Remembering Black Holes

Do you ever look at a daily lineup and find yourself disappointed with one of the names in it? Do you ever ask why the manager continues to bat a clearly inferior player when there are clearly better options on the bench or in the minors or in your softball league? Do you ever celebrate when a player gets designated for assignment and you never have to see them bat second in front of like six clearly better hitters? Well then I am very sorry, but it’s time to relive some bad memories, team by team, from the past ten years.

Yes, it’s time to talk about the black holes of the recent past.

Now what makes a player a black hole?

Well the easiest way for them to become a black hole is to take all the matter in their body and reduce it to atomic sizes, but that’s clearly outside the realm of this post.

The black holes that we’ll be looking at all have two things in common:

  1. They managed to acquire 1000 PAs with a team in the past ten years.
  2. They were not good at baseball, at least compared to their peers in the majors.

Black holes tend to come in three different varieties, although there can be overlap.

Type A: Mediocre fringe players who get forced into extended starting time. These tend to be middle infielders for some reason.

Type B: Expensive free agents who get starts because the team is paying them to start.

Type C: Prospects that are not living up to the hype.

Type A and B black holes tend not to inspire feelings other than disdain among fans, but Type C guys are the players who start endless fan wars when they are on your team and inspire fans of other teams to salivate over buying low. These are probably the most fun black holes.

But enough of that, let’s talk about bad players.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Eric Byrnes (Type B)

Willie Bloomquist didn’t quite make the cut, so we’ll have to go with Byrnes. He actually was pretty good player his first two years in Arizona, but everything fell apart in 2008, and he muddled his way through two terrible campaigns, on-basing at a .270 clip both years. That is, obviously, not good for a guy who spent time leading off in those seasons.

Atlanta Braves: Melvin Upton Jr. (Type B)

The elder Upton only barely made it to 1000 PAs, and its always fun to talk about Jeff Francoeur, but the sheer awfulness that Upton produced in Atlanta just can’t be ignored, particularly when you consider how much they were paying him. Upton hit .198 over his two years in Atlanta. Of course, now he would probably be one of the better hitters in the Braves lineup, but that’s more on the Braves than Upton.

Baltimore Orioles: Robert Andino (Type A)

In case you don’t remember him, which is very possible, Robert Andino was a mediocre utility infielder type who couldn’t really hit, didn’t field particularly impressively, and still managed to start for the Orioles at second base for good chunks of three different years. Bad utility players starting way too much will be a recurring theme here. The most noteworthy thing from Andino’s career was probably when he got hot against the Red Sox down the stretch in 2011 and made his contribution to their collapse.

Boston Red Sox: Julio Lugo (Type B)

Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, and Pablo Sandoval have all been major free-agent busts in recent years, but so far, none of them has made it to 1000 PAs. Lugo did manage to, and he wasn’t any better than the rest of these guys. In Tampa Bay, Lugo was a shortstop who could both hit and field. In Boston, he managed to fail at both.

Chicago Cubs: Darwin Barney I guess (Type A)

Barney’s bat was truly moribund, but he was still a reasonably solid player due to his superior glove. Really, the Cubs have mostly managed to avoid giving playing time to guys who can’t hit in recent years — the only other player who had 1000 PAs with the Cubs and a sub-90 wRC+ was Ryan Theriot, who was a quality player until his glove dropped off at the end of his Chicago tenure.

Chicago White Sox: Avisail Garcia (Type C)

Here is some good analysis, from that unrivaled source of knowledge and expertise, Wikipedia:

“He is noted for his resemblance to former teammate Miguel Cabrera […] although Cabrera has an advantage in batting.”

That is not in any way an inaccurate description of Garcia’s offensive capabilities.

Cincinnati Reds: Ken Griffey Jr. (Type B)

This is kind of unfair, as Griffey was still a solid hitter in his last few years in Cincinnati, but he fielded like Adam Dunn chained to an elephant seal. Notably, the Reds really cornered the market is poor-fielding corner outfielders who could hit enough that you could pretend they were useful. They’ve given significant playing time to the aforementioned Griffey, Ryan Ludwick, Jay Bruce, and Jonny Gomes, who are all basically the same player.

Cleveland Indians: Matt LaPorta (Type C)

The Indians had a lot of options for this slot — Ryan Garko, Mike Aviles, Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn — but LaPorta really is the perfect combo of despair. LaPorta had enough stature as a prospect that the Indians weren’t inclined to dump him without giving him a good shake, and he his bat was juuust good enough that they could hold out hope he would turn it around. The end result was just a whole lot of suffering.

Colorado Rockies: Jonathan Herrera (Type A)

In 2011, Jonathan Herrera hit .242/.313/.299 in 320 PAs. Coors Field, somehow, was unkind to him that year. His home split was .183/.258/.242, which was good for a wRC+ of 11. The Rockies apparently weren’t too concerned as they kept him on for two more seasons. I guess he improved but not to the point where the Rockies’ decision-making began to make sense.

Detroit Tigers: Don Kelly (Type A)

There are two interesting things about Don Kelly. He has played every position in the majors and he somehow managed to stick around in Detroit for six seasons despite being all-around bad and having zero upside. He never really started more than a fill in here or there and never exceeded 281 PAs in any season, but you would think that a contender like the Tigers would have tried to upgrade this roster spot.

Houston Astros: Matt Dominguez, among many others (Mix of Types A and C)

Since the Astros as a franchise were a black hole for a few years, it is unsurprising how many bad players they have given playing time. In fact, of the 16 Astros with 1000 PAs in the past ten years, only half managed to produce as much as 3 WAR. But you can squint and see what they were hoping for for a few of those mediocrities. Matt Dominguez stands out above the rest due to his lack of any qualities that a team might want from a starting player. The Astros, who at the time did not care about quality, let Dominguez start at third base for two seasons. He proceeded to do exactly what was expected of him and neither hit well nor field well.

Kansas City Royals: Omar Infante (Mix of Types A and B)

The Royals, like the Astros, have a ton of good choices (Chris Getz, Mitch Maier, Jose Guillen, as well as the obvious Yuni and Frenchy) but Omar Infante is the clear choice. Whereas most of those guys got their playing time for the Royals when the entire team was a black hole, Infante did his damage to a quality team. That being said, I don’t think many Royals fans are disappointed with the results of the past two seasons, so it all works out in the end.

I guess I have to give you a fact about Infante’s terribleness. In June of 2015, he did not walk, despite starting 25 games that month.

Los Angeles Angels: Gary Matthews Jr. (Type B) and Jeff Mathis (Type A)

The Angels gave 805 plate appearance to this dynamic duo in 2008 on their way to 100 wins. Apparently, Mike Scioscia wanted to play the season on hard mode. You can at least understand why Matthews Jr. got playing time because of his silly contract, but the Jeff Mathis thing is still pretty funny. He managed a 55 wRC+ in 2008, which is, well, not something you usually see from a starting position player, to say the least.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Dee Gordon (Mix of Types A and C)

Dee Gordon spent his first three seasons as a Dodger trying his best to fail at everything baseball-related before learning how to hit, field, and take PEDs, which turned him into a quality player. In 2012, Gordon hit .228/.280/.281 with awful defense, but Dodger fans still had to watch him walk up to the plate 330 times.

Miami Marlins: Donovan Solano (Type A)

The right answer is probably Adeiny Hechavarria (or Jeff Loria), but it seems he’s figured out how to be a good defensive shortstop, so he’s off the table for now. Donovan Solano, meanwhile, is a major-league player who I have zero memory of. He seems to have acquired some rather poor batting stats, and I’m sure I watched games in which he played, but I could not tell you a thing about him. I imagine that had I intently followed Marlins baseball for the four years he saw playing time with them, I would not have enjoyed his presence to a great extent, but unless a Marlins fan enlightens me (unlikely) I’ll just have to assume he was no fun to watch.

Minnesota Twins: Delmon Young (Type C)

Delmon Young is only two months older than Josh Donaldson. Three teams gave him extended looks and decided to move on before Donaldson got a starting job.

I think lost in all the jokes about how bad Delmon Young was is the fact that Delmon Young was bad.

Milwaukee Brewers: Jean Segura (Type C)

Now I bet you’re thinking ‘Where is Yuni?’ Sadly, he missed the cutoff by seven plate appearances, so instead we get to talk about Jean Segura. In the first half of 2013, Segura was good for a 133 wRC+. Despite that, by the end of the season, he was down to a 105 wRC+, and by the end of his tenure with Milwaukee it was down to 78. That’s an acceptable level from a good defensive shortstop, which Segura wasn’t, but it’s still a pretty depressing line.

New York MetsJason Bay (Type B)

Jason Bay is basically the worst-case scenario for free-agent contracts. All the things that made Jason Bay valuable disappeared when he signed with the Mets, which is a very Mets thing to have happen. After hitting 36 homers with Boston in 2009, he only hit six with New York in 2010. If you lined up all the home runs that Jason Bay didn’t hit with the Mets, it would probably be like a couple of miles long or so.

New York Yankees: Melky Cabrera (Type C)

Melky Cabrera has had an exceptionally strange career, and it all started as an okay, yet disappointing outfielder with the Yankees.

Over the past decade, the Yankees have strive to avoid starting mediocre players for extended periods of time, unless those players were once fantastic. The next three best choices were Ichiro, Carlos Beltran, and Bobby Abreu.

Oakland Athletics: Bobby Crosby (Type C)

Bobby Crosby was a near unanimous Rookie of the Year in 2004, losing only one vote to the great Shingo Takatsu, who was 35 at the time. In 2005, Crosby actually hit reasonably well, particularly for a shortstop. In fact, Dave Cameron ranked Crosby as the 19th most valuable asset in baseball after that season, which probably places second to the Brexit referendum in his list of regrets. Crosby managed a .290 OBP with the A’s for 2007-09, which is exceedingly bad for an average defensive shortstop with no power.

Philadelphia Phillies: Dom Brown (Type C) and of course Ryan Howard (Type B)

Dom Brown is pretty typical failed prospect in that his bat didn’t really play in the majors outside of like one month, but there was enough raw talent to give him playing time in hopes he figures it out. He didn’t, but it didn’t really matter because the Phillies would have been awful no matter what.

Ryan Howard’s contract is mercifully ending this year after a fun five years in which only once did he even reach replacement level. Even then, it’s worth remembering that Ryan Howard at one point was a quality player. Take a look back at this wonderful article from 2010 which listed Ryan Howard in the same breath as Garret Anderson and Francisco Rodriguez as Hall of Fame candidates.

Pitsburgh Pirates: Jose Tabata (Kind of Type C, Kind of Type B)

Okay, Tabata is a bit of a stretch of a true black hole since he had stretches as an okay player, but he still racked up a ton of plate appearance for a guy without any above-average baseball skills. But his contract made him worth keeping around because it was ridiculously cheap even for an average player, which Tabata has been on occasion. He’s not really a black hole in that you don’t get a feeling of dread when he gets starts, but the other option for the Pirates were Jason Bay’s bad 2007 season, which only makes the cut because of arbitrary endpoints, and Ronny Cedeno, who is just another boring utility guy.

St. Louis Cardinals: Daniel Descalso (Type A)

Despite their success, the Cardinals have had some trouble producing quality infielders, at least until this season. They tried Pete Kozma, who could not hit at all; Skip Schumaker, who could not field at all; and Descalso, who could neither hit nor field, but could hit better than Kozma and field better than Schumaker. To be fair, Descalso could manage an almost average-ish OBP, which I guess has some value when you’re a shortstop. Also, the Cardinals can just spawn quality players by mixing together dirt, Bud Light, and David Eckstein sweat, so don’t feel bad for them because they had to start a utility infielder for a couple of years.

San Diego Padres: Alexi Amarista (Type A)

Oh look! A middle infielder who can’t hit! For some reason, the 2015 Padres allowed Amarista to bat 357 times while sporting a 49 wRC+. In fact, he started three games in left field at the end of the season. The Padres were swept and Amarista went 1-12, which sounds exactly like what you would expect would happen.

San Francisco Giants: Bengie Molina (Eh… doesn’t really fit any of them)

Bengie Molina only managed a .300 OBP once in San Francisco, but it’s probably for the best anyway. Why would you want to watch him run the bases?

Seattle Mariners: Like everyone (All types)

The Mariners literally have all the bases covered in terms of players that make you feel sad. They had a boatload of failed prospects: Justin Smoak, Mike Zunino, and even Dustin Ackley. They experienced the abject misery of Chone Figgins forgetting how baseball works. Yuniseky Betancourt. But probably most underrated in their awfulness was Jose Lopez, who had more PAs with the Mariners in the past ten years than anyone except Kyle Seager and Ichiro, despite ranging anywhere from meh to sadness offensively, while never really impressing with the glove. If Mariners fans weren’t so used to awful baseball players, Lopez’s feats might stand out a bit more.

Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays: Dioner Navarro (Type C)

You most likely don’t remember, but Navarro was an All-Star in 2008. He actually was hitting pretty well for a catcher, but his terrible baserunning kept his season from being much more than average. The rest of his time in St. Petersburg was not nearly so average — excluding that 2008 season, Navarro posted a 68 wRC+ in Tampa and only once broke a .300 OBP.

Texas Rangers: Prince Fielder (Type B)

I don’t think the Tigers get enough credit for turning this disaster of a contract into Ian Kinsler but what a move it was. Fielder has basically become Ryan Howard since arriving in Texas except that Rangers fans don’t get to look back fondly at his previous productive years and contribution to a championship.

Toronto Blue Jays: Lyle Overbay (Type A)

Now to the Blue Jays’ credit, they haven’t given all that much playing time to bad players in the past ten years. And to Overbay’s credit, he wasn’t a bad hitter — just not a good one, particularly for a guy who can’t field. Overbay just isn’t the kind of guy you want starting for an extended period of time, which is what he did in Toronto for four seasons.

Washington Nationals: Felipe Lopez (Type A)

Lopez did not spend a lot of time in the District of Columbia. He was traded there by the Reds in what is possibly the largest trade of inconsequential players ever. Austin Kearns was the centerpiece, and I guess he was a nice little player for a few years, but also involved were Ryan Wagner, Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Brendan Harris, and Darryl Thompson, who were all at one point major-league players. Also involved was Royce Clayton, who actually retired in 2003, but all the bad teams in the NL didn’t get the memo and kept trying to start him anyway.

Back to Lopez — he was released by the Nats in July 2008, so he did most of his damage in a relatively short period. Lopez, like most of the rest of these guys, could neither hit nor field at an acceptable level, but continued to start pretty much full-time for Washington.

You just spent the last few minutes of your life reading about bad baseball players. Luckily, it was mostly about other teams’ bad players, so you probably aren’t too sad.

Besides, you got to think about Donovan Solano for what is likely the last time in your life.

Jaack is a pseudonym bestowed by one Jeff Sullivan upon a humble Fangraphs participant. His interests include Barry Bonds, Rutherford B. Hayes, and very bad baseball players.

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