AL Least Valuable Players

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We have begun the discussion of the Most Valuable Playoff award and will continue to do so for quite some time.  What stats should count most?  Should pitchers be eligible?  How much does your position count?  Should it be necessary to play for a contender?  Statheads like me would prefer we use ‘advanced metrics’ over lineup-dependent counting stats like RBI, but even if you agree with that (and probably think Curtis Granderson shouldn’t be MVP this year) there is still going to be contention over which metrics are quote-unquote best.  One sticky question in particular will come up:  should we be trying to find the most talented player or the player who has meant the most to his team this season?  The second option seems to be the one that would fit best with the concept of a “valuable” player – and suggests that we need to look at situational (clutch) hitting (and, potentially, pitching) in addition to stats that are purely individual and designed to be independent of game stats and therefore unbiased – like OPS or WAR.

WPA is a great measure of just how “valuable” a player has been – but even assuming you like the idea that it is situationally biased it leaves out the player’s contributions on defense or on the basepaths and ignores the fundamental fact that certain positions are much more difficult for a manager to fill.  By WPA, Jose Bautista is leading the AL by a mile with over 8 wins added.  If we look at WAR – which does include all of those things that are missing from WPA in addition to ignoring game states – Jacoby Ellsbury  beats out Bautista by a third of a win.  The reason is simple, Ellsbury plays a more difficult defensive position and does it well.

Of course, you saw the title of this piece and you know that most valuable players are not really what I want to talk about…  what I’m interested in looking at is which players have been the worst this season, contributing the least to their teams and filling their fans hearts with misery and grief.   You all probably have some ideas already (Brandon Inge?), but follow through the jump and we’ll see how the players of the American League stack up using those advanced metrics:

Now since those two metrics – which both equally “valid” depending on what you think the proper way to evaluate a player’s performance is – can give such different results, I’m going to have to do this twice:  first by WPA and second by WAR.

So without further ado, the 2011 American League All-Scrub Team!

1B:  Adam Dunn, CWS:  -2.46 wins.   [MVP Miguel Cabrera +7.04]

No big surprise here, the big donkey’s horrible season at the plate has been the talk of the league all season long

2B:  Gordon Beckham, CWS: -2.00 wins.   [MVP Robinson Cano +2.49]

By the numbers alone, this really should belong to Aaron Hill (he of the GIDP) for his horrible 4 months in Toronto, but he has actually      hit very well after being traded to the Diamondbacks.  Becks has been bad overall, but much worse in the clutch – a common theme for  anyone with a WPA so low.

SS:  Alcides Escobar, KC: -5.08.   [MVP Yunel Escobar +2.13]

Sure, Alcides Escobar is a defensive specialist that tends to hit near the bottom of the order, but he still has an OPS higher than Adam Dunn!  The fact that he has cost his team 5 wins at the plate is solely to do his amazing ability to choke.

3B:  Chone Figgins, SEA: -2.41.   [MVP Evan Longoria +2.94]

Figgins used to be able to hit, right?  What happened?

C:    Kurt Suzuki, OAK: -3.31.   [MVP Alex Avila +2.71]

Suzuki’s numbers don’t look that bad – if your stats are situationally independed.  Kurt Suzuki has the lowest clutch stat of any qualified batter in the AL this year – that’s the number that compares how well you hit when it counted to how well you hit when it didn’t – making him the only player more likely to choke than Alcides Escobar.

LF:  Carl Crawford, BOS: -1.92.   [MVP Josh Hamilton +5.32]

You knew that the Crawford signing hadn’t gone well.  Now you can attach a meaningless number to it.  If anyone cares, his runner-up is Delmon Young…

CF:  Alex Rios, CWS: -3.82.   [MVP Jacoby Ellsbury +5.38]

Noticing a trend on this list?

RF:  David DeJesus, OAK: -1.94.   [MVP Jose Bautista +8.13]

Another entry on the All-Scrub list, another guy I wanted the Tigers to acquire.  Don’t listen to my advice when it comes to filling out the roster.

SP:  Brad Penny, DET: -2.81.   [MVP Justin Verlander +5.01]

I want to make one thing clear:  Brad Penny is not the worst starter in the American League.  He’s just the worst starter in the American League to make 30 starts.  Brian Matusz, who was battered and abused by the Tigers this afternoon, is runner up in WPA despite making only 11 starts.  He is clearly pitching worse than Penny, still stats are what they are and they aren’t exactly lying.  Penny has contributed little to nothing to the Tigers pennant run.

RP:  Fernando Rodney, LAA: -1.87.   [MVP David Robertson +4.32]

We all remember Rodney pitching (mostly) well wearing the Olde English D, but this year he hasn’t quite been himself.  To put it in terms you’ll all understand – his numbers look an awful lot like David Purcey’s, but he’s been used a lot when the game was on the line.

Based on WPA alone, we’d say that the Least Valuable Player in the AL this year was Alcides Escobar – but that is a textbook case of the weaknesses of WPA compared to WAR.  Not only is Escobar’s low score more a function of his poor clutch performance than his (very real) offensive ineptitude – he is a very good defender at a premium defensive position.  So before we decide on one single AL LVP, follow through to the next page to see the WAR All-Scrubs.