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November 27, 2012

Out of Left Field

The Least Valuable Player

by Matthew Kory

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Value is one of those things people love to argue about. “Yes!” say some. “No!” say others. “This isn’t really a yes or no kind of thing,” say others. (Different others.) In the end we agree to disagree to each other’s faces and say mean things about each other’s mothers behind each other’s back.

While the substance of the mother insults is likely less than fact-based in nature (except for what I said about that guy’s mom, the truth of which is only exceeded by its grossness), the MVP disagreements manifest mostly through statistics. The sticking point lies in which stats you choose to look at, because that informs how people think about, and vote on, the Most Valuable Player award. Pick the right stats (everything on BP’s stat pages minus RBI) and you end up with the right choice. Pick the wrong stats and you end up with not Mike Trout. The venerable BBWAA picked the wrong stats and thus the wrong player, the end result being that Trout, the consensus most valuable player, was not the consensus Most Valuable Player.

So lets get rid of the controversy surrounding the MVP! How can we do that? We can’t! Because the MVP award is supposed to go to the best player*, voting for the award is going to be controversial because being the best at something is important.

*Unless you subscribe to some alternate version of the meaning of the word ‘value,’ something along the lines of grit + grime + in + tangibles  = VALUE!

What we can do however is invent an entirely new award, one which focuses on the least valuable player. That way it won’t be important, nobody will care about it, and thus no controversy. Genius, you say? Well, I don’t like to brag, but sure.

The least valuable player in baseball is a combination of bad baseball and, that most American of commodities, opportunity. If a player is too terrible, the team will say, “Hey you’re terrible” and not play him. If a player earns his playing time through good play, well, wave good-bye to your LVP* award, bud.

* Either LVP or we invert MVP and get WAb, which means nothing and therefore is clearly better.

Our LVP will likely have the majority of the following:

1. He will have a good reputation. This will allow him to keep playing long past the point where it became clear things aren’t going to improve.

2. He was a good player recently. This will help his team rationalize the folly of giving him playing time.

3. He will have a decent-sized salary. This will also help justify the decision to keep him in the lineup well past his sell-by date.

4. There will be no decent backups available. Once his team discovers he’s cooked, they still have to keep playing him because they have to play someone and there just isn’t anyone else.

5. The player must continually squander, destroy, and defecate in a bag, set that bag on fire, and place it on the doorstep, and ring the doorbell of each and every opportunity presented to him.

With all that in mind, I have mailed out LVP ballots to each eligible voter, complete with the following letter. Or, put another way, I wrote this letter to myself, put a stamp on it, addressed it, sealed it, opened it, and read it.

Dear Voter,

Congratulations! You have been selected to cast a vote for the Least Valuable Player award, possibly as part of your court-appointed probationary period! Enclosed please find your Least Valuable Player ballot. Keep in mind the following:

  • There is no clear-cut definition of what Least Valuable means.
  • It is the responsibility of the individual voter to give serious consideration to all selections unless you don’t really feel like it.
  • Due to last year’s vote we must specify that pieces of fruit are ineligible unless they have played major-league baseball during the last calendar year.
  • You must fill in all five places on your ballot, though if there’s an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race on cable and you forget, we understand.
  • Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration
  • All players are eligible for LVP, including pitchers and designated hitters unless you arbitrarily decide otherwise.

To determine the Least Valuable Player, consider the following criteria:

  1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, weakness of offense and defense.
  2. General lack of character, loyalty and/or effort.
  3. Former winners are eligible. Or not. Whatever.
  4. You may vote for more than one member of a team.

This is where things get tough. You see, you can’t just click on the WARP or VORP leaderboards to find the answer. No. That won’t work. You have to click them twice. It’s hard.

With all that in mind, here is my LVP ballot (counting down for drama’s sake).

5. James Loney
Loney holds the unique distinction of being terrible in both leagues. In 359 plate appearances for the Dodgers he accumulated -1.4 WARP. He was then shipped to Boston where he accounted for -0.3 WARP in 106 plate appearances. So he kind of improved? We’ll ignore that. Loney would have ranked higher (lower?) but he plays good defense. Also by all accounts, Loney is a nice person. That further hurts him. His name anagrams to ‘Enjoys Lame’ though, which is kind of perfect.

4. Ervin Santana
Santana cost his team two wins last season if you go by WARP, possibly more if you go by other measurements. He was bad and he pitched a lot. He was especially awful on the road (6.12 ERA). After posting a 12.21 ERA in July he put up sub-4.00 ERAs in August and September. This definitely hurt his candidacy. That his name anagrams to ‘Inane Van Rats’ helped.

3. Ryan Raburn
Ryan Raburn didn’t play as much as Loney or Santana, but when he did he played very badly. In 222 plate appearances Raburn managed a slash line of .171/.226/.254 and a TAv of .175. Raburn was semi-useful in that his terrible bat could be placed in left field, right field, or at second base. He also played in two games as the DH and, fittingly, failed to come to bat in either. Actually, that sums it up nicely.

2. Casey Kotchman
Kotchman didn’t have the defensive versatility of Raburn. Although he put up a good season defensively, he did it at first base, which is a bit like a flat non-alcoholic beer. Yuck. Also, gross. In 2012 first basemen, as a group, hit .257/.330/.436. Kotchman hit .229/.280/.333. That’s a TAv of .222. From a first baseman. And it’s not like he was bad, then was put out to pasture. Oh no. Cleveland gave him 500 plate appearances. That sounds like a rough estimate. It’s not. He got exactly 500 plate appearances. Look at it this way. The Indians gave him 300 plate appearances and he was just awful. So they gave him 200 more plate appearances.

And, number one…

1. Casey Kotchman
There actually wasn’t anyone worse than Kotchman in 2012 so he gets my second- and first-place votes.

So far this piece has been 1,100 words of silliness, so it’s probably inappropriate to end on something serious, but I’m going to do it anyway. The Indians gave Casey Kotchman 500 plate appearances because they didn’t have any better options. A few seasons ago they dealt CC Sabathia to Milwaukee for highly touted prospect Matt LaPorta. In the better part of four seasons, LaPorta has been worth [does math] negative nothing at all. The Indians didn’t develop their own player, they traded for a production cul-de-sac, and so they gave $3 million to Kotchman who was coming off a relatively productive season for Tampa. Why did Kotchman hit for Tampa and not for Cleveland (or Seattle or Boston)? Who knows, but the Indians put themselves in position to find out, and in the process ended up employing, depending on, and giving 500 plate appearances to the worst player in baseball last season. 

Matthew Kory is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

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