28 Jul Top 10 Most Overrated Players In Baseball (Part 2)
Written By: Jared Roth
Here are 10 players you may think are good. Analytics says otherwise.
Click here to view part 1 (Players 10-6): http://thesportscrew.com/top-10-most-overrated-players-in-baseball-part-1/
7-5. Past Their Prime (Continued)
These players used to be valuable, but if you think they still are, you’re stuck in the past.
5. Prince Fielder (TEX/1B)
Before the 2014 season, Prince Fielder was traded for Ian Kinsler in a 1-for-1 deal with some cash exchanging hands to help even out their salaries. Since that time, Kinsler has accumulated 12.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for the Tigers. Prince Fielder’s WAR with Texas? -0.5!
Now Kinsler is certainly an amazing player. But unfortunately for Fielder, he would not compare favourably with any position player in baseball right now.
Fielder’s -1.8 WAR this season ranks second worst among all qualifiers. A perennial bottom-of-the-league defensive player with no speed, Fielder’s 63 Weighted Runs Created+ (wRC+) this season indicates that he has been 37% worse than the average hitter, and is evidence of a gigantic decline at the plate – his career mark is a sparkling 133. Fielder’s appalling .292 OBP this season (almost 100 points below his career average) is driven by a career worst 8.6% walk rate (BB%). His modest .123 Isolated Slugging Percentage (ISO), the difference between a player’s SLG and their AVG, demonstrates that Fielder’s power is not what it used to be. He has a mere 24 extra base hits (XBH) in 370 plate appearances (PAs).
This guy can’t get on base, can’t hit for power, plays awful defense and has no speed.
Prince Fielder has been the worst player in baseball so far this season.
Sadly, Fielder won’t get an opportunity to improve on his substandard first half, as he is set to undergo season-ending fusion surgery on his neck that quite frankly puts his entire future in doubt.
The aforementioned swap of all-stars in November 2013 is another huge feather in the cap of then Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, and one the Rangers surely wish they could have back.
4-1. Not What They Seem
Now here is where the list gets really good! We could sit here all day and list off names of old, slow players who’s best days are behind them. As fun as that would be, I find the top 4 players a much more interesting examination, and one with plenty more lessons about analytics in general. Here are 4 players who even most hardcore fans think are good, but who have certain flaws in their games that, according to analytics, drastically hinder their overall value.
4. Starlin Castro (NYY/2B)
A red-hot April in which newly-acquired Starling Castro slashed .305/.345/.488 with a 122 wRC+ led many Yankees fans to believe they had found something special in the former Cub middle infielder. Prevailing wisdom was that Chicago had hindered his development by moving him around between positions, and that New York would receive production more similar to the 2.8 WAR, 117 wRC+ season Castro posted in 2014, and less like his 0.8 WAR, 80 wRC+ 2015 campaign (the year before he was traded for Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan). What a steal!
This does not appear to be the case.
The truth is that Castro really isn’t very good at anything in particular. A horrendous career 4.9 BB% leads to a modest .318 career OBP, despite a good .279 career AVG. He does not hit for much power either, evidenced by his .125 career ISO. Unsurprisingly, Castro’s 95 wRC+ indicates he’s been 5% worse than the average hitter since he entered the league in 2010.
His speed has also heavily declined, as he has not posted double digit steals in a season since he stole 47 bags between 2011-2012, and only has 11 total since the start of 2014.
Castro’s mundane offensive output was one thing when he was an above average defense player, but this year he has actually graded out slightly below average on defense. Considering this, Castro’s current WAR of 0.2 should not come as that much of a shock.
Signed through 2019, one can’t help but wonder what the future will hold for the 26 year old Dominican player. The Yankees top two prospects according to MLB.com are both middle infielders: speedster Jorge Mateo who is currently in high A ball, and recently acquired Gleyber Torres, who, like Castro, is a former Cubs farm-hand. Torres was the centrepiece of the package traded in return for Aroldis Chapman. Additionally, two more of the Bronx Bombers’ top 10 prospects according to MLB.com are also middle infielders: Wilkerman Garcia, and Tyler Wade.
On top of these kids in the system, Castro’s current double-play partner, Didi Gregorius, is enjoying a career year, especially at the plate. I, for one, am very curious to see what the Yankees middle-infield will look like in a few years time.
3. Jose Abreu (CWS/1B)
This one may surprise some people, but the fact of the matter is that the prized Cuban defector is having an absolutely awful season.
Believe it or not, Abreu’s -0.1 WAR over 98 games this season indicates that he’s been worse than a replacement level player. Career lows in AVG, OBP, and ISO lead to a wRC+ of 100 – Abreu has been exactly a league average hitter this season. Couple this with his far below average defense – Abreu’s 11.1 runs below average on defense ranks 7th worst of all qualifiers at any position, and lack of speed, and its easy to wonder what Abreu has contributed this year.
The most highly regarded name on this entire list, Abreu would be ranked higher if it weren’t for the fact that this season is likely an anomaly in what is nonetheless going to be a great career. Abreu is still only 29.
However, there are some metrics that indicate Abreu has truly gotten worse. His line drive rate (LD%), Hard Hit Ball Rate (Hard%), Pull Rate (Pull%), and Home Run to Fly Ball Ratio (HR/FB) have all regressed each season from his rookie year of 2014.
Regardless of wether or not 2016 is just a big down year, it is incredibly interesting to note that even a player with the talent of Abreu can bring such little value to his team over such a large sample size.
2. Alcides Escobar (KC/SS)
At first glance, one might think Alcides Escobar would be an analytics darling. He plays above average defense at a premium position and steals a ton of bases. According to some traditional offensive metrics, Escobar has also been a good hitter. He has a decent .262 career AVG, including 3 seasons where he hit .285 or better. He scored 150 runs between 2014 and 2015. He was even the leadoff hitter on a World Series championship team.
But Escobar’s value is severely hurt by one very simple fact. The guy does not walk!
Since the start of 2013, Escobar’s 3.6 BB% ranks 4th worst of all qualifiers. Consequently, his .297 career OBP is barely higher than his career .262 AVG. With a walk rate that low, he would need to hit .320 to have a good OBP.
Couple this with the fact that Escobar doesn’t hit for power (.056 career ISO), and his career 73 wRC+ is easy to understand.
Combine his offensive ineptitude with declining defense and base running abilities, and Escobar is left with a -0.4 WAR this season.
Alcides Escobar is a great case study on why BB% is so important. He is proof that AVG by itself is irrelevant; what matters is how AVG affects OBP. Remember – a .235 hitter with a 10 BB% gets on base more than a .280 hitter with a 3.5 BB%.
With all this in mind, it becomes especially shocking that Escobar has been the Royal’s leadoff hitter for the vast-majority of the ball club’s resurgence starting in 2014. This team has literally chosen to give a guy with a sub .300 OBP the most plate appearances of anyone on the team. Just crazy.
1. Jay Bruce (CIN/OF)
Jay Bruce has been a huge talking point in my hometown of Toronto ever since the offseason trade involving Michael Saunders that almost was. Near the end of February, a 3-team deal was in place involving the Reds, Blue Jays, and Angels that would have sent Bruce to the Blue Jays and Saunders to the Reds. After most fans thought the trade was set in stone, one of the prospects failed a physical and the deal fell through.
Saunders and Bruce both went on to represent their respective leagues in the 2016 mid-summer classic.
On the surface, it appears as though Bruce has had a great season. Offensively, this is not only exhibited by traditional counting stats (24 HR, 78 RBI, 58 R) and rate stats (.271/.324/.567), but also by more advanced analytical metrics (129 wRC+, 11.7 runs above average on offense). There is no question that Jay Bruce has had a terrific offensive season.
So why was his WAR a minuscule 0.2 at the time of the all-star break?
Bruce is possibly the worst defensive player in baseball. His 16.6 runs below average on defense ranks dead last among all qualifiers at any position. Bruce’s -12.3 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) ranks worst among qualified outfielders, and 3rd worst among all qualifiers. His -12 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) ranks worst among qualified outfielders, and 4th worst among all qualifiers.
Analytics is telling us that Bruce’s defense is so bad, that it actually nullifies virtually all of his offensive value; and Bruce is really, really good at offense! Imagine what his WAR would look like if he wasn’t hitting the cover off of the ball? Probably somewhere close to the -0.9 WAR he posted in 2014 over 137 games.
This guy literally needs an .900 OPS (OBP + SLG) just to have replacement level value.
Not only is Bruce himself a fascinating case study, but a discussion of the above also leads to two other points of particular interest.
Firstly, regardless of how you feel about WAR as a stat (you obviously know how I feel; I also know how a lot of others feel) and the accuracy of defensive metrics, you must at least respect and appreciate the attempt to quantify hitting, defense, and base running relative to one another, and spit out one aggregate value.
Secondly, as much as the baseball community has progressed over the past decade in terms of accepting analytics and changing some of the flawed ideas that had been engraved in the game for over a century, there is still obviously a long way to go. A player with 0.2 WAR being selected to an all-star game is clear evidence of a gap still existing between the analytics community and the powers that be in the sport.
All stats and numbers taken from fangrphs.com, as of Wednesday July 27, 2016.
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