When it comes to baseball, there are many ways to excel. As the famous, but surprisingly macabre, saying goes "there's more than one way to skin a cat", and in the same vein there is more than one way to make an impact in this game. Absolute mashers who are unable to field their position, like Chris Davis, can be superstars and less flashy hitters who excel in the field, like Manny Machado, can be similarly valuable in an entirely different fashion.
The great Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera debate has really brought this idea into focus as sabermetrically-inclined individuals have attempted to prove that Trout's all-around game is more valuable than Cabrera's pure slugging. The bottom line is that value is all that really matters, so it doesn't really matter how you get it. Andrelton Simmons is a borderline superstar on the strength of his glove alone regardless of the fact that he wields an unremarkable bat.
With this idea in mind I thought I would look at what kind of diverse ways there are to not be the best, since being the best is boring and played out at this point, but being the most average.
When we first learn about WAR - ideally at a young age if we have good parents - we are told that a WAR total of two is indicative of a league-average starter. As a result it stands to reason that the most average seasons are those where players with full time at-bats produce exactly 2.0 WAR. Looking at the last 10 years I found 26 such seasons and decided to present them to you in the form of a gargantuan chart. Said chart looks like this:
There is a lot to process there so I'm going to give you a minute...
Good. So looking at the most average seasons of the last ten years what is there to learn? The key here is to pay attention to the average average season.
It is apparent that more often than not the 2.0 WAR season comes from players who can hit a little bit, but aren't great fielders or don't play premium positions. Ten of the 26 seasons listed include wRC+ numbers of 110 or above, yet only five are below 90. There are a few glove wizards listed, who couldn't hit much, but they are few and far between. The average average player is also pretty slow, as evident by the -2.6 BsR, but Paul Konerko's presence on the list twice is enough to skew that a bit.
An interesting side note is the appearance of Garrett Atkins twice on this list in a three year span. In 2005 Atkins has strong fielding numbers and sub-par production with the bat, but in 2007 he puts up a 112 wRC+ and is an absolutely terrible fielder. Baseball can be a funny game sometimes.
Defensive numbers can also be a bit wonky from time to time as well, so perhaps it's unfair to credit the sport itself for this delightful and whimsical quirk when it might be nothing more than a statistical glitch. Who says that sabermetrics takes the fun out of baseball?
Ultimately, there isn't anything ground-breaking here and the sample is too small to make really bold claims. The most average seasons of the past ten years have been a little bit more bat than glove heavy, but not by a significant degree. This article is destined to fall under the category of "cool sortable chart sandwiched by replacement-level words" but sometimes that's just the way it goes.
If you were expecting a piece about the average of the average seasons by a collection of fairly average players to be anything more or less than average, clearly your expectations were unreasonable.
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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.