Bill Bergen, a catcher with the Cincinnati Reds (1901-03) and the Brooklyn Superbas (1904-11), is quite possibly the worst position player in the history of baseball.
Now, that’s not to say that Bergen wasn’t without merit. He was considered a superior defensive catcher, and holds the record (6) for most base stealers thrown out in a single game. Of course, he also finished in the top 5 in Passed Balls three times in his career.
But never mind that.
Bill Bergen amassed an 11-year career – 3,228 plate appearances – despite never posting a WAR above -0.6. His career -15.0 WAR places him well at the bottom of position players all-time.
So it seems fitting that the “anti-All-Star” team should be named after him.
I’ve put together a list of the Major League players with the lowest WAR totals so far this season in my all-new “All-Bergen Team.”
It would be a misnomer to call these the worst players in baseball. After all, to really accumulate negative WAR, you have to have some sort of staying power. To even be considered, players had to have a minimum of 100 PA or 20.0 IP at the Major League level.
So these are, instead, the consistently-worst players in MLB this year.
There were a few no-brainers. The two teams (our beloved Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins) with the most players represented (five each) have also been the two teams to have spent the most time in the bottom of the standings. The best team in the AL (the New York Yankees) did not have any representatives at all.
Of course, there were a few surprises, as well. The best team in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies, had two players on the list. Only three teams did not have any players on the list – as mentioned, the Yankees. But also the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves.
Outside of the Yankees, no team in the American League had fewer than two. Several teams in the NL (the Nationals, Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, and San Francisco Giants) had fewer than two.
Most surprising, perhaps, is that only two of these players – Bill Hall and Jose Lopez – have been released from their teams outright.
Rules for selection were similar to the All-Star game. 34 players, including 13 pitchers, and at least two players from each position. Obviously, there was no rule that each team had to have a representative. I simply laid it all out there.
And now, presenting to you the 2011 Mid-Season(ish) All-Bergen Team, starting today with the American League position players:
Jeff Mathis (LAA). Mike Napoli, The oft-injured Angels’ all-time leader in home runs by a catcher, had a bit of a tumultuous offseason – traded by the Angels to the Blue Jays as part of the Vernon Wells deal (more on Wells later), and then again by the Blue Jays to the Rangers for pitcher Frank Francisco. Part of the reason was to end a long-standing position battle with Mathis, as well as to make room for rookie catcher Hank Conger. The decision hasn’t exactly worked out well for the Angels, as Mathis has lost 2.0 wins this season, more than Napoli (1.3) has won.
Drew Butera (MIN). In Kevin Smith’s “Clerks,” hero Dante Hicks is famous for his decree, “I’m not even supposed to be here today.” No doubt Butera feels the exact same way. When perennial MVP candidate, three-time batting champion, and three-time Gold Glove winning catcher Joe Mauer went down with bilateral leg weakness after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason, Butera – who never hit above .235 in the minor leagues – was pressed into service. He’s struggled mightily at the plate – so much so that, like Bill Bergen himself, his strong arm never really compensated for it. Bergen ranks 5th in the AL with 37.9% of baserunners caught.
Justin Morneau (MIN). In 2010, a strong season by Justin Morneau was cut short when he suffered a concussion, and it seems as if he’s been battling injuries ever since. There’s no doubt that Morneau – a former MVP – is a very good player when healthy, but the key word is healthy. In his 231 plate appearances this season, he’s managed to go just .225/.281/.338.
Daric Barton (OAK). In three of his four previous Major League seasons, Barton has posted an OPS+ over 100. In the fourth, he managed a respectable 85. The former Cardinals first rounder and Baseball America Top 100 prospect has struggled out of the gate so far this season, however, and was sent down to Triple-A in June, but not before losing .4 wins.
Luke Hughes (MIN). This one is a bit misleading, as the Australian Hughes has actually played more at first base than second for the Twins, but he has played over 147 innings at 2B this season, and has given up .1 runs, which actually isn’t terrible, but the overall AL class is pretty good here.
Jack Wilson (SEA). Wilson is a former All-Star with the Pirates and won a share of the triples crown (tying Juan Pierre and Jimmy Rollins) in 2004. But since moving to Seattle, he simply hasn’t been very good. This season, he’s actually responsible for .1 win above replacement, but again, stiff competition in the AL landed him on the All-Bergen squad. Generally known as a shortstop, he’s played enough innings to qualify, though two of his teammates – Adam Kennedy and Dustin Ackley – have him beaten in WAR at the position.
Chone Figgins (SEA). After the 2009 season, ESPN’s Gordon Edes called Figgins “probably… the third baseman most likely to be in demand, especially given his versatility.” The Mariners snapped him up to replace Adrian Beltre, who had failed to live up to the hype surrounding his 2004 season, when he finished second in the MVP voting to Barry Bonds. Figgins has followed in Beltre’s footsteps, however, and was recently voted by Seattle Magazine as the third-worst player in the history of the franchise.
Brandon Inge (DET). In 2009, Inge was an improbable All-Star, selected in the Final Vote. Two years later, he’s on the DL with mononucleosis and has a batting average below the Mendoza line. His career has been full of these sorts of moments – brilliance followed by impotence. In that same 2009 season, for instance, he entered the Home Run Derby and hit not a single home run.
Felipe Lopez (TBR). Since his 2005 All-Star appearance as a Cincinnati Red, Lopez has been an interesting case study. Now on his seventh team in six seasons (eighth if you count his two Cardinals stints – 2008 and 2010), he entered the season as a fringe player who was expected to serve as a bench player to showcase himself in anticipation of earning a starting nod somewhere in Major League Baseball. He hasn’t done himself many favors, going .216/.248/.320 in his limited playing time.
Reid Brignac (TBR). Just imagine. Had the Astros never traded Ben Zobrist to the Rays for Aubrey Huff, Brignac might well be their starting second baseman today. As it stands, he’s become pretty much the opposite of a super-utility man. Despite the ability to play all over the field, he’s only seen time at shortstop this year for Joe Maddon, and has responded with a 31 OPS+ and a batting average well below the Mendoza line.
Matt Tolbert (MIN). Matt Tolbert was a Freshman All-American at the University of Mississippi in 2002. In 2011, he’s a soft-hitting utility infielder who is hitting just .186/.239/.279 in 141 plate appearances for the Twins, who are struggling with injuries all through their lineup and could probably really use a Freshman All-American right about now.
Adam Dunn (CWS). There can be little doubt that when the Chicago White Sox signed Adam Dunn to a four-year, $56-million contract, they expected more than 7 home runs at the All-Star break, though they might not have been very surprised by the accompanying 103 strikeouts. Dunn has always been a feast-or-famine hitter, but this year is almost entirely famine, as he’s on pace for an OBP almost 50 points lower than his previous career low.
Edwin Encarnacion (TOR). It seems official: If you make a former Cincinnati Red your designated hitter, he’s going to struggle. Like Dunn, Encarnacion was a super-prospect for the Reds once upon a time. He’s struggled with injuries since coming over to Toronto as part of the Scott Rolen trade, and was signed in the offseason by the Oakland Athletics, who non-tendered him before he re-signed with the Blue Jays. No doubt they wish they hadn’t bothered, as his -0.6 WAR makes him – along with Dunn – one of only two Designated Hitters with a WAR lower than the player the Athletics ended up with at the position, Hideki Matsui.
Magglio Ordonez (DET). Ordonez is not a .211 hitter. Ordonez is a career .312 hitter – or at least he was before this season. But this season, he’s more than a hundred points off of his career average. And we won’t even discuss his .286 SLG.
Mike Cameron (BOS). I will always have great respect for Mike Cameron as a player. He’s won three Gold Gloves, with the Mariners, Mets, and Padres, and since 1997, he’s never finished a season with a WAR under 1.0. But this year, he was losing wins on both sides of the ball before Boston designated him for assignment last week.
Rajai Davis (TOR). Rajai Davis has walked just 8 times in 268 plate appearances, and he’s struck out more than six times as often – 51. So it shouldn’t be surprising that his .224/.252/.332 line merits him a starting nod on the All-Bergen team. And yet it is surprising, as he has posted back-to-back .320+ OBP seasons, and in 2009 had an OPS+ of 107. But playing on an aggressive Blue Jays team that led the majors in home runs last year seems to have affected him a great deal. Add to that the -0.8 wins he’s giving up as a defender, and you can see why he’s an All-Bergen this year.
Felix Pie (BAL). It doesn’t seem that long ago when Pie and Angel Pagan were both highly-touted Chicago Cubs prospects, but the “five-tool” Pie has struggled in the Major Leagues. Unable to win the starting center field job from Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds in Chicago, he was traded to Baltimore for Garrett Olson and Henry Williamson prior to the 2009 season. At just 26 years old, Pie still has time on his side, but his numbers have dipped drastically this year from the previous two seasons, in which he posted OPS+ of 98 and 93.
David Murphy (TEX). You still have to think the Rangers got the better end of the 2007 trade that brought Murphy to Texas in exchange for Eric Gagne, as Murphy has finished with an OPS+ over 100 in every season he’s played in Arlington. This year, however, has been one to forget thus far for the lefty, who is slugging just .316, more than a hundred points below his previous career low.
Juan Pierre (CWS). Juan Pierre has always been a frustrating player for fans. Despite a career batting average of .296, he’s never really put it all together, and only twice has he finished a season with an OPS+ over 100. Still, he’s always been able to run. Eleven times, he’s finished a season in the top five in stolen bases, and ranks 29th all-time in career stolen bases. He’s led the league three times, including last season when he had 68. This year, he already has eleven – but it’s come at a cost, as he’s been caught stealing 10 times. The 52% stolen base percentage would easily be the lowest of his career, adding to a pretty frustrating season for a man once considered by many to be the best leadoff hitter in baseball.
Michael Saunders (SEA). Michael Saunders is very young – just 24 years old. So it’s not a cause for great concern when he stumbles out of the gate hitting just .168/.223/.248, especially when it comes with 117 putouts, 1 outfield assist, and 0 errors. But he’ll need to find the stroke he had in Tacoma, where he had an OPS of .922, if he’s going to turn his career around after a rocky start.
Vernon Wells (LAA). Clearly, the Angels were the losers of the Mike Napoli-for-Vernon Wells trade. Not only is Jeff Mathis, Napoli’s successor behind the plate, an All-Bergen, so too is Wells. The three-time Gold Glover is losing 0.6 wins with his glove alone, so the 0.1 he’s gaining with his bat doesn’t carry him very far.
Coming next: N.L. position players.