Anti-All-Stars: Picking MLB's worst of the worst from the first half
With this year’s All-Star rosters set (pending Friday afternoon’s Final Vote results), we wanted to take a look at the first-half’s Anti-Stars: the worst full-time players at every position. But before we can build our team, we need to set up some parameters.
First, eligibility for this Anti-Star team is limited to qualified players who are still in possession of their starting (or closing) job. Platoon players and starting pitchers who have spent time in the bullpen are not eligible, nor are players who have spent significant time on the disabled list. Nearly every player on this Anti-Star team has performed below replacement level on the season; whenever they are on the bench or DL, they are actually making their team better. Also, this is not just a list of the worst hitters in the majors. Defense matters, and if someone is making up for deficiencies at the plate with strong play in the field, he is more valuable than someone who may be slightly more productive at the plate but is also a detriment in the field.
With that squared away, here are your 2016 First-Half Anti-Stars, seven of whom are former All-Stars.
To make it even worse for the A's: Drew Pomeranz, the 27-year-old lefty who was the primary piece sent to San Diego for Alonso in December, has emerged as the Padres’ best starting pitcher with a 2.47 ERA (161 ERA+) and 115 strikeouts in 102 innings.
2B: Brandon Phillips, Reds
Season Stats: .255/.293/.368 (75 OPS+), 6 HR, 31 RBIs, 5 SB (45%), -0.3 bWAR
“How the [expletive] am I declining?” Phillips asked rhetorically in March 2014, clearly unaware that his slash stats, total bases, hits, runs, OPS+ and Wins Above Replacement had all gone down in each of the previous two seasons from his career highs in '11. They declined again in 2014, but Phillips rebounded last year with a 3.5 bWAR season, his best in two years. That now looks like nothing more than a dead-cat bounce. Phillips’s numbers in this, his age-35 season, are his worst since his age-22 season with Cleveland in 2003—so bad that not even his still above-average fielding can rescue him from this indignity.
As for that decline, the numbers don’t lie:
SS: Alexei Ramirez, Padres
Season Stats: .240/.272/.321 (62 OPS+), 3 HR, 30 RBIs, 6 SB (46%), -2.0 bWAR
The Diamondbacks' Nick Ahmed and the Royals' Alcides Escobar have lower OPS+ figures (55 and 60, respectively), but both are superlative fielders, particularly Ahmed, who has the lowest qualified OPS+ in the majors but grades out as above replacement level due to his outstanding play in the field. The 34-year-old Ramirez, whose OPS is identical to Ahmed’s (.593), has been lousy on both sides of the ball and on the bases, where he has been thrown out in seven of his 13 steal attempts. As a result, he ranks dead last among qualified major leaguers at two wins below replacement level.
3B: Eugenio Suarez, Reds
Season Stats: .230/.299/.408 (86 OPS+), 15 HR, 40 RBIs, 6 SB (60%), 0.1 bWAR
Third base may be the strongest position in the majors right now. It is thick with superstar talent—Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado—and not one of the 25 qualified third baseman in the majors is below replacement level. As a result, Suarez is the most valuable hitter among the first-half Anti-Stars.
Suarez is on pace to hit 28 home runs this season, but he’s also on pace to hit just nine doubles. Only four players have ever hit 28 or more home runs with fewer than 10 doubles: Ed Bailey, Dave Kingman, Mark McGwire (twice) and Guz Zernial. As one might expect from such a list, that unusual combination of numbers is indicative of a hitter with enough power to put everything he hits hard over the fence but who struggles to get hits that stay in the yard. A little more luck on balls in play could make Suarez, a former shortstop who is competent but unexceptional at third base, a perfectly acceptable regular for a rebuilding team like the Reds, and at 24, there’s room for growth from there.
C: Russell Martin, Blue Jays
Season Stats: .223/.313/.340 (76 OPS+), 7 HR, 36 RBIs, -0.3 bWAR
Martin’s presence on this list is a fluke. He got off to an absolutely brutal start, hitting .172/.243/.180 through May 24. On May 25, he hit his first two home runs of the season in an 8–4 win over the Mets, and since that game, he has hit .276/.381/.509 with seven home runs in 140 plate appearances, looking every bit like the centerpiece player he was signed to be. Martin is also still among the league’s best pitch-framers. The only aspect of his game that hasn’t already recovered from his poor start is his throwing: He has caught just one of the last 18 men to attempt a stolen base against him, and he has a lousy 15% caught-stealing percentage on the season. That is half the league-average rate, less than half of Martin’s career rate of 32% and barely more than a third of his league-leading 44% from last year.
RF: Yasmany Tomas, Diamondbacks
Season Stats: .255/.302/.451 (94 OPS+), 13 HR, 32 RBIs, -0.4 bWAR
Tomas has shown some of the power that was his primary selling point upon his defection from Cuba, but despite his seven home runs in June, he has remained a below-average bat. What earns him his place on this list, however, is his brutal play in the field. Back in March, I warned that the Diamondbacks’ defense could be their undoing, and with Tomas playing full-time in an outfield that has lost Ender Inciarte and A.J. Pollock, Arizona has sunk from 15th in the majors in park-adjusted defensive efficiency last year to 28th this year. D-backs fans trying to understand what has gone wrong for a team many thought would contend this year should start there.
CF: Billy Burns, A’s
Season Stats: .236/.273/.306 (58 OPS+), 0 HR, 12 RBIs, 14 SB (82%), -0.1 bWAR
Burns owns the worst unadjusted OPS of any qualified hitter in the majors (.579), and he is also dead-last in slugging, third-worst in on-base percentage (above Ramirez and the Phillies' Freddy Galvis) and, even after correcting for his pitcher-friendly ballpark, second worst in OPS+ (after Ahmed). He does make up for some of that with his legs and his glove, but he’s very close to average in the field despite his speed, and the impact of his base running is minimized by how infrequently he actually reaches.
LF: Justin Upton, Tigers
Season Stats: .233/.288/.382 (80 OPS+), 9 HR, 38 RBIs, -0.3 bWAR
Upton’s first half didn’t have the Jekyll and Hyde aspect of Martin’s, but there are indications that his early struggles were little more than just that. Upton woke up on May 31 with a .215/.259/.309 line and just three home runs on the season. That night, he was one of five Tigers to homer against the Angels, taking lefty Hector Santiago deep, and since that game, he has hit .257/.325/.478 with seven home runs in 35 games, a rate of production consistent with his career numbers and accompanied by a reduction in what had been a career-high strikeout rate. Still, those first two months happened, and Upton remains a below-average defensive outfielder.
Given Upton’s early performance, J.D. Martinez’s injury and the struggles of the starting rotation, it’s remarkable that Detroit is just two games out of a wild-card spot and in second place in the AL Central. If Upton can avoid turning back into a pumpkin and the team can get and stay healthy, the Tigers could be dangerous in the second half.
DH: Prince Fielder, Rangers
Season Stats: .217/.298/.349 (69 OPS+), 8 HR, 43 RBIs, -1.0 bWAR
Fielder is yet another veteran who appears to be pulling out of his early-season slump, hitting .274/.371/.462 since June 6. The trouble here is that, at 32 years old and with two fused vertebrae in his neck, Fielder is still not hitting for the kind of power we’re used to seeing from him. There’s also the larger-sample concern that Fielder has hit just .239/.322/.370 in 662 plate appearances since last year’s All-Star break. As a designated hitter whose production was always undermined by his deficiencies outside of the batter’s box and who has four years and $90 million left on his contract, Fielder has to be a major concern for Texas despite his uptick in production over the last month.
RHP: Jered Weaver, RHP, Angels
Season Stats: 7–7, 5.27 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 5.3 K/9, 2.19 K/BB, 5.9 IP/GS, 77 ERA+, -0.5 bWAR
James Shields has worse overall numbers, but he concentrated his bad pitching into a brutal four-start run beginning with his final appearance for the Padres and extending through his first three turns after being traded to the White Sox last month. Before that, he had a 3.06 ERA and eight quality starts in 10 tries for San Diego, and since then, he has a 3.06 ERA and two quality starts in three turns for Chicago.
Weaver, who has the second-worst ERA+ by a qualified righthanded starter in the majors this season and the worst FIP (5.61), has been more consistently awful. Only once all season has he strung together consecutive quality starts, and he allowed four runs in one of those, getting by on the three earned runs qualification. Weaver has the second-lowest strikeout rate by a qualified righthander in the majors (after Mike Pelfrey, who was briefly sent to the Tigers’ bullpen) and the third-highest home run rate (after Ian Kennedy and Josh Tomlin). He has accomplished all of that thanks in part to the slowest fastball by a non-knuckleball pitcher in the majors: Weaver’s 83.7-mph heater is actually slower than knuckleballer Steven Wright’s four-seamer and just barely edges 41-year-old R.A. Dickey’s 82.7-mph straight pitch. Even submarining sinkerballer Brad Ziegler throws harder. So much for the 33-year-old Weaver turning into the next Jamie Moyer.
LHP: Francisco Liriano, Pirates
Season Stats: 5–8, 5.34 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 1.55 K/BB, 5.5 IP/GS, 77 ERA+, -0.5 bWAR
Liriano has just five quality starts in 16 turns; among pitchers with 16 or more starts this season, only Pelfrey, disqualified from this team by his bullpen sojourn, has turned in fewer. Chief among Liriano’s problems this season is that his control has left him again, as he leads the majors with 55 free passes and all qualified pitchers with 5.6 walks per nine innings. As a result, despite striking out nearly one man per inning, he has the fifth-worst strikeout-to-walk ratio among qualified pitchers. The 32-year-old Liriano has also given up home runs at the highest rate of his career this season. In fact, his 14 home runs allowed are just one shy of his total from all of last year and one more than he gave up in all of 2014. That gopheritis has subsided since the calendar flipped to June, but his control problems seem to only be getting worse, as his walk rate since the start of June has swelled to 6.4 per nine.
CL: Tony Cingrani, Reds
Season Stats: 10 SV, 3.20 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 1.33 K/BB, 133 ERA+, 0.9 bWAR
Finding a closer for this Anti-Star team was tricky, as teams tend to have a short leash with them. Cingrani, who took over Aroldis Chapman’s vacated role in Cincinnati in early May, is here not because he’s been awful—his 133 ERA+ and 0.9 bWAR look like Cy Young numbers on this team—but because he has succeeded despite himself. Still, of the five men tied for the major league lead in blown saves with five, Cingrani is one of just two currently closing for his club. The other is Seattle’s Steve Cishek, who has out-pitched Cingrani in every other way this season.
The big strikes against Cingrani are his brutal peripherals. In 39 1/3 innings this season, he has struck out 28 men and walked 21, and with a near-league-average home-run rate, that translates to a 4.83 FIP, the worst mark by any of the current 30 closers. Cingrani has also allowed nine of his 23 inherited runners to score—a 39% rate, compared to the league average of 31%. Only Tampa Bay’s Alex Colome (an actual All-Star) has been worse at stranding runners among current closers who have inherited 10 or more runners on the season.