Rob Johnson (SDP). Most backup catchers hit fairly lightly, it’s true, so the Padres probably aren’t too upset at his complete lack of production, but it’s pretty rare that a Major League Baseball player has an AVG, OBP, and SLG under 250. If Johnson’s slugging falls five points, that’s exactly what he’ll be. Beyond that, he’s lost 0.2 wins defensively. Not a good combination.
Dioner Navarro (LAD). Johnson’s neighbor to the north, Navarro isn’t putting up much better numbers – especially considering he’s had two seasons with an OPS+ of 100 or better, and his 94 OPS+ in his previous stint in Los Angeles (2005). If he continues on his current pace, he will post his third consecutive negative-WAR season since his All-Star year, 2008. Unlike Johnson, however, Navarro has a positive dWAR, so at least there’s that.
Aubrey Huff (SFG). Those of you who remember watching Huff struggle in Houston in 2006, only to turn around and have a couple of strong seasons in Baltimore, already know that he is an often-frustrating player to watch. Imagine, then, Giants fans – who saw Huff post 5 Wins Above Replacement last year, only to put together a -1.3 bWAR so far this season. He’s done it by slugging worse than he ever has in his career, but the real damage has been done on defense, where he’s lost 1.2 wins.
Lyle Overbay (PIT). When the Pirates signed Overbay to a $5-million deal this offseason, they likely weren’t expecting the .230/.306/.356 line he’s put together so far this year, or the seven errors he’s accumulated at the halfway point of the season.
Jorge Cantu (SDP). Even with an offensive decline in 2010, Cantu looked like a solid offseason pickup for the Padres, who was expected to platoon at first base with Brad Hawpe and backup Chase Headley at third for the Friars. But after watching him stumble to a .194/.232/.285 line through 155 plate appearances, the Padres requested release waivers for him on June 21.
Bill Hall (HOU/SFG). Arguably the Astros’ biggest offseason acquisition, Hall’s tenure with the team only lasted 46 games, during which he hit just .224/.272/.340 before he was released from the worst team in baseball. The Giants, no doubt thinking that Hall deserved another chance after the 104 OPS+ he put up in 2010 with the Boston Red Sox. It’s still only 12 games into his San Francisco career, but he’s already lost almost half (0.4) of the Wins he lost in almost four times as many games in Houston.
Dan Uggla (ATL). Uggla is a two-time All-Star, and finished third in the ROY voting in 2006. Last season, he won a Silver Slugger award and finished in the top twenty in MVP voting. This season, he’s hitting just .175/.241/.330 while remaining the butcher in the field he’s been his entire career.
Wilson Valdez (PHI). Certainly, starting Valdez at second base thirty-one times wasn’t Plan A for the Phillies, but it hasn’t exactly hurt in their quest to be the best team in baseball, despite the 0.6 wins he’s lost for them, mostly on the defensive side of the ball.
Casey McGehee (MIL). After two consecutive seasons with an OPS+ well over 100, McGehee looked to be one of the rising stars in Milwaukee, but he’s struggled so far this season, posting just a .221/.272/.305 line, and is on pace to hit just half as many home runs as he did in 2009, his career low (16) – far off of the 23 he hit last season.
Chris Johnson (HOU). Johnson hasn’t exactly hit poorly this season, though he hasn’t hit particularly well, either. He’s well off of the pace he set his rookie season, dropping 65 points in batting average; 53 points in on-base percentage; and 88 points in slugging percentage. But he’s third among NL third basemen in errors, which has helped him lose an amazing 1.6 wins on defense alone.
Jose Lopez (COL/FLA). Another former All-Star, Lopez struggled mightily at the plate in his first season for Colorado – so much so (.208/.233/.288) that the Rockies released him. Enter the Marlins, who picked him up after his release. It took just twelve games, during which he performed even worse (.103/.161/.138) for them than he did for Colorado, before Florida decided to designate Lopez for assignment.
Yuniesky Betancourt (MIL). Sure, the right side of the Brewers’ infield are starting the All-Star game for the National League, but between Betancourt and McGehee, the other half of the infield holds down the fort in the All-Bergen team.
Edgar Renteria (CIN). 1996 ROY runner-up, 5-time All-Star, two-time MVP top twenty candidate, two-time Gold Glove winner, 3-time Silver Slugger. But his tenure in Cincinnati has been less than stellar. Just 1 home run through 150 plate appearances, a .315 OBP, and a .282 SLG is far off of his pace.
Raul Ibanez (PHI). Prior to 2011, Ibanez had posted 10 straight seasons with an OPS+, so the 84 he’s put together so far this year is pretty surprising. In fact, it’s his lowest since 2000, the last year of his first stint in Seattle. He’s on pace to lose as many wins this year defensively as last (1.2,) but is also on pace to drop his oWAR by 2.5.
Tyler Colvin (CHC). Colvin was a pleasant surprise last year in Chicago, so they can be forgiven for thinking that he would continue to grow and flourish. But he’s dropped more than 400 points in OPS this season, which hasn’t offset his improved defense. He’s currently on pace to hit one-fifth as many home runs this year as he did last year. The upside is that Colvin is just 25 this year, and has plenty of time to return to form.
Ryan Spilborghs (COL). Spilborghs has quietly put together a nice career in Colorado, including three seasons with an OPS+ over 100. He’s well off the pace this season this year, however, down in almost every offensive category and losing almost as many wins (.04) defensively as offensively (0.5).
Willie Bloomquist (ARI). What’s always amazing to me isn’t that Willie Bloomquist continues to struggle as a Major League player, but rather that he continues to get chances. The 85 OPS+ he posted last year (split between Cincinnati and Kansas City) was the highest of his career; he has a career .652 OPS; and he’s had a negative dWAR in almost every professional season in which he’s played.
Mark Kotsay (MIL). The 35-year-old Kotsay is down over a hundred points from his career OPS this season, and after posting his worst statistical season of his career in 2010, he’s brought it down even farther this year.
Willie Harris (NYM). Harris has traditionally hit fairly lightly, but this year he’s not hitting too poorly. Unfortunately, his defense has declined in recent years. He had -0.2 dWAR in 2009, -0.3 in 2010, and -0.4 so far this year.
Jerry Sands (LAD). Just 23 years old, Sands has been pressed into service this year for the Dodgers, largely because of a number of injuries they’ve faced. Sands has been a superstar in the minors, however, belting 35 home runs last year between Great Lakes and Chattanooga. He’s a bright star on Los Angeles’ horizon, but his Major League season in 2011 has been far less than stellar.
Eric Patterson (SDP). Patterson hit just .214 in 2010 between Oakland and Boston, but apparently the Padres saw enough potential in him to make him the Player To Be Named Later in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Through 103 plate appearances, he was hitting just .180/.272/.292, and was designated for assignment on June 9 before he could do any more damage.
Up next: AL Pitchers.
Bill Bergen, a catcher with the Cincinnati Reds (1901-03) and the Brooklyn Superbas (1904-11), is quite possibly the worst position player in the history of baseball.
Now, that’s not to say that Bergen wasn’t without merit. He was considered a superior defensive catcher, and holds the record (6) for most base stealers thrown out in a single game. Of course, he also finished in the top 5 in Passed Balls three times in his career.
But never mind that.
Bill Bergen amassed an 11-year career – 3,228 plate appearances – despite never posting a WAR above -0.6. His career -15.0 WAR places him well at the bottom of position players all-time.
So it seems fitting that the “anti-All-Star” team should be named after him.
I’ve put together a list of the Major League players with the lowest WAR totals so far this season in my all-new “All-Bergen Team.”
It would be a misnomer to call these the worst players in baseball. After all, to really accumulate negative WAR, you have to have some sort of staying power. To even be considered, players had to have a minimum of 100 PA or 20.0 IP at the Major League level.
So these are, instead, the consistently-worst players in MLB this year.
There were a few no-brainers. The two teams (our beloved Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins) with the most players represented (five each) have also been the two teams to have spent the most time in the bottom of the standings. The best team in the AL (the New York Yankees) did not have any representatives at all.
Of course, there were a few surprises, as well. The best team in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies, had two players on the list. Only three teams did not have any players on the list – as mentioned, the Yankees. But also the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves.
Outside of the Yankees, no team in the American League had fewer than two. Several teams in the NL (the Nationals, Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, and San Francisco Giants) had fewer than two.
Most surprising, perhaps, is that only two of these players – Bill Hall and Jose Lopez – have been released from their teams outright.
Rules for selection were similar to the All-Star game. 34 players, including 13 pitchers, and at least two players from each position. Obviously, there was no rule that each team had to have a representative. I simply laid it all out there.
And now, presenting to you the 2011 Mid-Season(ish) All-Bergen Team, starting today with the American League position players:
Jeff Mathis (LAA). Mike Napoli, The oft-injured Angels’ all-time leader in home runs by a catcher, had a bit of a tumultuous offseason – traded by the Angels to the Blue Jays as part of the Vernon Wells deal (more on Wells later), and then again by the Blue Jays to the Rangers for pitcher Frank Francisco. Part of the reason was to end a long-standing position battle with Mathis, as well as to make room for rookie catcher Hank Conger. The decision hasn’t exactly worked out well for the Angels, as Mathis has lost 2.0 wins this season, more than Napoli (1.3) has won.
Drew Butera (MIN). In Kevin Smith’s “Clerks,” hero Dante Hicks is famous for his decree, “I’m not even supposed to be here today.” No doubt Butera feels the exact same way. When perennial MVP candidate, three-time batting champion, and three-time Gold Glove winning catcher Joe Mauer went down with bilateral leg weakness after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason, Butera – who never hit above .235 in the minor leagues – was pressed into service. He’s struggled mightily at the plate – so much so that, like Bill Bergen himself, his strong arm never really compensated for it. Bergen ranks 5th in the AL with 37.9% of baserunners caught.
Justin Morneau (MIN). In 2010, a strong season by Justin Morneau was cut short when he suffered a concussion, and it seems as if he’s been battling injuries ever since. There’s no doubt that Morneau – a former MVP – is a very good player when healthy, but the key word is healthy. In his 231 plate appearances this season, he’s managed to go just .225/.281/.338.
Daric Barton (OAK). In three of his four previous Major League seasons, Barton has posted an OPS+ over 100. In the fourth, he managed a respectable 85. The former Cardinals first rounder and Baseball America Top 100 prospect has struggled out of the gate so far this season, however, and was sent down to Triple-A in June, but not before losing .4 wins.
Luke Hughes (MIN). This one is a bit misleading, as the Australian Hughes has actually played more at first base than second for the Twins, but he has played over 147 innings at 2B this season, and has given up .1 runs, which actually isn’t terrible, but the overall AL class is pretty good here.
Jack Wilson (SEA). Wilson is a former All-Star with the Pirates and won a share of the triples crown (tying Juan Pierre and Jimmy Rollins) in 2004. But since moving to Seattle, he simply hasn’t been very good. This season, he’s actually responsible for .1 win above replacement, but again, stiff competition in the AL landed him on the All-Bergen squad. Generally known as a shortstop, he’s played enough innings to qualify, though two of his teammates – Adam Kennedy and Dustin Ackley – have him beaten in WAR at the position.
Chone Figgins (SEA). After the 2009 season, ESPN’s Gordon Edes called Figgins “probably… the third baseman most likely to be in demand, especially given his versatility.” The Mariners snapped him up to replace Adrian Beltre, who had failed to live up to the hype surrounding his 2004 season, when he finished second in the MVP voting to Barry Bonds. Figgins has followed in Beltre’s footsteps, however, and was recently voted by Seattle Magazine as the third-worst player in the history of the franchise.
Brandon Inge (DET). In 2009, Inge was an improbable All-Star, selected in the Final Vote. Two years later, he’s on the DL with mononucleosis and has a batting average below the Mendoza line. His career has been full of these sorts of moments – brilliance followed by impotence. In that same 2009 season, for instance, he entered the Home Run Derby and hit not a single home run.
Felipe Lopez (TBR). Since his 2005 All-Star appearance as a Cincinnati Red, Lopez has been an interesting case study. Now on his seventh team in six seasons (eighth if you count his two Cardinals stints – 2008 and 2010), he entered the season as a fringe player who was expected to serve as a bench player to showcase himself in anticipation of earning a starting nod somewhere in Major League Baseball. He hasn’t done himself many favors, going .216/.248/.320 in his limited playing time.
Reid Brignac (TBR). Just imagine. Had the Astros never traded Ben Zobrist to the Rays for Aubrey Huff, Brignac might well be their starting second baseman today. As it stands, he’s become pretty much the opposite of a super-utility man. Despite the ability to play all over the field, he’s only seen time at shortstop this year for Joe Maddon, and has responded with a 31 OPS+ and a batting average well below the Mendoza line.
Matt Tolbert (MIN). Matt Tolbert was a Freshman All-American at the University of Mississippi in 2002. In 2011, he’s a soft-hitting utility infielder who is hitting just .186/.239/.279 in 141 plate appearances for the Twins, who are struggling with injuries all through their lineup and could probably really use a Freshman All-American right about now.
Adam Dunn (CWS). There can be little doubt that when the Chicago White Sox signed Adam Dunn to a four-year, $56-million contract, they expected more than 7 home runs at the All-Star break, though they might not have been very surprised by the accompanying 103 strikeouts. Dunn has always been a feast-or-famine hitter, but this year is almost entirely famine, as he’s on pace for an OBP almost 50 points lower than his previous career low.
Edwin Encarnacion (TOR). It seems official: If you make a former Cincinnati Red your designated hitter, he’s going to struggle. Like Dunn, Encarnacion was a super-prospect for the Reds once upon a time. He’s struggled with injuries since coming over to Toronto as part of the Scott Rolen trade, and was signed in the offseason by the Oakland Athletics, who non-tendered him before he re-signed with the Blue Jays. No doubt they wish they hadn’t bothered, as his -0.6 WAR makes him – along with Dunn – one of only two Designated Hitters with a WAR lower than the player the Athletics ended up with at the position, Hideki Matsui.
Magglio Ordonez (DET). Ordonez is not a .211 hitter. Ordonez is a career .312 hitter – or at least he was before this season. But this season, he’s more than a hundred points off of his career average. And we won’t even discuss his .286 SLG.
Mike Cameron (BOS). I will always have great respect for Mike Cameron as a player. He’s won three Gold Gloves, with the Mariners, Mets, and Padres, and since 1997, he’s never finished a season with a WAR under 1.0. But this year, he was losing wins on both sides of the ball before Boston designated him for assignment last week.
Rajai Davis (TOR). Rajai Davis has walked just 8 times in 268 plate appearances, and he’s struck out more than six times as often – 51. So it shouldn’t be surprising that his .224/.252/.332 line merits him a starting nod on the All-Bergen team. And yet it is surprising, as he has posted back-to-back .320+ OBP seasons, and in 2009 had an OPS+ of 107. But playing on an aggressive Blue Jays team that led the majors in home runs last year seems to have affected him a great deal. Add to that the -0.8 wins he’s giving up as a defender, and you can see why he’s an All-Bergen this year.
Felix Pie (BAL). It doesn’t seem that long ago when Pie and Angel Pagan were both highly-touted Chicago Cubs prospects, but the “five-tool” Pie has struggled in the Major Leagues. Unable to win the starting center field job from Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds in Chicago, he was traded to Baltimore for Garrett Olson and Henry Williamson prior to the 2009 season. At just 26 years old, Pie still has time on his side, but his numbers have dipped drastically this year from the previous two seasons, in which he posted OPS+ of 98 and 93.
David Murphy (TEX). You still have to think the Rangers got the better end of the 2007 trade that brought Murphy to Texas in exchange for Eric Gagne, as Murphy has finished with an OPS+ over 100 in every season he’s played in Arlington. This year, however, has been one to forget thus far for the lefty, who is slugging just .316, more than a hundred points below his previous career low.
Juan Pierre (CWS). Juan Pierre has always been a frustrating player for fans. Despite a career batting average of .296, he’s never really put it all together, and only twice has he finished a season with an OPS+ over 100. Still, he’s always been able to run. Eleven times, he’s finished a season in the top five in stolen bases, and ranks 29th all-time in career stolen bases. He’s led the league three times, including last season when he had 68. This year, he already has eleven – but it’s come at a cost, as he’s been caught stealing 10 times. The 52% stolen base percentage would easily be the lowest of his career, adding to a pretty frustrating season for a man once considered by many to be the best leadoff hitter in baseball.
Michael Saunders (SEA). Michael Saunders is very young – just 24 years old. So it’s not a cause for great concern when he stumbles out of the gate hitting just .168/.223/.248, especially when it comes with 117 putouts, 1 outfield assist, and 0 errors. But he’ll need to find the stroke he had in Tacoma, where he had an OPS of .922, if he’s going to turn his career around after a rocky start.
Vernon Wells (LAA). Clearly, the Angels were the losers of the Mike Napoli-for-Vernon Wells trade. Not only is Jeff Mathis, Napoli’s successor behind the plate, an All-Bergen, so too is Wells. The three-time Gold Glover is losing 0.6 wins with his glove alone, so the 0.1 he’s gaining with his bat doesn’t carry him very far.
Coming next: N.L. position players.
Every year. Every year, I join in a chorus of statistical slaves railing against the fan vote, this year witnessed by Derek Jeter (14th in WAR* among AL shortstops, with a paltry 0.2) getting a starting nod. Jeter is at least chasing 3,000 hits. There’s even less explanation for Josh Hamilton (1.6 WAR, 12th among AL outfielders.)
But this year, I’m not stopping there. The whole selection process is pretty silly. Bruce Bochy used his managerial picks to give Ryan Vogelsong an All-Star nod, which raised a lot of eyebrows around the league. But Vogelsong (1.9 WAR, 20th among NL starters) isn’t even the worst offender. Jose Valverde made the squad despite a 0.4 WAR (38th among AL relievers,) as did Brandon League, who is tied with him.
And then there’s Jay Bruce, whose 0.9 WAR ranks him 39th among NL outfielders.
Meanwhile, Bochy snubbed his own third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, who leads all NL third basemen with 2.0 WAR. Sandoval isn’t alone; he’s tied at the top with Chase Headley, who also wasn’t voted in. Neither were Ryan Roberts (1.9) – who wasn’t even on the printed All-Star ballot – or Aramis Ramirez (1.6). That’s right, the NL’s starting third baseman, Placido Polanco, ranks fifth. The reserve third baseman, Chipper Jones, ranks tenth.
The second base situation in the AL is almost as bad. Robinson Cano (2.4, 5th among AL 2B) was voted the starter, and Howie Kendrick (3rd with 3.1) is the backup, leaving Dustin Pedroia (1st with 3.7) as proof that even big-market players aren’t exempt. He’ll have company watching the game; the Rays’ Ben Zobrist is 2nd with 3.6 WAR, and also didn’t receive a nod.
David Robertson is tied with his bullpen mate, Mariano Rivera, to lead all AL relievers with a 1.5 WAR, but he’ll be sitting at home, also.
But it is what it is, and most of the guys who belong there end up there, one way or the other. But would it kill Major League Baseball to rectify this situation somehow? Maybe give the General Managers a vote? Maybe SABR? I don’t know; but I do know that something needs to change. The guys who earn All-Star nods must be allowed to play in the All-Star Game.
I’m all for the idea of the fan vote: Fans should be able to watch their favorite players take the field in July against one another. But if a player out-performs every other player at his position, he should be on that field.
As is my tradition, I’ve taken the liberty of creating my own All-Star team, based on statistics, while maintaining current MLB rules (i.e. at least one player from each team**).
So, without further ado, my own choices for the 68 Major League All-Stars:
C: Brian McCann (ATL)
1B: Joey Votto (CIN)
2B: Rickie Weeks (MIL)
3B: Chase Headley (SDP)
SS: Jose Reyes (NYM)
OF: Matt Kemp (LAD), Andrew McCutcheon (PIT), Ryan Braun (MIL)
SP: Roy Halladay (PHI)
Cole Hamels (PHI), Cliff Lee (PHI), Clayton Kershaw (LAD), Jair Jurrjens (ATL), Jonny Venters (ATL), Craig Kimbrel (ATL), Eric O’Flaherty (ATL), Mike Adams (SDP), Carlos Marmol (CHC), Ian Kennedy (ARI), Daniel Hudson (ARI), Matt Cain (SFG)
C Miguel Montero (ARI), 1B Prince Fielder (MIL), 2B Danny Espinosa (WSN), 3B Pablo Sandoval (SFG), SS Troy Tulowitzki (COL), OF Shane Victorino (PHI), OF Michael Bourn (HOU), OF Matt Holliday (STL), OF Carlos Beltran (HOU), 1B Gaby Sanchez (FLA), 2B Brandon Phillips (CIN), OF/1B Lance Berkman (STL), 3B Ryan Roberts (ARI)
C: Alex Avila (DET)
1B: Adrian Gonzalez (BOS)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (BOS)
3B: Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE)
OF: Jose Bautista (TOR), Curtis Granderson (NYY), Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)
DH: David Ortiz (BOS)
SP: Jered Weaver (LAA)
Justin Verlander (DET), CC Sabathia (NYY), Josh Beckett (BOS), James Shields (TBR), David Robertson (NYY), Mariano Rivera (NYY), Jim Johnson (BAL), Aaron Crow (KCR), Sergio Santos (CWS), Felix Hernandez (SEA), C.J. Wilson (TEX), Gio Gonzalez (OAK)
C Matt Wieters (BAL), 1B Miguel Cabrera (DET), 2B Ben Zobrist (TBR), 3B Kevin Youkilis (BOS), SS Jhonny Peralta (DET), OF Alex Gordon (KCR), OF Denard Span (MIN), OF Brett Gardner (NYY), DH Victor Martinez (DET), OF Matthew Joyce (TBR), OF Carlos Quentin (CWS), 2B Howie Kendrick (LAA)
* I calculated WAR by averaging bWAR and fWAR.
** Yankees 6, Red Sox 6, Braves 5, Tigers 5, Diamondbacks 4, Phillies 4, Brewers 3, Rays 3, Reds 2, Dodgers 2, Mets 2, Padres 2, Giants 2, Cardinals 2, Angels 2, Royals 2, Cubs 1, Rockies 1, Marlins 1, Astros 1, Pirates 1, Nationals 1, Blue Jays 1, Rangers 1, Mariners 1, Athletics 1, Twins 1, Indians 1