A Lesson In Futility

Futile –  adjective: incapable of producing any result; ineffective; useless; not successful

That is how the dictionary defines futile.  In baseball terms, putting the Blue Jays logo beside the August calendar accomplishes the same thing.  Seriously, Toronto has been woeful in August.  They have lost 13 of 17.  But what really got me thinking about futility was watching Kelly Johnson bat in the bottom of the 8th inning.  His weak swinging strikeout against Donnie Veal (great name by the way), gave Johnson a strikeout in 16 consecutive games.  He has whiffed in every single game he has played in August.  That is bad.  He has four (!) Golden Sombreros this season alone.  That is really bad.

But I’ll stop picking on Kelly Johnson.  He did pop a 3-run HR to tie the game last night, and besides, his 122 strikeouts are miles behind Adam Dunn’s league leading total of 168.

Instead, I’ll start picking on others.

After all, what better way to make yourself feel better about your team’s perils than to point out the shortcomings of others? 

Take heart Blue Jays fans: here are some of MLB’s worst performers thus far in 2012:

Basic Futility

With all of the SABRmetrics influenced statistics available, sometimes it’s just best to get back to the basics.  Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, OPS, Earned Run Average.  With the exception of OPS, these stats have been telling us who is good and bad for decades.  One of the most famous measures of futility comes in the batting average sphere – the Mendoza Line.  The Mendoza Line is based on the career batting average of Mario Mendoza, and for years and years has defined incompetent hitting.  Anybody hitting less than the Mendoza Line (a .200 average, even though his career mark was .215), basically just plain sucks.

The Jays currently have three players under the Mendoza Line, but Yan Gomes, Anthony Gose, and Adeiny Hechavarria each have well under 100 plate appearances, so we’ll let them slide.

These guys aren’t so lucky.  Among qualified batters, there are two players currently under the Mendoza line in the MLB:

.191 avg – Carlos Pena , Tampa Bay (409 AB)

.189 avg – Justin Smoak, Seattle (349 AB)

If we expand the list to include anybody with at least 200 AB, we capture:

.199 – Brendan Ryan, Seattle

.199 – Cliff Pennington, Oakland

.197 – Orlando Hudson, San Diego/Chicago

.197 – Russell Martin, NY Yankees

.194 – Rod Barajas, Pittsburgh

.191 – Geovany Soto, Chicago/Texas

.182 – John Buck, Miami

.157 – Nick Hundley, San Diego

You read that right – Nick Hundley is batting .157.  He is 32 for 204.  Awwwwwful.

There are some other horrendous numbers out there too.  In terms of OBP, Miguel Cairo of the Reds put up a .177 mark in 109 AB.  Brent Morel of the White Sox has thus far blasted a .195 slugging percentage in 113 AB, a mark that includes only two extra base hits in 125 plate appearances.

Using some conventional pitcher stats, Jonathan Sanchez is the winner.  In 64.2 IP he put up a tremendous ERA of 8.07, a number that makes even Ricky Romero’s last few weeks look decent.

But the winner for worst pitcher of the year, by far, has to be former Jay Francisco Cordero.  He is sporting a nifty 7.55 ERA, with a 4.00 Blown Save / Save ratio: 8 blown saves and only 2 successfully converted saves.  Brutal.

Advanced Futility

While it’s awful fun to look at bad batting averages, nothing beats looking at WAR – specifically players with a negative-WAR.  What a negative WAR means, is basically that the player is costing his team games with his play. 

As I mentioned in a previous post on this site, there are two different industry standards for WAR – one from baseball-reference (bWAR) and one from Fangraphs (fWAR).  The two are calculated a bit differently and often produce significantly different results.  But both agree on the worst players in baseball in 2012 – and neither of them are on the lists produced in the Basic section above.

Nope.  The worst player in baseball is Jeff Francoeur with a -1.6 fWAR and a -2.7 bWAR.  Close behind?  Michael Young of the Rangers, sporting a -1.6 fWAR and a -2.1 bWAR.

The two also come to a consensus agreement on the worst pitcher in the league, none other than Angels RHP Ervin Santana.  Santana is the recipient of a -0.5 fWAR and a -1.9 bWAR. 

Baseball-reference allows us to see the components of its WAR statistic, namely offensive WAR (oWAR) and defensive WAR (dWAR), and by doing so allows us to see the bottom of the barrel in these categories.  Francoeur takes the cake in dWAR with a -2.3, and Detroit’s Ryan Raburn scores a -1.6 oWAR, despite only having 198 AB!!

Fangraphs measures defensive ability with a stat called Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).  Despite warnings on the site that single season snapshots are inaccurate, that doesn’t stop the 500 Level Fan from looking at 2012’s numbers in isolation.  They tell us that Curtis Granderson, with a -19.0 UZR, is the worst defensive player in baseball.  According to Fangraphs mapping table, -15.0 equates to “Awful”, meaning Granderson is beyond awful.  Classic.

Of course, we have to end with something that ties things back to Toronto, and sadly it is by naming the worst pitcher in all of baseball.  As I said above, both BR and Fangraphs tab Ervin Santana as the worst in terms of WAR.  But for Fangraphs that is only for qualified pitchers.  By expanding the list to include all pitchers, no matter how many innings pitched, there is a new champion.

Ladies and gentleman, with an fWAR of an atrocious -0.8, the winner for worst pitcher in 2012 goes to your hero and mine, ex-Blue Jay Francisco “CoCo” Cordero!

So there you go.  As it is with real life, things could always be worse. 

The 2012 Blue Jays could still have Coco in the ‘pen.

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