Friday, March 11, 2011

Your Team's Worst Best Player, Part III: The East

By Bill

So here it is: the final day of the week, and the final installment of my series looking at the worst players (by career WAR) to be the best player each franchise has ever had at the position. I did the west divisions on Monday, and the central on Wednesday, so today, of course, we're tackling the East.

Quick reminders: I'm using Fangraphs' WAR grid to come up with these, and I'm adding 20% to catchers' WAR to avoid having the list be completely dominated by catchers. Here goes:

NL East
Braves: second base, Bobby Lowe (21 WAR)
At every other position, the Braves have a player who put up at least 10 WAR more than Lowe, who played for the Boston Beaneaters from 1890-1900 and never had more than 2.8 WAR in a season. The Braves have had decent second basemen for very short periods (Marcus Giles for a couple years, Davey Johnson for three of 'em, Martin Prado for the last couple, Eddie Stanky for two) and bad second basemen for long periods (Mark Lemke, Glenn Hubbard). They've never had a good one who stayed around, and Dan Uggla probably doesn't figure to be the first.

Marlins: center field, Juan Pierre (10 WAR)
All kinds of jokes are begging to be made here, but this isn't because Pierre is a bad player so much as that he didn't stay at Florida for long. He actually had two pretty good years with the Fish (and a third, much less effective one) and was legitimately a big part of their World Series win in 2003. Cameron Maybin figured to be a good bet to unseat Pierre eventually, but then they traded him to the Padres for no reason. They're now going with Chris Coghlan, who didn't appear able to handle left field defensively, so the title should be Pierre's for some time.

Mets: left field, Cleon Jones (23 WAR)
The Mets don't have any embarrassingly barren positions, but also no great ones: every list is topped by a guy with a WAR in the 20s or 30s. Three of the best position players (Jose Reyes at SS, Carlos Beltran at CF, David Wright at 3B) are currently on the team; wouldn't you think they'd be better? Jones had a huge year for the famous 1969 team, batting .340 with a .422 OBP. He had pretty good years in '68, '70 and '71, too. Otherwise, he was generally a subpar starter.

Phillies: catcher, Darren Daulton (25 WAR)
The Phillies are an original franchise whose all-time team would be marked not so much by a gaping hole at one position as by a lack of real elite superstars; Mike Schmidt is there, of course, but everyone else is (at best) in the 40-60 WAR range. Daulton saw part-time action for five years, had a very poor year as a full-time started in 1989, then suddenly started hitting in '90, at age 28. After another off year, he had two and a half great years with the bat from '92-'94 and was a key member of that memorable 1993 World Series team. That was about it for him as a productive player, though -- I always think of him as having had a longer career than that. He now holds a number of fantastically crazy beliefs, so he'd bring that to the table.

Nationals: shortstop, Chris Speier (11 WAR) 
Maybe the worst position of any franchise in baseball history. Speier is in a dead heat with Orlando Cabrera, both generally underwhelming shortstops with pretty short Expos careers. But at least O-Cab had a couple years as a productive player; Speier put up only one season of over 2 WAR in his over six years with the team, and that was largely dependent on his being credited with ten fielding runs, which is totally out of line with the rest of his career and thus pretty suspect.

AL East
Orioles: catcher, Chris Hoiles (27 WAR)
The upward adjustment to 32.4 puts Hoiles just a few behind Bobby Grich (a much better player with a much shorter O's career). Hoiles was a very good hitter who had a short and injury-plagued career. He hit .310/.416/.585 with 29 homers in 1993, putting up 7.3 WAR, tied for fourth in the AL.

Red Sox: first base, Jimmie Foxx (43 WAR)
Settle down. Foxx is obviously an all-time great, but spent only six seasons (plus 30 games) with the Sox, and had most of his greatest years with the Athletics (though he still had seasons of 9.4, 8.0 and 7.8 WAR in Boston). He just barely falls behind Carlton Fisk (40 WAR) thanks to the catcher adjustment. After Foxx, it's a big drop to Mo Vaughn at #2 (29 WAR), but less big than the drop at second base, where Bobby Doerr's 61 WAR is #1 and Billy Goodman's 24 is #2.

Yankees: third base, Graig Nettles (47 WAR)
Nettles has a Hall of Fame case, but he needs his years with Cleveland to get him there. Upon reflection, I think the Cardinals' might beat the Yanks' (if you picked a team based entirely on primary position and didn't cheat by putting DiMaggio or Mantle in left); the Yankees' strength isn't so much elite players (though obviously Berra, Mantle and Ruth are that) as depth. Nettles, left fielder Charlie Keller and second baseman Willie Randolph aren't exactly overwhelming, but they've each got at least five players behind them who would be the best player at that position for several other teams. Gil McDougald and A-Rod right behind Nettles; White, Meusel and Henderson right behind Keller; Lazzeri and Gordon right behind Randolph. It's a bit depressing, really.

Rays: right field, Ben Grieve (3 WAR)
Oy. You know all about the sad pre-2008 history of the Rays, of course. The worst thing about this is not that their all-time best player provided the value of one barely above-average season, but that it's not even the "winning" position by that much; Toby Hall is the all-time best catcher at 6 total WAR. Only two players in team history, Evan Longoria (already!) and Carl Crawford, have put up a career WAR of 20 or better.

Blue Jays: third base, Rance Mulliniks (19 WAR)
A bit like the Mets in that every position has at least one pretty good player, but there are really no great ones (or not great ones that stayed around for long enough, anyway; Roberto Alomar almost makes this list at 2B, mostly because he only played with the team for five years, two of them strike-shortened). Mulliniks did yeoman's work in ten seasons (plus three games) for the Jays, but at his very best (1985), he put up 3.7 WAR. He's now a colo(u)r commentator for Blue Jays TV.

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