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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!