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October 2, 2013

The Lineup Card

Ten Players Who Could Back into World Series Rings

by Baseball Prospectus

1. Casper Wells, Oakland Athletics
The only thing that could have made Casper Wells' season worse—after shuttling from the Mariners to the Blue Jays to the A's to the White Sox in a three-week purgatory that saw him play all of three games, majors or minors—would have been finally getting some playing time and producing the game's worst batting line. Which Wells did. In more than 100 plate appearances, he hit .126/.186/.147, which would make him exactly the median-hitting pitcher if he were a pitcher. (Which, technically I guess.) In 53 games, he managed to produce a positive Win Probability Added just six times; the sum WPA of those six games was less than the negative WPA of his July 13 game, when he went 0-for-6, batting with five runners on without so much as advancing one of them, and grounding into a one-on, no-out double play in the 13th inning. It's all over now, mercifully, and there's still one thing that could make his season better: if the A's win the World Series, he'll get a ring. He went 0-for-5 in three April games with Oakland. —Sam Miller

2. Joel Hanrahan, Boston Red Sox
The day after Christmas 2013, the Red Sox traded floundering middle reliever Mark Melancon and an Island of Misfit Prospects—Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Stolmy Pimentel—to the Pirates. In return, they received Proven Closer (TM) Joel Hanrahan and handsome utility-infielder prospect Brock Holt.

At the time, most considered the deal fairly even. The Red Sox gave up quantity and got quality. Naysayers in Boston pointed to the total years of control their team gave up as well as Hanrahan’s less than stellar 2012 campaign. Debby Downers in Pittsburgh thought the move downgraded the 2013 club and were upset by the relative lack of upside they received in the process.

As we know now, Pirates fans should not have been upset.

Hanrahan threw 7 1/3 innings for the Red Sox this year, and those innings were not good. The 32-year-old gave up eight runs in that span, recording just five strikeouts and six walks. Hanrahan did manage to grab four saves, though, so yeah.

Pitchers such as Steven Wright, Jose De La Torre, and Pedro Beato threw more innings for Boston than did Hanrahan this year. No pitcher, including Allen Webster, had a higher ERA.

If the Red Sox do manage to go all the way, Hanrahan will get a ring, just like the rest of them. But his biggest contribution to the Red Sox was taking a seat so that Koji Uehara could work his magic.

Thanks for the memories, Joel. —Ben Carsley

3. Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers
Signed last October to a three-year, $22.5 million contract, Brandon League was anointed the Dodgers' closer for the 2013 campaign. While many felt Kenley Jansen was clearly the team's best reliever, League took the ball in the 9th inning to start the season and managed to convert 8 of 9 save opportunities in April before the wheels fell off... completely. Over the next two months, League registered just six saves while allowing a whopping 27 hits, seven walks, and three home runs in 18 1/3 innings. Once the Dodgers decided they'd seen enough, Jansen was reinserted as the team's closer, and the rest, as they say, is history. From June through September, Jansen would convert 26 of 29 save opportunities and finish the season with a 1.88 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP. On the contrary, despite eight respectable appearances in July, Brandon League would complete the year with an ERA of 5.30 and a WHIP of 1.55 while allowing opponents to hit .305 against him. It's bad enough the veteran right-hander collected $7.5 million in 2013. But if the Dodgers win the World Series, Brandon League will get to go home to San Diego with a World Series ring for "achieving" an ERA+ of 68. —Joe Hamrahi

4. B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves
I hope we find out later that Upton was actually badly injured all through the season, or that his eyesight had gone, or that he was beset by some off-the-field turmoil that completely engulfed his attention. I don’t hope any of this because I wish ill on him; on the contrary, I just want to believe that something other than sheer loss of skill is responsible for Upton’s horrendous season. There are all kinds of stats to recoil in horror at (e.g. second-highest strikeout rate and second-lowest SLG among all players with 400 PA; worst FRAA among all MLB center fielders). But it comes down to this one: Upton had the second-worst WARP in baseball this year, -2.10, and by far the worst of anyone on a playoff team. (Oddly, his teammate Dan Uggla comes next on the latter list, at -1.07. The astounding, confounding Braves.)

This is what sets Upton apart from other contenders for today’s dubious honor. Plenty of players have coasted, whether injured or pine-riding or late-arriving, on the doings of their successful teammates to gain a shot at a World Series ring. Others have had a handful of pointless at-bats or tossed a few inconsequential innings as their bid for post-season jewelry. Upton, though, did not merely do nothing to help; he actively worked against the Braves’ prosperity, costing them two wins all by himself. He’s fortunate that his team didn’t need them. That the Braves are on the hook for four more years of Upton must terrify them. —Adam Sobsey

5. John McDonald, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox

While sympathetic to the veteran's entire body of work—he didn't play in the postseason until he was 36—look at his freaking year. He began with Arizona, was traded to Pittsburgh in spring training, shipped off to Cleveland in June, flipped to Philadelphia three weeks later, and finally heaved to Boston at the waiver trade deadline. Sure, he can still play multiple positions while inching close to 40 years old, but here's Exhibit B:

  • Pittsburgh: 2-for-31
  • Cleveland: 0-for-7
  • Philadelphia: 4-for-23
  • Boston: 2-for-8

Which means he's played for one-third of the remaining postseason teams. There's a theory going around that he purposely hit poorly so he would be traded to enough teams that eventually one of them would win the World Series. This theory has yet to be proven and only exists in my head. —Matt Sussman

6. Delmon Young, Tampa Bay Rays
First, I would like to remind people that Delmon Young is an anagram for “Ungodly Omen.”

Moving on.

On August 21 of this year, there was absolutely no reason to think Delmon Young would appear in a World Series game. It would have been silly to do so. His Philadelphia Phillies were 14 games under .500 and 21 games behind the division-leading Braves.

Young, meanwhile, was not even playing well enough to stay on the Phillies’ 25-man roster. He was sent to Triple-A in mid-August after providing not even marginal value. He was at -0.1 WARP and a .397 slugging percentage, with his usual subpar defense.

The Tampa Bay Rays decided to gamble on Young and took him off waivers on August 22. They signed him to a minor-league deal and called him up on September 1 with the roster expansion. Remember, Young has disappointed Tampa before. And he wasn’t good enough to stay on a non-contending team that paid him to stay skinny.

In 14 games from September 1–20, Young had a .226/.314/.355 slash. This was somehow good enough to convince Joe Maddon to play him in the most important stretch of the season; Young started and finished eight of the last nine games of the pennant chase, including Monday’s all-important tiebreaker. Heck, Maddon loves him.

So here he is. The wild card game is tonight and chances are Delmon Young will be DHing. I guess you gotta admire his perseverance in spite of off-field issues and mediocre play … and credit organizations that repeatedly seem to think they can capture the magic that never was for Dmitri’s little brother. —Dan Rozenson

7. Christian Bethancourt, Atlanta Braves

The images are the same every year—the final out of the World Series, a dugout’s worth of players spilling onto the field in a jubilatory wave, champions drenching each other in champagne. It’s an exclusive group of major leaguers that can look back on their career and recall such experiences as participants on the field and in the clubhouse. A slightly larger collection of players can look down to their hand to find a World Series players ring commemorating the championship. That’s because tradition holds that every player to suit up for the World Champion during the season, regardless of duration on the roster, or whether the player is even still a member of the organization come October, receives a ring.

Each year players are awarded World Series rings after watching the final games of the season from the sidelines. Players have been awarded rings after being traded in April, or while missing a season due to injury. In 2010, Bengie Molina entered Game One of the Rangers-Giants series knowing that, regardless of results, he would have a World Series ring come 2011 (Molina began the year with San Francisco before being traded to Texas mid-season). The Rangers lost in five and Molina now possesses a ring commemorating his team’s defeat, gifted by the organization that beat them.

This year, the Atlanta Braves finished the regular season 10 games ahead of the second-place Nationals, meaning the Braves won nine more games than they needed to in order to make the playoffs. Lining up each of the regular season contributors for the club, it’s tough to envision a player having less to do with their playoff berth than Christian Bethancourt. Bethancourt entered the year as Atlanta’s fifth-best prospect per Jason ParksTop Ten Prospects List. He earned himself a September call-up after the close of the Minor League season, making his major-league debut on September 29th—the second to last day of the season and a week after the Braves clinched the division title. Bethancourt’s debut consisted of a pinch hit appearance, which resulted in a strikeout. He did not make any other appearances.

To recap, should the Braves triumph this postseason, thanks to his pinch hit strikeout a week after the Braves had clinched their division, Bethancourt will receive the same ring as Rookie of the Year candidate Julio Tehran. Hey, at least he isn’t suiting up for the opposition, right? —Nick J. Faleris

8. Brayan Villarreal, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers
Invariably there will be your Andy Dominiques, your John Galls, and your Jeff Bajenarus. Always your Jeff Bajenarus. Those fine gentlemen fit two critieria: 1) they earned World Series rings, and 2) they earned them by doing essentially nothing. This assumes we’re okay with qualifying making the major leagues as nothing, which, at least in this context, we are.

All of those players got lucky that they were called up to join what would be a World Series winning major league roster. They essentially had a 1-in-30 chance and they hit the flush on the river. Brayan Villarreal has something over them all, however. Namely, an extra 1-in-30 shot. Villarreal has pitched (badly and non-essentially) for both this season’s Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox. If the Tigers win the World Series, he gets a ring. If the Red Sox win the World Series, he gets a ring. It’s like Oprah. And you get a ring, and you get a ring, and you get a ring! Only each of you is Brayan Villarreal.

Villarreal threw all of 4 1/3 innings for the Tigers acquiring a 20.something ERA in the process (when your ERA starts with “20” what comes after the decimal doesn’t matter). He gave up 10 runs in those 4 1/3 innings, walked eight (to six strikeouts) and gave up a homer. It was enough to get him traded. Which he was. To the Red Sox, in the deal for Jose Iglesias. Villarreal came east with Jake Peavy of the White Sox. He joined the Red Sox in late August and made his one appearance in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tied game. He came on with two outs and the bases loaded and proceeded to walk Marco Scutaro on four pitches, walking in a run and losing the game.

I’m sure the other authors in this Lineup Card feature have come up with worth candidates for the honor of least deserving player who could get a World Series ring, but I defy you, I defy everyone reading, to find someone who has done less and has a better shot to win the World Series than Brayan Villarreal. —Matthew Kory

9. Tony Cruz, St. Louis Cardinals
No offense to Cruz, but being Yadier Molina's backup is one of the "easier" gigs in the league. Cruz seldom plays, having started about 28 games in each of the past two seasons, and his offensive performance this season was woeful. —R.J. Anderson

10. Josh Wall, Los Angeles Dodgers
By the time the Dodgers were done running roughshod through the league, winning 62 of their last 90 games, and proving without a shadow of a doubt that their early, injury-driven malaise was a fluke, most of the players who struggled to contribute found some way to make their marks. Josh Wall never got the chance.

The right-hander, a second-round pick in 2005, took the mound six times in April and logged seven innings. In those seven innings he gave up a whopping 14 runs on 17 hits and six walks. Wall faced 44 batters, and those batters combined for a .486/.548/.800 triple-slash line. Miguel Cabrera dreams of hitting .486/.548/.800.

After coughing up seven runs in two innings of mop-up duty on April 29, Wall was demoted to Triple-A Albuquerque, where he spent three months before getting shipped to the Marlins as part of a three-player package for Ricky Nolasco. That was his most meaningful contribution to the 2013 Dodgers. But if Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, and company take home rings, Wall will have a shiny souvenir by which to remember his 18.00 ERA and 3.29 WHIP. —Daniel Rathman

Related Content:  Playoffs,  World Series Rings

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