Phillies Who Lost the WAR

Just as the names Utley, Howard, Rollins, Werth and Victorino immediately conjure up happy associations of big hits delivered and games won, another set—Perez, Bell, Helms, Nunez, Taguchi, Bruntlett, Bako—quickly generate a churn in the guts, a gastric echo or memory of scoring opportunities squandered for want of physical talent and/or mental acuity. 

The experience of watching Michael Martinez in the Phillies’ lineup for Sunday’s enervating 2-0 loss to the Mariners got me thinking about this second group, and wondering about which of the team’s position players has been least valuable over the last half-dozen or so seasons.

But were these guys as bad in real time as they are in memory? With the help of Baseball-Reference.com, I thought I’d take a look. Here are the Phillies’ worst position players in each season The Good Phight has been around, based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR), as calculated by B-R.

2005: Tomas Perez (-0.8 WAR): What I remember killed me about Perez that year was how often he got to pinch-hit (52 times! He hit .140/.260/.140), a travesty given the 12 runs below average he generated in 176 plate appearances. On defense, though, he was both versatile and effective, scoring at three runs above average. David Bell was even more gruesome offensively in 617 plate appearances: 23 runs below average at the plate. But his five above in the field left him at -0.5 overall. Then again, he made more than seven times the salary of Perez, and his presence forced Placido Polanco (+1.7 WAR in about two months) out of town through a June trade; had Polanco become the Phillies’ regular third baseman five years earlier than he did, the team likely would have broken its long playoff drought in 2005. No, I'm not over it. 

2006: Abraham Nunez (-1.8). Just a staggeringly bad offensive performance from the man we called No-Hit: he was a hard-to-believe 27 runs worse than average at the plate (in a horrifying 369 plate appearances), and four runs worse than average defensively. Yet he returned to suck again, albeit not quite as badly, the following season.

2007: Wes Helms (-1.1). Signed to add pop at third base in a move initially applauded by some dumb-assed bloggers (*raises hand*), Helms was sub-replacement at the plate (308 PA), in the field and on the bases. Nunez hit worse (18 runs below average compared to Helms’ 14), but added enough value with the glove to come in at -0.3 WAR overall.  Helms came back for 2008, but just barely; he was sold to the Marlins (for, if I recall correctly, literally nothing) on April 5, and didn’t register an appearance in the handful of games he suited up for the Phils. I’ve always wondered whether or not he got a ring.

2008Eric Bruntlett (-0.6). Rarely has a guy who played this badly garnered so much love; ascribe it to, one Brunt’s truly epic beard, and two, his propensity to attach himself to wonderful moments, most notably the game-winning runs he scored in Games 3 and 5 of the World Series. But the guy wasn’t real good: 14 runs below average with the stick (238 PA; how did that happen?), basically break-even on the bases and with the leather. The glow of those runs, though, brought him back in 2009, when he really showed us something. Not something good, mind. 

2009: Bruntlett (-1.5). The good news here was that Bruntlett only got 118 plate appearances in which to hit .171/.224/.238; the bad news was that this still was enough for 12 runs below average of offense, and that his fielding added another negative seven runs to the ledger. Again, though, what’s your one memory of Bruntlett from 2009? The unassisted triple play against the Mets. Of course. Mine too. Which kind of annoys me, to be honest.

2010: Juan Castro (-1.4). Bruntlett with less good timing, though again what you probably remember about Juan is his spin move in making the play to complete Roy Halladay’s perfect game. Still, he managed to rack up 13 batting runs below average in just 136 plate appearances, and minus four runs fielding. Happily, he was waived mid-season; Wilson Valdez, who replaced him, came in 1.7 wins above replacement, his -11 batting runs more than compensated by a team-high 13 defensive runs above average.

2011: Valdez (-0.7). But Exxon seems on a Bruntlettian path in his second season with the Phillies, his team-worst WAR supported by his minus seven run performance each with bat and glove. Interestingly, the next least valuable Phillie is Raul Ibanez (-0.5), who’s four runs below average at the plate and six down in the field, and has 116 more plate appearances than Valdez. To be sure, Martinez has packed a lot of sucking into his 64 plate appearances, at six offensive runs below average, but adequacy on the bases and in the field has him at -0.3 WAR overall.  

Pretty much inevitably, some guys will come in below replacement level. What's mildly troubling is, one, when they come back the next year, as several Phillies on this list have, and two, that our truly lousy guys seem actually worse than those of certain lesser teams. For instance, I looked at the Mets' WAR totals over the past few seasons; their low in 2008 was Damien Easley's -0.6, Ramon Martinez's -0.8 (in just 44 PA!) the next year, and Alex Cora's -1.1 last year, each equal to or less egregious than the Phillies' worst position guy. The moral seems to be that an offense can overcome a Valdez or a Bruntlett, so long as its Utleys and Werths are delivering the goods. 

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