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"MLB's Worst Tools" Awards: Fielding edition

There are plenty of stone-handed or range-less fielders out there, but there can be only one winner.


On Friday, I introduced quite possibly the least prestigious and least official awards in all of baseball: MLB's Worst Tools Awards. You may think that I am giving out awards to the most colossal tools in the sport, but alas that is not my goal. As fun as that would be, I simply lack the resources to ascertain the character of every single person involved with the sport of baseball at the highest level and rank them in terms of their "toolishness". Instead, I am referring to the five tools that are so commonly used in baseball scouting: throwing arm, fielding, speed, hitting for average/contact and hitting for power. In part one of this series I dealt with the throwing arm. In this installment we deal with fielding.

Fielding skill is difficult to define and notoriously tricky to quantify with any kind of year-to-year reliability. Some positions are also harder to play than others, making the search for the worst fielder in the game a difficult challenge, in theory. In practice there are a lot of nifty statistics that are prepared to compare apples to oranges and a quick perusal of a variety of metrics shows one man as the definitive winner of the not-at-all coveted "MLB's Worst Tools" Award for fielding. That man, who was in fact mentioned by an alert reader in the first iteration of this series, is none other than Anaheim Angels 1B/LF/DH Raul Ibanez.

On the surface this might seem like a bit of a cheap answer because we tend to think of Ibanez as a designated hitter. However, last year Ibanez played 100 games in the outfield, starting 98, and reports indicate that the Angels see him as more than just a DH for reasons that remain exceptionally elusive. As such, it is fair to categorize Ibanez as a fielder and critique him as a fielder, something it turns out is not a difficult task.

When looking at defensive numbers a multi-year sample is much more reliable than a single year one, and it's better to use more than one metric, if at all possible. Oftentimes different defensive metrics have very dissimilar views on different players. Luckily, in this case they all agree on Raul Ibanez. In the last three seasons 144 non-catchers have spent at least 2,000 innings in the field, the following chart shows Ibanez's totals by each metric and his ranking among the sample of 144:

DRS UZR UZR/150 Fans Scouting Report
-43 (143rd) -31.9 (144th) -16.4 (144th) 20 (144th)

Just for kicks it should be noted that DRS and Fans Scouting Report both include catchers, so Ibanez would rank 164th and 165th in those metrics respectively. The one issue here is that a great deal of Ibanez's negative value comes from his notorious noodle arm. However, he does not rank as having the worst arm in baseball either by DRS or UZR's estimation, so it is not the only driver of these numbers. In truth it's Ibanez's lack of range that is his true weakness.

According to UZR's range rating Raul Ibanez has ranks 134th out of the sample of 144 players mentioned above. However, that ranking is generous for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the sample takes us back to 2011 where Ibanez was not as far into his decline physically (although still fairly far to be fair). Ibanez is at the very end of his career in his forties and his ability to run down balls at this moment/going forward is probably even worse than he's shown the last couple of years. Also, with the exception of Jeff Francoeur, who has logged 500 more innings than Ibanez, all the player who rank as having worse range play much more demanding positions such as shortstop, third base, or center field. Ibanez's lack of range at a position that isn't difficult to play is truly what stands out among his peers. His inevitable continued decline is just icing on the cake.

Although Ibanez is most famous for his terrible arm that doesn't mean he doesn't have other massive flaws in his fielding. Just because someone is awful at one thing it doesn't mean that they aren't awful at another. Personally, I refuse to withhold a perfectly good award from Ibanez just because he was in the running for another award, one that he ultimately lost to a more deserving candidate. As a result I'm honored to give the "MLB's Worst Tools Award" for fielding to Mr. Raul Ibanez. Keep checking in here at Beyond the Boxscore to see who's next in line to join the infamous five.

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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs

Nick Ashbourne is an editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.