MLB 2014 All-Loser Team

I’m mostly an NFL writer. For years, I’ve been naming an NFL All-Loser Team at the end of each regular season. It’s an all-star team comprised exclusively of players whose teams missed the postseason. You can view it as a celebration of players who may be underrated or underappreciated because their teams aren’t very good, or you can view it as a shot at people who insist you can’t be that great if your team didn’t make the playoffs. Up to you. It’s a fun project, and it’s easy to apply to MLB as well football.

Here’s what you’re getting after the jump:

* Four teams. We’ll do an American League All-Loser Team, National League All-Loser Team, MLB All-Loser Team, and an all-star team taken exclusively from the six clubs that finished last in their divisions.

* For each list, we’ll do nine position players (the NL gets a pinch-hitter instead of a DH), and I’ll show my imaginary batting order. Each team will also feature a five-man rotation, a right-handed reliever, and a left-handed reliever. So, 16 players per team.

* I’ll offer some minimal commentary on the teams, with a paragraph or two for each team to discuss surprising selections and close calls. For the MLB team, I’ll list the top three in fWAR at each position and explain my selections. There’s nothing earth-shattering here, unless you think we can’t make a wicked lineup out of players from losing teams.

American League 2014 All-Loser Team

BA OBP SLG wRC+
LF Michael Brantley, CLE .327 .385 .506 155
RF Jose Bautista, TOR .286 .403 .524 159
2B Robinson Cano, SEA .314 .382 .454 136
1B Jose Abreu, CHW .317 .383 .581 165
3B Adrian Beltre, TEX .324 .388 .492 141
DH David Ortiz, BOS .263 .355 .517 135
C Yan Gomes, CLE .278 .313 .472 121
SS Alexei Ramirez, CHW .273 .305 .408 97
CF Leonys Martin, TEX .274 .325 .364 89

By far the closest call here was shortstop, Alexei Ramirez over Jose Reyes. Reyes hit a little better this year and he’s a better baserunner, but Ramirez is a better fielder. The other really tough choice was center field, where Leonys Martin didn’t blow me away. Here, again, I went with defense. The best players to miss the team weren’t Reyes and the borderline center fielders, though, but Jose Altuve, Ben Zobrist, and Kyle Seager. The AL is loaded with good second and third basemen right now. By WAR, the AL has the top seven second basemen in baseball this year, including Zobrist (5.7), Cano (5.3), and Altuve (5.2). At third base, Evan Longoria had a down year and Manny Machado got injured, but Seager still had to compete for attention with Josh Donaldson and Beltre.

But look at this lineup. The top five batters all have .380+ OBPs, there are four players with double-digit steals and over 70 SB%, three with at least 35 home runs. This team can win however you want, in any park. There’s also an excellent mix of left- and right-handed batting. Collectively, these nine players account for 43.1 WAR. They hit .296/.361/.479 (.364 wOBA, 134 wRC+), and averaged 165 H, 22.5 HR, 10.5 SB, 79.8 SB%.

W/L ERA SO K-BB% ERA- FIP-
SP Corey Kluber, CLE 18-9 2.44 269 22.9% 66 64
SP Felix Hernandez, SEA 15-6 2.14 248 22.2% 58 70
SP Chris Sale, CHW 12-4 2.17 208 24.7% 55 66
SP Dallas Keuchel, HOU 12-9 2.93 146 12.1% 77 85
SP Phil Hughes, MIN 16-10 3.52 186 19.9% 92 70
RP Dellin Betances, NYY 5-0 1.40 135 32.6% 36 43
RP Jake McGee, TB 5-2 1.89 90 27.0% 52 49

By RA9-WAR, the three best pitchers in the American League all missed the playoffs. By fWAR, it’s the top two and six of the top eight — actually all eight if you include Jon Lester and David Price, who spent half the year on losing teams. Collin McHugh, Alex Cobb, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Quintana all had nice seasons. If you trust fWAR, you’d probably want Quintana instead of Keuchel. If you prefer ERA or RA9, you might go with McHugh over Hughes. But this is a very strong rotation, pitching 1,055.1 innings with an ERA of 2.64 and a 2.66 FIP (69 ERA-, 71 FIP-). They accrued 28.9 fWAR, 29.1 RA9-WAR, and 29.9 rWAR. The relievers, Betances and McGee, contribute an additional 5.8 fWAR, 6.5 RA9-WAR, and 6.4 rWAR.

Even if you filled out the bench and bullpen with replacement players, this team would win something like 125 games. The lineup posted 43.1 WAR, the pitchers 35-ish depending on your preferred system. But you don’t need stats to know that a roster like this would kill it. Felix Hernandez is the number two pitcher! This team full of losers would crush any and every team in the playoffs.

National League 2014 All-Loser Team

BA OBP SLG wRC+
CF Carlos Gomez, MIL .284 .356 .477 133
SS Troy Tulowitzki, COL .340 .432 .603 171
1B Anthony Rizzo, CHC .286 .386 .527 153
RF Giancarlo Stanton, MIA .288 .395 .555 159
C Jonathan Lucroy, MIL .301 .373 .465 133
LF Christian Yelich, MIA .284 .362 .402 116
3B Todd Frazier, CIN .273 .336 .459 122
2B Chase Utley, PHI .270 .339 .407 106
PH Paul Goldschmidt, ARI .300 .396 .542 155

It was a nasty business leaving off Jason Heyward, but I don’t anticipate any arguments with my right fielder. There weren’t as many close calls in the National League as in the AL; I feel pretty good about all these players. The one who bothers me most might actually be Tulowitzki, since he only played 91 games. The assumption is that our All-Loser team gets 91 games of Tulo and 71 from replacement players. I’d rather have half a season of Tulo than settle for Jimmy Rollins or Andrelton Simmons, neither of whom really hit at all this year. Goldschmidt would probably be the first baseman if he’d played all season, but Rizzo’s ahead on playing time (+137 PA).

As a group, this lineup compiled 42.1 WAR and hit .288/.369/.478 (.370 wOBA, 134 wRC+), with an average of 155 H, 22 HR, 13.5 SB, 74.0 SB%. That’s not including Goldschmidt.

W/L ERA SO K-BB% ERA- FIP-
SP Johnny Cueto, CIN 20-9 2.25 242 18.4% 61 88
SP Cole Hamels, PHI 9-9 2.46 198 16.8% 67 83
SP Jake Arrieta, CHC 10-5 2.53 167 20.5% 68 60
SP Julio Teheran, ATL 14-13 2.89 186 15.3% 80 95
SP Henderson Alvarez, MIA 12-7 2.65 111 10.1% 72 96
RP Craig Kimbrel, ATL 0-3 1.61 95 28.3% 44 50
RP Aroldis Chapman, CIN 0-3 2.00 106 40.6% 54 23

The hardest choice here: Kimbrel over Jonathan Papelbon as the right-handed reliever. I went with Alvarez over Tyson Ross, Jacob deGrom, and Alex Wood, but I’m not stressing over the fifth starter, and certainly Alvarez had a fine year. The rotation pitched 1,013 innings, with a collective 2.55 ERA (69 ERA-) and 3.19 FIP (86 FIP-). They accounted for 18.3 fWAR, 26.9 RA9-WAR, and 26.4 rWAR. Chapman and Kimbrel add 4.9 fWAR, 4.6 RA9-WAR, and 4.4 rWAR.

The rotation isn’t as strong as the AL’s, because some of the best NL pitchers actually made the playoffs, but the Nationals and Dodgers would fear these players. They would also be a good bet to knock the 1906 Cubs out of the record book.

2014 Major League All-Loser Team

Here’s the big one, the MLB All Loser Team. Did you ever see that episode of Mythbusters where they found that nothing will literally knock yours socks off? That’s because they didn’t see this roster.

BA OBP SLG wRC+
LF Michael Brantley, CLE .327 .385 .506 155
SS Troy Tulowitzki, COL .340 .432 .603 171
DH David Ortiz, BOS .263 .355 .517 135
RF Giancarlo Stanton, MIA .288 .395 .555 159
1B Jose Abreu, CHW .317 .383 .581 165
2B Robinson Cano, SEA .314 .382 .454 136
3B Adrian Beltre, TEX .324 .388 .492 141
CF Carlos Gomez, MIL .284 .356 .477 133
C Jonathan Lucroy, MIL .301 .373 .465 133
W/L ERA SO K-BB% ERA- FIP-
SP Corey Kluber, CLE 18-9 2.44 269 22.9% 66 64
SP Felix Hernandez, SEA 15-6 2.14 248 22.2% 58 70
SP Chris Sale, CHW 12-4 2.17 208 24.7% 55 66
SP Johnny Cueto, CIN 20-9 2.25 242 18.4% 61 88
SP Cole Hamels, PHI 9-9 2.46 198 16.8% 67 83
RP Dellin Betances, NYY 5-0 1.40 135 32.6% 36 43
RP Jake McGee, TB 5-2 1.89 90 27.0% 52 49

Obviously, that’s an awesome team. We’ll come back to them in a moment. Who were the other contenders? Below, we’ll check each position’s top three non-playoff participants in WAR. For starting pitchers, I’ll show the top 10 RHP and top five LHP. With relievers, just the top three righty and lefty.

Catcher

1. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL, 6.3 WAR
2. Yan Gomes, CLE, 4.6 WAR
3. Devin Mesoraco, CIN, 4.4 WAR

This is probably the most obvious call at any position. fWAR doesn’t include pitch framing, and we know Lucroy adds some value in that respect. He was the best catcher in baseball this year.

First Base

1. Anthony Rizzo, CHC, 5.6 WAR
2. Jose Abreu, CHW, 5.3 WAR
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 4.4 WAR

I went with Abreu here, rather than Rizzo. It’s a close call, obviously, and Rizzo’s home run total (32) is not much different than Abreu’s 36. The Cuban rookie posted a higher wRC+ (165 to 153) in more plate appearances; he’s behind on defense and baserunning. I don’t mean to discount those, but it just seems like Abreu was the most impactful player. For whatever it’s worth, RE24 and WPA back that up: Abreu is ahead in both stats.

Second Base

1. Ben Zobrist, TB, 5.7 WAR
2. Robinson Cano, SEA, 5.3 WAR
3. Jose Altuve, HOU, 5.2 WAR

I have no interest in arguing against Zobrist or Altuve. They’d both be great on this team. But let’s appreciate Cano’s season. He didn’t produce the same power numbers he did in Yankee Stadium — more than 50 points off his career ISO — but he led the Mariners in walks, hits, singles, doubles, runs, BA, OBP, and SLG (tied with Seager). Cano hit .314, walked about as much as he struck out, stole a career-high 10 bases (at a 77% clip), and provided solid defense at a premium position.

Shortstop

1. Troy Tulowitzki, COL, 5.1 WAR
2. Jimmy Rollins, PHI, 3.6 WAR
t3. Alexei Ramirez, CHW, 3.3 WAR
t3. Jose Reyes, TOR, 3.3 WAR

Tulo missed nearly half the season, but he hit .340/.432/.603, good for a 171 wRC+. Rollins and Reyes were at 102 wRC+, and Ramirez 97. Tulo hits like a first baseman, but he’s a good defensive shortstop. I don’t think anyone questions that he’s the best player in the game at his position.

Third Base

1. Adrian Beltre, TEX, 5.8 WAR
2. Kyle Seager, SEA, 5.5 WAR
3. Todd Frazier, CIN, 4.7 WAR

When I was doing the AL team, it really bummed me out that Beltre and Seager play in the same league. Seager had a terrific year.

Left Field

1. Michael Brantley, CLE, 6.6 WAR
2. Christian Yelich, MIA, 4.3 WAR
3. Justin Upton, ATL, 3.9 WAR

It will be really interesting to see what kind of support Brantley gets in the AL MVP voting.

Center Field

1. Carlos Gomez, MIL, 5.9 WAR
2. Juan Lagares, NYM, 3.8 WAR
3. Marcell Ozuna, MIA, 3.7 WAR

Lagares is a sensational fielder, obviously. He has good range and a killer arm. Lagares only played 116 games, and he was an average hitter (101 wRC+). I believe in the value of exceptional defense, but I don’t believe Lagares had a better season than CarGo.

Right Field

1. Jose Bautista, TOR, 6.3 WAR
2. Giancarlo Stanton, MIA, 6.1 WAR
3. Jason Heyward, ATL, 5.1 WAR

I know Jose Bautista is a great ballplayer, but Giancarlo Stanton is something more than great. He’s exciting to have in the game. Also, sympathy vote for getting beaned in the face.

Designated Hitter

1. David Ortiz, BOS, 2.4 WAR
2. Chris Carter, HOU, 1.7 WAR
3. Adam Lind, TOR, 1.6 WAR

Edwin Encarnacion and Lind split the DH duties for Toronto, and Encarnacion would probably be a better selection this year than Ortiz. But Encarnacion mostly played first, and taking him feels like cheating. If I’m going to put a position player at DH, I might as well just pick Bautista. Holy crap, can you imagine this team with Stanton and Bautista?

Right-handed Starting Pitcher

1. Corey Kluber, CLE, 7.3 WAR, 7.0 RA9-WAR
2. Felix Hernandez, SEA, 6.2 WAR, 7.5 RA9-WAR
3. Phil Hughes, MIN, 6.1 WAR, 3.6 RA9-WAR
4. Jake Arrieta, CHC, 4.9 WAR, 4.7 RA9-WAR
5. Johnny Cueto, CIN, 4.1 WAR, 7.7 RA9-WAR
6. Yu Darvish, TEX, 4.1 WAR, 3.5 RA9-WAR
7. Hiroki Kuroda, NYY, 3.5 WAR, 2.8 RA9-WAR
8. Collin McHugh, HOU, 3.3 WAR, 4.0 RA9-WAR
9. Marcus Stroman, TOR, 3.3 WAR, 2.2 RA9-WAR
10. Julio Teheran, ATL, 3.2 WAR, 4.3 RA9-WAR

Clayton Kershaw led the majors in RA9-WAR (7.9). Johnny Cueto ranked second. Cueto had a .238 BABIP this year, with 82.5 LOB%, and a 0.96 WHIP. Actually, Arrieta and King Felix were under 1.00 WHIP, as well. I left Arrieta off the All-Loser rotation, but there are several good arguments to be made on his behalf. On the surface, he’s not a good choice. If you like FIP, you take Hughes ahead of Arrieta. If you prefer run-based metrics, you choose Hamels (because he pitched more innings). But if you throw your hands up and admit you don’t know how to balance the two, Arrieta’s a pretty great choice, about a 5-win player no matter what system you use. We also think that Welington Castillo sucks pretty bad at pitch framing, so Arrieta may be better than the numbers show, and he’s a decent hitter for his position.

Left-handed Starting Pitcher

1. Chris Sale, CHW, 5.4 WAR, 6.2 RA9-WAR
2. Jose Quintana, CHW, 5.3 WAR, 3.4 RA9-WAR
3. Dallas Keuchel, HOU, 3.9 WAR, 4.9 RA9-WAR
4. Cole Hamels, PHI, 3.8 WAR, 6.0 RA9-WAR
5. Mark Buehrle, TOR, 3.5 WAR, 3.9 RA9-WAR

We’re keeping the All-Loser team unsullied by any whiff of the playoffs, so pitchers traded away from losing clubs in midseason, like Jon Lester and David Price, aren’t eligible for this exercise. The same goes for Drew Smyly, who was traded away from the Tigers at the deadline. They were in first place at the time. Sorry, Drew, you can’t be in our club. Buehrle has higher WAR than Smyly anyway, but I’m establishing a principle.

Right-handed Relief Pitcher

1. Dellin Betances, NYY, 3.2 WAR, 3.8 RA9-WAR
2. Craig Kimbrel, ATL, 2.2 WAR, 2.6 RA9-WAR
3. Steve Cishek, MIA, 2.0 WAR, 0.7 RA9-WAR

Jonathan Papelbon finished this season with 1.8 fWAR, but 2.6 RA9-WAR and 2.9 rWAR. Cishek had 2.0 fWAR, 0.7 RA9-WAR, and 0.9 rWAR. Cishek wasn’t really the third-best right-handed reliever.

Left-handed Relief Pitcher

1. Aroldis Chapman, CIN, 2.7 WAR, 2.0 RA9-WAR
2. Jake McGee, TB, 2.6 WAR, 2.7 RA9-WAR
3. Zach Duke, MIL, 1.3 WAR, 1.0 RA9-WAR

McGee pitched a lot more games and a lot more innings than Chapman. It feels crazy not to choose the dude with a 52.5% K rate, but Chapman only threw 54 innings. If I were filling out a full lineup, I’d take both of them, but I’ll follow my own rules, and the rules say one lefty reliever. McGee.

So, back to the MLB All-Loser roster.

BA OBP SLG wRC+
LF Michael Brantley, CLE .327 .385 .506 155
SS Troy Tulowitzki, COL .340 .432 .603 171
DH David Ortiz, BOS .263 .355 .517 135
RF Giancarlo Stanton, MIA .288 .395 .555 159
1B Jose Abreu, CHW .317 .383 .581 165
2B Robinson Cano, SEA .314 .382 .454 136
3B Adrian Beltre, TEX .324 .388 .492 141
CF Carlos Gomez, MIL .284 .356 .477 133
C Jonathan Lucroy, MIL .301 .373 .465 133

Apart from Ortiz, everyone in this lineup earned 5+ WAR in 2014. Six of them hit .300, everyone had an OBP over .350, three hit at least 35 homers. The leadoff man had 200 hits and a .385 OBP, almost as many walks as strikeouts, and he stole 23 bases with only 1 CS (a ridiculous 95.8 SB%). Troy Tulowitzki and David Ortiz hit second and third, followed by — this is my favorite part — Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Abreu, back to back. It’s cruelty to pitchers, really. Then you get two more players with .380 OBP, Cano and Beltre, followed by eight and nine hitters who would be in the middle of the order on a normal team.

These players combine for a .305/.381/.511 slash line and 48.7 WAR. They averaged 164 H, 24 HR, 61 BB, 10 SB, and 78.8 SB%. This is a lineup no playoff rotation could handle.

W/L ERA SO K-BB% ERA- FIP-
SP Corey Kluber, CLE 18-9 2.44 269 22.9% 66 64
SP Felix Hernandez, SEA 15-6 2.14 248 22.2% 58 70
SP Chris Sale, CHW 12-4 2.17 208 24.7% 55 66
SP Johnny Cueto, CIN 20-9 2.25 242 18.4% 61 88
SP Cole Hamels, PHI 9-9 2.46 198 16.8% 67 83

By both rWAR and RA9-WAR, these were five of the top seven pitchers in the majors this year. They played on teams with a combined record of 394-416 (.486), but their combined record was 74-37 (.667). You don’t need to be a stats traditionalist to recognize that as extremely fine work. Everyone had a sub-2.50 ERA, and you’ve got three of the top five in MLB in strikeouts. By the triple crown stats, this is an incredible group. But it’s also a rotation Voros McCracken could love. These guys combined for 26.9 K% and just 6.0 BB%. The worst FIP in the group is Cueto’s (3.30), but he led the NL in strikeouts, struck out more than a quarter of the batters he faced.

Love workhorses? We’ve got the NL leader in innings and two of the top three in the American League. The rotation combined for 1,094 innings pitched. As a group, they struck out 1,165 batters and posted a 1.02 WHIP, 2.30 ERA, 2.78 FIP, 61 ERA-, 75 FIP-, 26.9 fWAR, 34.4 RA9-WAR, and 33.9 rWAR. We all know there are better statistics than WHIP, but this team features three starters with sub-1.00 WHIP, and that’s special no matter how you get there.

The ace, Kluber, was second in the majors in strikeouts, a 7-win player by both FIP and RA9. He actually led all pitchers in fWAR, a shade ahead of Clayton Kershaw. King Felix led the AL in ERA, xFIP, and WHIP (0.92). Sale led the junior circuit in K-BB% and won 3/4 of his decisions on a team that lost 89 games; look at his ERA-. Cueto led the NL in IP and SO, and by RA9-WAR he’s roughly equal to Kershaw. Hamels had the third-highest rWAR of any pitcher in 2014.

SV ERA SO K-BB% ERA- FIP-
RP Dellin Betances, NYY 1 1.40 135 32.6% 36 43
RP Jake McGee, TB 19 1.89 90 27.0% 52 49

So, obviously these are not impressive saves numbers. In the case of Betances, it’s kind of what you love about him: he’s not a one-inning closer. Betances pitched 90 innings this year, struck out 135 batters. Craig Kimbrel is awesome, but he pitched 61.2 innings with 95 K. Betances contributed roughly 50% more, with a better ERA, FIP, xFIP, WHIP, and K-BB%. He has sick context-dependent stats, too: 4.61 WPA, 32.2 RE24, 3.4 REW.

McGee is another player with exceptional context-dependent numbers. 3.56 WPA, 21.98 RE24, and 2.35 REW don’t look too hot after seeing Betances’ stats, but McGee was third in the majors (among relievers) in each category, trailing only Betances and Wade Davis. McGee also had very low walk and home run rates. On the year, he issued 16 BB and 2 HR in 71.1 innings. Betances and McGee combined for 5.8 fWAR, 6.5 RA9-WAR, and 6.4 rWAR.

Altogether, this team, with no bench other than the two relief pitchers, boasts about 85-90 WAR. If this team full of losers could actually be assembled, it would win any league in any year, and would be a lock to win the World Series. I actually think there’s a good argument to be made that the 2014 All-Loser Team would beat an All-Winner team made up exclusively of playoff participants. The winners have Trout and Kershaw, but I’m not sure it’s enough. Anyway, we have one last team to unveil.

The Ultra-Loser Team

This is it, the worst of the worst. We’re making an all-star roster out of players on last-place teams. That’s the Red Sox, Twins, Rangers, Phillies, Cubs, and Diamondbacks. Minimal commentary on this one, but you’ll see it’s still an awfully good team:

BA OBP SLG wRC+
3B Adrian Beltre, TEX .324 .388 .492 141
DH David Ortiz, BOS .263 .355 .517 135
2B Chase Utley, PHI .270 .339 .407 106
1B Anthony Rizzo, CHC .286 .386 .527 153
LF Chris Coghlan, CHC .283 .352 .452 123
SS Jimmy Rollins, PHI .243 .323 .394 102
RF Daniel Nava, BOS .270 .346 .361 100
CF Leonys Martin, TEX .274 .325 .364 89
C Miguel Montero, ARI .243 .329 .370 90
W/L ERA SO K-BB% ERA- FIP-
SP Cole Hamels, PHI 9-9 2.46 198 16.8% 67 83
SP Jake Arrieta, CHC 10-5 2.53 167 20.5% 68 60
SP Phil Hughes, MIN 16-10 3.52 186 19.9% 92 70
SP Yu Darvish, TEX 10-7 3.06 182 22.0% 76 71
SP Josh Collmenter, ARI 11-9 3.46 115 10.6% 91 101
RP Jonathan Papelbon, PHI 2-3 2.04 63 18.5% 56 68
RP Glen Perkins, MIN 4-3 3.65 66 21.2% 95 81

This roster is underwhelming compared to the others, but imagine a team that actually had these players. It would be, hands down, the best rotation in the majors. Hamels, Arrieta, and Hughes all work with poor framing catchers, and Montero is among the best in baseball, so we might anticipate even more dominant performances from a staff that was already dominant (895 IP, 79 ERA-, 77 FIP-, 17.8 K-BB%) without good pitch framing. The defense is excellent, as well, and there’s a legit relief ace in Papelbon.

The lineup is full of above-average hitters, with a collective line of .273/.350/.434 (.343 wOBA, 116 wRC+). The batters accrued 31.0 WAR this season, while the staff was worth 23.5 WAR. If you put this team together with a replacement-level bench, we’d expect it to win about 100 games. All these guys come from last-place teams, but if they joined forces, they’d probably be the best team in the majors, and they would be favorites to win the World Series. Not bad for a bunch of losers.





Brad Oremland is a columnist for Sports Central, where he writes mostly about the NFL. He roots for baseball teams named after birds, except the Blue Jays.

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LHPSU
Guest
LHPSU

How about Jacoby Ellsbury for the AL All-Loser team? Beats out Leonys Martin in WAR by a hair, but the better offensive player by far.

tim
Guest
tim

very thorough. well done.

might tend to give the nod to ellsbury as well, but i agree its a toss up.

Jim_Turvey
Member

Very enjoyable read!

TKDC
Guest
TKDC

And something positive was said about Miguel Montero for the first time since 2012…

Kevin
Member
Kevin

I would add Ken Giles to the bullpen as well kid was crazy this year.

Spit Ball
Member
Spit Ball

Fun stuff