On Monday, we took a look at the best season by a Nats player at each position. One of the not so surprising results was how many members of the 2005 that went 81-81 made the list. It’s the best team they’ve had over their short history in Washington, after all. The worst players, on the other hand, can come from any of the subsequent years.
For this, I’m looking at players who spent significant time as the starter, and their performance was bad enough to drag a team down. Unfortunately that means Robert Fick’s horrendous 221 PAs in 2007 don’t count, despite having one of the lowest WARs in team history – he was never considered the starter, as Da Meat Hook started 116 games as the 1B. Negative WAR is a good place to start, but it’s not the only factor I used.
C – Paul Lo Duca, 2008 - When the Nats signed him in the offseason, he was coming off a terrible 2007 with the Mets, but had hit an impressive .315/.355/.428 the year before. There was a thought that he might do that again, because the Nats paid him $5M for 1 year. Three days after he signed, he was implicated in the Mitchell Report. Not just as a user, either. Hilariously, a note from him to steroid dealer Kirk Radomski, regarding a bounced check, written and signed by Lo Duca was in the report (hey steroid dealer, “my phone is TOAST!”). He didn’t redeem himself on the field, either, hitting a terrible .230/.301/.281 in 153 PAs and 43 games with the Nats before he was released in July.
1B – Aaron Boone, 2008 – Boone was once a decent fielding, power hitting third baseman. In his best years, he fielded better than average, got extra base hits, and got on base at a .350+ clip. He hit with more power but lost some of his OBP before leaving the Reds for the Yankees. His time with that team was terrible, but redeemed by a Red Sox soul crushing extra inning homer to win the ALCS, and he followed that up by tearing his ACL playing basketball in the offseason. He was never the same after that injury, but his worst year was in 2008, as the starting 1B with the Nats. He hit .241/.299/.384, his second worst career OPS, but his first time doing it from the first base position.
2B – Felipe Lopez, 2008 – FLop actually had a worse offensive season in 2007, but he had an excuse, he was pressed into service as a SS. His numbers should be thought of as slightly less worse for the position, I suppose. But he had no excuse in 2008, when he played poor defense at 2B and hit .234/.305/.314 in 363 PAs. It was bad enough that the guy who was once thought of as a steal in a trade, along with Kearns (we’ll get to him later), was subsequently traded to St. Louis. As if to prove the many rumors that he wasn’t playing hard with the Nats, he hit .385/.426/.538 in his 169 PAs with the Cardinals.
SS – Cristian Guzman, 2005 – It’s kind of funny, how Guzman sits so close to the top and the bottom of the WAR rankings, depending on the season. 2005 was right after signing the biggest contract that the Nats would have for the next 3 years, and he did not seem particularly motivated by it. Not only did he hit .219/.260/.314 in 492 PAs, he also managed only 39 R and 31 RBI, while playing below average defense. It’s even worse than it looks, he was only hitting .195/.235/.277 through September 1, and rallied to .333/.375/.481 after that to bring himself over the Mendoza line.
LF – Wily Mo Pena, 2008 – Wily Mo managed to bottom out the WAR charts for position players, and if you sat through the 2008 season, you probably aren’t surprised. Despite only having 206 PAs, he was so bad at such a bat-dependent position, he is the WAR anchor for all hitters ever on the Nats. He hit .205/.243/.267 – that’s right, worse than Guzman’s numbers in every way, and only managed 2 HRs despite being a power hitter. What made this even worse for fans was the fact that when he arrived to the team in 2007 he put on a display, hitting .293/.352/.504 in 145 PAs, hitting 8 HRs and even stealing 2 bases. So far, his last major league was in 2008, although he did receive an invite to the Diamondbacks for Spring Training.
CF – Nyjer Morgan, 2010 – Lastings Milledge had a worse 2008 in terms of WAR, but it was due to horrendous fielding. He actually hit impressively for a 23 year old CF. Morgan, on the other hand, gained some WAR points for being a slight above average fielder. But his hitting line of .253/.319/.314 gave him the worst OPS of any Nats CF with at least 100 PAs. He also was involved in several incidents on the field including throwing the ball into the stands, possibly at a Phillies fan, and charging the mound against Chris Volstad leading to a bench clearing brawl. At one point it appeared as if he’d be suspended for 15 total games, he only ended up serving 8.
RF – Austin Kearns, 2008 – One of the most disappointing seasons on this list, not because of what he did, but what he didn’t do. Kearns was coming off his first full season with the Nats, and while he didn’t hit with the same power he’d shown in Cincinnati, his .355 OBP was 2nd among players with 200 or more PAs. He was only 27, and had played excellent defense. 2008, on the other hand, was a disaster. He hit .217/.311/.316 while struggling with several injuries. He still had a great eye, but his AVG was so low that his OBP remained in the tank, and he hit with very little power. In 2009 he continued to struggle but by then the thought of him manning the RF for years to come was already gone.
SP – Mike Bacsik, 2007 – While there are many candidates for this position, Bacsik has the lucky combination of the stats and the story to back it up. Starting with the story, we all remember that he was the one who gave up the 756th home run to Barry Bonds. It was an infamous moment in baseball history that many find illegitimate, and fate decided that Bacsik should be forever linked to it. But that alone did not put Bacsik on the list. His season in 2007 also is the single worst WAR in team history. It beats Tony Armas, Jr’s 2005, trounces Matt Chico’s 2008, and demolishes any Simontacchi, Ohka, or any other semi-starter’s season. In 20 starts, 29 appearances total, he managed 118 IP. In that time the team went 5-8 and he had a 5.11 ERA, which seems ok. But his FIP (fielding independent pitching) puts his expected ERA at 6.23, with only luck helping keep it down. That might have something to do with his pitch-to-HR style. In his 118 IP, he only walked 29, only struck out 45, and he allowed 26 home runs. That ranked him 13th in the NL, but nobody else in even the top 20 pitched less than 165 innings.
RP – Felix Rodriguez, 2006 – There were plenty of candidates for poor relief performances, some of them with small samples, some with larger. But what Rodriguez did in 2006 was impressive. He managed to appear in 31 games, and in that time he was only able to throw 29 1/3 innings. And it’s not like he was a situational lefty, he was a righty. He was really good at walking people. In 29 1/3 IP, he struck out 15 and walked 16, giving him a K/BB of 0.94. There are plenty of other bad reliever seasons – check out Levale Speigner in 2007, Charlie Manning in 2008 or Saul Rivera in 2009. But this one, for whatever reason, stands out to me.
What’s amazing is how many players on that 2008 team end up on this list. It was the 59-102 squad, their worse record ever by a half a game over the 2009 group that went 59-101. Their Pythagorean W-L was also the worst in franchise history, at 66-99 it was 3 games worse than the 2009 team. Still, I’m surprised that five of these 10 guys were from that group.
There have been some bad seasons by players on this team over the past half dozen years, but these were the worst.