Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Your Team's Worst Best Player, Part II: The Central

By Bill

Time to continue my look at each franchise's worst position (at least at the top) -- in other words, the player from each franchise who would be the "weak link" of that franchise's all-time lineup -- using Fangraphs' WAR Grids. Part I, covering the AL and NL West, is here, along with a fuller explanation of the rules and methods. This time, I'll just dive on in:

NL Central
Cubs: center field, Hack Wilson (37 WAR)
He was only a Cub for six years, but the sad thing is that those six years pretty much made his entire career (bracketed by about 9 WAR in parts of seven seasons with the Dodgers, Giants and Phillies), and sadder enen than that is that for those six years, he found himself in the Hall of Fame. He was very good in five of his six Cubs years, but that's just not nearly enough. He's in, of course, because of the year he had in the offense-crazy 1930 season, batting .356 with 56 homers and a record 191 RBI.

Reds: right field, Ken Griffey, Sr. (27 WAR)
Bad break for the Redlegs, as Frank Robinson played a bit more than half his outfield innings in left with the Reds, leaving Griffey as far and away the team's worst best player. Not that Griffey was a bad player, by any means. He had excellent years in 1976 and '77, helping lead the team to their second consecutive World Championship in the latter, and was an above-average player for most of the rest of his Reds career. But being the original MLB team, you'd expect them to have a better showing than this at every position. If Frank slides over to right, the worst position becomes either left field or third base (George Foster or Heinie Groh, both around 45 WAR), which is much more respectable.

Astros: catcher, Alan Ashby (11 WAR)
The Astros' history is pretty long by this point, and their luck with catchers has just never been anything but awful. Well, okay, they moved Craig Biggio off of catcher to preserve his legs, so that wasn't bad luck so much as a shrewd move. But otherwise? Ugly. Mitch Melusky had a strong debut in 2000, but was injured and fizzled out. J.R. Towles was a promising prospect a few years ago, but in four years of cups of coffee in the big leagues, has amassed 319 plate appearances with a .189 batting average and .600 OPS. The top prospect in their weak system heading into 2010 was Jason Castro, who was horrible last season and now is out for the year with a knee injury. So, to quote no one in any way at all ever: "Alan Ashby's the man." His ten years as a mostly below-average part-time starting catcher leave him atop a really depressing, foul-smelling pile.

Brewers: right field, Sixto Lezcano (19 WAR)
Milwaukee has an impressive all-time infield for an expansion team -- led of course by Yount and Molitor -- but the outfield, since we're counting Yount a shortstop, is depressingly weak, and especially so in right. Somehow Jeromy Burnitz shows up ahead of Lezcano on the grid (both with 19 WAR), but if you add them up, Lezcano's career comes out about .2 WAR ahead of Burnitz as the "best" Brewer right fielder ever. And both were solid players, just not what you think of as "all-time team" players. Much of Sixto's value comes from an excellent season he had in 1979, with 28 homers and a .321/.424/.523 slash line. The rest of his value comes from the fact that his name is "Sixto."

Pirates: first base, George Grantham (27 WAR)
Willie Stargell shows up first on the list, but he played significantly more in left field than at first. Which is good, because if Stargell counts at 1B, another Hall of Famer (Bill Mazeroski) makes this list. Grantham was a good hitter, but was often injured, and doesn't seem to have been much of a fielder (which makes it funny that he spent nearly half his time at second base). The Pirates have a Hall of Famer who spent a significant amount of his career in Pittsburgh at every position except catcher (where Jason Kendall is at the top -- remember how great he was back then?), but the first baseman is Jake Beckley, who (a) wasn't that great and (b) didn't play there quite long enough to top Grantham. He's at 25 WAR.

Cardinals: center field, Jim Edmonds (44 WAR)
With Albert, Rogers, Stan, Ozzie, and one of the best catchers in Ted Simmons, this might be the only all-time lineup that could rival the Yankees' (check back on Friday). Edmonds, as you know, was a great player, thanks largely to the six consecutive excellent years he had while wearing red. If Edmonds' Cardinal years are your team's weakest link, that's an awesome team.

AL Central
White Sox: right field, Harold Baines (29 WAR)
Baines was primarily a DH, of course, but since I'm ignoring the designated hitter for these purposes, he gets credited as a right fielder, where he spent almost all of his innings in the field. Which means only that he spares Magglio Ordonez, he of eight seasons and 24 WAR, from being an even less impressive entry from one of the AL's original franchises. Baines had two really good years with the bat (both with Chicago), but was never enough of an asset in other areas of the game to be a great player. Or even, usually, a pretty good one. Yet, Jon Heyman equates him with Bert Blyleven, an above-average-for-the-Hall pitcher. Because that's how Heyman rolls.

Indians: catcher, Victor Martinez (23 WAR)
Wondering if I should've made it a 30% adjustment for catchers rather than 20, because Albert Belle (an even 30.0 WAR with Cleveland) would've made for a more interesting discussion. But anyway, you know all about Victor, a very good hitting catcher whose defense drags his WAR down a bit. He's virtually tied with Steve O'Neill, a pretty decent catcher from the Tris Speaker years whose jump from 1918 to 1919 would have people today whispering about steroids.

Tigers: third base, Travis Fryman (27 WAR)
This one isn't close. Catcher Bill Freehan should be in the Hall, and first baseman Norm Cash has a case. Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell are obvious Hall of Famers, and then you've got Kaline and Cobb, plus Bobby Veach, who was awfully good. Third base is at around half the WAR of the second-least prolific position. Fryman was a star when he came up with the Tigers, for his rifle arm and his power potential, but he never really developed all that much from there. His best year was in 1993, at age 24, and he dropped off quite a bit after that.

Royals: right field, Danny Tartabull (18 WAR)
I was sure the answer here would be shortstop Freddie Patek (20 WAR), but the right field situation is just ugly. Tartabull spent five seasons with the Royals from 1987 to 1991 -- mostly as an incapable right fielder, with some time at DH. He was an excellent hitter, but gave much of it back on defense, topping out at 4.9 WAR in '91. After Tartabull comes Al Cowens (11 WAR, with a single above-average year in powder blue) and Jermaine Dye (8 WAR, produced entirely in 1999 and 2000).

Twins: third base, Eddie Yost (34 WAR)
I'm surprised Yost gets credited with just 34 wins, while putting up a career .389 OBP in nearly 7500 PA with the Senators. Total Zone simply hates his defense, charging him with 96 runs below average during his time with the team. Joe Mauer is currently the franchise's top catcher at 33 wins, putting him well past Yost after the catcher adjustment; prior to Mauer, catcher would have been easily the SenaTwins' weakest position, with Earl Battey at 27 WAR.


KL Snow said...


If Sixto Lezcano is the Brewers' worst, then who do you have as their catcher?

Bill said...

Ah, good question. As I explained in the original post but only alluded to here, I gave catchers a 20% boost to their total WAR. Catchers just don't tend to get on the field consistently enough to pile up numbers, so without an adjustment like that, they would totally dominate this kind of list.

So: the Brewers' top catcher was B.J. Surhoff. He had exactly 17 WAR with Milwaukee, but that gets adjusted to 20.4, just enough to push him past Sixto and Jeromy.