Baseball and its media have a strange fixation on focusing on things they deem are “best.” It’s elitist and downright gross. Who is the “best” player? Which is the “best” team? And what are the “best” ideas for articles? Luckily, the Gallardo Awards are none of those things. This idea first came up last year. Named lovingly for Yovani Gallardo and his 30.86 ERA in three games with my Reds last year, these awards honor those players who won’t be receiving any mainstream accolades this year. Nope, these are the worst of the best: Major Leaguers who were exceptionally bad in 2019. We will be choosing winners in the following categories:
Least Valuable Player
Worst Starting Pitcher
Worst Relief Pitcher
Worst Individual Performance
Aluminum Slugger (9)
There is generally a soft minimum of 250 plate appearances to receive an award. Having a lot of plate appearances will certainly help a player’s case, but what’s most important is how little they made of their opportunities. The Redemption Award is a new one. To close with some positivity, I’m honoring a Gallardo Award winner from last year who was able to turn things around. Now that that’s been taken care of, we’ve got some awards to hand out!
Least Valuable Player: Lewis Brinson, CF, Miami Marlins
I really tried my hardest not to give it to him again. As a rookie in 2018, Brinson won the LVP thanks to his .199/.240/.338 line and -1.0 WAR. Though he faced stiff competition from the likes of Travis Shaw and teammate Curtis Granderson, Brinson just made it impossible to pick anyone else. (Sidebar: Brinson and Granderson started in the outfield together 20 times this year. The Marlins went 5-15 and averaged just over 3 runs per game.) Though he had barely half as much playing time, Brinson managed to have an even larger negative impact on his team in 2019 than in 2018. His WAR this year was -1.7 according to Fangraphs and -2.2 according to Baseball-Reference.
Brinson had an impossibly low .221 slugging percentage and 25 wRC+. The last NL player to slug worse than him in as many plate appearances was Luis Gomez for the Braves in 1980, and Gomez’ defense at shortstop almost made him worth playing. (Sidebar II: Gomez has the most ever plate appearances among non-pitchers without hitting a home run. Teammate Garth Iorg later convinced him to join the Mormon church.) But unlike Gomez, Brinson didn’t even have his glove going for him. His Outs Above Average was exactly zero, and his -2 DRS puts him squarely in Nick Senzel territory. Overall, it was another miserable season for the former top prospect, making him the clear Least Valuable Player for the second consecutive year.
Worst Starting Pitcher: Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies
This one was especially disappointing. In 2018, Freeland broke out for his hometown Rockies, finishing 4th in Cy Young voting and leading many to believe he would be able to consistently overperform his mediocre peripherals. As it turns out, he couldn’t. His ERA rose by nearly four full points to a NL-worst 6.73. His 5.99 FIP was dead last as well, and his 0.1 WAR bested only Michael Wacha. Freeland’s tendency to pitch to contact didn’t work so well: opposing batters had an average exit velocity of 88.9 MPH against him, one of the worst marks in the league.
Worst Relief Pitcher: Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Tayron Guerrero put up a major fight with his 6.33 xFIP and over 7 BB/9, but Davis was just too bad. His 8.65 ERA was the worst by a reliever with 40 or more innings in 46 years. To make matters worse, the former shutdown reliever began the season as Colorado’s closer. He was able to pick up 15 saves despite losing six games and allowing a .378 xWOBA, putting him in the 6th percentile in that category. As dominant as Davis was from 2014 to 2017, it’s a shame to see him fall so far, so fast.
Worst Fielder: Ian Desmond, OF, Colorado Rockies
It feels like I’m piling on the Rockies a bit, but they really had their share of terrible players this year. The former shortstop Desmond has earned a reputation as an atrocious defensive outfielder. He does have to cover a lot of ground at Coors Field, but his -11.9 UZR/150 was dead last among MLB outfielders, as was his -8 DRS. Statcast paints a similar picture. His -10 Outs Above Average was better than only Kyle Schwarber and teammate Charlie Blackmon.
Worst Acquisition: Craig Kimbrel, RP, Chicago Cubs
I have neither the time nor the Economics degree to go into full detail about Kimbrel’s saga this winter, but it ended with the Cubs giving him a 3-year, $43 million contract on June 7th to be the team’s closer. It quickly went off the rails. Kimbrel got pitched just over 20 innings with a 6.53 ERA and absolutely ungodly 8.00 FIP. His -1.27 WPA is especially impressive for a pitcher with as few innings as he had. His strikeout rate dropped 8 percentage points from 2018 to 2019, and batters barreled the ball up nearly three times as often. With the Cubs locked in a tight playoff race, they desperately could have used a shutdown reliever. Instead, Kimbrel pitched just three times in September, allowing a run in all three appearances.
Worst Individual Performance: Steven Matz, SP, New York Mets
The worst performance by an NL player this season happened just three weeks into the season. On April 16th, Matz took the mound in Philadelphia against the 9-6 Phillies. He started his outing by getting two strikes on leadoff man Andrew McCutchen, before Amed Rosario booted a ground ball, allowing him to reach first. What followed was:
Double, HBP, Double, Home Run, Walk, E6, Home Run
And then Matz was taken out of the game. Sure Rosario deserves a fair chunk of the blame, but Matz allowed 8 runs and two homers without recording a single out. The Phillies put up a 10-spot that first inning. This single trip through the lineup raised Matz’ season ERA from 3.87 to 4.21.
In contrast to the Silver Slugger, the Aluminum Slugger is awarded to the worst hitter at each position, including pitcher. These awards only factor in how the player hit this season. Other aspects of their game are ignored.
Pitcher: Merrill Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks
This one took me much longer to decide than I’m willing to admit. Antonio Senzatela, Joey Lucchesi, and Luis Castillo all have very compelling cases for the NL’s worst hitting pitcher. But in the end, Kelly was our winner. He went a grand total of 1-52, and his one hit came off of Dylan Bundy, so does it really even count? It was a nubber to the right side that had just a 34% hit probability. And Kelly also gave up 7 runs that day in under 3 innings, so he didn’t even get the chance to feel good about his accomplishment. He struck out 25 times this year and hit into a pair of double plays as well.
Catcher: Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres
Hedges is an incredible defender; according to Baseball Savant his framing alone saved his team a league-best 20 runs. But at the plate, he was borderline unplayable. His .176 batting average and .252 OBP were easily the worst among NL catchers. He was also one of only 8 NL players with 300 or more plate appearances to strike out over 30% of the time.
First Baseman: Martin Prado, Miami Marlins
I bet you didn’t realize that Prado was still in the majors, or that he played a plurality of his games at first base this season. But the 36-year-old had a truly awful hitting season his year. The next worst NL first baseman was Jesus Aguilar with a wRC+ of 82; Prado’s was 49. I normally never look at RBI, but the fact that Prado drove in just 15 runs in 104 games is absolutely absurd. On a more sabermetric note, he barreled up just one ball the entire season: a deep flyout to Kevin Pillar in mid-September. Only one NL player had a worse barrel rate this season than Prado, and he’s our next winner.
Second Baseman: Jose Peraza, Cincinnati Reds
Yes, Peraza had just one barrel this season in 320 batted ball events. Unlike Prado, he made the most of his though: a 432 foot April home run that punctuated a rout of the Cardinals. But besides that one stroke of genius, it was a rough season for the 25-year-old. He hit .239 and walked just 4.2% of the time. After stealing 20 or more bases in each of his first three seasons, Peraza had just 7 steals in 2019 and was caught 6 times. I wrote last year that Peraza had turned a corner and was looking like a regular in the Reds’ lineup for years to come. Clearly that take was a bit premature.
Shortstop: Orlando Arcia, Milwaukee Brewers
We have another repeat winner! In 2018, Arcia’s 54 wRC+ was the worst among NL shortstops. The Brewers thusly rewarded him by making him the everyday starter in 2019. He did improve that wRC+ number… to 61. And he did hit 15 home runs compare to 3 the previous season, while increasing his walks and cutting his strikeouts. Still, the new-and-improved Arcia was still the National League’s worst shortstop.
Third Baseman: Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers
Shaw may have been the biggest disappointment in baseball this year. After hitting 32 home runs in 2018, Shaw hit just 7 with the juiced ball in 2019 to go along with his 47 wRC+. His walk rate stayed exactly the same, but he saw his K% jump to an eye-gougingly bad 33%. That would have been Adam Dunn’s third worst single-season rate. His .157 batting average was not just the worst in the league, but the worst by any major leaguer with as many plate appearances since the great Bill Bergen of the 1909 Brooklyn Superbas.
Left Fielder: Curtis Granderson, Miami Marlins
I mentioned this at the top of the article, but it truly was not Granderson’s year in 2019. In 138 games, he hit just .183 and was worth -1.4 WAR. His BABIP was a career lowest .220, indicating his struggles may have been due to bad luck. But his expected AVG of .210 puts him in the first percentile of the league. The three-time all star and four-time Marvin Miller Man of the Year has not announced his retirement, but it’s hard to see another team giving him a shot.
Center Fielder: Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins
What else is there to say about Brinson’s miserable year at the plate? His OPS this year was .457. There were 146 major leaguers this year with as many plate appearances as Brinson who had a slugging percentage of .457 or better, including Tim Beckham, Tyler Naquin, and of course Christian Yelich.
Right Fielder: Steven Duggar, San Francisco Giants
Going from left to right, the Giants’ Opening Day outfielders were Connor Joe, Duggar, and Michael Reed. Joe was given 15 lousy plate appearances before being disposed of, and Reed was given 8. But Duggar kind of hung around. He moved over to right field after the Kevin Pillar trade and was given 281 plate appearances. His numbers were bad everywhere, but at home they were especially terrible. In his games in San Francisco, Duggar slashed .202/.246/.282 with one measly home run.
Redemption Award: Dexter Fowler, RF, St. Louis Cardinals
Fowler earned a 2018 Aluminum Slugger after hitting .180 with a 63 wRC+. I mentioned last year that batted ball luck could have been a factor, but I wasn’t hopeful about a comeback. This year, he saw that BABIP swing 80 points in the other direction, and he put together an above average offensive season. Though he may never be as good as he was in 2016, Fowler defied the odds in returning to form as a respectable major leaguer and giving hope to all our Gallardo Award winners.