In April, when Jimmy Rollins went on the DL for an injury sustained while coming out for player introductions at the home opener, the Phillies called up a 32-year-old career minor league journeyman to fill a spot on the bench while Juan Castro deputized for Rollins. This man was such a nonentity that my only reaction was to say “I hear he’s a slick fielder” when I found out his last name: Valdez.
Valdez is the “replacement player” of “wins above replacement player”. Every team has at least one Wilson Valdez: a minor league veteran who, in case of injury, can be called up to fill a hole in the lineup and contribute just enough to keep his manager from wishing he were playing with only eight players in the lineup. In 2010, Valdez did that, plus a little extra, combining outstanding defensive performance with as bad an offensive season as you’d ever want to see. According to FanGraphs, Valdez’s career year resulted in 0.9 wins above replacement, a little better than we could have expected. For comparison, J.J. Hardy (a decent shortstop) posted 2.4 WAR, while Troy Tulowitzki led all major league shortstops with 6.4 WAR. Valdez was 30th in WAR among shortstops with 250 or more plate appearances in 2010; considering the circumstances, that’s certainly worth being happy about.
What I don’t understand is how he became a folk hero. Near the end of the season, I wrote this about Valdez’s historic proclivity to ground into double plays and got more than 100 comments (since lost in the site update last month) questioning my intelligence, motives, and worth as a human being. I later got into a shouting match with a relative stranger at a bar when he suggested that he’d rather have Wilson Valdez come up in a clutch situation than Jayson Werth. Then, a reader called Inquirer Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb “obtuse” for having the gall suggesting Valdez isn’t a stone cold lock to make the team out of spring training. And apparently that was just the beginning.
I don’t have anything against Wilson Valdez. Phillies prospect Jarred Cosart was taking questions over Twitter the other day, so I asked him, in the light of the attack on Matt Gelb from the Church of Wilson Valdez, for his opinion. His response: “he’s a good defensive player who is just a fill in guy.” Right on: great glove, bad bat, nothing particularly special. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with Valdez as a player (or, as far as I know, as a person), or being a fan of Valdez. But neither is he a special player–Gelb listed, in his article, three other Phillies minor leaguers just like him.
So I pose the question to the public, because I just don’t understand it: Why do Phillies fans have this bizarre fascination with, and love for, Wilson Valdez? It doesn’t make any sense, and I need it explained.