The Astros released Bill Hall last week to make room for the returning Jason Bourgeois. The 31-year-old Hall had been awful this season for the Astros, producing 0.9 wins below replacement. His fielding has eroded in recent years, and his offense, aside for what appears to be a fluky uptick last season, has left much to be desired for almost five seasons. His wOBAs since 2006? Try .317, .297, .261, .342, .269.
Sure, there was some reason to think that the .342 might be more indicative of his offensive proclivities, but the signing was odd for a team like the Astros. To guarantee $3 million at the major league level and include an option for next season suggests that the team believed Hall had some upside. They still have Jeff Keppinger under control, but his injury opened up a spot. Since Hall isn’t a puts-butts-in-seats kind of guy, it probably would have made more sense to use some farmhand in the spot until Keppinger returned.
Where did his -0.9 WAR rank, you ask? Good question, I say, as the original theme of this post changed from why signing Hall made little sense for the Astros when a realization was made scanning the leaderboards. The default setting on our leaderboards filters only for batters that qualify for a batting title. Sorting the players by WAR from the bottom up, I expected to see Hall’s name toward the top of the list. It wasn’t there. The list went:
Hall was nowhere to be found, even though his -0.9 was the same as Huff’s and Tejada’s mark. Hall has been so bad this season that he doesn’t even qualify for most leaderboards.
Granted, WAR is a counting statistic that shouldn’t require any type of playing time filter, but this struck me as incredibly interesting. The correlation makes sense: play poorly and your playing time will be cut. But Hall and his colleagues in this regard had to be monumentally bad to the point that they soared to the top of the trailerboard in such a small relative sample of plate appearances. Here’s a quick look at these players:
Magglio Ordonez (-1.1 WAR): The captain of this club, Ordonez has been hampered by an ankle injury. That might explain part of his .207 wOBA in 106 plate appearances, but not all. Fun fact (as long as you aren’t Magglio Ordonez): Jose Bautista‘s wOBA is exactly 2.5 times higher. While Ordonez isn’t a full-time fielder anymore, his efforts in 73 outfield innings this season were three runs below average. It’s too early to close the book on him given the injury and his success at the plate over the last three seasons, but his ability to recover from said injury remains to be seen.
Bill Hall (-0.9 WAR): In 158 PAs he struck out a whopping 37.5 percent of the time, compiling a .224/.272/.340 line with a -7.7 UZR. His line drive rate improved to right around 24 percent, and his BABIP followed suit at .341, but when the ball is rarely put in play those rates don’t matter all that much. Of players with 50 PAs, only Adam Dunn, Ryan Langerhans, Kelly Shoppach, Ramon Castro, and Ian Stewart have whiffed more frequently. Dunn is in the midst of an unusually horrific season; Langerhans and Stewart are having trouble holding onto major league jobs; and Shoppach and Castro are catchers, so they can get away with it given their place on the defensive spectrum.
Edwin Encarnacion (-0.9 WAR): Some players are on here as a direct result of their suckitude with the bat. Encarnacion, aptly nicknamed E5, makes this list primarily on the lack of merit of his glovework. In just 43 games his UZR is a spectacularly bad -9.1. If you’re more into the fielding percentage metric, consider this factoid Dave Cameron discussed recently. As of May 27th, Encarnacion had a .784 fielding percentage. The next worst was Andy LaRoche at .892, a gap of 108 points. Encarnacion is one of the worst fielders in baseball history, and if he can’t even match the lower league average with the bat, what actual purpose does he serve?
Willie Harris (-0.8 WAR): Harris is primarily a pincher these days, hitting for pitchers, running for slowpokes, or replacing defenders late in games. The last part is particularly ironic given that he has stunk, in limited action, in both the infield and outfield. Because he is fast, or was once fast, the assumption that he still has the speed, instincts, and first steps necessary to ably field certain positions is laughable. His .220/.310/.300 line should improve, but it’s high time the Mets started using him strictly as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner instead of thinking his fielding abilities from 2004 are still in the repertoire.
Dan Johnson, Reid Brignac, Tyler Colvin (-0.8 WAR): Based on my twitter feed, I thought Dan Johnson was one of the best players in baseball over the last few years. There isn’t really much to say for DJ, who walks quite a bit but doesn’t have much power outside of Japan and isn’t an elite fielder. Getting a .350/.430 OBP and SLG from a first baseman is okay in a transition year, with a stopgap, but he couldn’t even get to that point.
Brignac was on a league average pace last season, hitting a bit below average, but with solid fielding skills at the toughest infield position. This season, he has a .171 wOBA, and while the fielding skills haven’t gone away, he has a .171 wOBA.
Colvin hit .254/.316/.500 last season, leading many to wonder if he was “for real”. He has only stepped to the plate 85 times this season, but has a mere seven hits. His walk rate has improved, and the strikeout rate isn’t substantially worse. His major issue is a 12.7 percent line drive rate and a microscopic .094 BABIP. He’ll definitely get another chance, and he cannot possibly be this bad. He might not be for real in terms of blossoming into a hard-hitting corner outfielder, but he also isn’t anywhere near as bad as he has looked this year.
Some of these players have clear and established levels of productivity that suggest their performance this season is nothing other than small sample silliness. For others, like Hall, it more likely signifies the decline or end of a career. It’s easy to stink in the major leagues if skills slip by even a small margin, but it seems very difficult to be so bad to the point of not qualifying for a leaderboard.