At the end of every season, the baseball media likes to focus on the league’s best players, going as far as honoring them after the season with arbitrary awards, based on meaningless things like “performance.” But these awards neglect some of the most important players in baseball. The best players are nothing without the players on the other end of the spectrum. But while there is plenty of buzz surrounding the top 1% of MLB players, there is almost none surrounding the bottom 1%. This is where we step in. Introducing the Gallardo Awards. Named after Yovani Gallardo and his 30.86 ERA in 3 appearances with the Reds this year, the Gallardo Awards are here to honor the players who had the worst seasons in baseball this year. For each league, we will be choosing winners for the following awards:
Least Valuable Player
Worst Starting Pitcher
Worst Relief Pitcher
Worst Free Agent Signing
Worst Individual Performance
Aluminum Slugger (9)
Now that we have explained the awards, let’s get underway! Yesterday, we chose the worst players in the National League. Now, here are the worst players in the American League:
Least Valuable Player: Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
There is no one that captures the spirit of the Gallardo Awards more than Chris Davis. There are many players who had poor seasons in this article, but none of them have come even remotely close to Davis’s level of incompetency. Davis not only posted the worst statistical season of any hitter this season. He arguably posted the worst offensive season in the history of Major League Baseball.
Davis posted the 12th lowest on-base percentage (.243) and 33rd lowest OPS+ (50) of all qualified hitters in Major League history. His .168 batting average was by far the lowest among qualified players in Major League history, a full 11 points lower than the second lowest total. He posted a league worst .296 SLG, which is ironic given his status as one of the premier power hitters in baseball for many years. His -2.8 WAR was atrocious, and he reached that historically low total while only playing in 128 games. Had he played a full slate of games, there is a reasonable chance that he could have broken Jerry Royster’s 1977 record for the worst single-season WAR in MLB history.
Still not convinced Chris Davis deserves the Least Valuable Player Award? There’s 161 million more reasons to prove my argument.
Worst Starting Pitcher: Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
Remember when Lucas Giolito was supposed to be the next best pitcher for the Nationals? Nationals fans salivated at the idea of Scherzer, Strasburg, and Giolito leading their rotation for years to come. After moving to the White Sox in a surprise offseason deal for Adam Eaton two years ago, Giolito was finally able to get his first extended run in the Major Leagues this year. The results were… not so great. Giolito posted the worst numbers of all qualified AL starters in walks (90), earned runs (118), and ERA (6.13), while posting the second worst strikeout rate (6.49 K/9). The White Sox have to hope he improves in his second full season, but it’s hard not to panic after a start this bad.
Worst Reliever: Burch Smith, Kansas City Royals
Remember the lockdown Royals bullpens with Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera that propelled the team to a World Series victory? That’s long gone. With the Royals entering a rebuilding period, they have been forced to rely on inexperienced and journeyman pitchers to absorb innings. Enter Burch Smith. Cracking the majors for the first time since the 2013 season, Smith posted a league-worst 6.92 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP in 78 innings. Aside from posting a 2.70 ERA in seven appearances in April, Smith’s lowest monthly ERA was 5.79 in June. Despite his terrible performance, Smith managed to stick around on the Royals roster for the entire season. As the worst pitcher on one of the worst teams in baseball, Smith has no business of being on a major league roster next year.
Worst Fielder: Miguel Andujar, 3B, New York Yankees
A popular pick for the AL Rookie of the Year due to his offensive prowess, Andujar’s defense left a lot to be desired. His 15 errors were the third most of AL third basemen, only trailing Rafael Devers and Matt Chapman. He also offset some of his impressive offensive performance by finishing the season with -25 defensive runs saved. Not only was that number the worst in the American League, it was nearly double the number of defensive runs allowed by the second worst third baseman (Rafael Devers at -13). His poor UZR numbers sealed his fate as the worst fielder, as his -16.0 UZR was the worst of all qualified major leaguers. Although there is a tendency to put higher emphasis on offensive numbers during awards season, voters for the AL Rookie of the Year might want to look at Andujar’s defensive numbers before making a final decision.
Worst Free Agent Signing: Alex Cobb, SP, Baltimore Orioles
As a diehard Orioles fan, I am actually relatively happy with Cobb’s performance given the circumstances. After signing late in Spring Training, Cobb was rushed to the majors without even throwing a single pitch for a minor league affiliate because the Orioles were desperate to break out of their slow start (which clearly did not work out). Cobb predictably struggled coming out of the gate, posting a 6.41 ERA before the All-Star break. However, once Cobb was able to get into a rhythm, he posted a fantastic 2.56 ERA and resembled the solid veteran the Orioles hope they were acquiring.
While I am confident about Cobb as a player moving forward, the decision to sign him made little sense for the Orioles. The team blindly convinced themselves that they had a legitimate shot at the playoffs in 2018, causing them to slightly overpay out of desperation for one last shot. After a historically terrible season that ended with a fire sale, however, the Orioles are stuck paying Cobb $57 million for 4 seasons where the team isn’t expected to compete. Although Cobb’s contract does not look terrible in the context of his pitching performance, the questionable decision-making by the Orioles front office makes this the worst free agent signing of the 2018 season.
Worst Individual Performance: Dylan Bundy, SP, Baltimore Orioles
Despite a long list of disastrous pitching performances for the 115-loss Orioles, Dylan Bundy’s May 8th start against the Kansas City Royals was by far the worst. Bundy faced seven batters in the first inning in the following event sequence:
Put together, Bundy posted a 0 IP, 7 ER, 5 H, 2 BB stat line for the game. That’s bad. Very, very bad. To give this some historical context, Bundy became the first starter in MLB history to give up four home runs without recording an out. He also posted the second worst game score of any start in baseball since World War II. The only starter with a worse score was Athletics starter Mike Oquist in 1998, who managed to get through 5 innings against a Yankees team that went on to win the World Series. Bundy, on the other hand, could not even record a single out against a team that posted the second worst record in baseball.
Keep your heads up, Orioles fans. Things will get better for us one day.
In contrast to the Silver Slugger, the Aluminum Slugger is awarded to the worst hitter at each position, including pitcher. Just a reminder that these awards only factor in how the player hit this season. Other aspects of their game are ignored. With that said, let’s look at the winners!
Catcher: James McCann, Detroit Tigers
Although McCann posted another strong defensive campaign for the Tigers, his offensive numbers were some of the worst in baseball. McCann’s 58 wRC+ was the second worst among hitters with at least 450 at-bats. His batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage were each among the worst five numbers posted by qualified AL batters. In order to establish himself as a starting catcher, McCann needs to improve his hitting numbers fast.
First Baseman: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
Five seasons ago, Chris Davis won the Silver Slugger award. Oh, how the times have changed.
Second Baseman: Dee Gordon, Seattle Mariners
When the Mariners acquired Dee Gordon from the Marlins this past offseason, I am sure they expected he would be an effective leadoff hitter with a high on-base percentage and elite steals numbers. Despite posting a respectable .268 average, he only posted a .288 OBP thanks to a league-worst 1.5% walk rate. While he was still able to steal 30 bases in his limited number of times on base, it was a far cry from the 60 stolen bases he posted in 2017. If Gordon cannot improve his walk rate in 2019, he will be a front-runner for an Aluminum Slugger award next season
Third Baseman: Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
Gordon was not the only Mariner infielder that disappointed in 2018. After years of serving as an above-average option at the hot corner for the Mariners, Seager hit a wall in 2018. His average (.221) and on-base percentage (.273) were not only career lows for Seager; they were also the worst among qualified third baseman in the AL. His .251 BABIP was only slightly lower than his .262 BABIP from the 2017 season, indicating that his sudden offensive decline cannot necessarily be attributed to bad luck. Now on the wrong side of 30, Seager’s big-money contract has to be concerning for the Mariners
Shortstop: Alcides Escobar, Kansas City Royals
Much like the previously mentioned James McCann, Escobar has a very solid defensive reputation but very little offensive talent. Escobar’s average (.231), on-base percentage (.279), slugging percentage (.313), and wRC+ (60) are all the lowest among qualified shortstops. Escobar’s offensive profile is further weakened by his lack of power and base running skills, as he only managed a mere 4 home runs and 8 stolen bases in nearly 600 at-bats. Given Escobar’s history of suboptimal offensive production, his next team would be better suited in converting Escobar into a utility infielder.
Left Fielder: JaCoby Jones, Detroit Tigers
Despite being given an extended opportunity to showcase his talents in 2018, Jones was not able to take advantage and establish himself as a Major League starter. His .207/.266/.364 batting line was well below average and his 70 wRC+ was the worst among qualified AL left fielders. His issues are only compounded by a strikeout percentage (30.4%) and walk rate (5.1%) that were among the worst in baseball, and limit his potential for significant offensive improvement in 2019.
Center Fielder: Adam Engel, White Sox
Much like fellow AL Central outfielder JaCoby Jones, Engel was not able to capitalize on the consistent at-bats he received in 2018. Among all Major League hitters with at least 450 ABs, Engel was tied for the fewest RBIs (29) with Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton. Combined with his below average 70 wRC+ and a sub-.300 OBP, Engel’s offensive output is far from where it needs to be for him to establish himself as an everyday starter for the White Sox; however, he still has potential as a fourth outfielder.
Right Fielder: Kole Calhoun, Angels
After several years of respectable offensive seasons, Calhoun seemed to hit a wall for the Angels this season. His batting average (.208) and on-base percentage (.283) were career-lows and were a sharp drop from his numbers from last season, when he was roughly a league average hitter. His RBI numbers were the second lowest among qualified right fielders, only ahead of Rays outfielder Mallex Smith. Unlike Smith, however, Calhoun does not provide elite numbers in other categories. Given Calhoun’s history of production, he has earned the benefit of the doubt for now, but he will need to have a strong start to the 2019 season if he wants to hold onto his job.
Designated Hitter: Victor Martinez, Tigers
This was by far my least favorite decision to make. One of the premier hitters over a long career with the Indians, Red Sox, and Tigers, Martinez was a shell of his former self during his farewell season. Martinez posted an OBP below .300 for the first time in his career, primarily due to a 5% drop in his walk rate. Already one of the least valuable players on the base paths, Martinez also saw a dip in his power numbers, as his home run total and slugging percentage were his lowest since his 49-game 2003 season. Although his last season was not his strongest, Martinez had a fantastic baseball career and all of us at M-SABR wish him the best in retirement.
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