The Five Average-est Position Players of 2011

MLB’s Awards Week, with all of its attendant celebrations and arguments, is in full swing. It is also a good time to see just how bad the worst players in the league were. But, as always, the players in the middle get left out. Why not celebrate them, as well? Like my elementary school counselor used say: “everyone is special.” Who were 2011’s most average players?

As in previous installations of this award, it is simple enough to understand. To determine a position player’s (this is much more complicated for pitchers, which is why they are not eligible for this prestigious award) distance from average, simply subtract the “Replacement” component from a player’s Runs Above Replacement (WAR prior to being converted to a wins scale). That leaves just the combined batting, fielding, and positional adjustment runs for each player. The absolute value of that number is the player’s distance from average.

Keep in mind that this is another product from my junk stat laboratory, and let’s have fun with it. Only players qualified for the batting title were eligible.

Before getting to the top (or middle) five, here are some honorable mentions who justed missed the cut: Darwin Barney, Derek Jeter, Dan Uggla, Torii Hunter, and Drew Stubbs.

5. Alcides Escobar (1.28). I know I am not supposed to care about the Gold Glove awards, but it really is a shame that Escobar (along with the equally-shafted Alexei Ramirez, among others) did not even receive a nomination. Whether or not you like defensive metrics, I think most would agree that Escobar is at least a very good defender at the toughest position on the field. He needs to be, too, since he really cannot hit. Escobar is a hacker without power, and after almost 1300 major-league plate appearances, it seems like he simply does not hit the ball hard enough to have a decent BABIP, despite his speed. He will only be 26 next season, but there really is not much to build on in terms of offense. If he keeps up the tremendous performance with the glove, he should be able to stay around average for a few years.

4. Josh Willingham (0.93). Some might think Willingham had a pretty blah season, but he not only was the fourth-most-average position player of 2011, but he also was a serious RBI guy. Willingham has a pretty good bat, but he is not much of a fielder. He also has never played 150 or more games in a major-league season, and has not played more than 140 since 2007. He is apparently looking for a three-year deal in free agency, and might get one in this shallow free agent market. Willingham has his strengths, but I am guessing that a team that gives him three years will regret it down the road.

3. John Buck (0.81). To no one’s surprise, Buck did not repeat his impressive power show from his 2010 in Toronto. However, he did manage to play a career high 140 games, and posted career-best walk and strikeout rates. People questioned the Marlins’ signing of Buck to a three-year contract, and while they probably will not enjoy much surplus value in the last part of the contract, it is working out so far. Personally, Buck was always one of my favorites (I’m not sure why) when he played in Kansas City, and while he was never all that great, he did get jerked around a fair bit, so I am happy to see him get paid.

2. Robert Andino (0.06). I can’t wait Andino to be inducted into the Tampa Bay Rays’ Hall of Fame.

And finally, the Most Average Position Player of 2011 is…

1. Seth Smith (0.01). The Rockies gave Smith something like a full-time job this season, and while his 2011 offensive numbers are not quite as impressive once his home field is accounted for, it was still a good season with the bat for him. His UZR hurt his overall WAR, but I am sure he is fine with that, since it allowed him to be almost exactly average this season. As an added bonus, is there a more average-sounding name than “Seth Smith?”

Congratulations to Mr. Smith on his utter adequacy!

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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.

18 Responses to “The Five Average-est Position Players of 2011”

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  1. Expos67 says:

    Seth Smith just can’t hit lefties. If you strictly use him in a platoon role, he can be a very useful player, if not….well we see the results.

    I gotta admit that Seth Smith is pretty average as a name.

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    • Awesome says:

      Seth Smith hasn’t really had many at bats against average LHP as the only ones he is allowed to face are relievers(180 Career at bats against LH starters) It would be nice to let Smith get a chance to face a LHP 2 or 3 times in a game before completely relagating him to a platoon.

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  2. dudley says:

    well, average isn’t bad. S squared was a pretty useful player at 1.9 WAR, and I’m not sure if we can totally rely on the negative UZR dragging him down, since he rated as above average in the field the last two years.

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  3. Question says:

    Can we look at the median players as well? Would it be any different?

    I imagine that the league is pretty bottom heavy in terms of talent distribution, so the median players would be significantly worse than the average players.

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    • GiantHusker says:

      Since Matt limited the field to players who had enough AB’s to qualify for the “batting” title, few of the vast number of inferior players would be included. While the median and mean would not likely be identical, the group of players near the middle would probably be similar.

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  4. Hurtlocker says:

    Has anyone noticed that Uggla has the same good year/bad (relative) year
    that Aubry Huff has??

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    • GiantHusker says:

      Your wording is confusing, but I’m not sure how you manage to equate a player who was near average to one who was near the bottom.

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  5. joe bananas says:

    seth smith strikes fear in the hearts of lispers everywhere.

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  6. Ben says:

    I miss Nick Johnson. My brothers and I use to call him Mr. Average. Although, his ability to get injured is MVP-caliber.

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  7. baty says:

    I wonder if you need a different form of criteria that really captures average in contrast to best and worst… A guy that’s flatlined across the board with average “everything production”… Sort of just there not doing a whole lot of anything to help or hurt.

    A guy like Alcides is too special a fielder to be average, and Seth Smith is great in some respects, and awful with others. A guy with peaks and valleys, just amounts to an average overall result… not an averag-est player.

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    • IvanGrushenko says:

      Kelly Johnson was -3.0 BRAA, -1.4 BBRAA, +2.5 FRAA, +2.1 Pos for a total of 0.3 RAA

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    • GiantHusker says:

      When I first saw the title of the article, I expected something more like what you describe.
      That approach would be interesting.

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  8. Matty Brown says:

    Most Average Name: Matt Brown. (my name)

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  9. Brad Johnson says:

    It’s not really fair to credit Uggla with an honorable mention. He was really two outlier players in 2011, they just each performed as Uggla for roughly half a season.

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    • GiantHusker says:

      Wow, does the most average player for the season also have to be the most consistently average over the course of the season?
      How do you find that guy!

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  10. stan says:

    As I was reading over this I was struck by how this article exemplifies the big weaknesses in WAR: it is too dependent on playing time and it doesn’t account enough for playing situations.

    Smith and Willingham are the best examples of this. Smith was a very good player this year. Any team would be happy to have him. However, because he was blocked for most of the year and has to sit against lefties even when “starting”, his playing time numbers will be decreased.

    Similarly, Willingham is a very good player who any team would be happy to have. However, he does get injured about once a year and he played last year in a hitting cavern.

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