Sports are biased toward success. That’s quite the obvious statement; players aren’t going out on the field and trying to lose, and fans don’t root for their favorite team to lose on a nightly basis. We all love a winner.
And yet, there’s something very satisfying in flipping the leaderboards on their head and looking at which players have been the worst in the majors. It’s a bit sadistic when you think about it — these players are people too, and we all know how much it hurts to perform poorly at your job — but the Yuniesky Betancourts and David Ecksteins of the world can get just many words written about them as star players sitting at the top of the game.
But schadenfreude be darned, I can’t help but want to know who the worst players in the majors have been over the past few years. Care to join me? Let’s take this category by category, as ranked by cumulative stats from 2010 and 2011.
Worst Hitter — Jose Lopez, -36.6 runs
There’s not much of a redeeming factor in a .231/.262/.326 line — when your slugging percentage would just barely make for an average on-base percentage, you’re not all that strong a hitter. And power used to be Lopez’s strength; he was never much of one to take a walk or hit for a high average, but he would make up for it in 2008-09 by hitting 42 homeruns over those two seasons. Since then, his Isolated Power (ISO) has dropped from the .150-.190 range to the .050-.100 range and he’s hit a total of 12 homeruns over the last two seasons.
It’s odd for a player to lose all power while entering their physical prime — Lopez is currently 27 — and it’s possible it comes back. But right now, his .229 wOBA this season is not helping his chances of continuing to stick in the majors.
Worst Baserunner — Paul Konerko, -9.9 runs
Konkero has never been a strong baserunner, racking up a negative Ultimate Base Running (UBR) score in every year since 2002. He normally averages around -5 runs per season on the basepaths, but this season he’s taking it to a new extreme: he’s already totaled -6.7 runs in only 77 games. The current all-time worst single-season score for UBR is held by Kendrys Morales, who ran his way into an impressive -11.3 runs in 2009, but Konerko is on pace to eclipse that mark.
Thankfully, Konerko is still a strong enough hitter (.411 wOBA) to more than compensate for his bad baserunning. But if he sticks around the league for a few more seasons, we could see some impressively bad baserunning totals.
Worst Fielder — Matt Kemp, -33.9 runs
When both Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) rate you as worse than -15 runs in the field over a season….well, that’s really bad. But that’s what Matt Kemp did last season in centerfield, and according to UZR, he’s on a similar pace in 2011 (-8 runs so far). One year could just be an fluke, especially considering he rated as around average in centerfield in 2008 and 2009, but as this sample is getting larger, it’s worth considering that Kemp would be better served moving to a corner outfield slot.
Kemp’s bat makes him valuable in the outfield no matter where he plays, and obviously he’d be much more valuable if he could stick in centerfield. But can he? I don’t claim to know the answer to that, but it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.
Worst Overall — Chone Figgins, -0.1 WAR
Has Chone Figgins dethroned Yuniesky Betancourt as the worst player in the majors? Well, yes, he certainly has — Betancourt was worse than Figgins in getting on base, but he hit for enough power (.388 slugging) to make up for it and give him 0.5 WAR since the start of 2010.
But if Figgins as much fun to make fun of as Betancourt? No, not really — Figgins was once a good player, but he’s seemingly fallen apart over the last two seasons. I used to really like Figgins, as he had a fun name and was a good sleeper pick in fantasy baseball, so it’s somewhat sad to see him go downhill so quickly. He’s only 33-years-old and could turn things around enough to be a useful player, but right now he looks like he’s working his way out of a major-league job.
Honorable Mentions — Carlos Lee and Raul Ibanez, 0.1 WAR each
Lee’s made $37 million between 2010-2011, and Ibanez has made $23 million. I don’t think anyone saw this coming when those two signed their contracts…