Every season, a simple truth reveals itself: some baseball players, despite getting regular playing time, just aren't playing well enough to justify being in the big leagues. These players are relatively easy to identify using the eye test, but they're especially easy to spot using metrics that compare performance to league-average or replacement-level.
For what it's worth (given we're only two months into the season), here are a few players who are right around or below replacement level according to FanGraphs's WAR statistic, and the players with whom their teams could replace them. In identifying particular players, I looked for (1) terrible-to-just-pretty-bad fWAR numbers, (2) fWAR numbers that weren't thrown completely out of whack by small-sample UZR scores, and (3) players whose teams have reasonable replacements available. It isn't an exhaustive list by half (hello there, Jose Tabata and the White Sox middle infield!), but it's three guys who probably should give someone else a shot in their stead.
Casey Kotchman, Cleveland Indians -- 1B -- -0.8 fWAR
Kotchman is not only the Indians' biggest off-season acquisition, but he's also their worst everyday player at this point. Coming off a career year for the Rays, Kotchman has been downright awful for the Tribe, basically reverting back to the Casey Kotchman who helped ruin the 2010 season for the Mariners. That Kotchman had a terribly low BABIP and ended the season with a wRC+ of 66. The 2012 Kotchman looks very similar: low BABIP (.226), similar peripherals to that season, and a wRC+ of 72 to go with his complete lack of power.
Kind of surprisingly, the Cleveland Indians are sitting at second place in their division, so replacing the Kleenex-soft bat of Kotchman with a replacement-level (or better!) hitter could be a big boost to the team as it tries to contend. So who to replace Kotchman with? I know Indians fans are tired of hearing this, but Matt LaPorta is putting on his usual MVP-caliber performance in Triple-A again this year. The stats speak for themselves: 14 HR, 11.9% walk rate, and a massive 180 wRC+ in 193 PA. We all know that LaPorta does this every season: extravagant numbers in the minors, but terrible performance in the majors. There could be a chance that this season, LaPorta gets it done in the bigs.
But aside from LaPorta, this isn't exactly a team with a lot of options at the moment. To put things in perspective, Jose Lopez has been hitting cleanup and playing DH, which is
terrible awful apocalyptic not a good sign. I know LaPorta seems to have worn out his welcome in Cleveland already, but even looking at how bad he's been in the majors, he's played better in his worst ML stints than Kotchman has during this season. Kotchman's managed -0.8 fWAR already in 2012...at least it took LaPorta nearly twice that many PA in 2011 to rack up that much negative WAR. He probably deserves (another) chance with the big club.
Brian Bogusevic, Houston Astros -- RF -- 0.2 fWAR
The Houston Astros, unlike the Indians, are not a contending team. Going into the season, the Astros were prepared to roll out a starting nine that might not have looked out of place in the PCL, complete with one aging slugger, fifth-and-sixth outfielders, and busted former top prospects that never had any ML success. Bogusevic, despite some minor league success with the bat, probably falls into that fifth-outfielder category for most teams.
As a young, developing player, it's nice to see the Astros giving Bogusevic some rope to work out his hitting issues at the major-league level, but this level of production just isn't cutting it for a right fielder -- even on the Astros. Moving Bogusevic into a fourth outfielder role, or sending him to Triple-A for some extra work, might be an option for a team looking to stay competitive while developing young talent.
The solution for the Astros may be another one of those busted former top prospects: former Mets wunderkind Fernando Martinez. Martinez has always tantalized scouts with serious power potential, but a
never-ending series of injuries robbed him of development time and mobility. Unbelievably for someone who was on top prospect lists for as long as Martinez, the young hitter is still just 23 years old. This year, at Triple-A, Martinez has stayed healthy and hit the ball well, notching 8 HR and a 134 wRC+. In addition, Martinez already sits on the 40-man roster, so it's not like the Astros would have to make a 40-man change to give him a shot at the ML level. And if the Astros did have to ditch a player, perhaps Travis Buck, another left-handed-hitting OF should be the one to move off the 25-man, rather than Bogusevic. Buck's major-league numbers have been just awful since his productive stint with Oakland in 2007, and I see no reason why he should keep a roster spot from F-Mart.
Ike Davis, New York Mets -- 1B -- -1.3 fWAR
Remember at the beginning of the season, when plenty of people were predicting a true breakout season for Ike Davis? Given that he was over his bouts with
the Mets' training staff his ankle injury and a case of Valley Fever, he was predicted to be one of the best 1B in a weak National League crop. Today, Davis looks frustrated, a bit lost, and not at all effective at the dish. The numbers tell the story: Ike has a strikeout rate that makes him look like Mark Reynolds (28.6%) and a batting average that makes him look like Neifi Perez (.167). There's some BABIP bad luck (.206) for him right now...he'd probably be just as successful if he ran straight back to the dugout instead of to first base after putting balls in play. As Bill Petti pointed out over at FanGraphs, the league is adapting to Davis's fastball-mashing ways, and feeding him a diet of off-speed stuff.
Giving Ike a chance to work out his issues at the ML level is admirable, and shows a solid commitment to the young talent. But at the same time, it's not working for him at all as of yet. So how can the Mets get Ike back on track? Ask anyone who's seen him hit this season, the guy looks lost out there. Pitchers are throwing him breaking stuff off the plate, and it's frustrating him to no end. The frustration just looks to build and build, until the guy looks ready to break a bat over his knee after questionable called strikes. A confidence boost is surely in order, and Ike might be able to get one with a trip down to Triple-A for a few weeks. In Buffalo, Ike is less likely to catch bad breaks or see major-league-quality breaking stuff, and it might allow him to right the ship mentally.
So, if the Mets were to go this route, who might replace Ike at first base? I'd suggest that, on a temporary basis, Lucas Duda should move from right field to first base. Duda is, to put it mildly, a
Adam Dunn-quality bad defensive outfielder. Despite being an above-average hitter, Duda's inability to field his position at a high level keeps him from being a net-positive position player by fWAR. At first base, Duda's defensive shortcomings will be mitigated, but a new hole appears in right field. This one could be filled by Jordany Valdespin, Scott Hairston, or (yikes!) a returning-from-injury Jason Bay. But keep in mind that this should be a shorter-term fix. The Mets should have faith that Davis will improve in the future, they just might need to have a replacement ready while he adjusts for 2012.
All stats provided by FanGraphs.