Which players around the league are sucking so badly that they're killing their teams?
With just over a week to go before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, we bring you this semi-annual reminder that 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—teams all too often fail to make the moves that could help them win, 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—near the trading deadline and the opening of spring training—with an eye toward what teams can do to solve potentially fatal problems.
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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.
The players most likely in 2009 to suck away some little bit of hope for their respective teams.
Recently, I examined last season's Replacement-Level Killers, affixing the title that Jay Jaffecoined to a group of bungling batsmen, floundering fielders, and helpless hurlers whose poor play torpedoed their teams' chances of reaching the playoffs in 2008. Last year's lowlights deserved a look, but with three weeks of baseball under our belts in 2009, we've already begun to turn our attentions to what certain players haven't done for us lately (sometimes a touch too eagerly). As promised, I've come up with a list of candidates for the 2009 Replacement-Level Killers squad, predicated not on what we've seen so far in limited action, but on what we're likely to see in the months ahead.
Over the course of a lengthy season, avoiding replacement-level production often hinges more heavily on timely, effective responses to poor performance and injury than on selecting the best candidates from an available pool of Opening Day starters. In many instances, an appearance on the list represents not so much a criticism of the player in question, as an indictment of the managers (both general and otherwise) who put him in a position to fail despite his known limitations (although in certain cases, such as those of J.R. Towles or John McDonald last season, the extent of the collapse likely could not have been foreseen). However, in general, teams act rationally by awarding the bulk of the opportunities to the most capable players on hand, which not only makes their occasional failures to do so more frustrating, but renders forecasting the identity of the Killers difficult.
The men from the 2008 season who did the dirty deed and left their team's aspirations in history's ditch.
Each Opening Day marks the arrival of the proverbial "next year" invoked by the prior season's foiled fans, a long-awaited grace period infused with hope and promise. The season of clean slates, fresh starts, and slight fluctuations in our Playoff Odds Report might seem a strange time to summon the specter of last year's failures, but baseball's statistical record specializes in hawking hard truths—teams that allot playing time while mired in the throes of irrational exuberance frequently find their October aspirations cleaved by Santayana's old saw.
In the midst of each of the last two seasons, Jay Jaffe compiled an "all-star team of ignominy," which he dubbed the Replacement-Level Killers. Jay originally developed the concept for a chapter in It Ain't Over, and then applied it on a smaller scale to both the 2007 and 2008 campaigns. He also intended to update last year's mid-season list after the dust had settled, but never found the time. That's where this article comes in.
Checking in on the players who are sabotaging contenders, while there's still time for something to be done.
The concept of replacement level is fundamental to how we measure performance here at Baseball Prospectus. While the reality of the distribution of freely available talent is often a bit more complex, the idea remains a useful one.