No One’s Fantasyby Jeff Sackmann
April 06, 2007
This year, I joined a fantasy league that counts points in reverse: +10 for an error, -20 for a triple, that sort of thing. The draft was hilarious: After I selected Tony Pena Jr. in the first round, someone who was letting Yahoo Sports autodraft ended up with Albert Pujols.
While just about anyone could outdraft the default rankings, picking a really bad team is tougher than it sounds. It's easy to choose an 18-man roster of the worst players around: Give me a squad full of backup catchers, fifth outfielders and Neifi Perez, and I'll lose any Diamond Mind league you put me in.
But, in a more standard fantasy "points" league, you score only if your players do bad things. So long as Angel Berroa (or Gary Bennett or Matt Chico) is on the bench or in the minors, he isn't earning you any points. If you're an active manager, you can avoid that problem by shuffling your roster frequently: After all, every time the Nationals kick someone out of their rotation, someone else will have to take his place.
In my case, I didn't want to commit to six months of daily roster changes. I'll check in occasionally, but for the most part, I want the same batters to strike out for me all year long. Thus, I needed a team of bad players who are likely to keep their job all year. As in any fantasy draft, I went in with a list of players I had my eye on. I didn't get them all, but I did pick up a nice cross-section of the worst regulars in major league baseball.
There's no way to do a scientific ranking here, as a player's qualification for "worst" depends so much on how much playing time he ends up getting, and of course how well he ends up playing. Here are my favorites to be performing poorly for me until October.
1. Tony Pena Jr.
Something tells me there weren't a lot of other fantasy leagues this spring in which Tony Pena was the sixth overall pick. But even adjusted for a position with plenty of ineptitude, Pena comes out as one of the least effective major league starters. PECOTA forecast a .279 on-base percentage for Pena; that's below replacement-level.
Best of all, the stars are aligned for Pena to get lots of at-bats. He may be stuck at the bottom of the Kansas City lineup, but there's no one to threaten him for playing time. Andres Blanco could've earned himself a starting spot with Angel Berroa's struggles, but then again, he's not very good either. Even better, teams are often less likely to replace a player they brought in to solve a problem; I'm counting on Blanco's and Berroa's lack of ability along with a bit of stubbornness from Buddy Bell to get 500 at-bats out of my starting shortstop.
On any given day, Patterson probably isn't the worst starting center fielder in baseball; the Nationals and Marlins see to that. But while those teams may see plenty of mid-season shuffling, the Orioles are likely to stick with Patterson for as long as he keeps looking like a ballplayer and stealing some bases.
Patterson isn't nearly as bad as Pena, either in absolute terms or relative to position. He even has his real-world uses, playing a decent center field along with stealing bases at an acceptable rate and hitting double-digit home runs. But since he swipes a bag more frequently than he draws a walk, his OBP could be nearly as bad as my shortstop's.
There's a great passage in Sam Walker's Fantasyland in which he starts trying to watch all of "his" players as the season starts, rooting indiscriminately for one team then another, purely for the sake of his fantasy totals. I've never been that guy, but when I wandered into a deli Wednesday night and heard the phrase, "That's going to go for an error on Wilson, just an awful play," my day was brightened.
Deployed properly, as he was by Tony LaRussa last year, Wilson is an effective player. But with the Cardinals outfield as stretched as it is right now, he'll get more playing time than the Cards bargained for, perhaps even making the occasional appearance in center field. As a consequence, he'll have a chance to make more errors, and he'll get more at-bats against right-handed pitching, which held him to a .290 OBP last year.
4. Doug Davis
For the purposes of an all-ineffective team, pitchers are more difficult to evaluate than position players. It's even more important to consider who clubs are stuck with, whether because they lack other options, or because they're likely to feel committed to a player for off-field reasons. There are few potentially bad pitchers who fit into their category more clearly than Davis: He'd have to do a very good Russ Ortiz impression for the D-Backs to drop him from the rotation after signing him to a $22 million extension.
This is certainly a roster choice that could come back and bite me: As a Brewers fan, I remember well Doug's very impressive stretch in 2005 where, despite nearly complete anonymity, he struck out close to a batter an inning and kept his control problems at bay. But '06 was different, and now that Davis is on the wrong side of 30 (not to mention pitching in Chase Field, the new Coors), I'm counting on his walk rate to stay high, as it did in his first start of the year, when he issued five free passes in as many innings.
Like Davis, Contreras isn't going to be booted from the White Sox rotation no matter how poorly he pitches. Of course, it's unlikely that he even raises the question; this week's one-inning, eight-run outing is surely an aberration. But his declining strikeout rate raises the question: Regardless of whether he's actually 36 years old, are his days of front-rotation dominance behind him?
Contreras earned his spot on my team through the sort of quirk that makes fantasy baseball so completely uninteresting to those who don't play it: In this league, wild pitches are worth more than losses, and he has been first or second in the American League in that category for the last three years. He didn't uncork one while allowing seven hits and a walk in his first inning of work, but I have faith.
While there are plenty of catchers out there who could claim a spot on this list, the general offensive uselessness at that position means that no one player stands out. I waited until the very last round to pick a catcher; there are still plenty of full-timers on the waiver wire who could rack up a .240 batting average for me at a moment's notice.
The real difficulty in constructing a truly bad team is finding people for the corner positions. Wilson partially solved that problem, and I drafted Scott Podsednik to man the other corner. As long as his success rate on the bases isn't too high, he'll do quite well. First base was the most confounding of all. Richie Sexson seems like as good a choice as any: He'll play every day, strike out a ton, and Safeco Field will keep his counting stats down. As long as he hits most of his long balls off of Contreras, he'll work out just fine.
Jeff Sackmann is the creator of MinorLeagueSplits.com. With Kent Bonham, he founded CollegeSplits.com. Jeff and Kent blog about college baseball and the draft, and you can follow them on Twitter for bite-sized snacks of minor league and college stats. Jeff also has an email address.