The 10 Players Who Vex Me the Most

Baseball history is chock full of vexing players. (via Keith Allison, C.E. Andersen, Dave Nelson & Michelle Jay)

This article’s original headline was “Ten Players I Hate.” But as I wrote about them, I discovered I didn’t really hate most of the players. I just hated what they stood for. Sports hate, if you will, to borrow a phrase from Bill Simmons. They were the players I don’t like to see comped, analyzed, or playing for some reason or another. I just wished they didn’t exist at times. I’m sure I could have loved them if they played for another team or weren’t always the example of why little Johnny can’t make the majors.

I know that many of you — if not most of you — will disagree with some or all of this list. Congrats for having a soul left and not being jaded by one these players. But I know, deep down, that every reader could likely come up with a half-dozen players who truly vex them…in the sports sense. (Feel free to tell me who they are in the comments!)

Players Related to my Hometown Royals

  1. Joe Crede

Crede wasn’t the only player who owned Royals pitching over the years. Some were definitely more prolific. He just always seemed to own the Royals when I watched, especially in person.

I would not have minded if the player constantly stabbing the dagger was Paul Konerko or Frank Thomas. Fans expect those two sluggers to beat a team. But not Joe Crede.

I added him to the list without looking at his numbers because my hatred of seeing him come to bat is still ingrained in my memory. His career line against the Royals was just .276/.324/.517, though that is certainly better than his career line of .254/.304/.444 — particularly in the power department.

He didn’t own the Royals. Not even close (No. 278 in vs. OPS). But to me, he did. I was happy to see him leave the White Sox in 2007.

  1. John Mayberry

The early ’80s were a different world, and players partied hard. During the 1977 Divisional Series against the Yankees, John Mayberry was so inebriated, he couldn’t even play first base; backup catcher John Wathan had to fill in.

Here’s the story retold by Darin Watson at Baseball Prospectus:

Mayberry showed up late, just minutes before game time. Manager Whitey Herzog put him in the lineup anyway and almost immediately regretted it. Mayberry dropped a couple of throws at first base, dropped a foul popup for an error that extended an inning where the Yankees scored, and struck out twice, one coming with runners at first and third. After four innings, Herzog removed Mayberry from the game and left him out of the lineup in Game Five. The official story was that Mayberry had a toothache and was on pain medicine. But later Herzog would imply that Mayberry was suffering effects from something else after a night of partying with his brothers.

“The man couldn’t even talk, and I knew what was wrong. God only knows the kind of stuff they did. It must have been a hell of a party. It’s just a damned shame, because John Mayberry was actually a wonderful young man. I always loved the way he played.”
– Herzog, with Kevin Horrigan, in White Rat: A Life In Baseball, 1988.

Mayberry was the Royals’ cleanup hitter and they missed his power. He just needed to wait to party until after the World Series.

  1. Jack Morris

No Hall of Fame speech. My dislike started in 1984, the first time I began to religiously follow baseball. Morris and the Tigers steamrolled the Royals on the way to a World Series championship. A few decades later, I still haven’t forgotten the beat down.

Hard to Comp Players

The following comps aren’t fair to anyone one involved. Most of these players are great, and most are Hall of Famers, or may be someday. Which is why it makes my skin crawl when I read about a young, inexperienced player getting compared to these greats. Most of the worst comparisons come when talking to people on the amateur side. They feel they need to show why their untalented son/teammate/boyfriend/client/friend of a friend’s friend will make it big in the majors. If people find themselves using one of the following to compare another player, slap that person (or yourself) and come up with another player. There has to be someone else. Baseball has been around a long time. If no else has pulled off a particular feat yet, don’t expect some future player to do it. They might be uniquely great some day, but you can’t expect someone to be uniquely great.

  1. Nolan Ryan

Pitcher X throws hard. Pitcher X gets hurt. Inevitably, someone will complain about “why can’t pitchers today throw hard and stay healthy like Nolan Ryan?”

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

No pitcher has ever come close to Ryan’s durability and strikeout production. What Ryan did was unbelievable. He was gifted with the greatest right arm in baseball’s history. Maybe someone will get another one, but so far no one has received the gift.

  1. Rickey Henderson

Every team in the game would love to have a hitter with a high on-base percentage and a ton of speed like Henderson. But there was only one Rickey Henderson. He was a top-20 all-time hitter according to WAR. He was one of the greatest ever.

And Henderson doesn’t like when other leadoff greats like Tim Raines and Lou Brock are compared instead. They are in the Hall of Fame with Henderson! How about starting with Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury? It’s just not fair to your leadoff hitter to want to be like Rickey. Rickey is Rickey and odds are future players will always be eating Rickey’s dust.

  1. Jose Altuve

Yes, Jose Altuve is shorter than any major league hitter (Ronald Torreyes raises his beer in thanks of this fact). Why does every vertically-challenged player get labeled with an Altuve comp? Please stop.

Altuve is in the majors because he can consistently hit a major league fastball with decent power. He also has plus speed. And he plays above-average defense at second base.

Does the prospective short player have any of those traits? If a player has skills, teams will find and promote him. His skills, especially his power, will be questioned, but if he continues to produce, he’ll eventually get the call.

Instead of Altuve, why don’t players like David Eckstein or Josh Harrison get comped? Why is it always Altuve? I’m guessing the reason is that Altuve is the most popular not-tall hitter. Maybe people are just too lazy to spend some time and find others players to dream on.

  1. Greg Maddux

Talk about the laziest comp. A light-throwing control pitcher is posting a good ERA so … he’s the next Greg Maddux, right? Try a bit harder. At least start with Mark Buehrle.

Maddux threw with pinpoint control that led to him to have an elite walk rate. Additionally, he had an above-average strike rate for eight seasons and a below-average home run rate for 21 seasons. Twenty-one! Only 26 pitchers have even been starting pitchers for that long, never mind being good starting pitchers for that long. Odds are very high that the next phenom isn’t going to be that good for that long.

And on the whole, he didn’t produce weak contact. Nothing points to that ability besides his low home runs rate. His career ERA was 3.16 and his FIP was 3.26. Maddux pitched like his peripheral stats said he would.

If a light-throwing control pitcher hopes to make it, he needs to miss some bats and keep the ball in the yard, but most importantly walk no one. Absolutely no one. That is how some current soft tossers like Jason Vargas or Kyle Hendricks continue to pitch in this strikeout-dominant era.

  1. Derek Jeter

Once I see Jeter’s name as a player comp, I just space out or move onto another article. Once Jeter moved past being just an athlete to being a celebrity, I quit caring.

Some may find the human/tabloid angles interesting. I don’t. I love the game — the various levels of strategy at the game and organizational levels, superhuman feats I could never think of accomplishing (e.g. hitting a curveball). With the news I digest from baseball, I just want to understand the game’s nuances. I don’t need extra drama in my life — I have two kids. Thanks though.

Not only that, but no future player will be more famous than Jeter! MLB held a “Jeter Week” earlier this season when his number was retired. And now he’s going to own the Marlins! No one should expect to become as famous as Derek Jeter. If you’re peddling that nonsense, kindly get off my lawn.

Players Who Break Analytics

  1. Zack Greinke

The right-hander’s strikeout rate fluctuates more than the USC/Los Angeles Times presidential poll did.

  • Above average
  • Near average
  • Way above average
  • Above average
  • Below average
  • Above average
  • Average
  • Below Average
  • Above Average

Dammit, pick a lane! When a major part of my job is to value players going forward, these extreme production swings makes it nearly impossible, and few exemplify these swings better than Greinke.

  1. Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds makes the list not because of his productive career. Someone had to be the best. When I was selling this article to my editor, he brought up Mike Trout’s early greatness. Greatness isn’t a hindrance in analyzing data. The problem with Bonds was his late-career production was juiced up bigger than his head.

Players don’t age like that. They don’t normally peak at age 37 after having a similar peak earlier. Bonds (and others from that era) made projections and aging curves insane. Here is the hitter aging curve (wRC+) from 1988 (thank you Jose Canseco) to 2005 and one from then on.

Bonds and his merry band of needle users have forced me to include a “since 2006” filter in almost all of my data analysis. I have a feeling the currently juiced ball will also split my future analysis to before and after 2015. It’s just a different game.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.
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Alex Bensky
6 years ago

Yes, I am a Tiger fan, but I still point out that Alan Trammell’s lifetime WAR (per Baseball Reference) is about a game below Jeter’s, yet everyone assumes correctly that Jeter should be a lock for the Hall, and Trammell never got much support.

6 years ago
Reply to  Alex Bensky

I’m a Yankees fan and Trammell definitely gets the short end of the stick on that one. Great career, one team, no gift baskets that I’m aware of. Defense vs offense and marketing, I guess.

6 years ago
Reply to  Alex Bensky

YES! Alan Trammell is a HOF shortstop! The numbers are there. Maybe if he could have done a backflip or two as he went out on the field to play defense…

Jake From State Farm
6 years ago
Reply to  Alex Bensky

Trammell got jobbed badly. It was a disgrace to baseball.

Cool Lester Smooth
6 years ago
Reply to  Alex Bensky

Of course, fWAR has Jeter as roughly 10 wins better (because UZR vs. DRS).

I feel like Trammell gets jobbed because he was above average in every phase of the game, but elite in none of them.

If he had gotten his 70 rWAR with defense like Ozzie, or offense like Jeter, he’d be in.

Instead, he was “just” a +5 defender at SS and a +10 hitter every single year for nearly 20 years.

His career doesn’t have the sexiness that is, for better or worse, a very real part of HoF voting.

Mike Easler
6 years ago

I always cringe when I hear the word “durability” associated with Nolan Ryan. Durability more accurately describes the career of a Jim Kaat or Jamie Moyer, pitchers who didn’t scare anyone, but were more compilers towards the end. Ryan could still dominate at an age when other HOF pitchers had long since retired.

It’s more about being a great, HOF pitcher, than anything else. Durability doesn’t mean you’re HOF quality, it takes something more than that. We’ll likely never see a pitcher like Nolan Ryan again.

Jake From State Farm
6 years ago
Reply to  Mike Easler

We will likely never see another picture like Jamie Moyer, either.

6 years ago

Grew up in the 1970s, but I learned that short players should strive to be like Freddie Patek. Later learned about Wee Willie Keeler.

Rainy Day Women 12x35
6 years ago

I hated Ron Cey. I had a girlfriend for 3 years in the mid to late 70’s who thought he was cute. We were frequent visitors to Dodger games, and every single time we went, Cey would homer to win the game, or make a great play to save the game, or….well you get the idea.

6 years ago

I’ve always liked Pujols, but he’s definitely vexing me now. He’s one of the very worst hitters and players in baseball this season according to metrics like wRC+ and WAR, yet he continues to defy those stats and drive in runs when his team really needs them. He has a shot at another 100 RBI season. Players with negative WAR shouldn’t be able to do this, it gives WAR a bad name.

Jeff even wrote an article about this a couple of months ago, I think it vexes him, too.

87 Cards
6 years ago
Reply to  Andy

To the melody of “You Give Love a Bad Name”:

Shot to the gap
the key run came
Albert you give WAR a bad name

An Angels’ pennant is what you smile
you promise me plus 3, you give me neg -1.4
wRc got a hold on me,
with RISP, its one-quarter and one more

**all stats, 2017 this date; . 261 BA RISP

6 years ago
Reply to  Andy

To be fair, part of it is due to hitting directly behind Mike Trout, but yeah his RBI production this year is about as weird as his completely cratered overall hitting ability this year.

Dennis Bedard
6 years ago

Steve Garvey. Mr. Perfect. To this day, I idolize Marvin Hamlisch.

6 years ago

You were happy to see Crede leave the White Sox in 2007?

He left after 2008. For the Twins. He was chronically injured and not good by then, but he was still eligible to hit against the Royals just as many times each year.

6 years ago

Well, there is a special category of players who bother me, represented best perhaps by Jose Reyes. Thinking about the reception he got upon returning to the Mets makes my skin crawl.

Among players who bother me in a sports sense and no more:

Eric Hosmer is probably right up there. One can just tell that he thinks he’s an elite player. A lot of people also treat him like an elite player, probably because he plays the role so well. I heard a story of scout saying, paraphrased, “you have to be an idiot to think Brandon Belt is better than Eric Hosmer.” Belt has more than double Hosmer’s WAR. It epitomizes unsophisticated, perception-over-reality analysis, one to which some people in baseball apparently still subscribe.

Paul Goldschmidt is probably the primary example of fan-driven ire. Any Dodger fan will understand. “Why pitch to Goldschmidt” is kind of a meme.

And then of course there’s Madison Bumgarner, inferior to Clayton Kershaw in every way except at the time that everyone cares about most. (And dingers, I suppose.) That has probably tortured me more than anything else, that it allows people to even ask the question “who would you rather have?”

Moonlight Graham
6 years ago

If you’re a White Sox fan, you hate Ryan Rayburn.

Joe Pancake
6 years ago

David Ortiz. My Red Sox fan friends are all in irrational denial about his PED links, and they overstate his clutchness. Also, I have a feeling he is going to make the Hall of Fame and Edgar Martinez isn’t despite being the clearly superior hitter (and all around player).

(With that said his “our f**king city” quote was great.)

6 years ago
Reply to  Joe Pancake

I can’t help but like Ortiz, but yes, it will also bug me greatly if he makes the hall and Edgar never does.

6 years ago

Whatever Altuve’s merits are, he does not play above-average defense at second base.

Herb Smith
6 years ago

Can we stop with the laudatory Nolan Ryan comments and worship, and admit that his late-career spike was due to the same reason as Bonds’s?
6 years ago

Thanks for sharing about the ten players who vex the most and love the narrative part