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The worst player in baseball, and why he still has a job

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The Houston Astros featured one of baseball's worst performers at third base in 2014. While he no longer has a full-time role, he's still part of the plan going forward. Why was his performance so bad, and why will he still be in the picture in 2015?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Failure is an event, not a person. Yesterday ended last night. -- Zig Ziglar

If failure is an event, then Matt Dominguez's 2014 season could be classified as a major event on par with the space shuttle launch or the series premiere of Better Call Saul. After being the 12th overall draft pick in 2007 and a couple years of top prospect status, it was hard to imagine how the young third baseman could ever be a big league failure. Skip ahead to 2014, and Dominguez made his case as the worst regular in big-league ball. What happened?

All The Ways In Which Matt Dominguez Was Bad In 2014

Let's start with the holistic view, because it is terri-bad. It was the "inspirational" chain email your grandma sent to you that got picked up by your work's spam filter.

We'll start with the WAR Index. WARi looks at how the three major WAR frameworks viewed Dominguez's overall production, and sure enough, Dominguez ranked third-from-the-bottom in 2014 among all big-league hitters. His score of -1.6 put him just ahead of Jose Molina and Michael Choice, and demonstrated that he was worth about a win and a half less than some Quad-A rando over the course of the season. Josh Satin or Dean Anna would have likely been a substantive upgrade, and that's bad.

There are a couple of other win measurements that could be used to determine a player's value -- at least offensively -- other than the common WAR implementations. RE24 is a great tool, one that tells us how a batter's effectiveness impacted the run expectancy of his games over the course of the season. It also tells us that, as bad as Dominguez was outside of context, he was much, much worse when taking into account context. According to FanGraphs, an RE24 of -20.00 qualifies as "awful."

Dominguez's RE24 last year was -34.96, far and away the worst in baseball. The next worst was Zack Cozart, who posted an RE24 of -21.90. Dominguez's RE24 was baseball's worst since 2011. Think of Matt's performance as 35 runs worse than average, offensively.

How about WPA/LI, a stat that allows a player's WPA to be compared with his peers while neutralizing the effect of being placed in higher- or lower-leverage situations? Dominguez's score was -3.45, baseball's worst since 2006, and the equivalent of three and a half wins below average.* That was easily the worst number in baseball last season, almost a full win worse than the aforementioned Cozart.

* - Also, this might be the equivalent of throwing up in your wallet.

By itself, this may look like a distressing overall value, and remarkably poor offensive production when accounting for context and win expectancy. That's because it is. But to be fair, Matt Dominguez's offense has always been an open question. Possessed of substantive power, Dominguez also possesses offensive flaws. The most piercing is probably his inability to reach base, but he's also  a poor hitter for average. Oh, and Dominguez is a poor baserunner. He's stolen one base in pro ball -- back in 2009, in High-A -- and has been a few runs in the red during each of his big-league seasons on the basepaths by metrics like BsR..

But -- here's the but -- Dominguez has also had plaudits at every level of pro ball for his glove, and that's where 2014 also really, really went off the rails for him.

What The Hell Happened To Matt's Defense?

Blast from the past

I'm not sure that Dominguez was ever expected to be a dynamic hitter, but he was expected to be an elite defensive force at the hot corner. I wrote about Dominguez at the tail end of the 2013 season, lamenting that his offense could not catch up to his defensive prowess. Though, truthfully, that defensive prowess has never burst through as promised -- either via advanced metrics or by universal acclaim from big league reports.

Back in the minors, however, Dominguez's defense had long been his calling card. Kevin Goldstein said this about the then-Marlins glovesmith back in 2010:

Dominguez is one of, if not the best defensive third baseman in the minors. He has outstanding instincts, soft hands, silky-smooth actions, and a plus arm.

Glowing, right?

The SABR Defensive Index, which goes into Gold Glove voting, gave Dominguez a respectable score of 5.5 in 2013 -- good for fourth among AL third basemen. In 2014, things changed -- SDI graced Matty D. with a negative score, -2.3, which brought him down to ninth in the AL among qualified players.

If you look into the other advanced defensive metrics, you'll see things like a 2014 DRS of -4, and a 2014 UZR of -9.3. Those aren't the numbers of a great defensive player -- they're the numbers of a bad defensive player. When you take his other seasons into account, and you should since defensive metrics can take a while to stabilize, Dominguez has a career DRS of 1 (average) and a career UZR of -9.3 (below-average).

During a perfect scenario, Dominguez's sizzling defense could have propped up an average bat with a bit of pop. But in all the best situations we could imagine, Dominguez's defense isn't average ... it's better than average. But even as a kid, Dominguez never seemed to have wheels or exceptional range. Inside Edge takes issue with Dominugez's successes on the plays with a 10%-60% chance of completion. That's not exactly what you'd expect of an elite glove -- and perhaps it's a lack of range that has held him back at the big league level.

The Silver Lining

There's a good chance -- not a great chance, but a good one -- that Dominguez enters 2015 as part of a platoon at the hot corner with new acquisition Luis Valbuena. Valbuena's a good player in his own right, but he did struggle against left-handed pitching in 2014. Dominguez, for all his faults, hit quite a bit better against lefties in 2014 -- a "robust" 86 wRC+ against a rough 54 wRC+ against righties.

Don't get me wrong, that's still not a good number. If Dominguez is 14% worse than league average against the shallow side of the pitching pool, it doesn't point towards long-term work. But it may grant Dominguez more big-league time before Carlos Correa and Colin Moran start coming for his job on the regular.

Kevin Goldstein -- the guy who provided the quote earlier about Dominguez's sterling defense -- now runs pro scouting for the Astros. And the Astros are certainly aware of all the negative numbers I've been throwing your way for the last 750+ words. As it stands right now, the 'Stros are having Dominguez work on learning some first base to increase his flexibility, and he's ostensibly still a part of their 2015 plan.

Dominguez is also coming into his age-25 season, and that could mean that there's some room for improvement. His 2013 offensive line and defensive background seem to indicate that his true talent level is a bit higher than 2014 showed. Since his speed doesn't drive his range at third -- and therefore, doesn't drive his defensive value -- it's likely to think that it won't dramatically diminish in the next year or three as he ages.

The Astros obviously value Matt Dominguez for some reason, and I'm willing to give them a bit of the benefit of the doubt. Going back to the quote that opened this article -- 2014 was yesterday. Dominguez may still have the same flaws he did last season, but yesterday is over. It's time to see if Dominguez's today is a little bit more productive.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphsBaseball Prospectus, and Baseball Reference.

Bryan Grosnick is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @bgrosnick.