Brad Hawpe and the worst defensive seasons of all time

Brad Hawpe drops a fly ball / Icon SMI

Recently (you know, on the only other real post I’ve written on the new blog so far) a couple of readers mentioned Brad Hawpe’s awful 2008, which was worth -41 Fielding Runs. That is, in fact, the worst defensive season of all time as measured by Baseball-Reference.com’s data set. Click through for a full list, including a number of other fascinating seasons.

Rk Player Rfield Rbat Year Age Tm G PA BA OPS Pos
1 Brad Hawpe -41 14 2008 29 COL 138 569 .283 .879 *9
2 Jason Bay -35 31 2008 29 TOT 155 670 .286 .895 *7
3 Ryan Braun -35 33 2007 23 MIL 113 492 .324 1.004 *5
4 Dante Bichette -34 -1 1999 35 COL 151 659 .298 .895 *7/D
5 Adam Dunn -33 34 2009 29 WSN 159 668 .267 .928 379/D
6 Chris Gomez -33 -16 1997 26 SDP 150 586 .253 .652 *6
7 Gary Sheffield -32 13 1993 24 TOT 140 557 .294 .837 *5
8 Michael Young -31 27 2005 28 TEX 159 732 .331 .899 *6/D
9 Kirby Puckett -29 14 1993 33 MIN 156 682 .296 .824 *89D/7
10 Joe Carter -29 -14 1990 30 SDP 162 697 .232 .681 *873
11 Alan Bannister -29 -12 1977 25 CHW 139 630 .275 .672 *6/487
12 Ty Wigginton -28 -7 2003 25 NYM 156 633 .255 .714 *5
13 Jose Guillen -28 -13 1997 21 PIT 143 526 .267 .712 *9/8
14 Carlos Lee -27 23 2006 30 TOT 161 695 .300 .895 *7D
15 Ron Gant -27 19 1991 26 ATL 154 642 .251 .834 *8
16 Rick Monday -27 19 1974 28 CHC 142 617 .294 .842 *8
17 Trevor Plouffe -26 -3 2011 25 MIN 81 320 .238 .697 *649/D73
18 Orlando Cabrera -26 -11 2009 34 TOT 160 708 .284 .705 *6
19 Brian Giles -26 -15 2009 38 SDP 61 253 .191 .548 *9
20 Jorge Cantu -26 4 2005 23 TBD 150 630 .286 .808 *45D
21 Ken Griffey -26 29 2005 35 CIN 128 555 .301 .946 *8/D
22 Tony Womack -26 -17 1997 27 PIT 155 689 .278 .700 *4/6
23 Jeff Burroughs -26 21 1977 26 ATL 154 671 .271 .882 *9
24 Billy Urbanski -26 -30 1935 32 BSN 132 566 .230 .572 *6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/1/2012.

Ahh, yes. Hawpe and Jason Bay joined the club at the top in 2008.

Some other observations:

  • Ryan Braun and Adam Dunn in their respective years are sort of the classic slugger–huge offensive contributions (over +30 Batting Runs) with little regard to what they are doing with their gloves. Hard to believe that looking at just batting/fielding plus/minus, both guys were worth about nothing in those years.
  • Four of these top 24 players changed teams during the seasons listed. It’s an extremely small sample, of course, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a correlation there (of a poor defender being more likely to switch teams.)
  • Herein lies the difference between Kirby Puckett and Joe Carter–both make the top 10 with a -29 fielding run season, but Puckett provided 14 with the bat while Carter cost another 14.
  • Trevor Plouffe made the list last year, but he deserves a bit of extra credit for playing all over the field. Of course, maybe that’s why his defense was so bad, or maybe his bad defense is why he played all over the field…
  • Dante Bichette in 1999…yup. I recall reading recently that he’s one of the most overrated players of all time.
  • I hadn’t heard of Billy Urbanski before. With -56 runs between offense and defense, I guess we know why.

46 thoughts on “Brad Hawpe and the worst defensive seasons of all time

  1. 1
    Ed says:

    So 21 of the 24 worst seasons, occurred post 1990. I’m still not sure what that means or why that happened. I have a hard time believing that fielders are worse nowadays than before.

    And looking some more at Hawpe….the season before his -41, he was only -5. The year after the -41, he remained awful at -24. But the following year he was at +3. Weird.

    • 6
      Hartvig says:

      That’s something I’m trying to understand myself. I mean, guys like Jim Lemon and Frank Howard played the outfield in cavernous old D.C. Stadium in Washington. Dick Stuart was a major league regular for 7 years. A 41-year old Ty Cobb and 40-year old Tris Speaker were both semi-regular outfielders for the second place 1928 A’s. Babe Ruth in his declining years. The list goes on and on and on…

      Is it because the overall performance that they’re being measured against was either lower than or higher now or both or was a fat, chain-smoking 39-year old Babe Ruth actually worth 41 more runs in the field than a 29-year old Jason Bay?

      • 11
        Artie Z says:

        Here are my thoughts: the DH takes out the worst of the “all offense, no defense” players. David Ortiz would play for someone if he is a .300/40/120 triple crown slash line offensive player even if there was no DH, but he doesn’t have to play in the field so it allows a better defensive player into the mix. Same thing with Edgar Martinez – the way he hit, he plays 3B or 1B somewhere (maybe only for 120 games a season) if there’s no DH. The DH takes these guys out of the field. What you now have is the big immobile sluggers who are left playing the field (like Manny Ramirez or Sheffield) because their team has a worse defensive player who is also a big slugger being compared to better defenders.

        And so, in my opinion, it magnifies the defensive deficiencies of the big sluggers who can’t field but have to play defense because the team has someone else who is an even worse fielder. I’m not sure that’s quite right, but it’s how I make sense of some of those comparisons in my mind.

      • 14
        Ed says:

        Right, that’s an important thing to keep in mind. It’s not that Brad Hawpe had the worst defensive season ever. He had the worst ever relative to his peers for that season.

        Still, I’m dumbfounded on how he could go from a -41 to a +3 just two years later.

        • 25
          Artie Z says:

          Ron Gant went from an rBat of -13 to an rBat of 31 in back-to-back years. Though it’s in the opposite direction (Gant really was a good hitter, while Hawpe is really not a good fielder), it’s a swing of 44 in rBat in consecutive years. I think it just happens sometimes.

      • 28
        Lawrence Azrin says:

        I am extremely suspicious of this list, since it is tilted so strongly towards recent years (half 2000 or after; only one player before 1974), and also because it does not include any of legandarily bad fielders in MLB history, such as Dick Stuart or Greg Luzinski or Babe Herman.

        Also, I only see a couple of middle infielders listed, where I imagine bad fielding would do the most damage.

        Reply to comment #18: I do not believe fielders were in general “horrible” a hundred years ago; rather, that the inferior gloves and field conditions naturally led to a considerably larger number of errors – try backhanding a sharp grounder in the hole at short with little more than a driving glove…

        • 35
          Mike L says:

          Im using horrible as an expression of their comparative statistical performance. Go back to the turn of the last century. The number of errors is astounding. I’m not judging these guys. The equipment was more horrible.

  2. 2
    Mike L says:

    So, how does Chris Gomez make a 16 year career out of an OPS+ of 82 and a -11 aggregate dWAR?

    • 40
      DaveR says:

      I remember watching the 2001 Padres and thinking, “This could be the worst infield in many years.” Ryan Klesko at 1st, Damian Jackson at 2nd, Chris Gomez at SS, and Phil Nevin at 3rd, it was awful. One of the first games I saw, Klesko misplayed 2 pop flies (only one error, though), Gomez made an error, and Nevin had 2 throwing errors. Terrible infield.

      • 41
        Luis Gomez says:

        Oh, those days. The only worthy thing we saw at the Q that season was Tony Gwynn pinch-hitting in the latter innings of the games.

      • 42
        Luis Gomez says:

        Ok, not the ONLY worthy thing. Nevin and Klesko ahd Alls Star season with the bat and Rickey got his 3000th hit.

        • 43
          DaveR says:

          I still think Rickey should’ve hung ’em up after that! To go in the Hall with Gwynn and Ripken? Cooperstown doesn’t have that big of a seating area, does it?

  3. 3
    John Autin says:

    Brian Giles has the worst defensive WAR for the “oughts” combined: minus-9.7 dWAR (-98 runs) for the years 2000-09. Jeter and Wigginton are next at -90 runs.

    Jetes didn’t quite make the list above, as his worst season was -23. But he’s at the bottom of the active list, with -121 career defensive runs.

    • 4
      Paul E says:

      JA:
      And no Manny Ramirez, Frank Howard, or Dick Allen, either. Honestly (veracity being the basis of any relationship 🙂 ), based on the fact there aren’t a lot of repeat offenders on this list, and specifically, the worst at the top aren’t reappearing even at the bottom of this list, I just have to believe that the data/defensive metrics ‘might’ be slighly inconsistent or a tad unreliable. That is to say, a list of the greatest home run hitters will show Hank Aaron with x-number of 40 HR seasons and Barry Bonds with y-number of 40 HR seasons. Or, in the negative, Larry Bowa or Ozzie Guillen might have the most OPS+ seasons less than 85.
      Likewise, do Braun, Dunn, Hawpe, or even Jeter and Sheffield have the most seasons Rfield worse than -10 ? If not, perhaps the data is not to be trusted ? just sayin’…..

      • 13
        Artie Z says:

        I think the thing with looking at “worst ever” leaderboards in comparison to “best ever” leaderboards is that if someone has a really bad season defensively – you move him to a different position or DH. Thus you might not expect to see multiple players at the top of the list. Hawpe had a -24 rfield in 2009, and then when he stopped hitting in 2010 he stopped playing. Braun had his huge negative number at 3B, then they moved him to LF. Same with Sheffield (well, RF). Some players’ bad seasons come when they are old (Giles, Bichette, Griffey) and likely close to the end of their careers, while others come when they are fairly young and (hopefully) improving (or being shifted to a different defensive position). And sometimes someone just has a bad year – it can happen to players offensively as well, using Adam Dunn as an example. If we had a list of pitchers with ERAs over 5 and WHIPs over 1.5 I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of repeat names because I would expect that those guys would have to improve in order to stay in the league (they don’t get the option of DHing).

        Now if we looked at positive rfield numbers and didn’t see a lot of repetition that would give me more cause for concern than not seeing a lot of repetition here.

        • 15
          Andy says:

          Excellent point, Artie.

          I see we have extra bullets in the comments now…will try to get that fixed.

        • 30
          Doug says:

          Players can change pretty abruptly.

          Carl Yastrzemski went from a -2 Fielding Runs in 1965 to 22, 23 and 25 Fielding Runs in 1966-68. Since 1961, only others with 3 successive 20+ Fielding Runs seasons are these guys.
          – Brooks Robinson (1967-69)
          – Mark Belanger (1973-78)
          – Willie Wilson (1979-82)
          – Jesse Barfield (1985-88)
          – Ozzie Guillen (1986-88)
          – Cal Ripken (1989-91)
          – Andruw Jones (1997-2001)
          – Rey Sanchez (1999-2001)

    • 12
      Paul E says:

      JA:
      Re Giles, didn’t he run through the LF fence in foul territory at Petco one afternoon….I have absolutely no evidence, but I’ll throw it at out there. Based on a girlfriend beat-down that somehow made YOU TUBE (go figure), is it conceivable our man Giles partook of better athletic performance through chemistry? You know, ‘roid rage? Maybe bro’ Marcus as well?

  4. 5
    Mike L says:

    I was hoping to see Butch Hobson’s 1978 year-43 errors in 133 games, .899 fielding percentage, but somehow only a minus 1.4 dWAR. Or Dick Stuart (just how do you manage a combined 53 errors in 1963/64 while playing 1st?

    • 7
      Tmckelv says:

      Mike L,

      to you point re Dick Stuart, I don’t see any full-time 1B on the list. I guess you really can hide a bad fielder at 1B.

    • 9
      Hartvig says:

      Especially when you figure that at the same time Hobson was playing so were guys like Mike Schmidt, Buddy Bell, Aurelio Rodriguez, Darrell Evans and others who should have raised the bar on replacement level considerably.

  5. 8

    Can I get my avatar back?

    At least that wasn’t Michael Young’s gold glove season. …

    • 10
      Andy says:

      Avatars are from gravatar.com. Go there and upload the avatar you wish to have and associate it with the email address you’re using here to post comments.

  6. 16
    Ed says:

    At the other extreme, Adam Everett has the most fielding runs in a single season, 40 in 2006.

  7. 17

    Jesus! If I’d paid more attention to the kind of season Joe Carter had in 1990, I’d have been much more upset with The Trade than I was at the time. I’m glad it worked out.

  8. 18
    Mike L says:

    OK, I need clarification from the numbers guys. If this is all comparative to their (year) peer group, then it’s highly unlikely that you will often get someone from the distant past, because fielding was horrible back in the old days. Looking at third base for 1912, the range between worst and tenth most errors (out of 16, presumably) was 50-26, with a total of 359 errors among them. In 2011, the “top” ten guys combined for only 179 errors, with a high of 26 and a low of 14 (four players). Since the baseline numbers are going to be lower when we get to to more modern era, wouldn’t the comparative differences, if expressed as ratios, be a lot higher? Sorry to ask such a basic question.

    • 22
      Ed says:

      Of course, errors are just one aspect of fielding, though an obviously important one.

      • 26
        Mike L says:

        Thanks. I was using errors as shorthand, but I think I was inarticulate (I’m often inarticulate) My question was whether part of the reason we see so few players from the past appear on this list a function of the methodology as much as the performance?

        • 34
          Ed says:

          Not sure. I think it’s something we’re all confused by and trying to make sense over.

          • 37
            Andy says:

            I’m thinking the main issue is that there are components of the defensive calculations that go beyond simple numbers like errors, range factor, etc, and the data is simply not available to calculate fully for players who played before a certain time. Therefore, the really bad defenders didn’t have enough of the bad aspects of their defense recorded to fall far enough below average to register a large enough negative fielding runs total.

  9. 19
    Andy says:

    I am having a really tough time getting rid of the bullets on the children comments…if anybody out there is a CSS wizard, give me a shout.

    • 21
      Andy says:

      Finally fixed that. Normally I don’t like cursing on the blog, but I have to call that thing a god damn bitch.

  10. 20
    Dr. Doom says:

    I’d love to see a list of the worst Rfield+Rpos. Particularly for a list like this, I’m sure it would make the Dick Stuarts of the world stand out, rather than some of these guys, who were bad at tough positions. And I think it would help us with the bias to which Artie @13 referred.

  11. 23
    Ed says:

    The 2009 season by Brian Giles is actually the worst total WAR season ever. He had -4.1 WAR and he did it while only playing 61 games (for some reason, in the play index it comes up at -3.9). The only other players to have -4.0 WAR were George Wright in 1985 and Jerry Royster in 1977. But they both played 100+ games and therefore had more opportunity to accumulate negative WAR.

  12. 24
    Hartvig says:

    One issue I have with defensive career WAR leaders is Barry Bonds. He was a pretty decent center fielder in his rookie year. Not Gold Glove good but good. But then the Pirates go out and get an even better center fielder in Andy Van Slyke and move Bonds to left. So now instead of being compared to Devon White and Kenny Lofton and Brian McRae and Kirby Puckett and Jim Edmonds he’s up against guys like Ryan Klesko. And thus WAR sees him as being a better fielder than Willie Mays and all of the center fielders that I listed. I just don’t see how that makes sense. It seems to me that just by putting someone in the field every day makes someone better than a theoretical “replacement player”. Take Hawpe for instance. If he’s really that much worse than everyone else, even if you don’t have a “replacement” level player in your own system, then surely many other teams must have some AAAA career minor leaguer in theirs who could be had for relatively little in a trade. Right? But we all know that that is not the case.

    This might be a useful tool for how someone compares to his peers at a given point in time but it doesn’t appear to necessarily reflect how a player will perform going forward and is basically useless for comparing players in different eras or in valuing a players career, at least as I see it.

  13. 27
    Tmckelv says:

    Regarding Puckett and his -29 fielding runs season…

    Kirby also had a +30 fielding runs season his rookie year. So if you created a similar most fielding runs in a season list and had the cutoff at +26, Puckett would be on both lists.

  14. 29
    Andy says:

    Everybody’s got to remember one thing: Fielding Runs is averaged on a yearly basis. If all the fielders were worse 50 or 100 years ago, it still would not tend to increase the likelihood that those guys were on the list. You have to be enough runs below average to make it.

  15. 31
    CursedClevelander says:

    He may not make this list, but Glenallen Hill’s defensive misadventures led to one of the great all-time baseball quotes, when Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price said that watching Hill in the outfield was “akin to watching a gaffed haddock surface for air.”

    Of course, he also smashed a ball about 500 feet onto the rooftops on Waveland Ave, supposedly broke a bat simply by checking his swing, and smashed into a glass table/down a flight of stairs because of a bad dream about spiders.

    • 32
      Andy says:

      Hill is linked in my mind with Mark Whiten. Both came up as touted outfielders with the Blue Jays, both were a bit wacky, and both underachieved.

      • 33
        CursedClevelander says:

        Actually, they’re linked in my mind too. They were on some of the first Tribe teams I ever rooted for. Both were very *powerful* hitters, but rarely great power hitters (Whiten maxed out at 25 HRs, Hill at 27, though to be fair to Hill, he did that in 321 PAs).

        Whiten, however, had a laser cannon for an arm and was a pretty good defensive OFer, whereas Hill, as stated above, was an abomination in the field.

        • 45
          Cory Atchason says:

          i was surprised to see that mark whiten only had 105 home runs in his career. i always liked that in his only appearance as a pitcher he pitched an inning and struck out mike blowers, miguel tejada, and mike neill. he also hit a guy, walked a couple and gave up a double, but how many position players can say they struck out 3 in an inning?

  16. 36
    Mike Felber says:

    While pay has improved overall, anyone competing with the poor gloves & field conditions from days of yore will make more errors. How things are scored is another variable.

    Ruth chain smoked? I was only aware he sometimes puffed cigars.

  17. 38
    Tristram12 says:

    Let me throw out a theory; Blame it on Moneyball. As advanced analytics types have infiltrated the front office, more teams have been willing to ignore bad defense in search of OBP and other hitting value. Keep in mind that these defensive measurements haven’t been known or generally accepted for an extended period of time. This also could explain higher strikeout rates, as now teams don’t shy away from them. Make sense?

  18. 39

    This post has gotten me to wondering about another kind of all-time worst defensive season that I’ve always wanted to inquire about, but wasn’t sure if it could be researched…

    Back in 2005, I was at a game where the Brewers brought in Trent “The Aussie Butcher” Durrington into a blowout game in the 8th inning as a defensive replacement at third base. Durrington proceeded to entertain the few fans who were left at that game in St. Louis (it hit 100 degrees that day) by committing not one, not two, but THREE errors… on the only three fielding chances he had. It turns out, this was his only appearance in the field that year (big shocker!), so what I was wondering was… is that the most fielding chances a player has had in one season in which all chances wound up being errors?

  19. 44
    Cory Atchason says:

    I hate to see ron gant on this list. Back in 1991 when the braves went worst to first and Gant had his second 30-30 season i watched almost every game on tbs that season. Breaking his leg after the 1993 season put the brakes on a great career. Wasn’t quite as dynamic of a player after that.

  20. 46
    Lawrence Azrin says:

    Reply to #37/Andy
    “I’m thinking the main issue is that there are components of the defensive calculations that go beyond simple numbers like errors, range factor, etc, and the data is simply not available to calculate fully for players who played before a certain time. Therefore, the really bad defenders didn’t have enough of the bad aspects of their defense recorded to fall far enough below average to register a large enough negative fielding runs total”.

    Andy, this is a very reasonable explanation why the worst fielders of the distant past do not show up on this list. However, it also renders _very limited utility_ to a list entitled “worst defensive seasons of all time”.

    It would be like making a list of the “most feared batters of all time”, and using Intentional Bases On Balls as the guideline. But, since IBB have been kept only since 1955, it would eliminate Ruth, Foxx, Hornsby, Gehrig, T.Williams,and number of other great hitters from any such list.

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