The Five Average-est Position Players of 2010

With the year-end awards right around the corner, fans are going to be celebrating and debating the most valuable players in baseball. The WAR framework is helpful for that sort of thing, as well as something just as fun: debating which players were the least valuable. But you know who gets left out? The guys in the middle: the most average players in baseball.

It is easy enough to determine (for position players) from the WAR components. As I did last season, by subtracting the “replacement” component from a player’s WAR (in this case, RAR) line, you get his combined batting, fielding (the WAR leaderboards use UZR, but one could do with with other metrics), and positional contribution above or below average. If you take the absolute value of that number, you get his distance from average.

Keeping the “toy stat” nature of this exercise in mind, here are the five “average-est” position players of 2010!

We have a tie for the fifth:

5) Dexter Fowler (0.5 runs from average). Fowler struggled badly at the plate near the beginning of the season and got sent down, but managed to play well enough after he came back up to be about average overall. So far, the metrics don’t see him as the defensive wizard he was expected to be as a prospect, but his bat did come around. Fowler is young enough that he still has some development time, and could still be more than just a role player on a Rockies team that has the talent to contend in 2011 and beyond.

5) Delmon Young (0.5). Not only was Young league average this season, but at 2.1 WAR, he was above replacement level for the first time since joining the Twins. I guess the Twins finally won that Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett-for-Young and Brendan Harris trade, huh? Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Prior to the 2010 season, I noticed that CHONE was relatively optimistic about Young’s bat, and it made sense. Despite his struggles in the majors leading up to 2010, he was still only 24 at the beginning of the season, and if he hadn’t been a good major league hitter at 21, he had at least held his own. This isn’t to say that Young’s future is bright, exactly. Despite his progress with the bat, it looks as if he’ll never be better than a very bad defender, and a good-but-not-great bat isn’t enough to make up for that and make him more than adequate overall. I guess that means he’ll fit right in with Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer. That said, congratulations to Delmon Young for saving his major league career this season.

3) Adam LaRoche (0.3). LaRoche has an interesting recent history — Atlanta trading Casey Kotchman, a piece of the Mark Teixeira “bounty” to regain LaRoche, and also being part of Brian Sabean’s 2010 master plan (obviously) to bring down Superstar Aubrey Huff‘s price by making a big offer to LaRoche first. His 2.1 WAR isn’t bad, and LaRoche doesn’t have the massive home/road splits that some Arizona hitters do, but he didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard, either. A .339 wOBA (his worst since 2005) in that ballpark isn’t going to make teams salivate for an unexceptional 30-year-old defensive first baseman. I suppose he’ll benefit from a fairly shallow free-agent class and having a relatively clean medical history.

2) Hideki Matsui (0.2). The 2010 Angels not only failed to win the West for the first time since 2006, but failed to go .500 for the first time since 2003. Whatever went wrong with the Angels plans this season, not much of it can be blamed on exchanging former DH Vladimir Guerrero for Matsui for about the same price. Yes, Guerrero did have a better season for division rival Texas, but he was less than a win better than Matsui. Matsui did look like toast at certain points during the season, but hitting enough overall the whole season as a (nearly) full-time DH to end up with 1.9 WAR shows he still had something left in the tank. He struggled against southpaws, but historically he has a relatively small split. His age and “position” mean that Matsui may or may not have a full-time job next season, but he can still help some team out there with an open spot at DH.

And now, the Most Average Position Player of 2010, a universal fan favorite…

1) A.J. Pierzynski (0.1). Seriously? A guy with a .299 wOBA in that park is average? Well, catchers don’t have to do much with the bat given the difficulty of the position. Like Matsui and LaRoche, Pierzynski is a free agent, and while he’s been average-ish overall for his career, he’ll be 34 when Spring Training rolls around and probably needs to be platooned. Still, maybe even a guy with Pierzynski’s reputation has reached that magical age when teams start to think of him as that “veteran catcher who could really help our staff,” I dunno. He’s a real test case.

But that’s for the (near) future, and this post is about the (recent) past. Congratulations to A.J. Pierzynski on being the average-est position player in the majors this season!

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

20 Responses to “The Five Average-est Position Players of 2010”

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  1. David Martin says:

    The metrics don’t see Fowler as the defensive wizard that he was expected to be…

    Just another reason to throw out the defensive metrics. Anyone who watched the guy play center field on a daily basis knows that he is far better than an average fielder, and borderline top shelf defender.

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      This is why I qualified what I wrote with “so far,” as even the staunchest defenders of defensive metrics would acknowledge that the sample for Fowler isn’t very telling with regard to his true talent yet.

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    • Mike says:

      Maybe playing in Coors makes his defense look worse than it really is.

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    • kbertling353 says:

      Throw them out based on one outfielder in a unique park.

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    • My echo and bunnymen says:

      Based on the extremely large sample of the two games I watched (LIVEz!?!?!?!11?!/1a?1!) at Coors Field, I gotta say I was unimpressed. So I’m throwing out your throw out…… That’s right.

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  2. miffleball says:

    clearly not the right place for this, but hopefully someone sees it and addresses it. WAR is the wins above replacement, where a team of replacement players will win 25 games/year. According to this site’s stats, the 2010 mets were cumulatively +16.8 WAR, for a projected total of 41.8 wins. Since this isn’t even close to what happened, what am I missing?

    (by the way, this same analysis holds true for any team – the yankees, for instance, were +32.7, for a total of 57.7 wins)

    Based on actual wins, I’d have to assume (using the mets numbers) that a replacement team would win 62 or so games, although using the brewers numbers (+29.1, 77 wins) you’d assume a replacement level competence of 48 wins and using the diamondbacks (24.7 WAR, 65 wins) you’d assume 40 wins as a baseline.

    Does WAR actually predict team success, and if not, how is it actually measuring wins?

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      The “prediction” issue is a bigger one than can be addressed here in comments. I’ll say that I do think that it correlates fairly well.

      I do want to correct one thing — the WAR model used here sees a replacement level team as around 49- 50 wins, not 25.

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    • Mike says:

      I think in a different article, they said replacement level for an NL team is around 48 wins.

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    • edb11235813 says:

      @Miffleball – the discrepancy is due to the fact that a replacement level team would not win 0 games in one season. If you took a team of 25 AAAA players, they would win some games over the season. It’s that many games + team WAR that should approximate the actual win total.

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    • bender says:

      Also note that that’s only offensive wins not pitching war

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    • Jimmy says:

      You are missing the fact that you are only including Batting/Fielding runs in your WAR. Add pitching runs and you will get the correct WAR totals for teams.

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  3. B N says:

    “He’s a real test case.”

    I believe the term you were looking for was “head case.”

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  4. Choo says:

    This is enough to make a Mariner fan wonder who the “Mariner-iest” non-Mariner was in 2010 . . .

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  5. PL says:

    Really wish people would quit implying that Matsui is an upgrade over Jack Cust and the A’s should sign him. If he goes to Oakland, they can kiss goodbye any playoff hopes they had. Let him rot in Seattle or KC.

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    • brendan says:

      I think cust may be 1 win better than matsui, 3 WAR vs. 2 WAR, but is that such a huge difference? enough to ‘kiss playoff hopes goodbye’? fact is, it’s pretty hard to be a superstar at DH, given the positional adj.

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  6. Trev says:

    I think 2B and 3B are the most ‘average’ positions on the defensive spectrum. (Although I think of CF & 2B as worth 5 runs above average, while 3B is exactly average).

    Either way your list is 1 CF, 1 C, and three sluggers. Who are the most average players w/o the position component?

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  7. Jason F says:

    Matt, you totally hijacked this idea from me. I wrote an eerily similar article about two months ago and did a follow-up, end-of-season version as well. Not that I have enough hubris to genuinely believe you stole it from me, but I will puff my chest out a little that I did it first. Alas, my readership pales in comparison to that of fangraphs. Have a look, you might enjoy it. The link is to the season ending version which also has an embedded link to the original.

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      No problem… except if you click through the links, you’ll see that I did the same sort of post a year ago, and did one even earlier than that for a now-defunct site.

      In any case, great minds think alike. As for OUR minds… well… who knows?

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      • Jason F says:

        Yeah, I don’t know if so-called great minds explore who the most average players are, but, for now, I’ll settle for like-minded. Keep up the good work.

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