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August 9, 2013

BP Unfiltered

The Worst One-Team Players

by Ben Lindbergh

At the end of June, Ruben Amaro said he hoped Chase Utley would be a “Phillie for life,” an outcome he made much more likely by extending Utley earlier this week. Utley is exactly the type of player who tends to have a lengthy career spent entirely with one team: an MVP-level performer in his prime who’ll retire with a strong case for Cooperstown. Consider some of the other recent one-team talents: the Yankee quartet of Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter; Jeff Bagwell, Chipper Jones, and Todd Helton. David Wright, Joe Mauer, and Yadier Molina (among others) might join that group.

It takes a pretty good player just to make it in the majors for a decade or more. But to stay with one team the whole time—especially in a post-reserve-clause world where players can come and go as they please—usually takes someone special, the kind of rare talent who can keep a general manager’s eyes from wandering.

Naturally, that made me wonder about the worst ones to do it. These are the players with the lowest career WARPs who debuted in the free-agency era and played for at least 10 seasons, all with one team (the full list is available here):

Player

Team

Debut Year

Seasons

Career WARP

Rich Dauer

Orioles

1976

10

-1.6

Gary DiSarcina

Angels

1989

12

1.5

John Wathan

Royals

1976

10

3.0

Bruce Benedict

Braves

1978

12

3.0

Tim Flannery

Padres

1979

11

3.8

Tom Pagnozzi

Cardinals

1987

12

4.5

Randy Bush

Twins

1982

12

5.8

Bill Wegman

Brewers

1985

11

6.3

Scott Garrelts

Giants

1982

10

7.5

Bob Stanley

Red Sox

1977

13

9.0

These guys weren’t great. Then again, the fact that their teams stuck with them for so long is evidence that in their cases, WARP might be missing something. Wathan, Benedict, and Pagnozzi were catchers, and we know there are aspects of catchers’ defensive performance that WARP isn’t currently capturing. Dauer, DiSarcina, and Flannery weren’t much use at the plate—DiSarcina famously said that his goal was not to walk all season—but they had good defensive reputations that (rightly or wrongly) aren’t backed up by FRAA. Wegman and Garrelts might not be receiving the proper credit for consistently suppressing hits on balls in play (and Garrelts mostly pitched out of the bullpen), and Stanley gets dinged for not striking anyone out.

The case for DiSarcina as the worst one-team player gets a boost not just because of his .292 OBP, but because he was the latest to debut, making it even less likely that he’d stick with one employer. Players didn’t start moving around much more immediately after the advent of free agency; it wasn’t until the late ’80s that roster turnover rates really began to rise. (Best DiSarcina stat, by the way: 47 stolen bases, 44 times caught stealing. As if he didn't have enough trouble getting on base to begin with.) But Bush might be the safest bet for worst one-teamer. FRAA and WARP don’t like him, but the other defensive/win-value systems out there like him even less. He’s the only one on the list who didn’t play a demanding position, and he DH’d as a rookie, which isn’t a ringing endorsement of his defensive abilities (although the 1982 Twins, an otherwise terrible team, were strong at the positions that Bush would eventually play).

If the current extension craze continues, we might see more players (including more mediocre one) spending long careers in one place. But in recent years, that honor has been reserved for a few. And the men who did it without being big names deserve some special recognition.

Honorable mention
Ed Kranepool debuted in 1962, which disqualified him from the table above. But unlike the other candidates, whose careers ranged from 10 to 13 seasons in length, Kranepool lasted 18 years, all with the Mets, and totaled 5.8 WARP (with all three win-value stats putting him between 4.2 and 5.9). Kranepool was a bad baserunner, a below-average defender, and a roughly league-average hitter (who was useless—.220/.264/.278—against lefties), and he played first base. His staying power was truly impressive for someone who had so little to offer on the field.

So what was his secret? Kranepool was a big-time prospect and a bonus baby, which bought him extra opportunities. He was a New Yorker, which helped endear him to fans. He benefited from ownership’s inertia, and he had some success as a pinch-hitter later on in his career, which helped him hang on. All of those factors combined to produce a career that should make Kranepool the patron saint of improbably long-lasting employees everywhere.

Thanks to Colin Wyers for research assistance.

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

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