July 13, 2016

The Replacement Teams

by Daniel Conmy

Last night, the American League (AL) All-Stars defeated the National League (NL) All-Stars, 4-2. The American League representative will receive home-field advantage in the World Series happening in October. That's all well and good, but let's get to the real game: The Replacement Game.

The Replacement Game is comprised of 32 players that have accumulated negative WAR values halfway through the season. There is only one participant that does not have a negative value to their team and we will get to him shortly, but first, a primer.

These two teams, National League and American League, are comprised of at least one member from each organization, like the All-Star game that takes place every summer. There will always be snubs, so feel free to discuss my mistakes and make a point to add your own players. I used the FanGraphs player leaderboard to field two of the worst teams that we could possibly see this season. Some members were past All-Stars, but now they are a part of a truly woeful group. Each representative will have a fun fact (or not so fun for some) about their uninspiring play of the first half. 

Before we get to the names, I must note that this is all for fun. These players are professional athletes and, therefore, have much more talent on a baseball field than yours truly. This is a fun exercise to see who has truly been pitiful for half a season. Some might continue that trend in the second half and some might be able to turn it around. Now, let's look at the American League batters.

American League Batters

Name Team Position wRC+ WAR
Chris Coghlan Oakland Athletics 3B 29 -1.5
Yan Gomes Cleveland Indians C 31 -0.5
Ryan Goins Toronto Blue Jays 2B 32 -0.6
Jake Marisnick Houston Astros OF 36 -0.8
Mark Teixeira New York Yankees 1B 57 -1.2
Alcides Escobar Kansas City Royals SS 60 -0.5
Prince Fielder Texas Rangers DH 65 -1.6
Avisail Garcia Chicago White Sox OF 70 -0.6
Justin Upton Detroit Tigers OF 75 -0.6

Chris Coghlan, former NL rookie of the year, already is an interesting name because he is now on the Chicago Cubs. I am going to stick with him on the Athletics because that is where most of his negative value comes from. This season is quite a shock because Coghlan posted a combined 5.7 WAR in the past two seasons. This season, Coghlan has walked a little less, but his strikeout rate has skyrocketed to 28.6 percent from 18.7 percent in 2015. 

Yan Gomes is one of very few members of the MLB to come from Brazil. Unfortunately for this Brazilian star, the success did not come after signing a six-year/$23 million deal to stay with the Cleveland Indians. Gomes was a fantastic pitch framer in 2014, but even that part of his game has deteriorated over the last two seasons. 

Ryan Goins is a perfect defensive replacement, but he joins this illustrious lineup as a regular. Goins has increased his fly ball percentage, which usually means more success, but he's punted his line drives for the added air under the ball. It certainly doesn't help that his average fly ball only travels 196 feet, which is below the league average of 213 feet.

Jake Marisnick has a wonderful arm and is part of a Houston Astros outfield that throws the ball historically hard. Sadly, that's the only thing that is going well for the outfielder. Marisnick is hitting more fly balls which usually leads to more home runs, but only 2.7 percent of his fly balls have made it over the fence this year. Marisnick is a potential candidate for a better second half if he gets the playing time on the playoff hopeful Astros.

Mark Teixeria is broken. That certainly isn't his fault given his amazing career as a wonderful defender at first base and one of the best switch hitters in baseball history. This next statement is truly the first fun fact of this whole thing. Teixeria is the fifth switch hitter in history to hit at least 400 home runs. That is a truly incredible accolade when you realize who comprises that group.

Alcides Escobar swings at the first pitch often. We are talking an obscene amount of times. Despite his historic playoff run last year, this shortstop only holds values with his glove. Escobar was a part of the package that sent Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Prince Fielder is certainly the largest man on this list and he comes in sporting diminished numbers. We are talking about a player that once hit 50 home runs, but with his unfortunate neck injuries he has not returned to form that we so often saw on the Brewers.

Avisail Garcia was constantly referred to as the "mini-Miguel Cabrera" earlier in his career. What similarities they may have in their swings, it absolutely ends there. Garcia hits more than half of the balls on the ground. For a power hitter, he certainly needs to reverse this trend this year if he wants to be a productive member of a fading Chicago White Sox.

Justin Upton signed a six-year/$132.8 million in the offseason and is easily the worst performer on this list given his contract. In what world would Melvin Upton Jr. be the better of the brothers? I certainly didn't believe that would be the case, but here we are. Justin Upton is striking out at the highest rate of his career and is making soft contact more often than in years past.

That ends the Replacement Game batters for the AL. Now, let's move onto the pitchers for this team.

American League Pitchers

Name Team ERA FIP xFIP
Chris Young Kansas City Royals 6.79 7.98 5.19
Steve Geltz Tampa Bay Rays 6.75 9.03 5.55
Clay Bucholz Boston Red Sox 5.91 6.05 5.54
Kevin Jepsen Minnesota Twins 6.16 5.88 5.33
Darren O'Day Baltimore Orioles 3.15 5.43 3.86
Joel Peralta Seattle Mariners 5.40 5.58 4.20
Jered Weaver Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 5.27 5.61 5.62

Chris Young is a special player because of his height and the spin rate on his fastball. He does not overpower hitters with a fastball in the high 90's, rather he enjoys pitching in the mid 80's high in the zone. While in past years we saw success that bewildered many, we are finally seeing him come back down to earth. 26 percent of the fly balls that Young gives up leave the park. That is just incredible given that he is a fly ball pitcher. 2006 was the only year that Young gave up more home runs with 28, but he already has given up 26 (!) home runs this year.

Steve Geltz is certainly a relief pitcher and that's the most of my knowledge about him. The unfortunate part about these teams is you will find the occasional reliever you've never heard of and I think we are at that point. Geltz was optioned to Durham, the Rays AAA affiliate on June 24. Geltz is small in stature at 5'10" and was signed as an amateur free agent by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Matt Shoemaker, member of the Angels, also signed an amateur free agent deal and he has gone on to become one of the more intriguing pitchers with his extreme use of his splitter

Clay Bucholz has been given plenty of opportunities in a disappointing Red Sox starting rotation. Bucholz holds a 5.91 K/9 and a 4.13 BB/9. You would love to see the K/9 right around nine and the BB/9 statistic under two, but if he had those numbers, he would have no place on the replacement team being sculpted before your very eyes. 

Kevin Jepsen was released right before the All-Star break and he epitomizes what it's like for most relievers. A couple good years, a bad year here and there, then released. Jepsen was victim to a .350 BABIP this year, which is .039 points from his average of .311. 

Darren O'Day is the person I had to pick from the Orioles. Realistically, Baltimore was the hardest team to pick a player from given their lack of awfulness. Joey Rickard could be chosen after cooling down from a torrid start. Alas, O'Day was chosen as tribute from a highly competitive Orioles club. The ERA isn't awful, but FIP, which focuses on what the pitcher can control does not like the submarine pitcher. This is a case where O'Day constantly outperforms his peripherals given his distinct pitcher style. Nonetheless, O'Day is worth -0.2 WAR to the Orioles. Not bad for a first-place team.

Joel Peralta, like Chris Coghlan, is now a member of the Chicago Cubs. In this exercise, he is representing the Pacific Northwest and the Seattle Mariners. At 40 years old, Peralta is the oldest member of the Replacement Team.

Jered Weaver threw a Maddux this year. A Maddux is a complete game shutout where the pitcher throws less than 100 pitches. This is incredible given the fact that Jered Weaver literally has a lower velocity on his fastball than some players have on their curveball. Weaver is certainly one of the most ridiculous pitchers of the year and yet he is still pitching innings, albeit on a team that is wasting the best years of Mike Trout's career.

Whew, that's done with. What a ride looking at some of the worst players in the American League. Shall we do it again for the National League? Let's.

National League Batters

Name Team Position wRC+ WAR
Jordan Pacheco Cincinnati Reds 3B -9 -0.6
A.J. Pierzynski Atlanta Braves C 22 -1.2
Carl Crawford Los Angeles Dodgers OF 25 -0.8
Erick Aybar Atlanta Braves 2B 37 -1.6
Ryan Howard Philadelphia Phillies DH 43 -1.6
Ramon Flores Milwaukee Brewers OF 50 -0.7
Alexei Ramirez San Diego Padres SS 59 -1.9
Chris Johnson Miami Marlins 1B 59 -0.6
Gerardo Parra Colorado Rockies OF 62 -0.6
Ryan Zimmerman Washington Nationals 1B 78 -0.5

I must confess that this list was more difficult than the American League list because of the lack of parity in the National League. By many metrics that you sort by, you usually see the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies at the bottom. Many more members of those teams could be on this team, but we had to cut most of them out because of the restraints for this hypothetical team. Onto the members of this team.

Jordan Pacheco is a baseball player for the Reds that are located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pacheco has only appeared in 31 games this year, but has managed a negative value at the plate. That's certainly newsworthy. Pacheco is the third-worst batter with at least 50 plate appearances, ahead of Erik Kratz and Johnny Cueto.

A.J. Pierzynski is a journeyman catcher that will likely be calling it quits after this abysmal campaign. That's not to say he did not have success in his long career starting in 1998. Pierzynski is a World Series champion and that's more than I can say about my baseball career. A third place medal would have been a success for me, but I digress.

Carl Crawford is always a player I feel bad for. I know he's made more money than I will ever see in my life, but you have to feel for a guy that possibly can get injured by just getting out of bed for the day. Crawford was a superstar in 2010 where he posted a 7.7 WAR, which I'm sure he longs for everyday as he rides the pine on the most expensive team in baseball.

Erick Aybar is the second Atlanta player on this list. I tried to keep it to one per team, but Atlanta is just that bad this year. Just two years ago, Aybar put up a 4.3 WAR. Now, with moot defensive value and negative offensive ability, the Braves can deploy him as the "veteran" on a dumpster fire that will be moved to Cobb County next year.

Ryan Howard should be released. I know this is getting harsher and harsher as this moves on, but Howard had his run. A player who hit 58 home runs in his first full season absolutely has value, but once those home runs dip under 30, then the value dwindles until the immobile first basemen is being platooned. Howard always had strikeout issues and his player profile is certainly getting washed out of the game quickly.

Ramon Flores is 24 years old playing in his first full season of the big leagues. Sometimes we expect negative value from a player who is getting a chance for experience. The Brewers brought in David Stearns in the offseason as their General Manager and enacted a rebuilding of the team. When that is the case, younger players get a chance to perform and seize a spot moving forward. For Flores, that spot is slipping away from him in his future.

Alexei Ramirez has played in way too many games this year. Appearing in all but one of the Padres 89 games, Ramirez accrued the most negative WAR on the team. In past years, Ramirez was an asset defensively, but given his age, shortstop is certainly not for him anymore. 

Chris Johnson is that one-hit wonder band. You always think back to other songs (seasons) and really remember why they were a one-hit wonder. In this case, it was 165 hits in 2013 that was the wonder. Johnson strikes out 30 percent of the time and only walks five percent of the time, which is not a good combination when you do not hit over 30 home runs.

Gerardo Parra has walked four times in 249 plate appearances. If I never swung the bat in 249 plate appearances, I guarantee that I would get more than four walks. You have to try to not walk and Parra has almost perfected this ability, which is one I do not recommend. 

Ryan Zimmerman was in the news after being awful after Bryce Harper was walked. Not much has changed in the scope of his whole season, which has seen him be 22 percent worse than the average hitter this year. Zimmerman was a part of a travelball team that consisted of himself, Melvin Upton Jr., Justin Upton, and David Wright. Quite the lineup to work against.

National League Pitchers

Name Team ERA FIP xFIP
Josh Osich San Francisco Giants 4.15 5.91 4.51
Adam Warren Chicago Cubs 5.79 5.93 5.26
Trevor Rosenthal St. Louis Cardinals 5.40 4.18 3.94
Shelby Miller Arizona Diamondbacks 7.14 5.69 5.19
Logan Verrett New York Mets 4.34 5.44 5.07
Jon Niese Pittsburgh Pirates 5.13 5.49 4.39

Home stretch. I may get nasty when it comes to Shelby Miller, but if you've gotten this far then I must applaud you reading this questionable list from an author that is just trying to have some fun. Anyway, let us finish up with the National League pitching staff.

Josh Osich is the unfortunate member from a very good San Francisco Giants team. Osich, a left-handed specialist, is not a very good member from the previously mentioned good team. With this only being his second year in the big leagues, we are seeing the volatility of relievers. Osich was very good last year, posting an ERA- of 61. With decreased control, Osich has become a member that is a  LOOGY. We can confirm that's the case because Osich has 43 appearances and has only pitched 26 innings.

Adam Warren was very good as a reliever on the New York Yankees. Now, Warren is giving up more fly balls which has led to seven home runs in 32.2 innings pitched. The Cubs haven't been great this past month, but they have very little to worry about as Warren will likely regress to the mean. To argue against the previous point, relievers are random and Warren could very easily be past his prime. I am very indecisive.

Trevor Rosenthal is fascinating. He is the only member that is not worth negative WAR on this list. He comes in with a perfect zero in the WAR category. What else is fascinating with Rosenthal is his ability to walk batters and strike batters out. Rosenthal strikes out 28.4 percent of the batters he faces, but he walks 15.5 percent of the batters he faces. Cardinals Manager, Mike Matheny, recently took away the closer role from the flamethrower. I fear for Rosenthal given his absurd walk rate. It only reminds me of once dominant reliever, Daniel Bard, who could never make it back from his battle with walks. 

Shelby Miller is not worth Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, and Aaron Blair. This is not Miller's fault. This is the work of the Arizona Diamondback General Manager, Dave Stewart. Once a great pitcher of the Oakland Athletics, Stewart continues to make a mockery of the General Manager position. Selling off assets that could arguably help you win now for an 'ace' is mind-boggling. And what did Stewart receive? Stewart received a laughably bad pitcher in Shelby Miller who is trying to right the ship to an atrocious first half of the season. The ERA is worse than the FIP, so you can argue that he will regress, but the FIP is still above five. One of the untapped aspects of baseball is the psychological side and Miller is possibly feeling the affects of what we call pressure. The Diamondbacks literally sold the farm for a bonafide ace and, instead, they received a pitcher who was never considered a bonafide ace.

Logan Verrett is a spot starter for the New York Mets. He certainly isn't the worst pitcher on this list and he has a role that no one envies. Verrett's hard contact rate has gone up by 8.9 percent from 2015. Along with that stat, Verrett has missed less bats. When you adds those together, you get a higher ERA and FIP. Verrett is a long reliever and he's making the league minimum on a fun, young Mets team that has a chance to make the playoffs. Not a bad experience to tell your kids.

Jon Niese was a good fifth starter option for four or five years, but those years are over. There is some unlucky aspects to Niese's game, like his home run rate. Niese is giving up a home run on 22.7 percent of fly balls, which is far above his average of 12.1 percent in his career. 

That wraps a rather long experiment looking at the worst baseball players in the game in the first half. Would you like to watch this game if it did take place? Would this game be offensive? Defensive? Would we see more balls drop because of the poor defense at premier positions? These are all wonderful questions that I will not explore at this time, but thank you for you patience on a rather dreadful subject, the Replacement Teams. 

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