Let’s be honest. I’ll start. I’m not a very good baseball player. I used to be much better than I am now, but even back when I was better, I was not good. I fit in with my high school competition and, later, adult league, but in the grander scheme I was, sadly, not good. You are also probably bad at baseball. I know because you are reading this and not playing baseball. That’s okay. It’s what joins us together, you and me.
But what if you had to play? What if you were sitting in the bleachers at Camden Yards and all the Orioles came down with 168-hour food poisoning. What if the team bus blew out a tire between the airport and the ballpark and there were no other buses available because the Pope was in town for a week and he loves buses. So, you need to play!
The team needs you, but it also knows you are terrible. You have to play, but you have to play as little as possible while playing. Where could you play with out hurting the team? Well, nowhere. You’re going to hurt the team. Badly. You’re going to really hurt the team because you are awful. Terrible. The worst. You’re just barely better than me, although that’s like saying rotten food is better than poo. It is, but it’s also what Olympic announcers refer to as a “low bar.”
The worst part is that you have to play for a week’s worth of games. And you’re starting. All six games (there’s an off-day but it’s in Baltimore [sad face emoticon]). That’s one long monster truck rally! You have to hit and play the field. No DH for you. Maybe you’re stuck playing for the Red Sox and David Ortiz is like, “No way, bro. Get out there.” Maybe the other people who are forced into duty are older, fatter, and worse than you. Maybe I have to play DH!
So. Now we have to figure out where to put you. First things first: let’s figure out the batting order. Course, it’s actually not hard to figure out the batting order. You’re batting last. The less you bat the better. Because you’re horrible. Sorry to dwell on the fact; I just don’t want you to forget. It’s sort of the point of this article. But it’s probably for the best, batting ninth. I mean, really, do you want to stand in against 95 mph heat? I sure as hell don’t. I don’t want to tell you what I’d do in my pants in that situation, pun sadly intended. I’d bat 10th if I could. I imagine, whether you admit it or not, you would too. But you can’t. You’re hitting ninth. Congratulations. Hope you can foul one off, maybe. Also try not to mess your pants too noticeably.
Batting order was easy. Now we have to figure out where to put you in the field. First basemen obviously receive the greatest negative positional adjustment, but given their place on the diamond, they’re also required to participate on the receiving end of basically every infield assist. Meanwhile, we want you to touch the ball the fewest possible number of times because, need I say it, you are terrible. So, to identify who’s likely to receive the fewest touches, we turn to some batted ball data. Last season, 33.8% of balls put into play were fly balls, whereas 45.3% of balls put in play were put on the ground. That means infielders get the ball more. Yes, some of those ground balls get through to the outfielders, but most of them won’t be too difficult to reach, and we’re assuming you can pick up a very slowly rolling ball and toss it back in. You’re bad at baseball, not paralyzed.
This is good for you. The less you touch the ball the better. So it’s the outfield for you. Probably. There’s the issue of line drives. Last season 20.9% of balls in play were line drives, but the good news there is that 69% of those were hits, and if they were hits against major league fielders they’re definitely hits against you, so you don’t have to worry about them. Of the other 31.1% of line drives that were not hits, some of them presumably went into the outfield, and some presumably near to where ever you will be standing/hiding. However, 31% of line drives is just 6% of the balls put into play, so the total number of balls you’ll see is still fewer in the outfield, at least in terms of the number you’d be able to do anything remotely useful with. It’s not enough to swing the pendulum anywhere near putting you into the infield. No, that’s still a terrible idea.
Now, where in the outfield should you play? It bears repeating that you are horrendous, so putting you in center field would be a massive mistake. Best to hide you in one of the outfield corners. But which one? We need to figure out which one sees the fewest balls, so for that we turn to batted ball data. First, we will, for the purposes of this exercise, assume that last season presents a reasonable sample from which to derive our prescription. Last season, 39.1% of balls put into play were pulled while 25.7% were hit the opposite way. Since 57.4% of the plate appearances were taken by right-handed hitters, with the remaining 42.6% coming from lefties, it would be easy to conclude that the ball is more frequently hit to left field than right. And indeed, that appears to be the case. There is a small difference in percentage of strikeouts (last season left-handed batters struck out slightly less frequently than right handers) which changes the percentages slightly, but it’s not enough to alter the finding. You will play right field. I’m sorry.
Now we turn to our final question. How much will you hurt the team over the week you have to play? That is a bit difficult to say. You will probably be able to make some subset of incredibly easy plays. You might even be able to make a few regular easy plays. After that, you’re probably going to be awful, just awful. Last season, the worst defenders in baseball by the numbers were Matt Kemp (-24.1 UZR) and Hanley Ramirez (-22.9), but it took them 154 and 105 games, respectively, to be that bad. Was there anyone else who was truly monumentally abysmal but in a smaller sample size? Wil Myers was worth -7.7 runs in 60 games, but you won’t be around that long and -7.7 in 60 games worth of innings is a pipe dream anyway. James Jones of the Mariners was worth -6 in 28 games. Still too much exposure, but now we’re starting to see the depths to which you will be able to sink. Oswaldo Arcia was worth -3.5 in just 19 games, which is worse than Jones (somehow) on a per-game basis.
Ah ha! Pay dirt! Ryan Lollis played parts of five games for the Giants last season. He played 26.1 innings, 18.1 of which came in left field, the remainder of which came in right field. During that time he helped the Giants by subtracting 2.3 runs on defense — that is, he was worth -2.3 runs. In other words, Lollis cost his team a run for every 11 innings he played the field. If you were to play a week’s worth of games, which we’re calling six, you would play 54 innings. If you were as bad as Lollis — which, let’s be real, you would be much worse — you would cost your team a bit over five runs on defense. So let’s be charitable to you and merely double the damage and say you’ll cost your team 10 runs.
As for offense, well, you’re not going to get any hits. And you’re not going to be able to lay any bunts down either. You are very bad. So how can we find out how much your offensive ineptitude will hurt the team over the course of your week in the starting lineup? Two words: Jon Lester. Some may say, “Those are names not words, you idiot,” and they’d be right on at least one of those counts. But still: Lester! From 2007 through 2014 Jon Lester came to bat 39 times and did not get one hit. You will probably not come to bat that many times over the course of your six games, so we can scale Lester’s living argument for the DH down to fit our needs. From 2008 through 2012 Lester had 27 plate appearances during which he slashed a robust .000/.043/.000. He walked once in 2010. Oops. So, again, let’s be charitable. You walk once. Hooray you! Otherwise, you exactly replicate Lester’s batting line. You are worth -5 runs.
I know, I know. We’ll be done soon. So, put that all together. Bad-at-baseball you playing right field for a week and batting as infrequently as possible will cost your team about five runs on offense and about 10 runs on defense. Your team is down 15 runs, or about a win and a half in just a week, and all because you are terrible at baseball. So if you ever sit back, open a beer or soda, and think, “Heh, I could play that game.” You’re right. You’d just be historically and embarrassingly awful at it. Of course, there is always the chance I might be worse.