Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Phillies and The Worst Players in the League

Particularly savvy baseball fans may be aware that the Phillies are terrible this year.  That same sample of people don’t need to be told any stats or anything to confirm this, and people who were not previously aware of this can probably just take my word for it.  In fact, the Phillies have been pretty bad for a few years now.  OK, some of you might argue that they were at least average the last two seasons, but consider that while the team finished a non-terrible 81-81 and 73-89 in the last two seasons, they did so with the 2nd and 3rd highest payrolls in the league in those seasons.  And this year, they’re on pace for about 70 wins with again the 3rd highest payroll in the league.  That’s about $2.3 million per win since ’12, and when you consider that the five teams worse than the Phillies this season have an average salary $85 million less than them, it’s pretty tough to watch.

The poster boy for this burgeoning era of ineptitude has been Ryan Howard, whose 5-year, $125 million contract started in 2012.  I was reading an article by Jeff Sullivan about how bad Howard has been in that time, and the most impactful point was that Howard has accrued -0.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in the last three years.  That’s right, he has been on par with that AAA guy you just bring up from the minors when your starter tweaks a hammy.  But this got me thinking – how bad is that really?  Are there other players that have been this useless in that span of time?

So I went to my friendly neighborhood FanGraphs and searched for batters that had at least 1000 plate appearances since the start of 2012 but had at most zero WAR.  Turns out, there were nine such players:

Adeiny Hechavarria
Michael Young
Delmon Young
Jason Kubel
Ryan Howard
Michael Morse
Justin Smoak
Paul Konerko
Domonic Brown

Any other names look familiar?  Yeah, that’s right – of the nine players who have had at least 1000 PA since 2012 but at most zero WAR, FOUR of them played for the Phillies during at least one of those seasons.  But wait, there’s more – who were the next worst players?
John Mayberry
Raul Ibanez

Yup, two more Phillies!  Well, to be fair, Ibanez didn’t play for the Phillies during this span, but he did in the year immediately prior when he was, by WAR, the worst player in the league (-1.7 WAR).
So, just to make sure everyone’s on the same page, the Phillies have paid for almost 9 player-seasons of the guys who have been the 10 worst in the major leagues over the last three years.

Now, the following numbers are severely skewed by Howard’s albatross of a contract, but to limit the extent to which I blow chunks all over my computer, I am going to treat the five players (Young x2, Howard, Brown, Mayberry) as one big “investment” for the Phillies.

First, some totals: These five guys played in a total of 1086 games for the Phillies since ’12, and if you remove the three-quarters of a season that the Youngs weren’t even on the Phils, that comes to a total of about 8.5 seasons.  Average that out and we’re talking fewer than 130 games per season actually playing for the club (and admittedly a lot of that is Howard’s injury troubles).  They accrued -1.7 WAR in those 1086 games, which, fortunately for the Phillies, represents less than half of the terribleness that they as a group accrued in total over that time (the Youngs totaled -2 WAR for other teams).  And, the worst part – they paid these players a total of 75 million dollars (again, $65 million of that was just Howard). 

It’s generally thought that the value of a “win” in terms of salary is about $5 million, so these guys would have had to accumulate 17 more WAR in the last two and a half years to make themselves even a fair value for their collective cost.  Now, four players did in fact reach 17+ WAR over this same time span (some guys named Trout, McCutchen, Cabrera, and Cano), but what if they had split that value evenly?  I gave an estimate of 8.5 seasons above, so what if each guy had an increase of a nice even 2 WAR per season?  Well, that shouldn’t be too hard, since in 2012-14, there have been almost 360 player seasons in which a player had at least 2 WAR (and that includes the partial seasons from this year!).  But these are the Phillies, and they only hold 6 of those 360, or just 1.7% (you would expect twice that for an average team).

I don’t really have much else to say – there isn’t much I can say, actually.  Trade ‘em.  Trade ‘em all.

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