Yup, Zombies in baseball. It happens. Guys who are clearly shells of their former selves hanging on for no reason. Well, I guess there is the money, but most of these guys already made tons of money. A zombie, you see, isn’t just any bad player who just keeps getting jobs for no reason. To be Undead, one must once have had life — one must once have been good. Paul Bako, for example, has somehow managed to be in and around the majors for more than 10 seasons (left-handed hitting catcher!) while always being around replacement level, but since his FanGraphs-WAR Era (2002-present) “peak” was 0.3 wins in his glorious 2003 season, we can be pretty sure he’s just being Bako (although he’s assuredly still a money-grubbing traitor). No, a zombie can be identified by having once been very good, but now putting on performance that let us know the Life Force has long since departed.*
Ivan Rodriguez, is a good example of a zombie. Most of his best years actually predate the FanGraphs Era, but he did have some ~five win seasons in 2003 and 2004 with the Marlins and Tigers. While Zombie Pudge clearly can still play baseball a bit, his offense, always reliant on lots of contact, has pretty much completely eroded, and his defensive skills, once widely admired, are now decidedly average-ish. He’s not useless, but from one a Hall-of-Famer to a part-timer? Zombie Pudge.
Jason Kendall has been fodder for thousands of internet jokes of a couple of years now. While it’s understandable, give his inflated defensive reputation and offensive worthlessness (grit!), Kendall was a pretty great player back in the late-90s/early00s. Heck, he was still pretty good only a few years ago. At this point, though, while his defense might be a bit above average (he had a great year defensively in 2008, although 2007 and 2009 were both poor), his offense… well. Zombie Kendall.
We know that some teams will go gaga for Zombie catchers for what “they’ll bring to the team” (perhaps Washington and Kansas City are the bsaeball equivalents the Underworld). Who are some non-catchers?
Andruw Jones springs to mind, not only for his past excellence and current zombie status, but for the rapidity with which he joined the ranks of the undead. Jones is one of the greatest defensive center fielders ever, and even in 2007, when his bat began to slip, UZR has him at about 22 runs above average. In 2008 he joined the Dodgers, and had clearly fallen under the power of a necromancer. Sure, he was better in 2009 with Texas, but when a guy who used to regularly put up 6 wins seasons has a 0.8 win “comeback,” when he says he’s coming to 2010 Spring Training ready to compete for a starting job in center field for the White Sox and we find it laughable… dude’s a zombie.
Perhaps the most obvious current zombie is Ken Griffey, Jr. Junior was awesome back in the 1990s, and is a surefire Hall of Famer if there was one (I think Jones should be in, too, but I digress). But man, he’s only been over 1.5 WAR once in the FanGraphs Era, and that was back in 2006. Kid Zombie is clearly sucking up a roster slot for feelgood reasons* in Seattle (“he’ll mentor Milton Bradley!”), but isn’t Seattle supposed to be contending in the 2010’s likely tightest division? Maybe Griffey has powers of hypnosis; perhaps he’s a vampire rather than a zombie, I dunno.
* No, I don’t have it in me to discuss Zombie Mike Sweeney.
That’s just a start to get you going. What other zombies slated to play in 2010?
Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.