Before I show the numbers, I want to remind you all for the purposes of scale that WPA is relative to average (it has to be) whereas WAR is relative to some theoretical replacement level baseline. Therefore extreme low numbers are rare in WAR, in a sense they are deflated already.
1B: Adam Dunn, CWS: -2.8. [MVP Miguel Cabrera +6.7]
Big surprise. Defense is a big component of WAR, and by far the most contentious one statistically speaking, so we will often see guys at the bottom of the league who are weak at the plate and abysmal with the glove. So the real surprise here is that Dunn makes the top (bottom) despite only playing about 30 games in the field at first. The kicker: he has been so bad when he has put on a glove that his fielding component is still among the worst in the league.
2B: Cord Phelps, CLE: -1.0. [MVP Dustin Pedroia +7.7]
Normally a guy has to fail repeatedly over the long grind of a full season in order to wind up at the bottom of the league in WAR – but on certain rare occasions a guy can see limited play but be so bad in all facets of the game that he is outshined by every single other player at that position. Cord Phelps has been one such case in 2011.
SS: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, MIN: -1.4. [MVP Jhonny Peralta +4.8]
It’s past time that we add Nishioka’s name to list of colossal failures among last year’s free agent deals, if you count all the money that Minnesota paid just to get the rights to talk to Nishioka he was anything but cheap. He hasn’t played a full season, but he has been bad in the field, bad on the basepaths and has a wOBA currently sitting at .234. As we start to pick through the bones of the Twins 2011 season, bear in mind that it isn’t just the guys they lost to injury or free agency that made them so bad – it’s the spectacular failure of their replacements a la Nishioka.
3B: Chone Figgins, SEA: -1.2. [MVP Adrian Beltre +5.3]
Admit it, you’re surprised it wasn’t Brandon Inge. Inge has been bad, and his overall WAR is negative, but Figgins has underhit (is that the opposite of ‘outhit’?) Inge in every single relevant category – winding up with a .218 wOBA to Inge’s .247. Just remember, Tigers fans: it could be worse.
C: Drew Butera, MIN: -0.9. [MVP Alex Avila +5.6]
Catcher is, of course, a premium defensive position and Drew Butera is actually quite a good defensive catcher – something you can’t usually say about players with negative WAR numbers. The problem? Offensive incompetence so extreme it led to a wOBA of .197. Surely the Twins should have had some other warm body that they could stick in there to play catcher, right? Well, they did. His name Rene Rivera and he wound up third lowest among AL catchers with an OPS lower than Butera’s and an identical .197 wOBA.
RF: Magglio Ordonez, DET: -0.9. [MVP Jose Bautista + 8.5]
Finally another of our very own 2011 goats, the withered husk of Magglio Ordonez. Started out with an ice cold 5 months, but has started to hit like a 35-year-old again in the month of September. His defense on the other hand, is experiencing no such renaissance and is a major factor in his terrible WAR overall.
CF: Alex Rios, CWS: -0.9. [MVP Jacoby Ellsbury +8.8]
Rios has had an amazingly bad season, “mitigated” only by 13 home runs, and he continues to see his name written on the lineup card. He plays a difficult defensive position, but he no longer plays it well. It seems that the whole reason that Rios fares so much less badly using WAR than WPA etc… is that it really is awfully hard to find a good center fielder – which, coincidentally, is why Jacoby Ellsbury’s WAR is so very, very high. How important should that really be for ranking the value of a player? I’m undecided.
LF: Felix Pie, BAL: -2.1. [MVP Alex Gordon +6.4]
Of course Pie has been bad, but to say that he cost his team 13.6 runs relative to the average right fielder – while playing part time??? That kind of extreme variance is what makes a lot of people skeptical of the defensive component of WAR. Carl Crawford is merely mediocre on defense, but since his awful WPA was due more to failures in the clutch (his season has been bad but not Rios bad) he does not make an appearance.
SP: Brian Matusz, BAL: -0.9. [MVP (tie) Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia +7.0]
Ranking by WAR as opposed to WPA, every player is compared to that replacement level baseline so it isn’t possible to go negative simply by playing more replacement level baseball – like Brad Penny. This gives Matusz the edge, since he hasn’t been on the mound as much but has been really, genuinely awful when he has.
RP: Jon Rauch, TOR: -0.6. [MVP David Robertson +2.7]
Rauch is a pure flyball pitcher, so when things aren’t going well it tends to result in a lot of home runs. That’s what happened this year. In general I don’t like WAR as a way to rate relievers, since situational pitching is fundamentally what they do – but look at that freaking David Robertson… He leads AL relievers in WAR and WPA and he’s just ‘some other guy’ behind the Yankees’ big money top two? It’s worth noting that while the Twins don’t have the worst reliever in the AL by WPA or WAR they do have a number of relievers with negative scores in one metric or the other. So… it has been a team effort to make the Twins ‘pen as bad as it has been.
So… you’ve seen the numbers, who do you think deserves to be the 2011 AL LVP? It should be, at least in my mind, someone who looks bad no matter what metric you use. Alcides Escobar, though he has the worst WPA, actually has a WAR of 2.1 due to his good defense, the position he plays, and the fact that the measure ignores clutch performance. Escobar is still on the list, though, because clutch performance isn’t something that we should ignore. AND, his WPA is soooo bad that if we give him the almost 1 win benefit his good glove gives him in WAR, he would still have a lower WPA than anyone else on the list. Kurt Suzuki, likewise, doesn’t look that bad using WAR (and certainly doesn’t compare to Drew Butera’s all-around play). Of course, there are some guys who look awful by any measure – but not quite at the bottom of the league at their position. Many of them are Twins. Only one entry from that list will make it to our poll: Matt Capps, standing in for the rest of the Twins bullpen.
There are, of course, a lot of things to consider… How much does position count? Should pitchers be eligible? Should it be necessary that a guy played at least most of the season, or can he have done so little in such a short time that he undershoots the other dregs? And perhaps most importantly: must it be a team that could have been good, if only that one guy had carried his weight? [You know I’m talking about Dunn and Rios]