This week’s question: “Who’s your least favorite active player to watch, and why?”
We’re not mean-spirited people, generally (well, TCM is), and I hope nobody took a mean-spirited approach to this. (I haven’t read them yet, or written mine. Hell of a process I’ve got going here.) But baseball is entertainment, and we all have players we like to watch more than others. I’m partial to center fielders who do a little bit of everything — Andrew McCutchen, Mike Cameron. But the point is that it stands to reason that there are players we like to watch less than others, too, so I thought it might be interesting to talk about who, and why.
TCM: Delmon Young
We don’t have to see him any more, but every time Twins fans watch Delmon Young play for the Detroit Tigers, they get flashbacks. Delmon was famously compared to Frank Robinson because a) he’s black and b) he looked like he should be able to hit for power, but aside from a hot month and a half in 2010, Delmon’s tenure in Minnesota was an unmitigated disaster, worth just 1.2 WAR over almost four seasons.
Some of that, of course, is due to his hitting. Despite playing a premium offensive position, Delmon struggled to be better than a league average hitter. He walked just 93 times in 1977 plate appearances, while striking out 333 times. Despite his strong physique, he struggled to hit balls in the air, posting a GB/FB ratio 17% higher than the MLB average. Plus, his pitch recognition skills seem to be nonexistent. TCM has a theory that Delmon would decide whether he was going to swing before the ball was even thrown, regardless of what kind of pitch it was or where it was located.
But let’s also not forget his defense, which could range from disinterested to distracted to mystified to comical. Sure, this is by far the greatest .gif of 2012, and is by far the funniest Delmon play The Common Man has ever seen, but it was preceeded by years of similar plays, as Delmon overran balls that would fall 10 feet behind him even when he couldn’t use the Metrodome’s roof as an excuse. Delmon played leftfield like he was an elephant on ice skates, and The Common Man will never, ever miss watching him. God was he frustrating.
Bill: A.J. Pierzynski
Okay, so I went through this, and put in everyone else’s entries, and still couldn’t decide who I wanted to pick. I almost went with a TTO guy, actually — probably Carlos Pena, since Adam Dunn is too bad to dislike right now — which surprised me, because I used to love those guys. But I guess I’ve come to value entertainment more than efficiency. Walks and strikeouts and the occasional home run and extremely slow running and poor defense is boring.
But I wasn’t thrilled about that, so I took a look at the current leaderboards, and he jumped right out at me — A.J. Pierzynski is my least favorite player to watch play. It’s not that he’s a bad player, it’s just how he carries himself. And it’s not even that he’s (er, he acts) smug or says ridiculous things or shows up at professional wrestling events or has frosted tips (does he, still, or was that years ago? I don’t know). It’s not even his willingness to break the rules — it’s that he plays so dirty and gets away with it. There was the famous thing in the 2005 ALCS, where he totally struck out in a completely normal way, yet somehow bewitched Doug Eddings into letting him get to first base. There’s the other thing also involving Pierzynski using his black magic on Eddings, where Pierzynski elbowed a fielder as he ran past and somehow got an interference call against the fielder. There was this thing, where Pierzynski totally faked being hit by a ball in the dirt, and got the umpire to buy it. Pierzynski’s just the only one around today who can do stupid crap like that and routinely get away with it.
I just…like the game to be played according to the rules. It’s an overdeveloped sense of fairness, I guess. And Pierzynski embodies the opposite of that. It helps that he’s on my least favorite team, I suppose, but I can’t say I even really rooted for him when he was a Twin. He’s been a solid starting catcher for going on twelve years now, and he’s good at what he does — it’s just that “what he does” is, alone among pretty much all the other stuff that ever happens in baseball, really hard for me to watch.
Jason: Vernon Wells
I cannot stand to watch Vernon Wells play baseball, but the thing about Vernon Wells is that he’s frequently not actually been very bad at it. Using Baseball Prospectus’s VORP (which includes everything WAR(P) does except defense — I think it’s particularly useful and ought to be used more given the massive problems with certain defensive metrics and the huge margins of error around others), he was 39 runs above replacement in 2010 and 26 above in 2008. Keeping in mind the thumbnail idea of ten runs = one win, you can see how those VORPs translate into good wins above replacement scores.
Of course, I’m talking around two things here. First, I declined to mention 2007 (14 VORP), 2009 (17 VORP), and 2011 (2 VORP — seriously). And in a hilarious small-sample coincidence (OR NOT?!), he’s hitting almost exactly the same this year as he did last season (.239/.255/.457 vs .218/.248/.412). Second, his defense, per BP’s FRAA, was terrible for many years. He was actually above-average in left field last year (not that it mattered, really, given his offense), but for his career, he’s almost forty runs below average for his position.
But it’s not really his badness that bugs me. Nor is it that he’s overpaid. It’s more about what his overpaid badness allows silly people to say about major-league baseball. Just like he was miscast for years and years as a center-fielder, accumulating negative fielding numbers due to managerial incompetence more than anything else, he was also miscast as a superstar worth the seven-year, $126 million contract he signed in 2006. Obviously, it was J.P. Ricciardi who thought he was worth that money. Wells didn’t force anyone to make the offer. And yet: there he is out there, being a mediocre ballplayer overall, making so much money that you almost forgive the stupid “spoiled overpaid ballplayers” stuff that comes as a result. It’s unfair of me to transfer my anger at the people making those arguments to poor (figuratively, and even then, not really) Vernon Wells, but there you have it.
Cee: Andrew Miller
When asked to write about a player that I don’t enjoy watching, I immediately felt like taking the high road. In fact,I told the gentlemen of TPA that I couldn’t imagine writing about a player I didn’t like, unless it meant choosing someone who has done something I considerable morally reprehensible, like Josh Lueke. In the moment I just couldn’t fathom disliking a player based solely on his performance in the game and felt confident in pressing “send.” Then I remembered about Andrew Miller.
Perhaps I had repressed all memories of Andrew Miller, but there’s no major leaguer I find more infuriating than him. There’s one big reason I dislike Miller: were it not for the fact that he is 6’7″ and left-handed, there’s simply no way he would continue to get a chance at the major league level. But because he’s tall and a southpaw, he keeps finding his way onto major league rosters. Pitching coaches not only believe they can fix him, they believe he is worth fixing. This is not to shoot lefites in a barrel, but for how many seasons can there be a promise that Miller will be the second coming of Randy Johnson before people realize that aside from the physical comparison, this will never happen?
It’s not personal with Miller. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest he is a wonderful person. After all, he is best friends and roommates with Daniel Bard at UNC and everyone loves Daniel Bard, so based solely on transitive relations, Miller is lovable, too. I’m sure he has probably done charity work, helped an old lady cross a street, or donated blood before–but regardless of the narrative, Miller has not consistently proven he is a good pitcher and his presence in the major leagues is my second biggest pet peeve (first being people in pants that are so short that you can see their socks, of course). Miller remains atop the throne of annoying-under-producers-employed-by-the-Boston-Red-Sox that irk me until Daniel Nava hits another grand slam–earning my undying hatred for all of eternity.
The Red Sox organization has worked tirelessly to help Miller with command issues, velocity concerns, and expanding his pitch arsenal since they signed him as a free agent in 2010.Miller’s time in the majors has been a lot like AMC’s The Killing: the promises of both have fallen considerably short. Of course, they both have had enough episodes to convince me that something really wonderful might happen, but then they veer off track with red herring story-lines and six runs on five hits in just 1.1 innings (walking four), that make me really scratch my head and wonder what the producers (or the Red Sox organization in Miller’s case) are thinking. Not only do I not know who killed Rosie Larsen, I have to live in constant fear that Andrew Miller will end up back in the major league in some capacity after his minor league rehab stint.
Chris: Nick Markakis
[Editor’s note: Chris is just too nice a guy to think of a way to answer this question seriously. He wrote a sarcastic thing about Nick Markakis, his favorite player. He probably didn’t think I’d actually publish it. Enjoy!]
I can’t stand watching this guy play. Granted, he’s a consistent player. He shows up and does his job every day. But you know what he isn’t? Exciting. What a boring guy. My favorite outfielder of all-time and the man I emulate my own outfield defense after is Ken Griffey Jr. Now that’s an exciting player. He played recklessly and made amazing catches. Not Markakis, he is boring.