(Note: I had written 90% of this before Anderson was DFA’d yesterday, always planning to run this on today’s off-day. I can’t tell if the fact that he’s now gone makes this anticlimactic or perfectly timed. Still, a season this historically bad deserves its own post, so here it is anyway.)
Part of me feels like this is mean-spirited, because by all accounts Garret Anderson is a fine person with an excellent career behind him. The other part of me wants the team to, you know, win, and having a guy who can’t hit, run, or field wasn’t exactly helping to do that.
So the point here isn’t to bash Anderson any more than necessary, because you never heard any stories about him complaining, loafing, or causing problems in the clubhouse – all you need to do is just read Steve Dilbeck’s piece on how he took the news to realize what a classy player Anderson was. But that doesn’t change the fact that he wasn’t getting the job done on a historic level, so let’s look at just how Anderson’s 2010 ranks in the Dodger record books.
The list you’re looking at above is of the ten worst seasons by OPS+ in Dodger history, among hitters with as many plate appearances as Anderson’s 163. You’ll notice that of the six seasons worse than Anderson’s, not a single one came after World War I. Let me put that another way: none of those seasons were even recent enough to take place in Ebbets Field, which didn’t open until 1913. Jul Kustus played just that one season as a backup for the Dodgers, never returned to the big leagues, and was dead six years later. Bill Bergen was so historically bad that he still holds the record for the longest hitless streak by a non-pitcher (0 for 46 in 1909), though he was regarded as an outstanding defensive catcher. Not exactly the company you want to keep if you’re Anderson, especially when you’re not contributing at all on the bases or in the field.
Now, I mentioned this on Twitter a few weeks ago, and Eric Stephen of TBLA noted, completely reasonably, that the plate appearance ceiling may be somewhat arbitrary, as it’s hard to think that 163 PA of a 29 OPS+ was worse than Maury Wills putting up 152 PA of a 3 OPS+ in 1972. It’s a fair point. However, I’m giving the prize to Anderson for several reasons. First, Wills was a Dodger legend who, at 39, had completely and suddenly fallen off the cliff. In 1971, he had a 91 OPS+ and finished 6th in the MVP voting; in 1972 he didn’t start a game after July 31st and finished up as a backup 3B and pinch-runner. It’s understandable that they wouldn’t want to simply cut such a historically important player coming off a good year, as opposed to Anderson, who had no history with the Dodgers. (As Chad from MOKM correctly noted, all due respect to Anderson’s career, but Dodger fans shouldn’t be expected to care about how good he was for a rival a decade ago). Besides, Anderson had a higher K rate (21.9% to 13.6%), lower BB rate (3.1% to 6.6%), higher BABIP (.215 to .149), and lower WAR (-1.2 to -0.5) than Wills did. Taking that all into account, Anderson’s 2010 is more detrimental to the team than Wills’ 1972.
Back to the present, when the news broke yesterday, Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times posted some thoughtful insights on his Twitter. He didn’t disagree with the decision to cut Anderson loose, but he noted that he found it surprising that fans seemed to care so much about the failings of the 25th man, more so – in his opinion – than the team’s inability to go out and get an ace, for example. They’re fair questions, but I think this goes back to the heart of the matter: no one hated Garret Anderson as a person. As I mentioned, he’s a class act and all that, but on a team that is apparently trying to win this year – judging by the deadline deals – it’s hard to accept that a roster spot is completely wasted on a guy who just can’t get the job done anymore. The anti-Anderson campaign this year was never an indictment of him personally, but of the team for actively choosing to not go with the best 25 men available to them for most of the year. When you’ve got coaches complaining that they don’t think all of the young players are doing their best to win, how can you look back at the team and not note that they’ve let several veterans hang on all year with little to no production?
And it’s not like this was some sort of surprise to us. I hated the idea in January when we first heard even the rumors that they might be interested in Anderson, hated it in March when he signed, and said he needed to be cut immediately at the end of April when he’d been basically hitless for three weeks. He was never going to be a fit on a team which had three plus bats in the outfield, two of whom are below-average defensively and one of who requires regular time off. Veteran presence or not or not, a declining outfielder who can’t hit, run or field isn’t helping the team – but even I never thought that he’d end up with the most punchless season we’ve seen in nearly a century.
So I think we’re all sorry to see it end like this, a proud ballplayer who hung on a year too long being unceremoniously sent packing, after having to endure calls for his job from fans all year. Almost as sorry as I was for us to have to watch him play all year.
Good luck, Garret.
So what can you expect from Jay Gibbons? To be honest, probably not a whole lot, though the fact that he contributed an RBI single in his first pinch-hitting opportunity yesterday got him off to a good start. Gibbons is a veteran of seven seasons in Baltimore, hitting over 20 homers three times, but he was in the Mitchell Report, hasn’t seen the bigs since 2007, and has a career .314 OBP.
Still, simply besting Anderson isn’t a high bar to clear, and the fact that Gibbons can play 1B as well as LF or RF offers some much-needed bench flexibility. As with any Isotope, you have to look at the home/road splits to see how much the Albuquerque environment helped him. It certainly has – his OPS is nearly 200 points higher at home – but he’s also been effective on the road as well, hitting .306/.335/.503.
Hey, if he works out, great. If not, you bring back up Xavier Paul or try someone else. Either way, he’s far more deserving of the opportunity right now than Anderson is, and this is an experiment which should have been tried months ago.
A final thought: why now? I’m certainly not complaining, but I also don’t quite understand why August 8 was the breaking point. Sure, Gibbons was hot in AAA (.433/.485/.600 in his last 10 games), and Anderson was as useless as ever, but you could have said those things in May, too. With just a weeks until rosters expand, it’s a bit confusing why they wouldn’t let him just stick it out until then. Again, though, no complaints here.