Of the 278 major leaguers who racked up at least 300 plate appearances last season, FanGraphs assigned negative wins above replacement marks to 28. Most of those players are back in action this year, and with the season now a month old, we’ll focus on the 10 active major leaguers who posted the lowest fWARs in 2018. As you’ll see below, a few look to be enjoying nice rebound campaigns.
Chris Davis, 1B, Orioles (2018 fWAR: minus-3.1):
By now, everyone who follows baseball knows about Davis’ stark drop-off. He has devolved from one of the game’s fiercest sluggers a few years ago to an easy out nowadays. Davis was abysmal last season and has been similarly woeful across 71 plate appearances this year, evidenced by a .158/.239/.344 line and a 38 percent strikeout rate. The 33-year-old went from Sept. 14 of last season to April 15 of the current campaign without recording a hit – a record 54-AB drought. Davis has been better since he broke that skid, but that’s not saying much. The Orioles will pay him through 2037 on the $161MM contract he signed in January 2016 as an imposing offensive presence.
Dexter Fowler, OF, Cardinals (2018 fWAR: minus-1.2):
Now in the third season of a five-year, $82.5MM contract, Fowler has come back strong from an injury- and depression-marred 2018. The switch-hitting 33-year-old has reverted to his halcyon days with a .316/.419/.430 slash in 93 PA, albeit with little power (one HR, .114 ISO) and a sure-to-fall .414 batting average on balls in play. For now, though, it’s a great comeback story.
Yangervis Solarte, INF/OF, Giants (2018 fWAR: minus-1.3):
For the most part, Solarte was a decent producer with the Yankees and Padres from 2014-17. The switch hitter nosedived as a Blue Jay last year, though, which forced him to sign a minor league deal with the Giants this past offseason. While the 31-year-old did crack San Francisco’s talent-deprived roster, he hasn’t been part of the solution to this point. Thus far, Solarte has batted a career-worst .218/.271/.345 in 60 trips to the plate.
Lewis Brinson, OF, Marlins (2018 fWAR: minus-1.0):
Brinson was the centerpiece of the Marlins’ return for outfielder Christian Yelich, whom they traded to the Brewers in January 2018. At that point, Brinson was a top prospect and Yelich an underrated star. Yelich is no longer flying under the radar, having blossomed into an MVP-winning force as a Brewer, which is all the more unfortunate for the Marlins given Brinson’s lack of progress. Set to turn 25 next month, Brinson has been awful in a Miami uniform. He’s off to a .192/.244/.260 start with no homers and a 34.1 percent strikeout rate against a 2.4 percent walk mark in 82 PA this season.
Hunter Dozier, 3B/1B/OF, Royals (2018 fWAR: minus-0.8):
Dozier has seemingly morphed from one of the majors’ worst players to one of its best. The 27-year-old entered Sunday fourth in the game in wRC+ (197), fifth in fWAR (1.6) and ninth in isolated power (.363), owing to an incredible .349/.444/.699 line with seven HRs in 99 PA. Dozier’s also walking and striking out at praiseworthy clips (14.1 and 18.2 percent, respectively) and barely chasing pitches outside the strike zone. His swings have led to a .474 weighted on-base average, which sits fifth in the league. Both that and Dozier’s .373 BABIP will regress, though his .431 xwOBA hardly suggests his performance is driven by luck. The Royals just might have an offensive star on their hands in Dozier, which is what they envisioned when they drafted him eighth overall in 2013.
Ryon Healy, 1B/3B, Mariners (2018 fWAR: minus-0.8):
Healy was a terrific producer as an Athletic in 2016, his rookie season, but an unrepeatable BABIP and a low walk rate indicated his 132 wRC+ was largely the product of good fortune. Indeed, Healy’s output plummeted from 2017-18 as an Athletic and Mariner. He has come out of the gates in respectable fashion this year as a fill-in for injured third baseman Kyle Seager, though, with a .232/.302/.473 line and five HRs in 126 PA. Healy’s BABIP is just .244 – down 108 points from his rookie season – and he’s easily running career-best walk and out-of-zone swing percentages (8.7, 25.9). But his xwOBA is still a below-average .314, which lands shy of a .332 wOBA that’s not particularly menacing in its own right.
Chris Owings, INF/OF, Royals (2018 fWAR: minus-0.8):
Last season was no banner year for Owings, but that didn’t stop the Royals from guaranteeing the ex-Diamondback $3MM in free agency. The return on investment hasn’t been there so far, as the 27-year-old has stumbled to an unsightly .163/.230/.283 line with minus-0.3 fWAR in 100 trips to the plate.
Ian Desmond, OF/1B, Rockies (2018 fWAR: minus-0.7):
Desmond was effective as a National and Ranger from 2009-16, when he spent his time at shortstop and in center field. For some reason, the Rockies gave him $70MM in December 2016 to play first base. The deal didn’t work out at all over its first two years, which helped convince the Rockies to shift Desmond back to center this season. That hasn’t gone well either. After putting up minus-1.5 fWAR in Colorado from 2017-18, he’s already at minus-0.8 through 92 PA in 2019, thanks to a .198/.239/.349 line. To his credit, Desmond has greatly increased his fly balls/line drives and decreased his grounders this season, and his xwOBA (.278) is leagues better than his wOBA (.219). However, none of that is to say the 33-year-old is verging on of any kind of renaissance.
Tim Beckham, SS, Mariners (2018 fWAR: minus-0.5):
Beckham joins Dozier as another potential late-blooming former first-round pick on this list. While Beckham went first overall to the Rays in the 2008 draft, he seldom lived up to the billing with them or the Orioles from 2013-18. Beckham was downright bad in 2018, which led him to accept a cheap deal with the Mariners in the offseason. Now, he’s a .286/.359/.533 hitter with six long balls in 117 attempts. Neither Beckham’s .375 BABIP nor 27.3 percent HR-to-fly ball rate will stick, but the 29-year-old has made real strides in the plate discipline department. He’s walking at a career-high clip and swinging at far fewer out-of-zone pitches than he did in prior seasons.
James McCann, C, White Sox (2018 fWAR: minus-0.5):
Like Beckham, McCann had to say yes to a prove-it deal in the offseason after a 2018 to forget. It’s working out so far for Chicago, which has seen the former Tiger slash .333/.382/.490 in 55 trips to the plate and earn plus marks as a defender. McCann, 28, is yet another player who’s walking more than ever and swinging less outside the zone. His .405 BABIP certainly won’t hold, but the .354 xwOBA is more than acceptable for a catcher.