How to improve by doing nothing 

June, 8, 2010

With one-third of the baseball season now behind us, some teams have been bitter disappointments, while others are proving to be happy surprises. Tuesday's question: Over the rest of the year, which clubs are poised to shift from one category to the other -- by doing pretty much nothing?

There are two basic ways for a team to improve without doing much of anything at all. One is to just stop fielding players who are below replacement level. Replacement level, as I've harped on before, is the threshold of talent available to clubs at minimum cost -- basically Quadruple-A guys. Since replacement-level players are by definition, um, replaceable, you might think no team would go for long playing anybody who's worse than replacement. But you'd be wrong. Sometimes it's not clear whether a player has fallen off a cliff or is just in a terrible slump; at the moment, Raul Ibanez and Carlos Pena are both below replacement value, but their teams understandably will continue to play them because of their strong track records. More dubious are the organizations that just don't seem to understand the concept of replacement value: Eight teams are giving regular at-bats to multiple below-replacement-level players. You can see which franchises are throwing away the most money by taking those scrubs' salaries and further subtracting the dollar cost of their wins below replacement, available here at FanGraphs.

Peter Keating

ESPN Senior Writer
Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. His column, The Numbers, appears in every issue.