 1973 and 1977, and owned a career .360 OBP in an era where there was a dearth of offense. He also won three World Series, in 1959, 1963, and 1965–all with the Dodgers, with whom he spent the first 11.5 years of his 21 years in the majors. He was adequate throughout most of his tenure in Los Angeles; after his first three seasons (1958-60) when he didn’t start, he put up at least 1.9 WAR in each of the next six seasons (1961-66).
And then along came his putrid 1967. “How putrid?” you inquire. Very putrid, I reply. His defense (-15.7 Def in 1167.1 innings) and baserunning (-1.5 BsR) were as weak as they’d ever been , but this year was all about the offense. As a well-conducted player at the plate, Fairly took the base on balls quite a bit in his career–about once in every eight trips to the plate (12.5%). While his BB% of 9.7% was down from that average, and the lowest of his career to that point, it was basically in line with the MLB average of 9.8%; in addition, his strikeout rate of 9.2% (compared to 10.4% for his career) was well below the MLB average of 15.8%.
Like with Grissom, Fairly’s issues were chiefly with balls in play. He didn’t have a whole lot in the way of power, as his .101 ISO was a good deal below the major league-average of .148, and below his respectable career ISO of .142. The luck dragons were also not particularly fond of him that year; his BABIP freefell to a hapless .224. Even in the year prior to The Year Of The Pitcher, the major leagues still managed to hit .255/.302/.404, with a .280 BABIP and a .148 ISO; Mr. Fairly “hit” .220/.295/.321, which gave him a .277 wOBA and an 82 wRC+ (as opposed to .329 and 113 for MLB). In the end, he had -0.8 WAR for the year, which tied him with Zoilo Versalles for the LVP title⁸.
In summary, ISO and BABIP were the main reasons for Fairly’s nauseating 1967; each was down from .177 and .288 figures the year before, and after another down year in 1968 (.066 and .259)⁹, they would rebound to .202 and .270 in 1969, and would remain high as Fairly enjoyed the best years of his career in Montreal¹º.
6. Eddie Yost
Career WAR: 37
LVP year/WAR: 1947/-0.8
Classification: Start-of-career bump
As Matt Klaassen wrote last year, one can only express sorrow when looking back at the career of Mr. Yost, who played 60 years too early. For his career, the third baseman had a modest .254 batting average and .371 slugging percentage, but a phenomenal .394 on-base percentage, due to a 17.6% career walk rate that, as the article points out, is second only to Barry Bonds since 1940. However, this was in the pre-pre-pre-Moneyball days, before many people knew about any stats, much less “advanced” stats like OBP. So, sadly, Yost is doomed to walk the earth as a forgotten man. Well, not really–he died last year–but you get what I’m saying.
In 1947, however? Eddie Yost wasn’t underappreciated, as anyone who knew anything about baseball could see that he was awful. After logging 47 combined plate appearances in 1944 and 1946 (and joining the navy in 1945, just in time for the end of the war), Yost finally got a chance to start in 1947, getting 485 plate appearances for the Washington Senators. How did he do with those plate appearances? Well…
He accrued free passes, or so it would appear at first glance; his walk rate of 9.3% would be sterling in this era, what with our major league walk rate of 7.9%. Back then, however, the major league walk rate was 9.7%, so he was actually below average; moreover, the major league strikeout rate was 9.6%, meaning his 11.8% strikeout rate was worse that average. His defense–which would never be that good, as his -91.7 career Def shows–was also rather lousy, to the tune of -6 Def, as was his baserunning (-1.5 BsR). However, it’s possible to play at an elite level with poor plate discipline (as Carlos Gomez sure has shown) and with poor fielding (as Miguel Cabrera sure has shown); what, then, made him so dissatisfactory?
Well, as that annoying bundle of sticks that the women love might say, it was all about (hashtag) that power. He had a .054 ISO; even in a year where the average ISO was .117, that’s not exactly Miggy levels. His BABIP was right around average (.275, to .277 for the majors), but this Pierre-like power, coupled with the aforementioned above-average strikeout rate, gave him a batting average of .238 and a slugging percentage of .292. His on-base percentage was a solid .312; however, the major league-average OBP was .336, along with a .261 AVG and .378 SLG. All of this commiserated to give him a .277 wOBA, 84 wRC+, and -17.1 Off; when Green Day was awakened, Fairly had -0.8 WAR, which beat out Jerry Priddy (-0.6) for the LVP title.
From there, Yost only got better. Yeah, there wasn’t much worse he could get, but his WAR still improved in each of the next four seasons, and he was a two-win player for seven straight years (1950-56). He pinnacled with 6.2 WAR in 1959, when he even hit for decent power, socking 21 dingers (with a .157 ISO) in his first year after leaving The Black Hole Known As Griffith Stadium¹¹. It’s a shame he had to start out as shittily as it did.
GROUP III: A ROCK AND GUITAR PLACE¹² (OR, AGING IN THE OUTFIELD, PART II)
5. Dave Parker
Career WAR: 41.1
LVP year/WAR: 1987/-0.6
Classification: End-of-career decline
Paul Swydan reminisced on the career of Parker earlier this year after it was announced that he (i.e. Parker) had Parkinson’s disease. I’ll briefly rehash Swydan’s reporting here.
Parker’s job when called up was to replace the player who is #1 on this list, and obviously, those were some big shoes to fill. Parker did not shrink from the spotlight, however, as he produced 30.3 WAR over his first five full seasons (1975-79), which tied him with The Despised One for fourth-most in the majors over that span. He attained quite a bit of hardware over this time as well–the NL MVP trophy in 1978 and Gilded Gloves¹³ in 1977-79–and won batting titles in 1977 and 1978.
These five years were the best of his career, and after the fourth year (1978) he was rewarded with a five-year, $5 million-dollar contract–the largest in MLB history at the time. However, much like a certain power-hitting Pennsylvanian today, he would struggle to live up to this contract; after the first year (1979), when he put up 5.7 WAR and was instrumental in helping the Pirates win the Fall Classic, he would only log 1660 plate appearances over the final four years of the deal (and only contribute 1.6 WAR in those years). This was due to several factors, namely his affinity for a certain white substance that is, generally speaking, frowned upon in our society; his continued usage of said substance earned him a full-year suspension for the 1986 season, which he was able to circumvent via community service, donations of his salary, and submission to random drug tests.
After his contract expired in 1983, he signed with the Reds, and his production was essentially the same as in the last few years in
Shitts¹⁴ Pittsburgh (save for his fluky, 5.4-WAR 1985 season) and as it would be for the rest of his career. There was one year in particular, though, where he really hit rock bottom: the year that followed the suspension year.
In the year in question–his last in Cincy–Parker was, shall we say, no muy bueno. A career .290/.339/.471 hitter, Parker hit .253/.311/.433 in 1987. While one might attribute this to his 16.1% strikeout rate and 6.8% walk rate (compared to 15.5% and 8.9%, respectively, for the majors), these numbers are actually pretty analogous to his career numbers (15.1% and 6.1%, respectively). His power was also comparable to his career figures (.180 ISO in 1987, .181 for his career).
For Mr. Parker (like for so many of the others on this list) the issues arose from two areas: when the other team fielded the balls he hit, and when he fielded the balls the other team hit. Parker’s .265 BABIP was the lowest of his career for a full season, not to mention being 49 points below his career BABIP of .314 and 24 points below the major league-average BABIP of .289. His glovework also left something to be desired¹⁵–he posted a -17.8 Def, which was second-worst in the majors.
Overall, his hitting wasn’t too dreadful–his triple-slash was good enough for a .316 wOBA and 87 wRC+. He wasn’t even that bad, period–his WAR was -0.6, a relatively good figure. Out of the 143 seasons, only 5 players were LVPs with a higher WAR; Parker was just unfortunate enough to have a down season in a year where the only serious competition for the LVP was Cory Snyder (-0.5).
One last thing on Parker: As painful as his 1987 season was, his last season (1991) was even worse–he had -1.2 WAR in only 541 plate appearances for the Angels and Blue Jays. Unfortunately, he was robbed of the LVP crown by some scrub named Alvin Davis. Hah! What a loser! It’s not like any site editor has ever vehemently defended Davis and would cancel my account if I was to insult Mr. Mariner!
(Your move, Cameron.)
4. Bernie Williams
Career WAR: 44.3
LVP year/WAR: 2005/-2.3
Classification: End-of-career decline
Williams’ case for Cooperstown has generated quite a bit of controversy, over everything from the impact and weighting of postseason play to the cost of defense to True Yankeedom. That point, however, is now moot, as Williams is now off the ballot; whether or not he deserves to be is a can of shit I’d rather not open right now.
With Williams, the superlatives are certainly present–five All-Star appearances (1997-2001), four Gilded Gloves¹⁵ (1997-2000), four World Series rings (1996, 1998-2000), a Silver Slugger (2002), and the ALCS MVP in 2002. He also had seven 4-WAR seasons over an eight-year period (1995-2002), and was the 12th-most valuable position player in baseball over that time. Plus, he was, y’know, a True Yankee.
It’s the years to which this period came prior that I am focusing on. After that eight-year run of dominance, Williams fell off a cliff (as Paul Swydan explained earlier this year), putting up…wait for it…-3.3 WAR over the next four seasons, dead last in the majors in that span. Most of that negative WAR came from one year: 2005, the second-to-last of Mr. Williams’ career.
In said year, Williams (he of the career .297/.381/.477 triple-slash) batted a mere .249/.321/.367. The PAWSTMOMNEP Era was beginning to transition into the Era of the Pitcher, but offenses were still favored–the major league triple-slash was .264/.330/.419–and Williams’ batting (and -1.4-run baserunning) was enough to give him a .305 wOBA, 85 wRC+, and -11.2 Off. His strikeout rate in 2005 (13.7%) mirrored his career rate (13.4%) and was much better than the MLB rate (16.4%), and while his walk rate of 9.7% was low by his standards (career walk rate of 11.8%), it was still considerably better than the MLB average of 8.2%; his batted-ball rates were also all right (19% LD/43.5% GB/37.5% FB). It was a poor BABIP (.270, as opposed to .318 for his career and .295 for MLB) and a poorer ISO (.118, as opposed to .180 for his career and .154 for MLB) that did him in.
But Williams’ offensive struggles pale in comparison to his defensive ineptitude. Never the greatest with the glove, Williams hit a new low in 2005¹⁶, as he had a -30.2 Def in 862.2 innings. In terms of UZR, he was 29.2 runs below average, and because he didn’t play that much, his performance extrapolates to 42.5 runs below average per 150 games. As a point of reference, Adam Dunn’s worst career UZR/150 as a outfielder was -39.2 in 2009. So, yeah.
The disconcerting work in the field by Williams, coupled with ineffectiveness at the plate, gave him a -2.3 WAR for the year; this put him in a class of his own, as the next-worst player was Scott Hatteberg, whose -0.7 WAR was a full 1.6 behind him. Maybe, if his production hadn’t completely deteriorated at the tail end of his career, Williams would be in the Hall right now, and the point would still be moot, but for a better reason.
GROUP IV: CENTRAL COMPETITORS
3. Ted Simmons
Career WAR: 54.2
LVP year/WAR: 1984/-2.4
Classification: End-of-career decline
Look, I’m not saying Ted Simmons should go to the Hall of Fame. What I will say is this:
Simmons is player A. Ichiro Suzuki is player B. Just sayin’.
Anyway, regardless of one’s opinion on Mr. Simmons, one cannot deny that he was an excellent all-around player for most of his career. People of his day certainly didn’t, as he was named to eight All-Star teams (1972-74, 1977-79, 1981, 1983) and won a Silver Slugger (1980). He was generally regarded as the second-best hitting catcher of his era, behind Johnny Bench, and while catchers are held to a lower offensive standard than most other players, he was no slouch with the bat–his career wRC+ was 116, better than Adrian Beltre and Andruw Jones. His defense was mediocre (53rd out of 113 catchers in Def over the course of his career), but he was still outstanding, as the above comparison should show.
Like all mortal men, though, Simmons’ production decayed as he aged; after contributing at least three wins in 12 of 13 seasons from 1971 to 1983, he was at or below replacement level in four of his last five years. In the first of those five years, he was a special kind of awful.
In 1983 (the last year of the 13-year period), Simmons was actually quite valuable, to the tune of 3.7 WAR for the Brewers. The next year…well, everything fell apart. His triple-slash collapsed from a healthy .308/.351/.448 to a sickly .221/.269/.300, which took his wOBA from .352 to .259, his wRC+ from 122 to 60, and his Off from 16.6 to -24.6. His plate discipline was fairly similar in both years (6.3% BB%, 7.8% K% in 1983; 5.6% and 7.5% in 1984), although his walk rate in both years was a good deal below his career average of 8.8%. This meltdown was primarily caused by a David Murphy-like¹⁷ dropoff in BABIP, from .317 to .233, and a near-halving of ISO, from .140 to .078; both of these numbers were a good deal below Simmons’ career numbers (.284 and .152, respectively). What’s more, he spent most of his time at DH, meaning he was held to a higher offensive standard; thus, these already bad numbers were reduced even further.
When Simmons did play in the field (at first and third, not catcher), his defense was somewhat rotten, as he posted -4 TZ in 457.1 combined innings. With the subtracted defensive runs for not fielding at all, his Def dropped from -3 in 1983 to -14.5 Def (12th-worst in the majors) in 1984.
When the dust had settled, Simmons was left with -2.4 WAR, which gave him a comfortable lead over Curtis Wilkerson (-1.1) for the LVP honor. Simmons never really got much better than this–he gave the Brew crew 1 WAR in 1985, before costing the Braves a combined 1 win as a utility man over the next three years. Retiring at age 39, Simmons might’ve been enshrined if he had kept up his consistency into his late 30s.
While Simmons was arguably Hall-worthy, there’s no arguing over these next two. Well, there actually is a fair amount of arguing over this next guy, but…never mind.
2. Pete Rose
Career WAR: 80.3
LVP year/WAR: 1983/-1.9
Classification: End-of-career decline
Yes, the LVP in back-to-back years was a very valuable player overall. Surprised? Well, that’s allowable–when you started reading this, you probably had no idea what you were reading in the first place, much less if it would involve two exceptional players performing uncharacteristically poorly in two consecutive years.
Moving on…Rose hardly needs an introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway. Seventeen All-Star nods (1965, 1967-71, 1973-82, 1985); a three-time batting champion (1968-69, 1973) and three-time World Series champion (1975-76, 1980); two Gilded Gloves (1969-70); a Silver Slugger in 1981; the NL ROTY¹⁸ and MVP in 1963 and 1973, respectively; and one of the better (and most deserved)¹⁹ nicknames in baseball. Plus, there was that whole 4,256 hits thing, but nobody cares about that.
Rose spent most of his career with the Reds, winning two of his three championships with them. The third? That was won with the Phillies, with whom he spent five mostly forgettable years at the end of his career. After averaging 4.7 WAR over his first sixteen seasons with the Reds (and being the fourth-most valuable player in baseball over that span), Rose only earned 3.8 WAR in the next five years combined. To be fair, he was at least middling for the first four years, finishing above replacement level in each. In the last year (1983), however, he was anything but middling–and not in a good way.
1983 wasn’t a particularly great year for hitters–the aggregate MLB triple-slash was .261/.325/.389; nonetheless, Rose was still considerably below thoe numbers. Never one to hit for power (his best ISO was .164 in 1969), he sunk to new lows in 1983, pulling a Ben Revere;²º his ISO at season’s end was a repulsive .041, considerably lower than the major league ISO of .128. BABIP also wasn’t too kind to him, as he posted a .256 mark in that department, a good deal below the major league BABIP of .285. His plate discipline was superb (9.4% and 5% walk and strikeout rates, compared to 8.4% and 13.5%, respectively, for the majors), but this could not compensate for his failings in the other areas, and he ended up with a .245/.316/.286 triple-slash, with a .277 wOBA, 68 wRC+, and -21.6 Off.
He didn’t do himself any favors on the basepaths (-1.5 BsR) or in the field (-8 TZ, -14.7 Def in 1034 innings between first and the oufield), but he was never the greatest in those categories. In this one year, he was an all-bat guy with no bat²¹, and that usually doesn’t have good results.
When all was said and done, Rose’s WAR was -1.9, a figure that easily bested Dave Stapleton (-0.7) for the LVP title. One last note on Rose: Unlike the #1 player on this list, people seem to be cognizant of Rose’s awfulness in his LVP year–probably because Rose’s year occured near the end of his career, and he never received a chance to outshine it. This next guy, though? Well…
1. Roberto Clemente
Career WAR: 80.5
LVP year/WAR: 1955/-0.9
Classification: Start-of-career bump
Yeah, I’d say he made up for one bad season. Either that, or fifteen All-Star games (1960-67, 1969-72)²², twelve consecutive Gold Gloves²³ (1961-72), four batting crowns (1961, 1964-65, 1967), the NL MVP (1966), the WS MVP (1971), and 80.1 career WAR were all for naught.
Despite all of the undeniable awesomeness of Clemente’s career as a whole, there is still that one blemish on his record: his less-than-perfect rookie year. After being drafted by the Pirates in 1954, Clemente was given the opportunity to start immediately, and the outcome wasn’t very good.
Clemente was never a particularly patient hitter, with a career BB% of 6.1%; in 1955, however, he was especially anxious, with a 3.6% BB% that was a good deal below the major league-average of 9.5%, and was the second-worst individual figure in the majors²⁴. He didn’t strike out that much, as his 12% K% wasn’t too much worse than the major league-average of 11.4%, and was identical to his career rate.
Always a high-BABIP guy (with a career number of .343), Clemente’s balls were unable to find holes in 1955, as he had a BABIP of .282 that, while being higher than the major league BABIP of .272, was still the second-lowest of Clemente’s career. His power also hadn’t developed yet²⁵, as his .127 ISO (which was also similar to the major league ISO of .136) was much lower than his career ISO of .158. Overall, Clemente batted .255/.284/.382, with a .294 wOBA, 73 wRC+, and -18.5 Off. His baserunning wasn’t much of a factor (-1.3 runs, compared to 2.1 total for his career), but on defense, he was substandard, putting up a -4.6 Def that was 21st out of 31 outfielders²⁶.
This all coalesced into a WAR of -0.9, which allowed Clemente to beat Don Mueller (-0.7) for the LVP title by a narrow margin. It would take Clemente a few years to really get going; from 1956 to 1959, he was worth a modest 8.9 WAR²⁷ (44th in the majors) as he struggled through various injuries. By 1960, though, he was healthy, and would contribute 72.7 WAR (fourth in the majors) from then until…well, you know.
What does all of this mean? Well, the average major league player is worth 2.97 wins over the course of their career; the average player that won an LVP is worth 6.04 wins over the course of their career. Impacted by outliers, you say? Even when the ten players listed here are taken out, the average career WAR of the remaining 133 is 3.05–slightly better than for every player. Looking a little deeper, we can see that of the 16,292 players with a plate appearance, 852 (or 5.2%) are worth 20 or more wins over the course of their careers. For LVPs? 15 out of 143, or 10.5%²⁸.
Is this good news for Eric Hosmer and Adeiny Hechavarria? Possibly. Would assuming this is good news for Hosmer and Hechavarria be drawing a causation from a correlation? Probably. I don’t know. What do I know? I know that if you read this all of the way through, I just wasted a sizable chunk of your time. And in my book, that is a job well done.
¹Or the 30th, technically. Whatever.
²As far as I can tell, that’s an original joke. Feel free to chastise me if I’m wrong.
³How exactly do I cite the Def stat? Is it a plural type of thing, like “Player X had 5 Defs last year”, or a singular, like…well, like I wrote in the post?
⁴Spellcheck, you have crossed a line.
⁵The worst fielder in the majors, according to Def? Carlos Beltran and his -21.4. Yes, the three-time Gold Glove-winning, two-time Fielding Bible-winning Carlos Beltran. Yes, I’m also unsure how to react.
Why has no one else realized this, though? Cameron? Sullivan? God forbid, Cistulli? I’m looking at you all! Write something about this, or else I’ll be forced to!
⁶You know, the Possibly Affiliated With Substances That May Or May Not Enhance Performance Era.
⁷Hey, it’s South Park’s words, not mine.
⁸Versalles’ career was also rather notable–and not just for his abnormal appellation.
⁹To be fair, every hitter had a down year in 1968.
¹ºOne doesn’t receive too many opportunities to type this (much to the chagrin of Mr. Keri).
¹¹According to the B-R bullpen, there were only two–count ’em, two–fair balls ever hit out of Griffith. TWO! In 51 motherfucking seasons! So Safeco ain’t so bad, I guess.
¹²Get it? ‘Cuz Parker did…and Williams did…oh, never mind.
¹³Not a typo (read on).
¹⁴Sorry, force of habit (I’m a Ravens fan).
¹⁵In a manner not dissimilar to a controversial shortstop of our era (or to the next player on the list), Parker was always one whose reputation overshadowed his production in the field, as neither basic statistics (.965 career fielding percentage, 137th out of 167 players over the course of his career) nor advanced statistics (-127.5 career Def, 688th out of 704 players over the course of his career) were particularly fond of his work with the glove.
¹⁶Actually, every Yankees defender hit a new low in 2005, as their team defense was the lowest of any team in the UZR era (-141.7 runs); this was due in no small part to the horrifying outfield of Williams, Gary Sheffield (-26 UZR), and Hideki Matsui (-15.2 UZR).
¹⁷I’ll have more on that in the coming weeks.
¹⁸How does one abbreivate Rookie of the Year? ROTY, RotY, or some combination of the two?
¹⁹Deserved on more than one level.
²ºI shouldn’t need to explain what I mean by that. Also, Rose pulled a Ben Revere in 1984 and 1986, albeit in non-qualifying seasons.
²¹I know I’ve heard that expression before–I think it was used to describe Jesus Montero–but I can’t seem to find where it was used.
²²No, I didn’t do my math wrong–from 1959 to 1962, MLB had two All-Star games.
²³I was going back and forth about whether to call this one gilded; over the indicated time span, Clemente was eighth among outfielders in Def–quite good, but not the best (as winning a Gold Glove in each year would imply).
²⁴It was not, however, the worst mark of his career, as he would post walk rates of 2.3% and 3.3% in 1956 and 1959, respectively.
²⁵In terms of power, Clemente was a late peaker, with five of his six highest ISOs coming during or after his age-31 season (1966). I’d be interested in knowing how common that is.
²⁶For whatever reason, defensive records for each individual outfield position only go back to 1956–any time before that, it’s all just lumped into “Outfield”. Also, for that matter, innings played on defense only go back to that date as well, which doesn’t seem to make sense, given that play-by-play data is available back then.
²⁷Interestingly enough, Clemente’s greatest defensive seasons were during this period. He had 20.7 Def in 1958, and 19.3 in 1957; his next-best season with the glove was in 1968 (16.8).
²⁸The other five (besides the ten listed here): Milt Stock (22.3 career WAR, -2.7 in 1924); Alvin Davis (21.1 career WAR, -1.6 in 1991); Raul Ibanez (20.5 career WAR, -1.7 in 2011); Jason Bay (20.3 career WAR, -1.1 in 2007); and Buck Weaver (20.3 career WAR, -1.1 in 1912).