A year ago, we conducted an exhaustive statistical search for the team that most stood out by specifically not standing out.
The not-so-proud recipients of the title of most average team in major pro sports? None other than the Pittsburgh Pirates, who would go on to finish with an almost-exactly .500 82-win record last season. Nothing so perfectly mediocre can ever last, though, and this year’s Pirates have slipped to 51-73 despite sitting within a game of .500 at the All-Star Break.1 So now we need to find a new champion in the field of undistinguished baseball. But maybe we can also build one for ourselves by assembling the most ordinary possible group of players in the game this year.
It’ll be a challenge, but we’re up for it.
First things first, let’s find the most mediocre real-life team of 2019. According to our method from last season, we need to search for the team who sticks closest to league average this season in each of the following categories (in descending order of importance):
- Win-loss record. This is self-explanatory. Teams should get the most credit for sitting as close to .500 as possible in the standings.
- Run differential. We also want our ideal average team to come to its record honestly. No lucking into a 81-81 record here.
- Runs scored and allowed per game. The most middling team must be perfectly average on both offense and defense/pitching.
- On-base percentage and slugging percentage, for and against. Finally, our vanilla victor must score and prevent its runs in the most conventional manner possible.
As you can see, no straying from the norm is allowed at any statistical level. And according to these rules,2 this year’s most average MLB club is… (drumroll please):
The New York Mets!
|Z-Score (std. deviations above/below avg.)|
|Team||Win PCT.||Scoring Diff.||Scoring Off.||Scoring Def.||Sum of Sq. Z-scores*|
No 2019 team is as downright ordinary as the 2018 Pirates were, but that squad was tracking to go down as history’s Most Average Team™ — a tough act to follow. Although the Mets still have a 31 percent chance of making the playoffs after their recent hot streak, and the team has plenty of star power between Pete Alonso, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and friends, New York remains an extremely average team in terms of its overall statistical profile.
At an individual level, the Mets also possess some of the most average players in baseball. If we use Wins Above Replacement3 to calculate how close a player is to the MLB average for a pitcher or position player given his playing time, we find that Mets position players Amed Rosario, Wilson Ramos, Todd Frazier, J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith have all been within a half-win of middling perfection. (That especially applies to Smith, whose 0.6 WAR is exactly what we’d expect of an average position player in the same playing time.)
The single most average player in all of baseball according to that metric, however, is Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, who is on pace for 0.85 WAR, or just 0.00097 wins above average given his position and share of L.A.’s plate appearances. He and Cincinnati Reds reliever Raisel Iglesias (-0.00591 wins above average) stand out as the players closest to a perfectly average WAR, among those who have logged at least 1.5 percent of their team’s playing time this season:4
|Min. 1.5% of playing-time||Min. 5% of playing-time|
Among those lineup mainstays with at least 5 percent of team playing time, a pair of American League Central pitchers emerge as extremely average: Jakob Junis of the Kansas City Royals and Reynaldo Lopez of the Chicago White Sox, both of whom have WARs within 0.040 of a league-average mark. Following them on the position player side are Dexter Fowler of the St. Louis Cardinals, Shin-Soo Choo of the Texas Rangers and Adam Eaton of the Washington Nationals — a trio of outfielders who will make a combined $45.9 million this season for their pure, concentrated averageness.
So those are the most average players in the game this season, and the Mets are the most average real-life team. But can we construct an All-Star Team of Average? Let’s build off the rankings above by creating the game’s most mediocre 25-man roster, within the following constraints:
- The team must allocate roughly 58 percent of playing time to position players and 42 percent to pitchers, in accordance with the breakdown of league value found in WAR.5
- No player whose WAR differs from average by more than +/- 0.1 wins can make the roster.
- We’ll carry 13 hitters — starters at eight positions, plus additional slots for a middle infielder, a corner infielder, an outfielder, a catcher and a pinch-hitter/designated hitter/utility type — and 12 pitchers, including seven relievers.
- A player’s eligibility at a position is based on ESPN’s fantasy rules: He must have played either 20 games at that position last season or 10 this season.
- The team’s total WAR-projected record must be as close as possible to 81-81.
- The team’s payroll must be as close as possible to the MLB average team payroll of $133,548,817.
After discarding combinations of players that fail to meet one or more of those qualifications, here is the absolute most average roster we could assemble using 2019 players:
|3B||Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||TOR||4.7||1.5||$555,000|
The resulting team comes in with a projection for 33.4 WAR, which adds up to 81.1 wins per 162 games.6 It also comes in with a price tag just $273,316 above the MLB average payroll. (Hopefully we can get the owner to budge and give us the extra quarter-million.) It is the ultimate in cutting-edge average technology.
It is surprising to see some of the names that qualify for a team of the most average players. (Remember, everyone is within +/- 0.1 WAR of perfectly average.) Buster Posey is a future Hall of Fame catcher, but a down year with the bat has left him on pace for his fewest WAR (1.6) since 2011. Iglesias is tracking for another 30-save season, but his ERA has taken a hit after years of outpitching his peripherals. Vlad Guerrero Jr. looks like a future superstar,and he’s shown a great deal of improvement over the course of his rookie season, but his overall season-long numbers are just middle-of-the-road (in large part because of weak defensive metrics). Many of these players are merely passing through averagedom, either as a stop on their ascent or their decline.
As the great Bill James often wrote, talent in professional baseball is distributed like a pyramid — for every average player, there are many, many more who are below average or worse. We sometimes have a tendency to dismiss the average player as having no value. This is a mistake. It’s actually very difficult to be average, so average players actually offer a great deal of value. The outcome of the season hinges as much (or more) on teams getting an average performance, instead of a bad one, from their role players as it does on their top players playing like superstars. So whether it’s the real-life Mets or the members of our All-Average Team, we salute you: You are the glue that holds together the sport.
Check out our latest MLB predictions.