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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

25 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Florko

I would like to nominate Jeff Francoeur for consideration after 561 AB he managed a sparkling .287 OBP

Nov 27, 2012 06:59 AM
rating: 3
 
timber

Indeed. I keep hearing how Jeff Francoeur was the worst player in baseball this year. And he's not even nominated?

Nov 27, 2012 07:49 AM
rating: 0
 
timber

Retract that. By the standards of "there must be no decent backup available," Francoeur doesn't qualify.

Nov 27, 2012 07:50 AM
rating: 0
 
jdeich

I will nominate Michael Young. His qualifications overwhelm any of your choices:
1) Hitting .277/.312/.370 over 156 G and 651 PA. While many of your choices provide low quality, they lack Young's high quantity.
2) Playing either no defense (82 G at DH) or bad defense (at 1B/3B) in a common way to earn a LVP. But Young took it to the next level by playing inexplicably bad defense at two key positions he no longer has any business playing: 2B/SS.
3) Anyone can be horrible in Cleveland. Who would notice? But Michael Young was out there, day after day, being horrible on a 93-67 team that collapsed at the end of the season to lose their division by one game. If Texas had played virtually anyone else at DH, they would have won their division. That's true low value.
4) He takes his franchise sabotage off the field as well, by commanding $16M in 2012, $16M in 2013, and having the veteran-y rights of being able to block trades.

One-dimensional badness like Loney's just doesn't measure up.

Nov 27, 2012 07:59 AM
rating: 14
 
MBruner

Here here. A list without MY on it doesn't hold water for me. #leadership

Nov 27, 2012 08:22 AM
rating: -1
 
ogden10

Second that motion. With a vengeance.

Nov 27, 2012 08:44 AM
rating: 0
 
jdeich

Also worth noting: The Rangers hit him #5 or #6 for 123 G of 2012, and doubled down and batted him #2 (11 G), #3 (14 G) or cleanup (6 G), including a 5-game run at #3 in September. Young squandered his own chances, but further sabotaged Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli, David Murphy, and Mitch Moreland, all of whom hit lower in the order. Plus, he frequently hit behind Hamilton and Beltre, forcing them to cry into the infield dirt at the sites of their stranding.

It takes a special kind of bad player to grit/clutch/intangible a way to ruin the heart of the highest-scoring lineup in MLB. By comparison, Kotchman hit #8 most often, taking PA from various Lou Marsons in the AL's worst non-Seattle offense.

Nov 27, 2012 09:10 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

Young is a good pick. I could have gone 10 deep (and was about to before realizing how many words that would be) and Young would have made the list.

A couple things about Young. 1) He's clutchy, 2) he's grit-filled, 3) he's versatile (he plays many positions badly). His WARP was (ever so slightly) worse than Kotchman's (-1.5 to -1.2) but that difference hinges on defensive numbers. Young was a better hitter than Kotchman by a long shot. Kotchman slugged .333 as a first baseman! Barfy!

I didn't get into player salaries for a couple reasons. Firstly, they're not considered in MVP voting which is what I was trying to mimic. Secondly, I'd rather not condemn a player for how much he makes.

Nov 27, 2012 11:15 AM
 
jdeich

4) 60% of the time, he gives 110% every time.

Nov 27, 2012 16:00 PM
rating: 1
 
bbozorth

I nomininate Shone Figgins....Every facet of his game was a detriment. So much so the team would rather eat his big contract.

Nov 27, 2012 09:03 AM
rating: 1
 
kcboomer
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Yeah, to omit Francoeur and Young lays waste to the validity of this article.

Nov 27, 2012 10:06 AM
rating: -6
 
John Carter

Oh, come on, are you serious? You didn't enjoy this article? Doesn't enjoyment of it make it valid? Aren't Francoeur and M. Young's inclusions (as well as D. Young's well deserving inclusion) in the comments make this legitimate in the end even under your definition?

Nov 27, 2012 10:24 AM
rating: 4
 
kcboomer
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Of course, I am serious. This article was presented as a serious commentary on certain players and yet by its own standards didn't identify the most likely nominees for these "awards".

Enjoyment has nothing to do with validity.

Nov 27, 2012 12:10 PM
rating: -7
 
Eeyore1968

The phrases "This article" and "serious commentary" really don't belong in the same sentence in this thread.

Nov 27, 2012 14:51 PM
rating: 3
 
flyingdutchman

I like my LVP to be well-rounded. He needs to be a horrendous base runner, a hacker, a GIDP waiting to happen, and worse than a defensive zero. Bonus if he causes a least a little distraction with off-the-field issues:

Delmon Young.

Nov 27, 2012 10:09 AM
rating: 7
 
Florko

Young is defiantly well "rounded"

Nov 27, 2012 10:30 AM
rating: 3
 
apaterson

No love (hate) for Ricky Romero?

Nov 27, 2012 10:36 AM
rating: 1
 
Matt Commins

Romero had to be hurt last year; if he was hurt, he shouldn't be considered for the list

Nov 27, 2012 13:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Florko

Why did he "have to be hurt" his numbers have never been that good, his luck has run out and we can now realize he's not that good

Nov 28, 2012 10:59 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Actually, he was hurt. He had surgery on his throwing elbow in October. He admitted to having unusual soreness through much of the season.

Nov 28, 2012 12:20 PM
rating: 1
 
Florko

So whats the excuse for the other years?

Nov 28, 2012 18:02 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

He definitely met the criteria for playing time, also for the Jays not having anyone better to replace him, as all of their replacements were both as bad or worse as well as already being used for the other, injured pitchers. He also pouted on a few occasions when being removed from the game early for failing to hit the strike zone.

Nov 27, 2012 18:08 PM
rating: 0
 
bbozorth

Again I say Shone Figgins....$9.5 million contrat, A man who the year before coming to Seattle had a VORP of 54, then the last 2 years had a -10.7 and -7.8....a TAv of .206 and a VORP of -1.1. Complained he wasn't leading off, pouted contstantly and base running screw ups constantly.... so bad he couldn't be traded, even if Seattle paid the $8.5 he was due next year.

Nov 27, 2012 10:52 AM
rating: 1
 
jdeich

The underlying question is whether "least valuable" is a rate stat or a counting stat. I tend to think of it as "Reverse JAWS" where you need both Peak Terribleness as well as Consistent Horrawfulness over the full season. Figgins has the PT (slugging .271 counts), but his low CH (only 194 PA) thwarts his quest for LVP.

It's not fair to reward Figgins for a relative handful of screw-ups. The Michael Youngs and Casey Kotchmans are out there, day after day, night after night, churning the stomachs of their team's fans, kicking baseballs, watching called strikes, ignoring boos, keeping more talented players firmly screwed to the bench, and bringing the sanity of their managers into question. That's the soul of Least Valuable, and if you don't agree, you hate freedom and puppies.

Nov 27, 2012 15:56 PM
rating: 5
 
NJTomatoes

Another of Kotchman's qualifications....his liner knocked out Pettitte for months, which along with Morrow's strained oblique pretty much mediocre-ized my fantasy team's pitching staff.

Nov 28, 2012 07:18 AM
rating: 0
 
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