Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The All-Mediocre Team

Surhoff's unremarkable career has cemented his status as Captain of the All-Mediocre Team


A couple of friends and I have, over the years, had a recurring discussion about the most mediocre baseball players of our lifetimes. This was largely in response to some of the mediocrity that you'd find on the baseball Hall of Fame ballot every year. Guys like Massena, NY's own Jim "Ace" Deshaies made the ballot despite the fact that they never really did much of anything noteworthy during their entire careers (Deshaies did secure one vote from Houston Chronicle reporter John Lopez as a lark). The gold standard for mediocrity, in our collective minds, was BJ Surhoff. Surhoff was in the league for 18 years and only ONE of those years did he ever finish in the top ten for any relevant offensive category (he was also and All-star that year, 1999). He never won a gold glove, he hit more than 25 home runs one time, broke 20 thrice, only stole more than 15 bags once, had more than 90RBI twice, scored more than 80 runs once and in years where he played more than 120 games, he only hit over .300 once. More than the stats though, Surhoff just exemplified mediocrity. You'd always see him suiting up for the other team in Right field or third base, hitting in the 8th slot and wondering, "Surhoff? That's the best they can do?" He never scared you with any of his "tools" but he ALWAYS found a spot on a team. He wasn't a bad player, he just was never great. But Surhoff is not alone and this is not meant to be a negative post solely about him. This post is dedicated to ALL the Surhoffs out there. The mediocre players at every position. I'm going to put together a team of BJ Surhoffs. How do you define a "Surhoff", well, here goes:

The All Mediocre Team will consist of players who's careers spanned from my memory of baseball (1985 - the year I began collecting baseball cards), but their candidacy is not contingent on entering the majors after on or after 1985 (players like Rob Deer, Rich Dauer, Von Hayes (though he did finish in the top ten for MVP voting) and Omar Moreno will get serious consideration). Candidacy will be based on their Surhoffian qualifications broken down in one of two ways: The first - Necessary Elements. The Second - Significant Considerations.

1. Necessary Elements
1. Player must've played at least 900 games over the course of AT LEAST 8 seasons.
2. Player must've been a starting player for at least 5 of those seasons (this is to prevent backup players like Miguel Cairo from backdooring their way onto the All-Mediocre Team despite the fact they they haven't been starters for more than 2 or three of their seasons in the league).
3. Player must not have been in the top ten in any relevant statistical category for two straight years or three total years over their entire career ("relevant statistics" include but are not limited to: Average, RBI, R, SBs, HRs, Svs, ERA, Ws.).
4. Player must not have finished in the top ten MVP voting in any year.
5. Nicknames that double as real names (for baseball card purposes) will result in immediate disqualification. That means that Rock Raines, Oil Can Boyd and Stump Merrill are all out.

2. Significant Considerations
1. Gold Gloves will count against a player but not bar entry. More important than the Gold Gloves is the defensive reputation. A player on the All-Mediocre Team can win a Gold Glove because that is a popularity contest. A player on the All-Mediocre Team may not be known as a great defensive player because then he would not be mediocre.
2. All-Star appearances count against a player's candidacy. Surhoff was an All-Star one year (a fact that just blows me away). Multiple All-Star appearances are almost certainly fatal.
3. The following will be weighted heavily against candidacy: Multiple years batting over .300, hitting more than 25Hrs, more than 100RBI, more than 25Sbs, more than 90 runs and for pitchers multiple years with more than 20Svs, more than 17 wins, an ERA lower than 3.30 (an ERA which used to be average) and more than 180Ks.
4. Names that are just two letters seem to correlate to mediocre performance and will serve as tiebreakers. BJ Surhoff, CJ Nitkowski, DL Hughley (though not a baseball player, he would be on the Mt. Rushmore of mediocre comedians), JJ Hardy and AJ Pierzynski.
5. Outstanding postseason performances will severely hamper consideration (The David Eckstein rule).
6. Archi Cianfrocco gets special consideration just because.

Other things will factor in like Brady Anderson's absurd 1996 season would automatically disqualify him, as would Thigpen's 57 save season and Sal Fasano's pre-Yankee mustache. All of those are too superb to be mediocre. So without any further adieu, I give you: Baseball's All-Mediocre Team.

Captain - BJ Surhoff
I've gone through his qualifications above, so there is no need to repeat it. The only problem with Surhoff's place on the team is: where do you play him? He's played every position except centerfield and shortstop. Surhoff's skill set for mediocrity is so advanced that it makes more sense for him to simply be the tenth man on the bench and coach all the other mediocre players or fill in if someone gets hurt. His mentorship of the less accomplished mediocre players is of far greater utility than anything he could do on the field, which is not much. It is safe to say that he is the measure of mediocrity by which all of those before or after him will be judged.

Catcher - Mike Heath
This had to be the toughest category. Mediocrity and the catchers position go hand in hand. Even today a "good" season for a catcher is 120 games, average around .270 and 12-15 home runs. Plus, longevity for catchers didn't used to be a problem. Finding a catcher who can hit is quite a luxury, even if "hit" means an average of .250. That's why Piazza was a sure fire hall of famer after his first three years. He already hit more home runs in his first three than almost any catcher had in the last decade. Plus, the catchers of the 80's and 90's had staying power. Those guys would stick around as long as their knees could still withstand cortisone shots. So this was a HOTLY contested spot considering the pure volume of worthy candidates. With apologies to Ernie Whitt, Darrin Fletcher (an EXTREMELY STRONG candidate), Don Slaught, Ron Karkovice (his candidacy is borderline) and Greg Zaun (a player who may become a modern day Surhoff if he keeps up his current pace), Mike Heath fills the catcher slot for the squad. His credentials are outstanding. Over Heath's 14 years in the majors he hit .252, he's never hit over .280 in any season, never had more than 13Hrs in any season, never had more than 64RBI and never ended a season in the top 20 for any offensive category. Mike Heath defines what it means to be mediocre and we are proud to have him on the squad.

First Baseman - Sid Bream
When I first began researching this, my mind immediately went to Todd Benzinger. Unfortunately for Todd, he falls into the Miguel Cairo category as he was never really a solid starter for any 5 years and was more of an OF/1B guy, albeit a VERY mediocre one. First baseman is a tough category because there aren't many players who held down the position for a long period of time and only produced mediocre resutls. If you don't produce at first base, you usually just convert your aging left fielder or third baseman to take over at first and move the crappy guy out of there. There were not many good candidates, but that doesn't meant this wasn't a hotly contested spot. There was also a disappointing element to my search when I realized that Angelo Dominic "Archi" Cianfrocco would not meet the minimum qualifications for entry. Boldly, I resumed the search and other candidates emerged. Honorable mention goes to the Rangers' Pete O'Brien, Greg Brock, Franklin Stubbs (a borderline candidate) and Chris Chambliss (he was a mortal lock before finishing 5th in MVP voting in 1976), and future consideration is going to Kevin Youkilis, who is on a collision course with the All-Mediocre Team at his current rate and will be in a deadheat some day with Lyle Overbay. Bream stood out against these other candidates. He played 12 seasons, batted .264, never hit more than 16 home runs at a power position, yet played consistently for 12 years and was an "every day" player for 6 of those years. He broke 70RBI once in his career and only hit over .300 once, during the strike shortened '94 season, the final season of his unillustrious career. Winning the Hutch Award for honor, courage and dedication did not hurt Bream's candidacy. It also didn't hurt Bream that he carried around an enviable hirsuite lip appendage for the bulk of his unremarkable career.

Second Baseman - Mark Lemke
Second basemen are notoriously horrendous hitters. You usually stick your smallest dude with the weakest arm but good glove skill at 2nd base and then pencil him in the 8th and 9th slot in your lineup. The list for second base mediocrity was almost endless. It's much easier to find a discreet list of non-mediocre second baseman than it is to narrow down the mediocre list. The honorable mention list includes such greats in mediocrity like Julio Cruz, Ray Durham, Mark James Grudzielanek, Bill Doran, Wally Backman (the most intriguing of the honorable mention candidates. He would have won if not for his sparse playing time. He played in less than 100 games all but four of his 14 seasons.) and Randy Velarde (who's candidacty was infuriating. If he had just played 2B for his whole career, he would have been a co-captain. YOU WASTED YOUR CAREER PLAYING SHORT, RANDY LEE!). In today's game, there seem to be several future Surhoffs including Dustin Pedroia on the Sox, Ronnie Belliard (who was considered for the honor on today's team) and Tadahito Iguchi. Lemke just stood out from the rest. Over his 11 season career he hit .246. You may say that that stat puts him below mediocre but given that he was the starting shortstop on a perennial playoff team, it's hard to suggest he wasn't even mediocre. He never hit more than 7 home runs, never stole more than 5 bases, never knocked in more than 50 runs and never scored more than 70 runs. He never really did much of anything except start a ton of games. He fits well on the All-Mediocre team despite this comment from the sponsor of his BaseballReference.com page (Sponsored by Justin Bernstein): "As Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night, 'Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some acheive greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.' Mark Lemke had all three." Greatness, Justin? Me thinks not.

Shortstop - Neifi Perez
Shortstop is also a position of significant weakness but it's also a position of significant turnover. When you find a good shortstop, you usually keep him. If you find an average one, you use him as a utility guy. Also, unlike fine wine and fine cheese, shortstops not name Vizquel do not get better with age. They usually have a short lifespan from about 23-27. It's not everyday you keep a mediocre shorstop kicking around at short. So it is with my most sincere apologies to Felix Fermin (who missed consideration barely), Gary DiSarcina, Jose Lind, Spike Owen and Dickie Thon (who, if you don't count his 1983 aberration season, and I do not,may have been the most outstanding exemplar of mediocrity in the history of any sport) that I award the Shortstop position to Neifi Perez. The battle for shortstop was a knock down, drag out fight between Perez and Owen. I thought Owen was a lock, but he was really below mediocre when it got right down to it (Owen's avg season was .246, 5HRs, 46RBI, 62runs and 9SBs). Perez better exemplifies what it means to be a mediocre player of Surhoffian stature. Perez has played 12 seasons, has a career average of .268, has only broken 10Hrs once and only had more than 10Sbs once. He drove in more than 70 once and scored more than 90 runs twice. He has never been considered a great defender (though he has won one gold glove, but so did Rafael Palmeiro) and he's just never really done anything. He is a terrific addition to the squad.

Third Baseman -
After I realized Chris Sabo was unqualified, I was pretty sure Scott Brosius was going to run away with this one. But lo and behold, David Bell had a late hard push and in conjunction with some of Brosius' postseason heroics (though his stats as a whole are average in the postseason), I had to give Bell the nod. I also thought Jeff Cirillo would have a shot given his penchant for mediocrity but he was twice an All-Star and has played utility over the last 4 years. I also thought Brooky Jacoby had the stuff, but a closer look at his career reveals he was way too good (I'm also ashamed to say that I thought Doug DeCinces was average. That was my bad. The guy was a friggin manimal. He finished third in MVP voting in '82. Who knew?). Ed Sprague deserves some recognition but in 1996 he put together 36HRs and 100RBI. I can't have that kind of production potential on such an average team. Rance Mulliniks made a terrific case for himself but did not make the necessary starts at 3B to qualify and thus failed due to the Miguel Cairo clarification. One last thing before getting back to David Bell, Todd Zeile presented one of the most perplexing questions of the entire team. His qualifications seem impeccable. 16 seasons of consistent mediocrity, most of them at 3B. The one drawback for Zeile was that he once hit more than 30HRs and once put up more than 100RBI. For the most part, those type of gaudy numbers would eliminate him from consideration. The problem is that I associate Todd Zeile with all things mediocre. He is almost the national league's Surhoff (their careers are remarkably similar). I may find a spot for him yet. He could possibly be the bench coach or VP of Continuing Mediocrity or some such thing commensurate with his level of expertise. Anyhoo, back to Bell. Bell's mediocrity is mind-numbing. It is amazing that he keeps getting picked up by teams. Here's Bell's line: 12 seasons, .256 career average and no year better than .291. One year with more than 70RBI, broke 20HRs twice and has been caught stealing more times than he's been successful (19Sbs, 20CS). His fielding stats compared to the rest of the league are almost dead center. Statistically, he may be the most mediocre player on this entire team.

I had to group all of the outfielders into one group of three as opposed to picking a left fielder, center fielder and right fielder. The reason for this is twofold. 1. Most teams put their best outfielder in left field and rarely do you find a mediocre left fielder and 2. Outfielders don't generally stay in one position in the outfield their entire careers. I have taken into account the position the player played and have done my best to get a right fielder, center fielder and left fielder in.

Outfield - Mitch Webster
This is one of the few candidates who may not get any argument from anyone. Mitch Webster is perhaps the single most mediocre player ever to play the game. I have a personal preference for Surhoff, but Webster was Surhoff before Surhoff was Surhoff. 13 seasons, .263 average, never more than 15 Home runs, only once did he have more than 60RBI and scored more than 90 runs once. There is a certain nuance to Webster's mediocrity that some of the younger players can pick up on in the clubhouse and lockerroom. His contribution to mediocrity goes well beyond the stat sheet.

Outfield - John Shelby
I was unfamiliar with John Shelby's work prior to getting into this little project but one look at his MLB service record and you'll see pretty much an outline of what it takes to enjoy a mediocre career. Shelby had a career average of .239 and nonly broke .280 once. He hit 20Hrs twice and never drove in more than 75RBI. His fielding statistics put him dead center of all fielders in the league and to be honest, I can see no real discernible positive quality that would allow Mr. Shelby to enjoy a 1000+ game career. He must have some good personality to stick around for so long.

Right Field - Juan Encarnacion
There are a ton of other candidates for any of the two positions following Mitch Webster, but Juan Encarnacion really takes the cake. With apologies to Claudell Washington, Kevin Bass and Pete Incaviglia (as well as a host of others), Juan Encarnacion is the embodiment of what it means to be mediocre in today's game. With front offices as fickle as they are and the never ending threat of the hamstring pull, it is amazing that a player like Juan Encarnacion can continue to get work continue to get work and put out such a mediocre product. Encarnacion has played 1100+ games over the course of 10 seasons. His career average is .269, he's knocked in more than 80 runs once and never scored more than 80. He's an adequate fielder but ranks right near the middle of most defensive statistics. He is the modern day (latin version) Surhoff in a lot of respects. He is injured this year but with time to heal he can extend his mediocrity into at least 2010.

I'll deal with the pitching staff tomorrow (or Friday). Let this sink in and let me know if I missed anyone.

31 comments:

John Mark said...

VORP = 0

Baucom said...

Throroughly enjoyed this list. Brought back a lot of early baseball card memories. I do have to argue that Ray Durham is an above-mediocre 2B though. Multiple all-star games and 20 HR seasons for a 2B means Lemke and Durham shouldn't even be in the same sentence.

[pbielka] said...

John Shelby had a cool nickname "T-Bone". So that might disqualify him from this list.

Sam said...

Your David Eckstein rule should be called the Mark Lemke rule.
see: 1991 World Series, 1992 NLCS, 1996 NLCS

The Last Unitard said...

How about the legendary DP combo of Walt Weiss and Mike Gallego?

Not sure if either of them qualify, but their crappiness stood out on those great A's teams.

Other possibilities.. Robby Thompson, Milt Thompson, Bobby Witt, Dan Wilson, Tim Wallach, Joey Cora, Chris Bosio, Rickey Bones, Pokey Reese.

Brian P. said...

Played from '81-'96
Six seasons with 130+ games
Played left field
Career .276 hitter
Broke 80 RBIs just twice

Ladies and gentlemen, Mel Hall

Micah said...

Didn't Sid Bream become automatically disqualified when he beat Barry Bonds' throw home in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, sending the Braves through to the World Series?

Nate said...

Neifi Perez as "mediocre"? Really? A mediocre year, even for a shortstop, is a breakout year for Neifi.

Last I saw, he was on the Top 10 All-Time list for negative VORP. He doesn't even aspire to mediocrity at the plate; if his performance doesn't actually inspire curses and epithets, he considers it a good season.

Wha??? said...

Ummm.... I know this is very unsabermetric of me, but by mentioning that Ray Durham in the article, you have cut a very fine line between mediocre and awesome.

Ray Durham 162 game avg over his career: Avg .281, OPS .796, R 107, HR 16, RBI 72 and candidate for the all mediocre team.

HOF Joe Morgan 162 game avg over his career: Avg 271, OPS .819, R 101, HR 16, RBI 69

Ray Durham isn't a HOFer, of course, but I wouldn't call him mediocre. Besides, he would be disqualified because he finished 6th in rookie of the year and was a two time all star.

WC said...

Wasn't Mark Lemke a World Series MVP? I think that disqualifies him there. What about Fernando Vina as a candidate? Very mediocre career. .280 or so career average. Doubt he ever hit 10 HR's

Carl the Big Fool said...

It says something about the Orioles, then, that Surhoff has been elected to the team's hall of fame.

PenFoe said...

Corey Koskie is dying to play 3B on this team.

Chris said...

I feel like you're missing some mid-80's royals, like Greg Gagne. Former Tiger Darnell Coles could be in there.

He didn't play very long but this seems like a good place to talk about Darnell Coles, the sparkplug of the Tig's 87 playoff run. Also, Doyle Alexander and Larry Herndon.

What about Chet Lemon? He was awesome

Alex Parker said...

1B: Kent Hrbek, Matt Stairs
2B: Mike Gallego (I think he played 2B); Manny Lee
C: Mackey Sasser
SS: Watch out for Cesar Izturis and Ronny Cedeno; Angel Berroa, Gregg Jefferies
3B: Steve Buechele
OF: Candy Maldanado? Tom Goodwin?

They might not all fit into your parameters, but they're all pretty mediocre

Alex Parker said...

And what about Jeff Conine?

Portola said...

Shouldn't Sid Bream be disqualified under the Eckstein Rule? He sent the Braves to the World Series in their memorable Game 7 NLCS win over the Pirates. There was even a billboard in Atlanta for many years that read "Where Were You When Sid Slid?"

Rickey Henderson said...

Ha, nice post buddy.

Luol Dang! said...

@Chris - I looked at both Darnell Coles and Gagne, they both just missed the cut. Coles has the stats but doesn't have the starts per season. He falls into the "Miguel Cairo Clarification."

Gagne deserves recognition and not listing him amongst the honorable mentionees was an oversight. The main problem I have with Gagne is that I viewed him as a above-average player because he played on some very good teams. I may have to reconsider if I do a v2.0.

@Alex Parker: Maldanado was considered, there were just too many candidates to list at honorable mention in outfield. Tom Goodwin was not. He stole 50+ bags 4 times.
Hrbek finished 2nd in MVP voting in 1984, so he's out.
Sasser, didn't qualify and Walt Weiss was ROY, so that is tough to overcome (though he did a great job overcoming it with the rest of his mediocre career).
Buechele deserved honorable mention.

Chris said...

Nice.

That 85 Royals team was loaded:

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/teamstats/roster.php?y=1985&t=KCA

Loaded with guys who were mediocre. Frank White! Jim Sundberg! Tigers nemesis Steve "Bye Bye" Balboni!

Also one of my favorite baseball cards ever, Dane and his brother (former blue jay) Garth Iorg.

Patrick said...

How can you leave out the most mediocre starting 3rd baseman of the 90's:

Charlie Hayes.

His stats speak for themselves:

Ugly.

The Last Unitard said...

My team of all ROY's sucked the rest of their careers/are still sucking today: (back to '85)

Angel Berroa
Eric Hinske
Ben Grieve
Jason Jennings
Todd Hollandsworth
Marty Cordova
Bob Hamelin (!)
Pat Listach
Jerome Walton
walt Weiss
Gregg Olson

Stuttering Moses said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stuttering Moses said...

Great topic, but you have missed an icon in mediocrity.

Vance Law

Here are the stats to make the case for me. According to wikipedia his career stats in 11 seasons were
.256 BA
71 homeruns
442 RBI's
1212 games played

Here is also a blog on his great achievements in mediocrity.

http://stuttermoses.blogspot.com/2007_01_01_archive.html/

Vance Law for captain, its a movement.

Aaron said...

I would disagree with Webster in that he did steal 30+ bases in 86 and 87. Its hard to find players who go years starting without playing in all star games or winning gold gloves.

Luol Dang! said...

@aaron: In the 80's, stealing 30 bases was like stealing 15-18 in today's game, literally. Teams stole twice as many bags back then. Webster's 100 run season was his most notable achievement. Webster's longevity along with his consistency in being so average really sets him apart from his peers in terms of mediocrity.

ismateo said...

hey, here's a whole lineup of mediocre gems...

1b - John Vander Wal
2b - Joey Cora
3b - Luis Salazar
SS - Ricky Gutierrez
OF - Mike Pagliarulo
OF - Darrin Jackson
OF - Carmelo Martinez

so what do all these guys have in common? well, let's just say I grew up a Padres fan.

The Last Unitard said...

Just thought of another... the great Candy Maldonado!

MikeForster said...

Well done, the Detroit Tigers are very well-represented. I have a couple of other names: Bobby Higginson, and Tony Clark.

CapitolMAN said...

Tony Clark had a couple 30+ homer seasons. Same reason you gotta keep Todd Zeile off the list. How about "all-star" Mickey Morandini?

jacob said...

Wow, how could you overlook Mr. Mediocre at the hot corner: Joe Randa. I'd also pull really really really hard for Mike Pagliarulo, if only for his sweet mustache...!. And, to my mind at least, the all time mediocre SS of my lifetime is Mr. Greg Gagne (even the name bespeaks mediocrity).

ametcalf14 said...

Quality list...one thing most of these people have in common is that their names are also quite funny when you say them...Micky Morandini, Sid Breem, Mark Lemke, etc. I think funny names also infer mediocrity...which is why Todd Van Popple deserves recognition, as does Bip Roberts.