The Change: V-Mart, Pablo, & Bounceback Leaderboards

As the season draws to a close, and the Red Sox try to push their record to .500, there’s plenty of blame to go around. The rotation didn’t end up working out, really, and there’s more than one high-priced acquisition that fizzled in his first year. But if you sort the leaderboards for the worst players in baseball this year, one name drifts to the top: Pablo Sandoval.

The easiest analysis is to say that he’s been better in the past and will be better again. And one-year defensive samples are certainly part of this story, so he could easily get back to being a decent defender and recover his value that way. That said, Sandoval has lost nearly forty points of adjusted offense, and that seems extreme. It’s even worse for second place on the losers list, as Victor Martinez has lost a whopping 90 points of weighted runs created plus from last season to this one.

Victor Martinez just showed us the worst single-season drop-off since free agency began.

Can we just pencil Martinez and Sandoval into their career numbers when they’re on the wrong side of this single-season dropoff leaderboard?

This isn’t a fantasy leaderboard, per se, but wRC+ correlates well with runs, RBI, batting average, and power numbers. Good batters are good batters. And these batters were good one year, and terrible the next. And Martinez did it worse than anyone has since 1974.

Worst Single Season Dropoffs in Free Agency Era
Name Season 1 S1 PA S1 wRC+ Season 2 S2 PA S2 wRC+ diff
Victor Martinez 2014 641 167 2015 485 78 -90
Scott Brosius 1996 500 131 1997 526 50 -81
Adam Dunn 2010 648 136 2011 496 60 -75
Sandy Alomar Jr. 1997 480 131 1998 438 56 -75
Chris Davis 2013 673 168 2014 525 94 -74
Jeff Burroughs 1978 611 160 1979 475 87 -73
John Mayberry 1975 683 166 1976 690 94 -72
Reggie Jackson 1982 621 145 1983 458 74 -71
Adrian Beltre 2004 657 161 2005 650 90 -71
Sixto Lezcano 1979 566 165 1980 460 97 -68
Juan Gonzalez 1993 587 164 1994 463 96 -68
Ken Singleton 1983 612 129 1984 403 61 -68
Dick Allen 1974 525 163 1975 481 96 -67
Jeff Keppinger 2012 418 128 2013 451 61 -67
Willie McGee 1985 652 151 1986 539 85 -66
Brook Jacoby 1987 620 144 1988 606 78 -66
Jeff Bagwell 1994 479 205 1995 539 140 -66
Allen Craig 2013 563 134 2014 505 69 -65
Cal Ripken 1991 717 154 1992 715 90 -64
George Foster 1981 472 152 1982 608 88 -64
J.T. Snow 2004 417 153 2005 410 89 -63
Ray Durham 2006 555 126 2007 528 62 -63
Mike Napoli 2011 432 179 2012 417 116 -63
Ted Simmons 1983 650 122 1984 532 60 -62
Jose Hernandez 2002 582 119 2003 571 58 -61
Rob Deer 1992 448 145 1993 532 84 -61
Mookie Wilson 1988 410 129 1989 509 69 -60
Howard Johnson 1989 655 166 1990 668 106 -60
Roberto Alomar 2001 677 151 2002 655 91 -60
Tony Pena 1986 565 112 1987 425 53 -60
wRC+ = weighted runs created plus, a league- and park- adjusted offensive measure

You might notice that this is a list of good players, for the most part. You don’t get 400 plate appearances of terrible production without having a lot of goodwill in the bank. And so Pablo Sandoval will get another chance next year, just as many players that have come before.

What separates Sandoval and Martinez in this instance may be interesting, though. And that’s speaking beyond the difference in the magnitude of their dropoffs, since Sandoval’s drop this year was only the 339th-worst single-season drop in wRC+ since 1974. While Martinez’s numbers are so much worse compared to his excellent season last year, he has more of an excuse than Sandoval. He was dealing with an injury this year, as his knee didn’t recover from surgery as well as most people hoped. That makes Pablo Sandoval more Scott Brosius and Victor Martinez more Chris Davis (ADHD medicine) or Adam Dunn (appendix surgery).

What we are really looking for is the other side of the coin. Particularly if we are interested in investing in Martinez or Sandoval next year, we have to know how likely these sorts of bounce-backs are, and what the best bounce-backs of all time have looked like. Here’s the other side of the leaderboard from above.

Best Single Season Recoveries in Free Agency Era
Name Season 1 S1 PA S1 wRC+ Season 2 S2 PA S2 wRC+ diff
Terry Pendleton 1990 484 60 1991 644 141 80
Adrian Beltre 2003 608 86 2004 657 161 75
Scott Brosius 1997 526 50 1998 603 123 73
Darin Erstad 1999 638 70 2000 747 140 69
Aubrey Huff 2009 597 77 2010 668 144 67
Sammy Sosa 1997 694 93 1998 722 159 66
Alex Rios 2011 570 60 2012 640 126 66
Chili Davis 1983 553 83 1984 546 148 65
Mark McGwire 1991 585 105 1992 571 171 65
Kevin Mitchell 1988 566 119 1989 640 184 65
Mike Napoli 2010 510 115 2011 432 179 64
Jose Bautista 2009 404 102 2010 683 165 64
Tim Wallach 1993 522 66 1994 466 129 64
Jose Canseco 1987 691 106 1988 705 169 63
Matt Kemp 2010 668 106 2011 689 168 63
Aubrey Huff 2001 434 71 2002 494 133 62
Ryne Sandberg 1983 699 80 1984 700 142 62
Jeff Bagwell 1993 609 145 1994 479 205 61
Barry Bonds 2000 607 174 2001 664 235 60
Lloyd Moseby 1982 533 76 1983 604 135 59
Dusty Baker 1976 421 77 1977 604 136 59
Adrian Beltre 2009 477 81 2010 641 140 59
Carlos Beltran 2000 413 63 2001 680 122 58
Kendrys Morales 2014 401 72 2015 624 130 58
Sandy Alomar Jr. 1996 444 73 1997 480 131 57
Paul Molitor 1986 482 107 1987 542 165 57
Casey Kotchman 2010 457 69 2011 563 127 57
Bret Boone 2000 525 92 2001 690 149 57
Tom Paciorek 1980 441 95 1981 452 152 57
Magglio Ordonez 2006 646 113 2007 679 169 57
wRC+ = weighted runs created plus, a league- and park- adjusted offensive measure

Look at that. Scott Brosius shows up on both lists. That’s probably not too surprising. If the player was good enough in his bad year to get 400 plate appearances, and then was good enough to get 400 plate appearances again in the year after his bad year, he probably rebounded back to his career levels. Scott Brosius was a career 94 wRC+ guy that had a 50 wRC+ season nestled into his peak at age 31. Pablo Sandoval is a career 116 wRC+ guy that just put up a 75 in his age-29 season. This is good news. This is a better comp for Pablo than Terry Pendleton (despite the two players’ sizes) because Pendleton went from his second-worst season in his life to a career year in order to zoom to the top of this list.

There are a lot of career years on this list. Let’s limit the list to just players that were bad the year before their comeback. Here’s the list again with only players that had worse than an 80 wRC+ in season one, with their career wRC+ added.

Best Recoveries From Poor Plate Production Since ’74
Name Season 1 S1 PA S1 wRC+ Season 2 S2 PA S2 wRC+ diff career wRC+
Terry Pendleton 1990 484 60 1991 644 141 80 91
Scott Brosius 1997 526 50 1998 603 123 73 94
Darin Erstad 1999 638 70 2000 747 140 69 93
Aubrey Huff 2009 597 77 2010 668 144 67 111
Alex Rios 2011 570 60 2012 640 126 66 99
Tim Wallach 1993 522 66 1994 466 129 64 102
Aubrey Huff 2001 434 71 2002 494 133 62 111
Lloyd Moseby 1982 533 76 1983 604 135 59 103
Dusty Baker 1976 421 77 1977 604 136 59 117
Carlos Beltran 2000 413 63 2001 680 122 58 120
Kendrys Morales 2014 401 72 2015 624 130 58 115
Sandy Alomar Jr. 1996 444 73 1997 480 131 57 84
Casey Kotchman 2010 457 69 2011 563 127 57 93
wRC+ = weighted runs created plus, a league- and park- adjusted offensive measure

Our comp for Victor Martinez jumps off the page at first. Martinez has a career wRC+ of 122, Beltran is at 120, and both are switch hitters. Beltran’s 2000 was worse than Martinez’s 2015, but Beltran’s recovery brought him all the way to his career levels, and there’s at least hope that Martinez can do the same. That’s the good news.

It doesn’t look good for the switch-hitting catcher to better Beltran’s recovery, though. For one, Beltran’s big recovery came when he was 24 and it was really more of a leap forward than a recovery to previous levels. Even Dusty Baker was 28. Alex Rios was 31 when he made this list. Kendrys Morales is 32 right now.

Martinez is 36, and there are only two players on this list that had a recovery after 33 years old that would bring Martinez anywhere close to his career work. One was Aubrey Huff. At 34, Huff put up his best year, one year after putting up his worst year. The other was Tim Wallach, who at 37 years old, followed his worst season with his best season.

One other best comp for Martinez doesn’t show up here, but it’s… Victor Martinez. In 2014, he added 54 points of wRC+, and if he did that again just two years later, he’d be right at his career wRC+. The problem with that comp is that Martinez was good in 2013, he was just excellent in 2014.

If you limit the pool to older recoveries off of sub-par seasons, there’s Huff and Wallach, and then there’s nobody. And Huff and Wallach followed their worst seasons with their best seasons. Don’t bet on Martinez being Huff or Wallach. Don’t bet on a recovery that will make this leaderboard.

Pablo Sandoval has plenty of comps and is a younger human being. He should be able to approximate something like he’s done before with his bat next year. Victor Martinez has two comps and is an older human being. If he does return to his career levels next year, it’ll make for a great story.

Thanks to Jeff Zimmerman for the season-to-season wRC+ query.

We hoped you liked reading The Change: V-Mart, Pablo, & Bounceback Leaderboards by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Scott
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Scott

Great piece Eno. I was thinking through 2016 team bounce back candidates this morning and this article is a great start in that direction.

Not a perfect analogy but I think Beltre is a good bounce-back bet for 2016. He missed a few weeks and then played injured for a few more with a thumb dislocation depressing his 2015 line across the board. It’ll be tempting to look at his mediocre 2015 line and chalk it all up to aging but his strong second half looks a lot more like his 2014 line with the thumb injury presumably behind him now.