My Least Valuable Players and other 2009 'anti-award' winners
Yes, I know -- it has to be Yuni. I mean it HAS to be Yuni. And, of course, I do believe that Yuniesky Betancourt is the worst player in the American League. To me, you have a hitter with a 65
Still, I think Vernon Wells wins the 2009 LVP Award. You know, Wells was a good player in 2008 and he was a good player in 2006 so perhaps he's going to have the even-odd thing that
But, if the MVP involves intangibles, well, the LVP must have them too. And what puts Wells over the top is that he is due to make $12.5 million next year, $23 million the next year, $21 million the next year, $21 million the year after that AND $21 million more the year after that. I mean you want to talk about looking into the abyss, well, here it is.
Sure, you might argue that the LVP should be a pure, "Worst player" award, but I don't think so. The Royals could release Betancourt tomorrow or during spring training or mid-season or whenever and it would not kill them financially. They won't release him because they think he's good. But they could. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are BURIED under mounds and mounds of Wellsian Debt. You would have to think that he's done as a center fielder, but he certainly could become a viable hitter again (though he turns 31 in December and that's older than most baseball people want to accept). But with about $100 million due in the next five years, whew...
It is entirely unfair to put Francoeur in the also considered department ... I know this. Francoeur was good for the Mets after he was traded. But I unfairly include him because:
1. He was so legendarily bad with the Braves -- .250/.282/.352 -- that he was well on his way to winning the award before getting traded to the Mets.
2. He was so good with the Mets -- .311/.338/.498 -- that the Mets undoubtedly believe that he is back to being the guy who was on the
However, I would be remiss if I did not point out: They also could be wrong -- after all, over his last 2,500 at-bats Francoeur has an 89 OPS+ and the defensive numbers seem to indicate that he has regressed into a below average outfielder. Francoeur could be a Riddler-like trap, and the Mets could be just about ready to fall in.
But he was not LVP. The worst hitter in the league was Bonifacio, who punched up a 61 OPS+ because he could not get on base (.303 OBP) but made up for this with his lack of power (.308 slugging, though he did hit his first big league homer). The worst fielder in the league was probably
Anyway, put it all together, and including those all-important intangibles, the 2009 LVP is Bradley. He was lousy on defense (minus-12 Dewan in right; minus-4.7 UZR) and not much on offense (99 OPS+ and missed 38 games with injuries). Plus, he was his usual pleasant self... leaving Cubs GM
Bradley did lead the American League in OPS+ in 2008. And to be fair, he was not the worst player in the National League, not really all that close. After a horrendous start in 2009, he hit pretty well for a good chunk of last season. From May 25 through Aug. 29 he hit .300/.431/.454. I suspect he's got something left in the bat.
But he turns 32 in April. And he's Milton Bradley. A scout once told me that Bradley is the only high school player he ever scouted who hit a home run and did not have a single teammate come out to congratulate him. He's only signed for two more years -- he's due $9 million and $12 million. Think about all you get for the money.
Several brilliant readers on my blog pointed out I initially shortchanged Soriano for LVP. That contract is brutal. And I did not realize just how much Soriano's offense AND defense regressed in 2009 -- I thought he was pretty good defensively in 2007 and 2008. He makes a compelling case. I think Bradley, because of his whole game, was the LVP though.
Sure, as you probably predicted, I originally had Kansas City's
Then he went to pitch some independent ball, and he went back in the draft, and then in a total shocker the Royals (who did not officially have a GM in charge at the time) made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 amateur draft. Weird stuff. It didn't help that the draft turned out to be talent rich: Others to go in the first round that year include:
The Royals sent Hochevar to Class AA, where he was utterly mediocre. This prompted a promotion to Class AAA, where he was no good. He was called to the big leagues in 2008 and he went 6-12 with a 5.51 ERA. The Royals saw progress.
But 2009 was weirder than all of that. It was a year when Hochevar shut down the Cincinnati Reds on 80 pitches, had a 13 strikeout-zero walk game against Texas, threw a nine-inning, three-hit gem against the White Sox and tossed seven scoreless innings against the Twins. Beyond that he had six quality starts. So that's 10 good-to-great pitching performances. His other 15, however, were ATROCIOUS. He was 2-11 with two no-decisions, if you care about such things. His ERA was 10.82. He gave up 16 home runs in those 15 games. The league hit .376 against him in those games.
So, I had that all planned out... you can tell because I had all those paragraphs written (and, dammit, I wasn't about to let them go to waste). But then I decided that I really could not give the award to Hochevar. These things are becoming way too Royals-centric. The Royals were not even the worst team in the league.
So, I gave the league another look. And finally I took one look at Jason Berken's season -- it was remarkable. Berken was only a rookie, and there is reason to believe he still has a bright future ahead of him, maybe in the bullpen. So I'm not writing off his future by any means.
But this one year -- wow. He made 24 starts in his rookie season. And I will now give you the best baseball stat you will see today.
The league -- the whole league -- hit .327/.384/.522 against him.
Basically, the whole league was an MVP candidate when Jason Berken was on the hill.
More: With runners in scoring position, the league hit .354/.415/.514. With the bases loaded, the league hit .529 against Berken. So the league was also clutch against him.
Now, we all know that much of what happens to a pitcher is luck-related and defense-related. The league had a very high .344 batting average on balls hit in play. And despite
That poor Brewers pitching staff. Whatever bug hit one hit all of them.
Manny Parra, though, had the toughest year of the bunch. Parra was probably best known coming into this year as the guy who got into that shoving match with
One thing I found interesting -- and this is obviously just a small sample size thing, but still I like it -- is that Parra was 7-6 with a 5.97 ERA on four days' rest but 2-3 with a 10.52 on five days' rest. Maybe he's the kind of guy who pitches better with less rest. Maybe if you pitched him on three days' rest he'd go 8-5 with a 4.74 ERA and go 7-1 with a 2.23 ERA on two days' rest. I just wish teams would try stuff.
And for you Phillies fans... yes,
Lidge absolutely fascinates me -- he's like the
Honest John McCloskey also went 190-417 in his five seasons as a manager in the major leagues. That's a .313 winning percentage... the worst for any manager with at least 500 games. He lost 98, 101 and 105 in his three seasons (1906-08) managing the Cardinals, which is somewhat telling because the Cardinals have not lost 100 games in a season since.*
*This really is kind of incredible: The Cardinals have not lost 95 games in a seasons since 1913, and have not even lost 90 in a season since 1990. They don't always win in St. Louis, but they never really lose -- not much baseball suffering in St. Louis. The Kansas City Royals have had more 100-loss seasons this decade than the Cardinals have had since 1900.
So, it seems perfect to name our Struggling Manager of the Year Award after John McCloskey... because McCloskey was clearly a good baseball man. He was, in fact, a baseball pioneer. Heck, they called him "Honest John." But through a combination of bad luck, bad players, bad choices, drunken pitching performances and so on, Honest John's teams were dreadful. A manager cannot lose on his own. To win the McCloskey truly takes a team effort.
I feel bad being so obvious with the first McCloskey Award -- I really wanted to give it to
The Royals did the little things terribly. They also did big things terribly. In the end, you can blame or excuse baseball managers for anything you like... this gets at the heart of what it means to be a manager. They don't play. They don't draw up plays. There are no chalkboards. There's no time management, really. There are no meaningful timeouts to be called -- baseball, after all, is a game with CONSTANT timeouts. There is no halftime speech. So in baseball, no matter WHAT happens, you can say "Nothing is the manager's fault." Or you can say, "Everything is the manager's fault." And nobody knows for sure.
What we do know for sure about the Royals is this: They were awful as a base running team. They were awful defensively. They manufactured the fewest runs in the American League (according to
How much of that is the manager's fault... everyone decides that on their own. The Royals decided that Trey Hillman did the absolute best he could with what he was given and brought him and most of his staff back. Maybe they are right.
He didn't survive the season -- and he's so well thought of in baseball circles that he has already been hired by the Cleveland Indians to be manager. But for more than a half season, Acta had the Nationals playing more or less like the expansion Mets. I mean, they were 26-61 -- they were playing .299 baseball.
Now, we're back to the premise: How much of a difference can a manager make, anyway? Well, you know what? I'm looking over this roster and though this will sound ludicrous, I just don't think the Nationals are THAT bad. There is some actual talent on that Washington team.
But to the point: Yes, the Nationals were a bad baseball team, but they should have been just that... a bad baseball team, not a team on pace to be legendarily bad.