Who Were Baseball's Least Valuable Players in 2014?
I must be a more negative person than I thought.
Here it is, Awards Week in Major League Baseball, and I'm being all Debbie Downer. As baseball announced its Rookie of the Year winners on Monday, its Manager of the Year winners on Tuesday, its Cy Young Award recipients on Wednesday, and its MVP Award winners on Thursday, I'm sitting here analyzing who really stunk this year.
After all, baseball is a beautiful sport when played well. These players, however, did not play the sport well this year.
So, as some of the game's best players are given nice, shiny trophies and are happily gobbling up their hard-earned awards bonuses this week, I make my selections for the Least Valuable Player in the National League and American League in 2014.
There will be no bonuses.
The selection process for this particular award was difficult. Should I include all players, regardless of whether they reached the requisite number of at-bats to "qualify" for league leader totals? Or should I include everybody, regardless of how many plate appearances they accrued?
I decided to go with an all-inclusive approach. As a result, I was left with Texas outfielder Michael Choice, who had just 280 plate appearances this season, Kendrys Morales, who had 362 plate appearances with the Twins and Mariners, and Houston third baseman Matt Dominguez, who went to the plate 607 times for the Astros in 2014.
Choice was able to pack a whole lot of bad into a short time this year. His -2.1 Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) means he was worth 2.1 wins less than a replacement-level player in 2014. He hit .182 with a .250 on-base percentage (OBP) and a slugging percentage (SLG) of .320, and his weighted runs created (wRC+) of 55 was worst in the AL among players with at least 280 plate appearances. Quite a feat for the young Rangers outfielder.
However, if you go by our nERD metric, a lineup full of Matt Dominguezes would score 1.97 runs a game less than a league-average player, worse than Choice and Morales. Incredibly, Dominguez managed to stick around for 607 plate appearances this year, remarkable considering his -1.7 fWAR.
While Dominguez managed to be bad for the whole season, the award has to go to Choice. He was so ineffective during his time in the Majors this year that he has to be considered the Least Valuable Player in the American League in 2014.
In the National League, the race for LVP is a bit clearer.
Philadelphia outfielder Domonic Brown had the worst fWAR and nERD of any National League player in 2014. And yet, the Phillies kept sending him out to left field on a regular basis, allowing him to accumulate 512 plate appearances in 2014. Brown batted .235 this year with a .285 OBP and .349 SLG, one season after putting up a slash line of .272/.324/.494.
It's hard to remember he was an All-Star in 2013 - when he hit 27 home runs and put up an fWAR of 1.7 and a wRC+ of 123, meaning he produced runs at a clip 23% better than league average. Where did that player go?
Brown has never been a good defensive player, and that held true this year, scoring negatively in every defensive metric there is. He often played left field as if his legs were made of pool cues. It was not good.
Outlook for 2015
It's interesting that the two winners of the LVP award this year are young outfielders who were once top prospects in their organizations. For Choice, he's still just 24, and this season was his first real taste of big league baseball. He is not assured of a spot in the Rangers' outfield next year, with the team looking at free agents Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera as well as Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas.
Steamer Projections have him hitting .249/.320/.396 in 427 plate appearances next year with 12 home runs and an fWAR of 0.6, and his minor league numbers indicate a far better player than we saw in 2014. That being said, Choice has by no means been guaranteed playing time for Texas next season.
As for Brown, he's a bit older, 27 years old, and his future in Philadelphia is cloudier. Fans soured on the former top prospect this season and the team is reportedly willing to trade him. However, if the Phils were to do that, they'd be selling low on a player who played in an All-Star Game just one year prior.
Like Choice, Steamer projects Brown to bounce back a bit next year, putting up a slash line of .255/.316/.422 with 14 HRs, a wRC+ of 105, and an fWAR of 0.3 in 433 plate appearances. Clearly not All-Star levels, and probably not the type of numbers you'd want to see from an everyday player. But they would certainly be better that what he produced in 2014.
Of course, with both Brown and Choice, we're not exactly setting the bar all that high, here.