One of the most basic aspects of running a team is proper player evaluation. It's a rather elusive thing sometimes, because you're always worried more about the uncertain future with only the past as your guide. One of the most difficult things to reconcile in player analysis has been the relative importance and actual value for an individual's defense. Sophisticated measures are beginning to arrive for estimating actual runs prevented by an individuals' defense, but these metrics are far from finished products. I don't have access to any of these more fancy defensive systems, so for this column I relied on a bit older stats: range factor and zone rating. My goal for this column is to see where our starter at each offensive position ranks compared to what everyone else is throwing out there as a starter. To arrive a total player ranking, I ranked each team starter in offense (EQA), and defense (an average of their ZR ranking and Range factor ranking). I weighted the offensive and defensive ranking for each player as follows: SS, CF, and 2B were ranked 2/3 on offense and 1/3 on defense. 3B, C, and RF used a 5/6, 1/6 split (for catchers I used only CS% for defensive ranking). First basemen and LF had an 11/12, 1/12 split.
Some words of explanation/justification... ZR and RF both have flaws individually, but together they make a reasonable defensive estimation, though RF for 1st basemen isn't very meaningful, and both metrics are meaningless for catchers. I didn't have a substitute for 1st basemen, so I kept RF. For catchers I just used CS%, and not anything fancier to account for the number of attempts, because the percentage most clearly reflects the actual skill level in my opinion, though how often people are running does impact the runs allowed column more. The various weightings are entirely subjective based on my own opinions of about how important offense and defense is at each position. The goal here is to get a close estimate of where the positions on our team rank relative to the league for the most part as long as your within a couple of spots either way that's good enough. This is also why I freely admit to using some selectivity in deciding who the "starter" was for each position on all of the teams. I tried to take the guy with the most PA's in general or the better offensive performer, if there were a couple of players who were close. One of the down shots is that for a few of the players their actual time at a given position was less than desirable for defensive sampling, but like I said close is good enough ranking 22, 20 or 18th doesn't matter much other than to say your guy isn't that great. So without further do the Brewers starting 8 and their rank (low good, high bad).
|C Robert Machado||5|
|1B Richie Sexson||12|
|2B Eric Young||13|
|3B Tyler Houston||8|
|SS Jose Hernandez||2|
|LF Geoff Jenkins||20|
|CF Alex Sanchez||15|
|RF Matt Stairs||20|
I used Machado because he is our best catcher; his offense has been very good both in Chicago and here. In his midseason grades (brewerfan.net message forum user) Geno noted that Machado was only 4-14 on CS, but prior to the trade he had done much better in Chicago and has a pretty good track record with the arm. I'm not sure a 5 ranking is justified just yet, but then again the drop-off after Piazza, LoDuca, a healthy Irod, and Posada is steep. Nevertheless, I think we have the best catcher in the division assuming his offensive blossoming is real.
Richie didn't fair all that well, but keep in mind that very little credit was given to 1st base defense and he still has a sub .900 OPS. Should Richie have one of his second half binges he'll jump quite a ways. Despite our opinions of his defense Richie faired very poorly, RF I could ignore but his ZR score was 19th. These may undervalue his contributions at preventing errors though. The matter is far from settled.
Eric Young coming in at 13 was a big surprise. His EQA was a more expected 17th, but he did very well defensively with an 8th ZR rank. Defense not as bad as advertised? That would fit with my team defense article. Once again I find more questions than answers.
Houston is not a major surprise at third with an 8 ranking thanks to that late May through June run his offense was ranked 6th while his defense was the second worst (Travis Fryman) at the hot corner. It's possible that Jose is responsible for some of that, as the people at Diamond Mind noted a few years ago some great range players tend to take away assists from other plays, which lowers their RF quite a bit.
Drum roll please for the second best SS in baseball: Jose Hernandez. Despite the audacity of that statement I'm comfortable with it. Arod is a clear number one with pretty good defensive numbers and a huge offensive edge that only exacerbates the true difference in value between him and the second tier of good SS. The second tier is all clustered offensively with EQA's within 13 points top to bottom. At such a critical defensive position defense is the separator. Jose garners the second best defensive score (Mike Bordick) and as such shoots to the top, leapfrogging the rest of the group that fairs not so well defensively especially one Derek "pretty boy" Jeter who to everyone outside of NY is becoming the consensus worst defensive SS in baseball.
Despite the injury, I used Jenkins as our starting LF, and now you can see where the team starts to be weighed down. Geoff ranked 20th in EQA and even a pretty good defensive showing (7th in ZR) couldn't move him up, mostly because he was surrounded by other low hit good glove LF's like Carlos Lee, Jose Cruz, and Eric Owens. As we all know Geoff could potentially be a top 5 LF, and looking at who is their now he'd be the best defender. But alas Jenkins is yet another example of Brewers turning potential into a 4 letter word.
CF Alex ranks right in the middle, though players in the middle are closer to the bottom than the top. He ranked 17th in EQA, and had an odd defensive split, ranking 5th in RF but 23rd in ZR. There are 2 possibilities; one Alex is vulturing long fly balls from other OF's zones. This would work with his perceived skill set which poor jumps are allowing more line drives to fall, but great speed to track down flies. A more likely explanation is that batters are just hitting a lot of balls into his zone.
Finally RF, where I used Matt Stairs instead of Hammonds or Ochoa though I believe all would have garnered a similar score with Ochoa being a superior defender, but weaker on the stick while Hammonds would have fallen in the middle offensively and defensively. Stairs ranked 17th in EQA, but had the worst defensive statistics.
It would clearly seem that the biggest team weakness is in the OF, while the IF does fairly well. It's worth noting though that this rank system is deceptive because of non-linear distribution of player value. The guys at the top of each position tend to be worth a lot more, and I'd wager that a team is better off with a couple of players being the best at their positions and a collection of stiffs, then having it populated with average players.
Some other thoughts using this data set as a guide for contending GMs. The biggest one that jumps out at me is Arizona. Tony Womack is as bad defensively as Jeter, but contributes none of the stick. A deal to acquire Jose would be a huge lift for this club, and the defense alone would make the end of their rotation more stable for the stretch run. Brenly should be offering to take a pay cut to get Jose. Second base looks like the biggest weakness among contending teams with Atl, Stl, Min, LA, and Oak all ranking 20th or below. Of these LA is the one that could use the upgrade the most, and with Lo hitting swapping Mark for Mark and a prospect would be useful for LA. No surprise that a couple of contenders have gapping 3rd base holes too with LA and Atl being most in need of upgrades. Mark and Tyler for Mark and Beltre?
Player of the Week
I was hoping in this short week of play that this award would go to a local All-star hero, but alas none where born, no game winning HRs or hits, and while Richie did well in the HR derby it was nothing memorable. This left me to look around at how everyone did over the weekend in Cincy. A number of players had pretty good weekends, Sanchez and EY had multi-multi hit games. Richie did OK, but the cake goes the Hammonds with 2HRs and 2 multi hit games over the weekend raising his OPS over 30 points.