Which team on the senior circuit has the the worst offense? The Marlins? The Pirates? No -- you'd be wrong on both counts. Try Dusty's dream team: the inimitable Cubs. You might think that the basis for this less than Einsteinian conclusion would be ocular judgment. Actually it is not. It is an analysis of cumulative VORP over the first third of the season.
Regular readers of Beyond the Boxscore will know that we place a lot of emphasis on the myriad statistics from Baseball Prospectus. Every few days BP publishes a statistic of the moment, which reveals useful yet surprising tidbits of information. And it was here where I got the idea for this short article when I happened across NL offense as ranked by total VORP. Take a look:
I told you that you'd be shocked. Let's take some time to put the Cubs' 5.6 VORP in to a little perspective. VORP, or Value Over Replacement Player, essentially measures run value per out over and above a marginal level. As indicated in the nomenclature of the statistic this marginal point is replacement. Replacement is usually defined as a AAAA level player, who is available for the major league minimum salary. So what a loose interpretation of VORP is telling us is that if we were to dump the Cubs' starting line-up and call-up a bunch of minor league talent then the Cubs would only be 6 runs, or half a win, worse off! Take a look at which players are the main culprits:
The astute among you will work out that the cumulative offensive VORP equals 10.1, not 5.6. Before you comment, I can't actually account for this difference so please bug BP and not me (I suspect it has something to do with either timing or rosters, but that is a guess). Still 10.1 is a terrible score and the reason for this is that there are a bunch of everyday players who are nothing short of atrocious.
It is tough to single out any of the stragglers but on a second glance one entry is particulalry egregious. I present to you Juan D'Vaughn Pierre, who this year is earning an eye-boggling $5.75 million. Pierre has 268 plate appearances this season -- the most on the team -- and he has contributed a VORP of -6. That is $5.75 million for half a loss; so unless Pierre becomes Andruw Jones and more with the glove it is an utter waste of money (and for those who are wondering FRAA places Pierre as average with the leather). Walking down the VORP by player table you will see that Pierre doesn't stand alone among the dross, there are plenty others to keep him company! Stars such as Neifi Perez, Jerry Hairston and Henry Blaco all contribute negatively to the team. Come on, small sample size aside, even Greg Maddux has an offensive VORP of 1 this season!
What about when we include pitching?
Although the Cubs are still in the bottom quartile the situation isn't as dire as the batting. Adding them together and the Cubs are an astonishing 40 points of VORP shy of the second worst team in the NL. On a VORP per $ payroll basis the Cubs are comfortably bottom. Vive l'offense de Cubs!
On Edit: I hate to insert a table into John's article, but I felt the need to include this as well. Here is the positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average totals for the Cubs position players, ranked according to their cumulative value:
Yeah, Derrek Lee leads the Cubs in cumulative pNRAA. Did I mention he has fewer plate appearances than Neifi Perez has outs? And for the final kick to the cranium, the Cubs Team EqA is only .237; .007 above replacement level...as a team. I don't think a healthy Kerry Wood and Mark Prior will do much good if they need to win 2-1 everytime.