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as we enter the horse latitudes of the baseball posting seasons -- doldrums occuring somewhere between the first scent of pumpkin pie and the hangover from new year's -- it is time to give some attention to a factor sometimes overlooked.

we toss around the term "replacement value" as a kind of an insult. in reality, a replacement value player has his role. a team with an ample supply of replacement value players on the bench and in the minors has a real asset. like someone who runs the mile in 7:30 flat, it's easy to forget that lots of people don't reach that unimpressive level.

players accruing value below replacement level are not hard to find. here is a quick sampling of some of the worst players of 2009 in terms of negative value.

Name

Team

WAR

Dollars

Yuniesky Betancourt

- - -

-2.1

($9.6)

Jose Guillen

Royals

-2.0

($8.8)

Brian Giles

Padres

-1.6

($7.1)

Alexi Casilla

Twins

-1.4

($6.2)

Delmon Young

Twins

-1.3

($5.9)

Aaron Miles

Cubs

-1.3

($5.7)

Aubrey Huff

- - -

-1.2

($5.2)

Conor Jackson

Diamondbacks

-1.1

($5.0)

Mike Aviles

Royals

-1.0

($4.6)

these players run the gamut from the injured and ailing (Jackson & Aviles), the inept (Betancourt), the unlucky replacement value player (Miles), the player with yet-unrealized potential (Young), to the player with such a monstrously bad contract that the club continues to put him out there in the vain hope that he will somehow garner a return on the investment (Guillen). the Guillen performance reminds me of a Monty Python sketch about sheep that are attempting and failing to fly; the effort was tolerated by the shepherd, despite the fatalities among the flock, because of the "enormous commercial possibilities" should the sheep succeed.

both of the two least valuable players in MLB are on the Royals. coincidence?

it is worth noting that I have excluded from the list above the negative offensive performance of pitchers. most pitchers hit below replacement value. fangraphs tracks their value as pitchers separately from their value as hitters. i simply don't think that the negative offensive performance of pitchers is sufficiently worth concerning ourselves about in these discussions; it's worth keeping in mind for exceptional cases, but just not worth concerning oneself over. even reasonably good hitting pitchers will likely rack up a negative value with the bad. micah owings led all ML pitchers with an astounding 2.3 runs above replacement value with the bat. 90% of all pitchers were worth between 2 runs above replacement value and 4 runs below replacement value in 2009.

now, let's take a look at how teams fared in accumulating negative value in 2009 -- you can probably guess who's number one.

the teams are ordered by lowest overall position player WAR for the team. there's some correlation between overall team performance and negative performance by some members of the team, but not as strong as you might think. playoff teams like the Angels made it to October even though the contingent of the incompetent, led by gary matthews jr., did their best to halt the Angels progress.

Team

Negative WAR

(position players)

Royals

7.4

White Sox

4.1

Astros

3.1

Mets

2.6

Giants

2.4

Cubs

3.5

Pirates

1.7

Reds

1.6

Orioles

1.8

Diamondbacks

3.1

Padres

4.4

Nationals

1.8

Athletics

3.7

Braves

4.4

Rockies

1.0

Cardinals

2.8

Marlins

0.7

Indians

2.4

Mariners

2.8

Blue Jays

1.3

Tigers

1.8

Twins

3.1

Rangers

1.6

Dodgers

0.6

Brewers

1.3

Red Sox

1.2

Phillies

1.4

Angels

3.1

Rays

1.5

Yankees

1.5

so, what does the accumulation of negative WAR indicate?

first off, probably every team will inevitably accrue some negative WAR from position players. that's just the nature of the game. somebody is going to be injured. some replacement value player is going to have bad luck. it happens. the table above indicates that few teams managed to lose less than a win to negative value players. almost half the teams (13) racked up between one and two wins worth of negative value.

however, some common themes arise in those teams with more than two wins' worth of negative value: a major theme was bad players on expensive contracts. my inclination is to think that high levels of negative WAR are probably an okay proxy for bad general management.

the correlation isn't 100% - most of the value lost to the cardinals from less-than-replacement value players came in the form of khalil greene and chris duncan and nick stavinoha. most folks thought khalil had at least a reasonable chance of doing okay here; the outfield was seen as a strength in the off-season. is mo really a bad gm because he didn't stock up on OF talent while we were deliberately moving a player OUT of the outfield because it was too crowded in the OF?

still, the preponderance of terrible players with inflated contracts on the teams with high negative values from position players can't be ignored. too many clubs throw good value after bad by letting those failing players come back and back again, hoping that this is the time he's going to turn around.

the other area of concern would be bad managing. the gm can set you up with a team, but the manager is the one who makes out the lineup, decides who sits and who doesn't. overexposing a sub-par player by starting him too often could be a serious weakness among managers; overplaying an aging vet long past his prime may be a vice of a manager as much as signing him is the vice of a GM. the concept of sunk cost hasn't yet been popularized among MLB execs and managers.

* * *

well worth checking out is a WAR projection for 20 top free agents by jeff zimmerman. health doesn't play a role, which is why troy glaus makes the top ten.

still, the list makes an interesting case for some names - joe crede needs to go write jeff a check for explaining why you should mention him in the same breath as chone figgins and adrian beltre. it has something to do with UZR/150's from the past four seasons of 13.6, 23.9, 7.6, & 23.4. i could get interested in someone who's likely to take only 300 PA's with david freese holding the fort behind him.

i'm a little concerned with some of the results. mike cameron at 2.0 war seems rather pessimistic. worth a read, though.

* * *

in case anyone is interested in following the birds playing winter ball, here's a brief summary. of the contingent playing in arizona, tyler henley has been the only silver lining for the org, putting out a respectable .300/.358/.500 line. dismal results from descalso, anderson, and jones have left the org looking bad in surprise, az. mark hamilton took up with the dominican winter league but was asked to return to the U.S. after struggling at the plate. word is he was getting some reps in the outfield. jon jay flashed the only other real offense, but down in the venezuelan league where the competition is even more variable than in arizona. still, a .418 OBP looks good against any competition.

cardinal pitchers haven't been faring any better. mike parisi's arm still works, making him look like a memphis starter this year, but "adequate" seems like parisi's middle name here. he's still pretty far down the depth chart. minor league free agent evan maclane carried his 2009 success in memphis into the dominican winter league. still not clear if the cards will bring him back this spring to fight walters, ottavino, lynn, parisi, and maybe hearne for a slot. i'm proud of how well maclane did; at the same time, i'm not sure he belongs in the rotation as a non-prospect with those names ahead of him.

* * *

if you want to know what i've been up to, this is what i made over the holiday. mine looked nothing like the picture, but tasted pretty good. it ended up not nearly as airy as it should have been.

* * *

in a related item which i didn't read until after writing this whole thing, posnanski gives out his lvp awards to yuni betancourt and milton bradley. while the betancourt award for the AL is hard to contest, it seems like a disservice to the nl winner; bradley wasn't even least valuable on his team by WAR, much less the whole of the NL. he was in fact the seventh most valuable position player on the cubs by WAR.

* * *

this news item cracks me up. good for you, ross.

* * *

now that november is over, i need to know: was it as bad as i said it would be?

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