Pete Alonso and Kyle Schwarber among the top 10 good bad players in MLB history

Sep 18, 2023; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber (12) runs the bases against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2023; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber (12) runs the bases against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

MLB is in an era that, until recently, would have been unthinkable … the era of the good bad player.

What’s a good bad player? He’s one whose contributions to team success outweigh the obvious limitations of his game. In statistical terms, a good bad player bats .220 or worse, yet somehow still plays a lot and manages to produce a positive impact on team success.

Kyle Schwarber is a classic illustration of a good bad player. Schwarber this season is hitting just .197, has awful defensive numbers in the outfield, and doesn’t run a lick. Yet he has a positive Win Probability Added, and there is little disputing the assertion that he makes the Philadelphia Phillies a better team.

The interesting thing is that until just a few seasons ago, there was no such thing as a good bad player because MLB execs rarely tolerated the shortcomings one must accept in order to reap the benefit of the good bad player’s good side. And, for the record, that good side almost without exception is measured in raw power output.

Yet in the modern game such players are not at all uncommon. As the 2023 season winds down, three players — Schwarber, Pete Alonso and Max Muncy — fit the good bad definition by combining a sub-.220 batting average with a positive Win Probability Added. More interestingly, Schwarber and Muncy are doing so as key pieces of playoff-bound teams.

In the last 50 years (that’s since 1974) only 14 players have produced a positive WPA with a batting average of .220 or worse and enough plate appearances to qualify. Yet here’s the fascinating thing: 11 of those 14 have done so just since 2012, and eight just since 2017.

The ongoing refinement of stat analysis in MLB front offices — with its directive to define value in terms that don’t necessarily meet old school standards ‚— probably has a lot to do with the emergence of the good bad player.

Who are the game’s good bad players? Here’s a look at the 10 best good bad MLB players of the past half-century as measured by Win Probability Added.

Keep in mind that these players must have gotten enough at-bats to qualify and must have hit .220 or worse, yet still must have made a positive contribution to their team’s success.

10. Adam Dunn, 2014, +0.5 WPA. Dunn played in an era when the notion of the Three True Outcomes player was becoming visible, and in many ways he was its living breathing symbol. In 2014 (his final season), Dunn came to the plate 511 times and fanned, walked or homered nearly half the time. He batted .219 for the White Sox and Athletics, yet delivered 22 home runs, a .337 on base average and a +0.5 WPA.

9. Rowdy Tellez, 2022, +0.6 WPA. Playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, Tellez hit just .219 but offset that with 35 home runs, leading to 89 RBI. He’s hanging at .215 this season, but the power numbers are off and that has taken Tellez’s WPA  into negative territory, so he will not be a repeat good bad player this year.

8. Pete Alonso, 2023, +0.7 WPA. Alonso hit .271 for the Mets last season, with 40 homers and a league-leading 131 RBI. His average has hit the skids this year (it was down to .217 entering the season’s final week). That has diminished Alonso’s WPA (which last season was +2.5) and consigned him to the good bad category as opposed to the All-Star category. He is still, however, making a measurably positive contribution, just not as positive as Mets fans expected.

7. Gene Tenace, 1974, +0.8 WPA. Tenace was good bad before good bad was a thing. As his Oakland A’s advanced toward their third straight World Series win, Tenace raised eyeballs with an offensive line that featured 26 home runs, 73 RBI and a league-leading 110 walks, yet only a .211 average. A’s manager Al Dark was criticized for his willingness to play Tenace, but Dark’s A’s had the last laugh when they beat the Dodgers in five games

Tie 5. Curtis Granderson, 2017, +1.2 WPA. Playing for the Mets and Dodgers, Granderson produced 26 home runs and a .775 OPS while batting just .212. His 71 bases on balls, which gave him a .323 on base average atop that .212 batting average, had a lot do with his elevating his value.

Tie 5. Jim Wynn, 1976, +1.2 WPA. A power hitter a few seasons before with the Houston Astros, Wynn was down to 17 home runs by the time he played for Atlanta in 1976. So he adapted, becoming one of the game’s most selective hitters. He drew a league-best 127 bases on balls that season, giving him 16 more walks that strikeouts. As a result, his .207 average was offset by a .377 on base average.

4. Max Muncy, 2023, +1.4 WPA. If Muncy gets hot this week, he may finish 2023 above .220 in average and see his name stricken from this list. For now he’ll have to content himself with a classic good bad profile: a .214 average, 36 home runs, 103 RBI, a .333 on base average, an .821 OPS and a playoff date ahead.

3. Kyle Schwarber, 2023, +1.5 WPA. Schwarber enters the final week at 45 home runs, 100 RBI, 124 bases on balls, a .197 average and a strikeout total (210) that would have been intolerable a decade or two ago. As good bad as his good bad season has been, it’s only the second-most extreme Schwarber example of the type … because:

2. Kyle Schwarber, 2022, +2.2 WPA. Last season, Schwarber did pretty much what he’s doing this season, just a bit more extremely. He hit .218 with 200 strikeouts, but he also led the league in homers (46) with a .504 slugging average. That’s remarkable considering that 37 percent of his official at-bats last year ended without contact.

1. Adam Dunn, 2012, +3.1. WPA . And we get back to Dunn, the prototype of the good bad player. Playing for the White Sox in 2012, Dunn produced a stat line that would previously have been unthinkable. He hit only .204 and led the league in strikeouts with 222. Yet he also led the league in walks with 105, hammered 41 home runs and drove in 96 runs. That means 57 percent of Dunn’s plate appearances ended in one of the three true outcomes. Their combined impact was positive enough to make Dunn’s 2012 season the most impactful good bad season of the past half-century, and probably of all time.

Next. Bryce Harper and that pesky Hall of Fame question. dark