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Don't count out MLB's 'worst' players from '17

Angels' Pujols, Dodgers' Kemp among those looking to bounce back
MLB.com @williamfleitch

We are a list culture: The best 10 movies of the year, the Top 10 college basketball teams, the Top 10 dictators to invade Poland, the Top 10 tears of a clown. I'll confess my own happy indulgence: Lists, I'd argue, aren't the last refuge of an idealess writer (I swear!) but, in fact, a quick, simple, easy-on-the-eyes-and-mind way to digest often complex and diffuse bits of information. Lists can clarify and focus.

But they can also deceive, particularly when it comes to baseball. There were 1,358 humans to play Major League Baseball last year, so whittling that down to the 10 of anything is undeniably enticing. If you're in a select list of 10 out of 1,358, you must be special. I spent most of January watching MLB Network's "Top 10 by Position" series, in which Brian Kenny and company took turns speaking of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles villain "The Shredder" as if he were an all-knowing deity, and the series felt definitive: These are the Top 10 center fielders right now; that's it and that's that.

We are a list culture: The best 10 movies of the year, the Top 10 college basketball teams, the Top 10 dictators to invade Poland, the Top 10 tears of a clown. I'll confess my own happy indulgence: Lists, I'd argue, aren't the last refuge of an idealess writer (I swear!) but, in fact, a quick, simple, easy-on-the-eyes-and-mind way to digest often complex and diffuse bits of information. Lists can clarify and focus.

But they can also deceive, particularly when it comes to baseball. There were 1,358 humans to play Major League Baseball last year, so whittling that down to the 10 of anything is undeniably enticing. If you're in a select list of 10 out of 1,358, you must be special. I spent most of January watching MLB Network's "Top 10 by Position" series, in which Brian Kenny and company took turns speaking of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles villain "The Shredder" as if he were an all-knowing deity, and the series felt definitive: These are the Top 10 center fielders right now; that's it and that's that.

That's the issue with any list, though, isn't it? The right now. As they say on Wall Street, "Past performance is not indicative of future results." We can quantify the moment, but that doesn't tell us what will happen in the next moment. The "Top 10" players at their position heading into 2017 included Jung Ho Kang, Starling Marte, Aledmys Diaz, Hunter Pence, Will Harris and Welington Castillo. It'd be ridiculous to include any of those names among baseball's best right now. Meanwhile, Tommy Pham not only wasn't on any list; he wasn't even in the Majors until May. And he was ranked No. 2 among center fielders behind Mike Trout this year.

This works in both directions. Suffice it to say, if you are among the worst 10 players in baseball in a particular season, you likely shouldn't be expected to hang around the game too much longer. Hundreds of players enter the big leagues each year, which means many must filter out. Those bottom 10 would be likely candidates, no?

But it doesn't always work out that way. In fact, when you look at the worst 10 position players in baseball (ranked by Baseball Reference WAR with a minimum of 400 at-bats) from the last few years, you find some surprising names, players who didn't just filter out of the game in the seasons after bottoming out, but actually thrived.

In the last five years alone, these men were among the worst 10 position players in baseball. You may have heard of them:

Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds (2014)
Bruce lost everything in 2014: His power, his ability to get on base, his ability to play the field. It came back slightly in '15, a little more in '16 and earned him $40 million this offseason with a big season in '17.

J.D. Martinez, Houston Astros (2012)
This is the big one, no? Martinez struggled so much in 2012 for Houston that you assumed a guy who couldn't hit for power, couldn't field and struck out in a quarter of his at-bats would be playing for the Long Island Ducks, posthaste. (He was arguably worse in '13; he just didn't get enough at-bats to qualify for the bottom 10.) But then he figured it all out in Detroit and made himself into one of the best hitters in the game. He's now the big bat the Red Sox desperately needed, a different person entirely from five years ago.

Video: Must C Classic: Martinez hits four homers, plates six 

Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates (2016)
McCutchen's nightmare 2016 put the Pirates in the impossible position of having public pressure put on them to either extend or trade a franchise icon whose bat had nearly vanished and clearly couldn't play his chosen position of center field anymore. McCutchen, ennobled by taking center field back after Starling Marte's suspension, rebounded and is now part of the Giants' "Last Mad Dash" campaign of '18.

Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals (2016)
It's stunning that Zimmerman batted .218 in 2016; he had a lower on-base percentage than pitcher Joe Ross. He recovered by making the National League All-Star team and receiving down-ballot NL Most Valuable Player votes last year.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm2: Zimmerman mashes go-ahead homer

Other bottom 10ers from the last five years still peddling their wares in the big leagues: Hanley Ramirez, Starlin Castro, David Freese, Kendrys Morales, Melvin Upton Jr., Yonder Alonso, Mark Reynolds and Lucas Duda. Being one of the worst 10 position players in the Majors isn't a death sentence. You can come back.

Which brings us, inevitably, to last year's list. Here are the 10 worst position players of 2017, by bWAR (minimum 400 at-bats). Some of them are probably done. But some of them have plenty of life left in their games; they just had one poor year. We've all had one poor year, haven't we?

10. Matt Wieters, Washington Nationals
Wieters was considered a smart, opportunistic signing for the Nationals when they inked him for two years, $21 million last offseason, but his game fell apart last year. He has arrived 15 pounds lighter to camp and they'll surely give him plenty of days off, but this is still a likely starter this October.

9. Jose Peraza, Cincinnati Reds
The only way a player as fast as Peraza could steal just 23 bases would be if he only put up a .297 OBP. He ended up losing his job to Scooter Gennett, who hit one less homer that crazy day against the Cardinals than Peraza did all year. Peraza is still only 23, is back at his natural shortstop position and, all told, was better down the stretch last year. He's the second guy on this list who comes into camp with a mostly set full-time position in his club's lineup.

8. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Cabrera is a sad one to see. His power vanished from his bat last year, and his defensive value is minimal. Cabrera was a below replacement-level player in 2016, and that is against the natural order of the universe. He's feeling "positive" about '18, and he'd better: There are still six years left on his current deal.

Video: Cabrera has been launching homers since 2003

7. Matt Davidson, Chicago White Sox
Davidson hit plenty of homers last year, but was shockingly poor at getting on base; his .260 OBP and empty power basically made him a Madison Bumgarner who can't pitch. Want the diminishing impact of each home run? Look at Davidson; he hit 29 and was a net-negative for his team, by a wide margin. Still, 29 homers isn't the worst floor to build from. If you can still hit 29 homers (or more) and just improve peripherally everywhere else, you can build your value back quickly.

6. Brandon Moss, Oakland Athletics
Moss, who the A's designated for assignment on Sunday, is one of every clubhouse's most beloved players, so we wish him luck ferreting out another gig.

5. Denard Span, Tampa Bay Rays
Span's problem wasn't just his offense; it was the Giants asking him to play center field so many innings at the age of 34. He was sent to the Rays to offset Evan Longoria's salary, but he might not be with Tampa Bay for long.

4. Tommy Joseph, Philadelphia Phillies
Joseph was briefly a fantasy baseball sleeper heading into last season, but that didn't last: He was hitting .179 with just one homer in 72 plate appearances at the end of April. He recovered a little bit in May, but never did get it going again and by the time Rhys Hoskins showed up, he was mostly forgotten. That's not going to be helped by Carlos Santana being in town, but he's still only 26.

3. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
You might also recognize Kemp from 2016's bottom 10 player list: He was the 10th-worst player by bWAR that season. Kemp has two more years remaining on his current deal and finding significant playing time is going to be tough in Los Angeles, or anywhere, really. They still love him, all told.

2. Jose Bautista, free agent
For a while it looked like Bautista might end up with the Marlins, a good guess for any fledgling veteran outfielder. He has now said he'd like to play in Tampa, where he lives in the offseason. Bautista might have to take the "Mike Napoli non-roster invitee special" to do it. Here's hoping he finds one more go-around: The game of baseball is infinitesimally duller without Bautista in it.

Video: Must C Clutch: Bautista's blast puts Blue Jays ahead

1. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
Pujols basically had Joseph's season, only with 100 more at-bats while adding zero value in the field. Pujols' late-career struggles are no secret, but this is a sign of just how bad it has gotten: Of the 216 players with 400 or more plate appearances in 2017, Pujols finished last in bWAR. Pujols was 31st in career bWAR heading into last season. He is now 32nd. Pujols was a four-win player as recently as '14. At this point, the Angels would take him just getting his head back above water. Four more years to go.

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Jose Bautista, Matt Kemp, Albert Pujols