One of the main points that the statistical community has been trying to drive home for years is the availability of useful role players for practically nothing. When teams spend big money on below average players simply because they have a track record of success, they’re throwing money away, because comparable (or better) players can literally be claimed on waivers.
We get yet another example today, when Ryan Langerhans was outrighted off the Nationals 40 man roster. When you are outrighted off of a roster, you have to be placed on waivers, giving every team in baseball a chance to claim you for the waiver fee cost of $25,000. Every team in baseball decided they’d pass at picking him up for $25,000.
Langerhans isn’t a star, and he won’t be the best player on anyone’s team, but the idea that every major league team looked at him and said “meh, he can’t help us” is pretty crazy. In 139 plate appearances with the Nationals last year, he hit .234/.380/.396, an offensive performance built on a lot of walks and a bit of power. Even with the low batting average, he was an above average hitter, posting a WPA/LI of 0.21. When you get on base 38% of the time, you’re helping your team at the plate.
Now, Langerhans isn’t likely to repeat his .380 OBP next year, but he’s racked up 1141 plate appearances in his major league career and has a career .713 OPS. He’s totaled -1.51 WPA/LI during the equivalent of two full big league seasons, meaning that, on average, he’s been a little less than one win below an average hitter over a full season of play. Colin Wyers recently ran a set of 2009 Marcel Projections, which basically confirms this assessment – it has Langerhans as a .238/.346/.385 hitter and about 10 runs below an average hitter for next year.
Now, if he was a 280 pound, defense challenged first baseman, you could easily explain why no one was interested in carrying him. But Langerhans is a pretty terrific defensive outfielder, consistently showing off well above average range and tracking down fly balls in the gaps. He’s something like a league average defensive CF, or a +10 to +15 run guy while playing a full year in either LF or RF.
As a center fielder, Langerhans ability to get on base and cover ground could be a real benefit to a team, even just as a part-time player. The fact that he cleared waivers continues to show that MLB teams undervalue this skillset. Some smart team would do well to sign Langerhans to a league minimum salary this winter and let him serve as their fourth OF – he’ll provide some nice production for no cost expended.
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