Which men of misery prevented their teams from escaping the murky waters of suckitude?
My semiannual Replacement-Level Killers series spotlights the worst holes in contenders' lineups, as well as the possible remedies they might take to avoid letting such subpar production destroy their post-season chances the next time around. I make no claims for this companion series being so noble in purpose. Because bad baseball so often makes for good copy, it's more fun to hunt the fish at the bottom of the major-league barrel to find the positions where players' contributions could be considered the worst in the majors. What follows is an "all-star" team of players who have produced tornado-level disasters amid their lineups, often at salaries that represented far more than just a soft breeze running through their team's bank account. Once again, I present the Vortices of Suck.
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How have teams fared when they have a dramatic increase in payroll over the previous season?
Last time out, I examined the 2012 Mets' Opening Day payroll drop—projected to exceed $50 million—and placed it in the context of other drastic payroll cuts dating back to 1989, since my source for the payroll data, the USA Today Salary Database went back to 1988. Given data that went further back, I’d have liked to place the teardowns of the A's dynasties of the 1910s, 1930s, and 1970s—are there any other dismantlings so famous?—into a similar context, but as one Twitter follower said, we go to war with the data we have. Today I turn my attention to the flip side of the story, the largest payroll increases during a timespan that conveniently stands as the point when baseball was just emerging from its collusion scandal.
Does history give any clues as to how the Mets will perform with a lower payroll?
Late last month, ESPN New York's Adam Rubin reported that the Mets are facing the largest one-year payroll cut in major-league history, at least in terms of total dollars. With owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz deprived of the profits they derived from decades of investing with Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, and struggling to find minority partners willing to provide a quick infusion of capital, the team is hemorrhaging money and facing a growing mountain of debt. According to general manager Sandy Alderson, the Mets lost $70 million last year, and made no real attempt to retain pending free agents Carlos Beltran (who was traded in midseason) or Jose Reyes (who departed for the Marlins in December). Barring even one additional midlevel signing, they could become the first team to drop $50 million in salary from one Opening Day to the next.
Taking a look at whose season of ineptitude may have cost his team a spot in the playoffs.
Picking up where I left off on Monday, the Replacement-Level Killers is our semi-annual all-star team of ignominy, highlighting the positions at which poor production helped sink contending teams, with an eye toward the steps they've made to correct those problems as spring training approaches. For the purposes of this exercise, I've loosely defined contenders as non-playoff teams who finished no more than 10 games out of the running in 2011, which limits this particular turkey shoot to members of the Red Sox, Angels, Blue Jays, Braves, Giants, Dodgers, and Nationals, not all of whom are represented this time around. If a particularly sizable hole in your favorite team’s production isn’t represented here, fear not, as all 30 teams are eligible for the forthcoming Vortices of Suck squad, the absolute bottom of the barrel.
Which teams that were on the verge of contention last year could use a "level up" option around the diamond?
Complacency in the face of adversity is the potential undoing of every manager and general manager. For reasons rooted in issues beyond a player's recent performance—contract size, longer-term track record, clubhouse chemistry—skippers and GMs all too often fail to make the moves that could help their teams, allowing subpar production to fester until it kills a club's post-season hopes. In 2007, I compiled a historical all-star squad of ignominy for our pennant race book, It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over, identifying players at each position whose performances had dragged their teams down in tight races: the Replacement-Level Killers. The concept has become a semiannual tradition for me to revisit, first in the weeks leading up to the tradedeadline, and again as the opening of spring training approaches, with an eye toward what teams can do, or have done, to solve such potentially fatal problems.
Armed with a plan to play Prince Fielder at first base and Miguel Cabrera at third, the Tigers might field one of the worst defensive infields in recent memory.
It's no hyperbole to say Prince Fielder's nine-year, $214 million deal with the Tigers shocked the baseball world. The Tigers certainly weren’t on the list of likely suitors given their sizable commitment to the sizable player occupying his position: Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera was the AL's most valuable first baseman in 2010 and 2011 according to WARP, and is under contract for another $86 million through 2015. Even with the designated hitter slot open due to Victor Martinez's season-ending torn ACL—the catastrophe that triggered Fielder’s signing—the team plans to play the new guy at first base and shift the incumbent to third base. It’s a position Cabrera hasn't played regularly since 2007, but one that he nonetheless calls "his natural position." Paired with Ryan Raburn at second base and Jhonny Peralta at shortstop—two players moved to less demanding defensive positions years ago, only to shift back to harder ones—the Tigers are threatening to field one of the more terrifying infields in recent memory.
While fans may be fretting in Boston, nobody should be hasty in evaluating the job GM Ben Cherington has done in shoring up the Sox.
The 2012 Red Sox are a work in progress, Ben Cherington's unfinished symphony. When I set out to write this article, it was from the vantage point of looking back at the weekend's head-scratching swap, which sent shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for sinkerballer Clayton Mortensen. In isolation, it was a dismal return for a player who's been worth 5.5 WARP over the past two seasons, but by dumping Scutaro's salary, the Sox created room to fill other needs. As if on cue, they agreed to a one-year deal with outfielder Cody Ross on Monday night, consigning this article's brilliant original lede* to the dustbin of history and serving as a reminder that very few ballclubs are expected to win games in the dead of January.
Now that the Yankees have dealt Jesus Montero to the Mariners, they're in search of DH options.
Last Friday, the Yankees pulled off a major trade, sending Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. The move shores up the pinstripes' rotation both for 2012 and beyond, but it does create a vacancy at designated hitter, since the 22-year-old Montero was penciled in as the presumptive starter after a September audition in which he hit a searing .328/.406/.590 with four homers. While finding an adequately productive DH shouldn't be all that hard—the average AL DH hit .266/.341/.430 in 2011, while the Yankees’ DHs contributed a .251/.336/.450 line—Brian Cashman and company are up against some self-imposed financial constraints that make their task somewhat more challenging.
Who makes the Hall of Fame cut when faced against the Keltner Test and JAWS?
On Friday, I unveiled the catcher and infielders on what I'm calling the Keltner All-Stars, the best eligible player at each position outside the Hall of Fame. The name comes from former Indians third baseman Ken Keltner, who inspired Bill James' Keltner Test, a set of 15 questions that can be used to frame a player’s Hall of Fame case. The basis of my choices isn't that test. Instead, I'm using JAWS.
What does the Keltner Test tell us about guys who should be in line for enshrinement?
Two years ago, following Andre Dawson’s election to the Hall of Fame, I took a trip around the diamond to identify the most worthy players at each position who remained outside of Cooperstown. The piece was a nod to Bill James, whose systematic Keltner Test—named for former Indians third baseman Ken Keltner, a set of 15 questions that can be used to frame a player’s Hall of Fame case—includes the question, "Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?" Since then, no fewer than four of the players in that lineup—Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, and Ron Santo—have been elected, and the Wins Above Replacement Player system that underlies JAWS has changed significantly. Thus, it’s high time I take another spin and offer a new set of candidates.
Barry Larkin earns his Hall call, but the major gains for multiple players shed new light on their Cooperstown prospects.
That Barry Larkin is headed to Cooperstown is not the big surprise of the 2012 Hall of Fame voting, the results of which were announced on Monday afternoon. As the top holdover (he received 62.1 percent of the vote last year) on a ballot with no overwhelming first-time candidates, and a deserving candidate on both the traditional and sabermetric fronts, he was well-positioned to close the deal. With 86.4 percent of the vote, he cleared the 75 percent bar easily, and will join the family of Ron Santo at the induction ceremony on July 22, 2012.
Tim Raines has his case re-examined, and the remainder of the Hall ballot gets a look.
We all have our pet projects. With the graduations of Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo to the Hall of Fame, mine is now Tim Raines. During his 23-year major-league career, Raines combined the virtues of a keen batting eye, dazzling speed, and all-around athleticism with a cerebral approach that made him an electrifying performer and a dangerous offensive weapon. Yet in four years on the ballot, he's reached just 37.5 percent of the vote, exactly half of what he needs to reach Cooperstown.