Positional Black Holes, Part II

Angel's manager Mike Scioscia had one heck of a time trying to manage himself out of a positional black hole back in 2001. At least he looks happy now.


Last week we looked at the worst positional black holes over the last ten years and this morning I want to extend that search back into the beginning of the retrosheet era. I've defined the 'black hole' as any situation where a team sees an egregious dearth of production at a position where no single player receives more than 200 plate appearances.

In the last post, I found that the 2008 Baltimore shortstops combined to produce the lowest combined wRAA of any other black hole-eligible position over the last 10 years. But as we all know, shortstop is a position where defensive skills are often given priority over offense. Therefore, I've revised the all-time table to sort by the weighted runs above average of that particular position (wRAA Pos) rather than the league as a whole (wRAA). This should prevent the premium positions from unfair punishment and provide a more accurate account of "worst ever".

The adjustment had a profound effect on the results, as 8 of the 10 worst cases are from either corner outfield, first base, or DH:

POSITIONAL BLACK HOLES SINCE 1950

# Team Lg Year Pos PA wRAA Pos wRAA maxPA Players Used
1 OAK A 1979 RF 650 -51.7 -39.9 193 9
2 ANA A 2001 DH 637 -46.5 -43.3 95 17
3 OAK A 1978 RF 628 -43.7 -33.8 161 11
4 LAN N 2005 LF 647 -38.6 -32.7 184 7
5 NYN N 2003 CF 642 -38.6 -39.1 166 8
6 SEA A 2009 LF 643 -37.6 -33.3 148 7
7 MLN N 1962 LF 686 -37.4 -20.6 186 9
8 LAN N 2003 LF 683 -36.9 -26.1 196 10
9 OAK A 1977 1B 682 -36.2 -25.9 197 9
10t BAL A 2008 SS 565 -35.7 -43.2 159 6
10t BOS A 1987 C 585 -35.7 -49.8 181 6

...

At #1, The '79 Oakland right-fielders see a large jump from their league-wRAA to their position-wRAA, losing almost 12 runs with the adjustment. But that is not to say that the ranking is undeserved, as the Oakland right-fielders were simply abominable that year. Tony Armas certainly produced the best wOBA of the 9 players that would eventually see time there, posting a tolerable .307 wOBA at the position. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Armas ended up receiving the lion's share of the at-bats in right field with 198. But no right-fielder involved in the other 457 PA saw anything higher than a .240 wOBA that season, ultimately driving the '79 A's right-fielders to the top of this list.

This unholy, dark abyss in right-field was really nothing new in Oakland, however. If you haven't noticed already, the #3 worst Positional Black Hole in baseball history happens to be the 1978 Oakland right-fielders. That year Gary Thomasson, Tony Armas, Miguel Dilone, and Dell Alston all saw at least 100 PA at the position, but not a single one of them managed a wOBA above .280. Joe Wallis saw an additional 72 PA and Glenn Burke saw 46, but neither of them could post anything above a .240 wOBA. The end result of all this was two long years of nightmarish, light-sucking offense that helped contribute to the team amassing an excess of 200 Losses over that span.

Mercifully, Tony Armas then broke out in his age-26 year in 1980, hitting for a .354 wOBA and 17.5 wRAA in a very curious 666 plate appearances. Now, I wouldn't say that I'm suggesting Mr. Armas sold his soul to Old Scratch to end the Athletics' extreme lightlessness in right-field. But I wouldn't say that I'm not saying that either...

Coming in at #2 is the 2001 DH situation in Anaheim which was just about as wild as it can get.

2001 ANAHEIM DH

Team Year Player PA wOBA wRAA WRAA Pos
ANA 2001 Shawn Wooten 95 0.247 -6.44 -6.92
ANA 2001 Orlando Palmeiro 94 0.241 -6.85 -7.32
ANA 2001 David Eckstein 67 0.273 -3.05 -3.39
ANA 2001 Glenallen Hill 66 0.138 -10.58 -10.91
ANA 2001 Scott Spiezio 62 0.197 -6.8 -7.11
ANA 2001 Garret Anderson 52 0.335 0.37 0.11
ANA 2001 Tim Salmon 52 0.302 -1.12 -1.38
ANA 2001 Benji Gil 33 0.198 -3.59 -3.76
ANA 2001 Wally Joyner 31 0.418 2.38 2.22
ANA 2001 Jose Fernandez 23 0.154 -3.37 -3.49
ANA 2001 Darin Erstad 18 0.117 -3.19 -3.28
ANA 2001 Adam Kennedy 17 0.271 -0.81 -0.89
ANA 2001 Jeff DaVanon 12 0.298 -0.3 -0.36
ANA 2001 Troy Glaus 9 0.255 -0.55 -0.59
ANA 2001 Bengie Molina 3 0.296 -0.08 -0.09
ANA 2001 Jose Nieves 2 0.444 0.2 0.19
ANA 2001 Jamie Burke 1 0.887 0.47 0.47

Wally Joyner provided the most production out of the 17 players that saw at-bats as the Angels' designated hitter that season. His .418 wOBA was very impressive, but at age 39 Joyner wasn't viewed as a full-time player at that point and was given just 31 PA at DH and only 161 overall on the season. Garret Anderson also posted some repesectable numbers with a .335 wOBA as a DH, but was too busy manning the outfield to bail out his Halos out of their DH troubles.

As a consequence then, manager Mike Scioscia was left to divvy up the rest of the at-bats to a quad-A pinch-hitter type Shawn Wooten (.247 wOBA), a lifetime platoon-hitter in Orlando Palmiero (.241 wOBA), and, of course, the viciously slugging talents of grindy rookie shortstop David Eckstein (.273 wOBA).

It seems as though DH-ing duties were originally intended for the 36 year-old Glenallen Hill, whom the organization had traded for earlier that off-season. Hill had hit an impressive .291/ .344/ .591 over the course of his previous 2 seasons, and seemed to have plenty left to his career at that point. Unfortunately, the veteran opened up the season with 52 PA in April, hitting just .135/ .135/ .182 in that first month. After 14 more PA in May that showed no signs of improvement, the Angels released Hill on June 1st, ending his career in the majors.

Of course, unlike the '78-'79 A's, the Angels were a competitive franchise at the time, and with the inclusion of Brad Fullmer to the roster in 2002 the club went all the way to the World Series, ultimately defeating the San Francisco Giants in game 7. Fullmer was similarly acquired via trade during the off-season, although fate was significantly more generous to him than to Glenallen Hill. Fullmer went on to hit for a .367 wOBA in that championship season with Anaheim, successfully ending the Black Hole there. Despite this, his career would end just two years later with injury troubles.

The 1987 Red Sox catchers show up just fractionally outside the top ten according to their position-adjusted wRAA, but it is worth mentioning that they posted the worst standard wRAA in the retrosheet era at -49.8. That beats out both the aforementioned 2008 shortstop situation in Baltimore (-43.2) as well as the 17 DH's in Anaheim in 2001 (-43.3).

The job seems to have been originally intended for Marc Sullivan who was the only catcher to receive consistent playing time throughout the year. But his slash-line of .169/ .198/ .238 and his .188 wOBA certainly necessitated that manager John McNamara continue to search for a solution to the black hole. Fortunately, 24 year-old rookie John Marzano was brought up in August and eventually restored some respectability to the position with a .295 wOBA for the last two months of the season-- a rate which was more or less on par with other catchers of his era.

But the damage had been done by that point, a fact which makes the 1987 Red Sox catchers' accomplishment all the more impressive. The group managed to post the worst collaborative wRAA in baseball history and they did it in just 4 months before the arrival of John Marzano.

1987 BOSTON C

Team Year Player PA wOBA wRAA wRAA Pos
BOS 1987 Marc Sullivan 173 0.188 -19.91 -15.74
BOS 1987 Danny Sheaffer 67 0.115 -11.73 -10.12
BOS 1987 Rich Gedman 161 0.226 -13.34 -9.45
BOS 1987 Dave Sax 2 0 -0.54 -0.49
BOS 1987 John Marzano 181 0.295 -4.72 -0.36
BOS 1987 Mike Greenwell 1 0.893 0.47 0.5

Each of these scenarios probably deserves their own article, but unfortunately I'm out of time here. But it's this sort of data that is exactly what I love about baseball statistics-- when the numbers tell a story. It's not always a happy story as in the case of Marc Sullivan and Glenallen Hill, both of whom were forced into early retirement after their black hole seasons. But occasionally teams emerge from the Black Hole with a quest to pursue and seize the ultimate glory, as was the case with the 2002 Angels.

All wOBA and wRAA positional splits exclude SB/CS, all numbers include post-season data.

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