The Kansas City Royals have gone to back-to-back World Series, winning it all in 2015. A big reason for their success is due to their stellar defense. In both seasons they had three men win Gold Gloves along with others qualifying as top three finishers in the selection. As the old sports adage goes, defense truly does win championships.
However, not everyone is blessed with an ability to catch a baseball. Some players are so bad at it that their teams may have at some point considered putting a bucket on the field instead. At least a bucket can’t throw a ball away or have it trickle through its legs.
For many, defense is an overlooked part of baseball. We think just because these men are professionals they should be able to finish off a routine play and secure an out. Even though defensive skills have improved with upgrades in equipment, better training, and more generous official scorers who have called a few errors hits, there are still some really bad fielders playing in the MLB today.
As the MLB gets better at creating new ways of tracking fielding statistics, we should know more about who these bums with gloves are. In the meantime, a few statistics you should know about fielding is fielding percentage, Defensive Runs Saved, range, Defensive WAR, and of course, errors. None measures anyone perfectly, but taking a look at all of them can give us a better assessment as to which players are the worst defensive players in the MLB.
15 Conor Gillaspie
Not very well-known, Conor Gillaspie is one of baseball’s worst defensive players, whether it’s at first base or his usual position at third base. Only because he has not received regular playing time has he been able to avoid a significant number of errors. However, in 2015, he did post a .904 fielding percentage in what was a completely terrible season in terms of defense.
For his career, Gillaspie has only a .941 fielding percentage at third base. Though he hasn't played a ton of games yet, Gillaspie already has a -2.5 Defensive WAR, which will likely rise if he plays more games.
14 Jarrod Saltalamacchia
When viewing a catcher’s fielding statistics you have to look at a few things and everything you will see for Jarrod Saltalamacchia is pretty terrible. The only positive thing to say is that he has been rather consistent with his poor defensive abilities, or lack thereof.
Saltalamacchia has a career .988 fielding percentage and has only thrown out 22% of attempted base stealers. The big shocker is his career BIS Defensive Runs Saved of -34. At first base, he might be even worse with a pathetic .968 fielding percentage with 11 errors in only 44 games. For someone who isn’t even a particularly strong hitter, it’s pretty amazing he has stuck around this long.
13 Justin Upton
Justin Upton can hit, but when he takes the field he can be a defensive liability. As a left fielder he has a .979 fielding percentage. As a right fielder, it drops down to .969 giving him a total average of .972. This may not look too poor except the league’s outfielders are at .986 during the same time.
Upton has had three years in his career where he reached double digits in errors. All of these came in right field before the Atlanta Braves got smart and hid him in left field. His career in right field includes 25 assists and 50 errors. As a left fielder, it’s more even, at 14 assists to 15 errors, which still appears as a rather staggeringly poor ratio. In 2015, he had a positive Defensive WAR for the first time since 2011 at only 0.2. In his nine big league seasons, his Defensive WAR has totaled up to -3.6.
12 Chris Johnson
As a first baseman, Chris Johnson isn’t that bad. As a third baseman, he’s horrendous. Johnson has floated from corner to corner with the majority of his playing time coming at third base. It has been an utter disaster as he has only a career .945 fielding percentage there and has probably let plenty of groundballs pass by him for singles and doubles down the line.
With a -63 BIS Defensive Runs Saved, Johnson is probably bound for more starts as a DH as he remains in the American League with the Cleveland Indians. He has some of the worst career fielding percentages you can find including a .908 in his rookie year from 2010. He has never had a positive Defensive WAR in any season and currently has totaled up -6.3.
11 Ryan Howard
If the Philadelphia Phillies played more games in an American League park, first baseman Ryan Howard would be able to hide his biggest fault: his defense. For his career, Howard has a -15.8 Defensive WAR which now looks a lot worse since his bat has disappeared. Only in his first two seasons, both with less than 100 games played, did he have a positive number in this statistic.
Howard has bad range, a bad arm, and the only reason why he doesn’t make as many errors is because a lot more balls go by for singles. Official scorers are his best friend as he has surely made more mistakes than they can actually call against him statistically. Howard’s poor defensive skills definitely fail the eye-test.
10 Hanley Ramirez
When Hanley Ramirez played shortstop, he wasn’t very good with only a career .967 fielding percentage and a -77 BIS Defensive Runs Saved. His range was terrible and he made 20+ errors in each of his first three seasons. Yet, for some reason, the Boston Red Sox thought it was a good idea to try Ramirez out in left field for 2015 with a giant green wall behind him for half the season.
Ramirez was just as bad in left field, finishing the year with a .969 fielding percentage and a -19 BIS Defensive Runs Saved rating. His -2.5 Defensive WAR for the season was the worst of his decade long career, making a rumored move to first base next year very likely. When that fails, expect Ramirez to become a DH exclusive player.
9 Starlin Castro
Shortstop Starlin Castro is an interesting defensive player. He has been pretty bad throughout his career, particularly in the early part when he finished his first three seasons with 27+ errors in each. He has improved slightly, however, he does remain far below the average fielding shortstop with a career .963 fielding percentage.
Surprisingly, Castro does have a positive Defensive WAR at 1.3. This still doesn’t save him from the -30 BIS Defensive Runs Saved he has for his career. Interestingly enough, Castro improved his stats during the 38 games he played at second base in 2015. It could be a permanent move, but don’t expect any Gold Gloves, as Castro makes far too many mistakes on the field.
8 Mark Reynolds
Other than hitting home runs and striking out, there isn’t much else that Mark Reynolds does well. A first baseman and third baseman by trade, it’s the latter position where Reynolds has spent the majority of his career butchering baseballs. It’s no mystery why he has played mostly first base in recent years. Reynolds owns a pathetic .929 fielding percentage at third base with -61 BIS Defensive Runs Saved.
Reynolds’ career Defensive WAR of -9.6 is yet another example of how one-dimensional of a player he has been. The St. Louis Cardinals made the mistake of allowing him to play 22 games at third base in 2015 to which he offered only an .897 fielding percentage. After that poor performance, we think teams will know better in the future.
7 Pedro Alvarez
A move to first base is always a bad sign for a player in terms of a team’s confidence in his defensive abilities. Pedro Alvarez made this transition in 2015, where he stunk it up on the other side of the diamond.
Alvarez now has four straight seasons of 20+ errors with the latest coming at first base. He had only a .978 fielding percentage while the league’s first basemen were averaging .994. During his time as a third baseman, he made 27 errors in a season twice and posted a .933 fielding percentage. His Defensive WAR of -4.6 will likely only get worse as his career progresses. Only a move to the American League can save him from errors. He may have to wait a few more seasons, while the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to cross their fingers and hope the ball goes nowhere near him.
6 Daniel Murphy
After his big error in the World Series, disgruntled New York Mets fans may tell you Daniel Murphy is the worst defensive player in baseball. It’s not quite accurate, but Murphy is certainly one of the worst in baseball right now. Although he has played several different positions in his career, none have gone very well and a move to first base permanently is probably likely.
At his primary position, second base, Murphy has a career .975 fielding percentage with negatives in all of the zone ratings. The worst is his -42 BIS Defensive Runs Saved. As a third baseman, with fewer opportunities, Murphy has only a .946 fielding percentage for his career including a .935 fielding percentage at the hot corner in 2015. Overall he has a -2.6 Defensive WAR rating and plenty of Mets fans tears to clean up.
5 Adonis Garcia
In 2015, Adonis Garcia made his MLB debut with the Atlanta Braves as a 30-year-old. Showing quality defensive skills in left field with a nice bat, the Braves went into full tank mode and decided to give Garcia the majority of his innings at third base. Garcia struggled mightily, committing 10 errors in fewer than 100 chances.
As a third baseman, Garcia had a .896 fielding percentage in the 42 games he played at the position. He had very poor range and surely made the Braves question whether it was worth having anyone out there at all. Oddly, he was the replacement for Chris Johnson, who you might remember from earlier on this list. The days of top third basemen in Atlanta appear to be over.
4 Ian Desmond
No list about bad defense in baseball is complete without Ian Desmond. The brick-gloved shortstop first came to notoriety in 2010 during his first full big league season when he committed a league leading 34 errors. He finished with a career worst .947 fielding percentage that year, in a season that Desmond needed to learn from.
He hasn’t been nearly as bad since, however, he does have four more seasons of 20 or more errors. His career fielding percentage is at only .962, yet he has a positive career Defensive WAR at 2.2. Just because it is above 0 doesn’t mean gold will come anywhere near his glove. Few players in baseball can say they’re guaranteed 20 errors each season and Desmond is the president of the club.
3 David Ortiz
A lot of the defensive deficiencies regarding David Ortiz come purely from assumption. The Boston Red Sox have barely allowed him to step on the field without a baseball bat, telling him to leave his glove at home. His nine starts at first base in 2015 were the most he had since the 2006 season when he began the game as a two-way player only 10 times.
Thanks largely to his nearly permanent DH duties, Ortiz’s career Defensive WAR is horrific at -20.5. Still, in spite of this, Ortiz has been a very productive player. Everyone knows Ortiz cannot play the field, but this doesn’t save him from joining the list of the worst defensive players in baseball. If he had more chances, he’d likely be ranked even higher.
2 Kyle Schwarber
Yikes! For all the good Kyle Schwarber gave the Chicago Cubs in his rookie season, defense was not one of them. He played catcher, left field, and right field, with right field being the only place he was successful. Maybe that’s because in 14 innings as a right fielder, he had only three chances. In the other two spots, the Cubs have been left wondering what to do with Schwarber every half inning.
As a catcher, Schwarber had a .967 fielding percentage compared to the league average of .993. He only threw out 18% of base stealers while the rest of the backstops in baseball were doing so at a rate of 28%. In left field, he did only make one regular season error. However, with negative range and a -0.2 Defense WAR to begin his career, Schwarber is far from a defensive savior. Don’t test him for steroids. Test this slugger for a hole in his glove.
1 Marcus Semien
Infielder Marcus Semien is experienced at second base, third base, and shortstop. After failing at the first two with the Chicago White Sox, the Oakland Athletics decided to give him every opportunity they could at shortstop in 2015. The result was a league leading 35 errors. It was the first time since 1998 that any shortstop committed this many fouls in the field and it was bad enough for us to consider him the worst fielder in baseball right now.
The 2015 season also saw Semien post a .947 fielding percentage. The big problem with his defense seems to be throwing the ball, as Semien committed 18 of his errors in attempts to pick up an assist.