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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!