Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wednesday's Worst

Here at the Twin States Twins Sports Blog we appreciate and admire greatness.  Mike Trout's cycle or Miguel Cabrera going yard yet again can be covered by just about anyone.  What people really like hearing about are just how bad some professional athletes are doing.  Granted these "bad" players are better that just about everyone else, but people always like to know at least they aren't doing as bad at their jobs as someone making 20 times the money.   Every Wednesday, we will look at the five players doing the worst in one statistical category. 

This week will focus on wins above replacement (WAR).  For those of you that are unaware, WAR is an all-encompassing stat that tries to quantify how many wins a player provides for your team over what would be considered the baseline major league baseball player.  This takes into account offense, defense, and baserunning.  According to a variety of sites, a team full of replacement level players would win about 47 ball games (which the Astros and Marlins could seriously challenge) in a standard 162 game season.  Considering that 90 wins is the gold standard for being a legitimate playoff contender, a team needs roughly 43 wins above replacement combined for all players.  A starter in the show should be able to accrue 2.0 WAR without too much difficulty. 

The current five worst players with respect to WAR (according to are:

Jeff Keppinger
Victor Martinez
Paul Konerko
Rickie Weeks
Ike Davis
Matt Kemp

I realize that is actually six players, but there is a three way tie for fourth worst.   Let's break each of these players down individually. 

Jeff Keppinger signed a 3 year/$12M deal with the White Sox this offseason.  He was also being courted by the Yankees to fill in for the injured Alex Rodriguez.  As a Yankees fan, I'm quite glad that he chose to play for the White Sox instead.   His offensive numbers are being drawn down by a miniscule 0.214 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and a utterly ridiculous 1.3% walk rate.  He has only walked twice in 158 plate appearances.  Vlad Guerrero is somewhere thinking he was a patient hitter.   Keppinger has never been a very patient hitter, but if you aren't hitting the ball solid, you might as well try to work a walk every now and then.  He did manage to hit his first home run of the season last night, so things are starting to look up for him.  The low BABIP is 75 points lower than his career number, so you have to believe that he is due for a hot streak in the near future.  Up until now though, Jeff Keppinger is officially the worst player in Major League Baseball.

Victor Martinez is coming back after sitting out all last season with an ACL tear.  His WAR total is highly affected by the negative positional adjustment associated with being a DH, so he has a bit more of an excuse than Keppinger.  However, there's really no excuses for an offensive player this talented to be hitting this poorly.  His BABIP is a low 0.241, which is about 60 points lower than his career average, but the main issue here is the lack of power.  His ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) is lower than such great sluggers as Ichiro, Jose Altuve, and Melky Cabrera Not on Steroids.  Granted Ichiro and Altuve are decent players, but Victor Martinez should be hitting with more authority than those notorious singles hitters.  He hits in the middle of the order with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.  I have a hard time believing he is not getting solid pitches to hit.  Martinez is a talented player, but given the DH positional adjustment, he has a realistic chance to finish the season with a negative WAR.

Paul Konerko is one of my favorite players to watch hit.  He's universally loved by White Sox fans and should be.  However, he is a terrible defensive player and possibly the worst baserunner in professional baseball.  He's clearly on his last legs as a ball player, and it is a shame that he is going out this way.  He's in the last year of his contract, and you have to assume he's retiring at the end of the season.  His walk rate is below career norms and his strikeout rate is above them.  When those two stats are both going in the wrong direction, it's most likely just not going to be a good season.  He's having a bit of bad luck to be sure (.242 BABIP), but this appears to be more of a situation where a player is at the end of his rope.  I hate to see this happen to Paulie, but he's had an outstanding career and will no doubt turn it around some as the season progresses.

Rickie Weeks is an interesting case.  He looked very good a few years ago hitting in front of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and a healthy Corey Hart.  Of course, that protection will make a lot of hitters look good.  Weeks is simply not making contact so far this season.  He's striking out in 29.3% of his plate appearances.  That's going to be tough for most any hitter to overcome.  Couple that with a vastly increased groundball rate, and you're in for a rough patch.  His HR/FB is within reason for his career averages, but he's only getting 25.3% of balls in the air.  This is leading to less power, more groundballs, and a depressed BABIP (.229).  Until he starts putting the ball in play more often and getting it elevated a bit more when he does, he's just not going to be a useful player. 

Ike Davis was lauded last season as a guy that just got unlucky and would be a much better player this season just because of regression.  Clearly that hasn't worked out for him.  His BABIP is a nightmarishly bad .189, but Davis had a low BABIP last season as well (.246).  He is also striking out more than Rickie Weeks (30.6%).  Players are just going to be hard pressed to have success with that much difficulty making contact.  He has hit an inordinate amount of infield popups this season, so there's really no way to expect that to continue.  He is doing slightly better than last season about not swinging outside the zone, but he's making significantly less contact in the zone.  When you're seeing more pitching in the strike zone, but making less contact on those pitches, that's a lot of swings and misses.  Davis has a lot of raw power, but it's hard to tap into the one true skill you have if you can't put the ball in play.

Finally, we get to Matt Kemp.  Raise your hand if you expected Matt Kemp to be this bad so far this season.  For the first couple of months of last season, he was the best player in the NL.  The previous year, he was considered a favorite for the NL MVP.   His BABIP is right at his career averages, so he can't even say he's being that unlucky.  What is happening though is he is not hitting for any power.  He has a total of 11 XBH all season.  He currently has a HR/FB of 4.8% (compared to over 21% the last two seasons).   That number has to increase soon unless he has had his power zapped.  Perhaps he just isn't all the way back from shoulder surgery yet.  Perhaps it's going to be a lost year for him like last season was for Justin Upton.  For the struggling Dodgers, that can't be the case.  The Dodgers spent a ton of money this offseason, but Kemp was still expected to be the superstar.  He hasn't been remotely close to that so far.  Maybe he should worry more about hitting the baseball than dating Rihanna. 

In conclusion, we will update this column every Wednesday.  Let's hope that these names aren't being repeated every week.  Here at the Twin States Twins we hope these guys turn it around and turn into the ballplayers they are capable of being.

--Pinstripe Wizard

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