Now that the 2012 Major League Baseball regular season has concluded, it’s safe to look back on a lot of things even if the playoffs don’t begin to unravel their web until several hours from now. We can pour over numbers and results until we’re comfortable analyzing a team’s performance or exactly what steps a specific player took to improve or regress. When you’re a baseball fan, there’s always something to dissect, and as we wait for tonight’s wild card play-in games to materialize, somewhat trivial dissection seems like a pretty good plan.
There is always plenty of discussion during and after the season regarding which players may deserve MVP or Cy Young candidacy, which makes sense considering how fun it is to argue one player’s merits over another’s. Plus, there’s the whole “wow, how is that guy having this kind of year” narrative that often leads us down a long and winding road of detective work. Well, we’re sure to trade heavily in those posts soon, but for now I’m going to take the low road and point out the very worst players in baseball circa 2012, the players who had seasons so terrible they really can’t be ignored. Think anti-peak era Yuniesky Betancourt or Pedro Feliz. As usual, if I’m using WAR you can give the credit to FanGraphs.
Seven different position players managed to cost their teams victories per WAR, a feat that simply isn’t all that easy to pull off. Perhaps even more surprisingly, each and every one of the names you are about to read range from fairly recognizable to downright newspaper worthy. I’ll start in descending order so that the true Worst of the Worst is revealed last. It’s more dramatic that way, like an awards show!
Justin Smoak/Seattle/-0.1 WAR
Not that long ago in the inner circle among minor league prospects, a trade from Texas and a gradual decay in terms of approach have created a version of Justin Smoak that not only didn’t become a superstar but became something of a liability. Smoak spent his 2012 racking up 535 PA worth of yuck, hitting .217/.290/.364 and posting a .287 wOBA. It’s fairly uncommon that a player can hit 19 homers and be this inept. Smoak turns 26 in December, and it seems like the corner isn’t going to get turned.
Jesus Montero/Seattle/-0.2 WAR
It looks like we’ll stay put in Seattle for our next puddle of terrible, as Jesus Montero simply didn’t do anything well except for pop the occasional home run. Remember when that Michael Pineda-Montero deal was such a huge news story? It seems like a distant, hazy memory now. Montero had difficulty not hacking aimlessly, as his .260/.298/.386 season line reflects. This approach didn’t work well at Safeco, and the young slugger added to his deficit by struggling defensively and on the basepaths (when he managed to find himself on base, that is).
Delmon Young/Minnesota/-0.7 WAR
Delmon Young, in a season once again marked by an embarrassing legal incident, was quite pathetic on the field as well. Young once again showed his desire to swing at every single pitch he can in an attempt to avoid a walk, hitting .267/.296/.411 with a 3.3% walk rate. Young was hardly adequate at the little things either, as his baserunning wasn’t highly thought of and his work in the outfield continued to resemble that of a man whose feet were already trapped in cement blocks.
Eric Hosmer/Kansas City/-1.1 WAR
For me, Eric Hosmer is the most surprising name on this list. I, like many, had Hosmer pegged to truly begin his ascent to stardom in 2012. I wouldn’t have been this surprised if he’d put together a down-ballot MVP season. As is too often the case in Kansas City, things just didn’t work out immediately. Hosmer hit a gross .232/.304/.359 and was panned at first base by UZR, though first base defensive metrics are a bit sketchy. At any rate, production like that can’t happen at first base (or really anywhere), so hopefully Hosmer will right his ship in 2013.
Brennan Boesch/Detroit/-1.2 WAR
There have been moments over the course of Brennan Boesch‘s career in which he has flirted with converting a few baseball fans over to his side, but none of those moments came in 2012. Boesch hit a depressing .240/.286/.372 in 503 PA, and he did so while floundering with the glove. His 76 wRC+ is the lowest figure on this list so far, though it will be topped by our Worst of the Worst winner shortly.
Michael Young/Texas/-1.3 WAR
Michael Young has frequently enjoyed a celebrated career in which his fellow peers have called him the most underrated player in the game. He’s had some valuable seasons, the best of which was his stint as an offensively-minded shortstop putting up a .389 wOBA in 2005. He’s surged back from the abyss multiple times, and he was worth 3.7 WAR as recently as last season. Getting ready to turn 36, it looks like Father Time may have finally claimed Young, as the infielder hit a paltry .277/.312/.370 in 651 PA, and he did this as a third baseman in an unquestionable hitter’s park. Young’s glove, never a strong suit of his, has failed him as well, and as a result he was easily one of the least valuable players in baseball over the course of 2012.
Jeff Francoeur/ Kansas City/-1.3 WAR
Even as he’s posted some respectable seasons in terms of raw counting stats, Francoeur has never been a favorite of the sabermetric crowd thanks to his flailing ways and uninspired approach at the plate. Things seemed to have turned around a bit for Frenchy, as he was able to ride a batting average wave to a career-best .346 wOBA in 2011 en route to being worth 2.9 WAR. Well, improvement didn’t turn out to be a trend for the outfielder, as Francoeur hit .235/.287/.378 with a .280 wOBA and a disgusting 73 wRC+ in 2012. Maybe this is just UZR getting loopy in a somewhat small sample size, but Francoeur was also a liability defensively, something that had never really been the case before.