Come playoff time, a curious thing happens: every player who appears in a game is lionized. Why is this? Allow me to present the tautology:
A team is in playoffs and
A player is on the team
Therefore: the player must be part of the reason the team is in playoffs.
You will hear platitudes about players who, by virtue of circumstances, find themselves in the thick of a battle they are probably not worthy to join. That won’t prevent some of them from coming up with a timely hit and etching their names amongst the immortals.
Here, then, are the players who contributed the least to the eight teams who made it into the playoff maze. Not all of them are around for the postseason, but some are and, with them, you’ll have to endure a barrage of compliments as to what wonderful contributors they are.
Catcher: Johnny Estrada, Atlanta, .232 EqA, 3.0 WARP1
Jose Molina was worse, in less playing time, as a back-up for the Angels. His brother Yadier of the Cardinals had a worse VORP than Estrada but had the better defensive season, helping him post a WARP1 of 4.0. HACKING MASS players might be shocked to discover that Brad Ausmus does not make the squad. His 4.1 WARP1 in 2005 was better than all playoff catchers other than Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada.
First Base: Darin Erstad, Los Angeles, .256 EqA, 4.2 WARP1
Erstad is a better fielder than most of the other playoff-team first sackers, but he gets the nod based on a VORP of just 7.7 in 667 plate appearances. That’s a lot of work with very little result, especially at a position where, as I once read on a Topps bubblegum card, good offense is desirable, if not mandatory.
Second Base: Mark Bellhorn, Boston/New York, .256 EqA, 2.2 WARP1
It’s not often that a player can try to torpedo the efforts of not one but two playoff-bound teams, but Bellhorn managed to do just that in 2005, albeit on a tiny scale with the Yankees. Regardless, he was a member of the 2004 Red Sox and for that, he will be forever immortal in New England, regardless of subsequent events.
Randa, the last man standing, did not bring his A-game with him from Cincinnati. His EqA dropped by 40 points as a Padre, a mark still 15 points higher than that posted by Burroughs in his unfortunate 2005 effort. Blum was dispatched to another playoff team, the White Sox, where he did just about nothing in 77 plate appearances. It would be natural to assume that the In-Spite-Of Team would be loaded with Padres, what with their 82-80 record and even worse projections, but that’s not the case. Randa is still pretty legit, though, so his inclusion here is, to some extent, an unfortunate byproduct of a small sample size.
Shortstop: Adam Everett, Houston, .231 EqA, 4.0 WARP1
That -19 BRAA puts Everett at the bottom of the eight playoff shortstops.
Left Field: Chris Burke, Houston, .238 EqA, 1.2 WARP1
The Astros overcame a lot of lineup malfeasance to get where they are in 2005. In addition to Burke’s brutal showing, Mike Lamb put in some hurtful appearances, posting a .239 EqA and a .7 WARP1 while sometimes batting third in the lineup. Is it any wonder Roger Clemens got so little support?
Center Field: Steve Finley, Los Angeles, .233 EqA, 1.6 WARP1
Wow, how did the Angels get 95 wins? Between Finley and Erstad…unbelievable. That’s some serious holeage in the ol’ lineup. It was a nice career, but it’s over, really.
Right Field: Vacant
No playoff team right fielder really fits the bill. By default, it would go to Raul Mondesi, who posted a .214 EqA in limited duty with the Braves. He is very far removed from the playoffs, however.
We cannot leave the outfield without some mention of Tony Womack. Had he played more, he’d probably be the In-Spite-Of MVP (or LVP or something). He’s taken enough abuse from analysts this year, so we’ll leave it at that…unless he has the temerity to come back for more next year. Then the gloves come off again.
Designated Hitter: Carl Everett, Chicago, .260 EqA, 1.4 WARP1
Everett complained when he was dropped in the order, and who can blame him? Nobody can give an objective assessment of a player like the player himself, right? Apart from Scott Hatteberg of the A’s, Everett was the only DH with considerable playing time who posted a negative MLV. When your sole job is to contribute offensively, well, you had better be contributing offensively. Get used to hearing about his veteran presence, though. It will be a fixture of the 2005 postseason for as long as the White Sox are in it.
Starting Pitcher (minimum 20 starts): Wandy Rodriguez, Houston, -1.9 VORP
The great thing about the weak link in a rotation is that they can be shipped to Siberia for the duration of the playoffs and the team will be better for it. As for Rodriguez’s rookie year: too much of everything except strikeouts. The Yankee trio of Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano was worse, but didn’t stay in the rotation long enough to qualify for the artificial threshold of 20 starts that I established.
Swingman: Curt Schilling, Boston, 1.3 VORP
He could turn on a dime, though, as he did last Sunday against the Yankees. To be fair, Schilling was on the receiving end of some miserable luck this year. Balls in play fell in at an alarming rate for him in 2005 while his strikeout rate stayed consistent with last year’s. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, which is why you shouldn’t mortgage your trailer home to bet against him this week.
Reliever: Alan Embree, Boston/New York, -8.8 VORP
Just when it seemed like Embree was turning things around with a 3.86 ERA in August, he blew up in September to the tune of 14.54. Adam Bernero of the Braves was also a viable candidate. He pitched 10 more innings and had a VORP of -6.3.
Closer: Danny Kolb, Atlanta, -4.8 VORP
Relieved of his closer job, Kolb gave up 28 more hits and 14 more walks in essentially the same amount of innings he pitched in 2004. On the positive side, he increased his strikeout total from 21 to 39. Why don’t we just credit Leo Mazzone with that?