A rough ride

The first half of 2021 was (very) unpleasant for Kevin Newman and Elvis Andrus

Kevin Newman enjoyed an unexpectedly strong rookie season in 2019.

The departure of Jordy Mercer as a free agent left the Pittsburgh Pirates with a hole at shortstop, a void nicely filled by Newman. He batted a robust .308 (57 points better than Mercer the year before) with 12 home runs and 16 stolen bases. His future seemed bright indeed.

But 2021 has been a much different story. Newman reached the halfway point of the year with a .208 average, two homers, and two steals. His numbers were as bleak as the Pirates’ anemic winning percentage.

I focused on the best players of the half-season earlier this week, using base value (BV) as my measure. (Click here for details.) I’m using the same yardstick today to identify the players who struggled the most in April, May, and June.

Let me insert a quick reminder that all stats are as of July 3. Yes, that was nearly a week ago, but July 3 was the cutoff for Tuesday’s installment. I think it’s best to use the same frame of reference today.

Nobody in the majors had a rougher first half than Newman. He reached 92 bases (through hits, walks, hit batsmen, steals, and sacrifices) and made 222 outs. That yields an average of .414 bases per out (BPO), which compares unfavorably to the collective major-league BPO of .678 for the first half.

Think of it this way: The typical big leaguer would have reached 150 bases in Newman’s circumstances, as determined by multiplying his 222 outs by .678. Newman’s total of 92 bases falls 58 below that benchmark, giving him a BV of minus-58, the worst in the majors.

That puts Newman at the top of my midseason rankings for a mythical (and unhappy) distinction, Least Valuable Player of the National League. Fellow Pirate Erik Gonzalez is the runner-up with a BV of minus-42.

The numbers are less extreme in the American League, and the competition is more intense. Elvis Andrus of the Athletics holds a narrow lead in the LVP race with a BV of minus-37 at the halfway point, followed by Jose Trevino of the Rangers at minus-36 and Hunter Dozier of the Royals at minus-34.

Pitchers, of course, also get their due in my midseason review.

The best of them are in the hunt for the Cy Young Award, which we covered on Tuesday. I’ve dubbed the reverse distinction the Milt Gaston Award, which is named after an old-timer who still holds the record for the worst winning percentage accumulated by any big-league pitcher with at least 250 decisions.

The Gaston goes to the pitcher in each league who piles up the highest positive base value, indicating that he has surrendered the most bases in comparison to the major-league average.

Brad Keller, a starter for the Kansas City Royals, has endured a rough season by any measure — a 6.39 earned run average, a .328 batting average against him, and nine losses by midyear.

Keller allowed 229 bases and secured 246 outs in the first half of 2021, resulting in a bloated BPO of .931. A typical big leaguer (based on a BPO of .678) would have surrendered 167 bases in Keller’s situation, leaving him with a BV of plus-62 and a comfortable lead in the AL’s Gaston standings. Matt Harvey of the Orioles and Matt Shoemaker of the Twins are tied for second.

Running first and second in the National League’s midyear Gaston rankings are Jake Arrieta of the Cubs and Mitch Keller of the Pirates. Arrieta’s base value of plus-43 puts him two ahead of Mitch Keller (who is unrelated to Brad).

Below are lists of the batters and pitchers who struggled the most during the first half of 2021, followed by the worst base values on every team.

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American League LVP

National League LVP

American League Milt Gaston

National League Milt Gaston

Team leaders