Saturday, December 01, 2007

Defensively Speaking*

I've been all over the park on Julio Lugo offensively, from "he's way overrated", to "I was wrong", and finally "I was wrong about being wrong". In the end, whether it was sunspots, Tarot, or astrology, Lugo got the last laugh. But what about the defensive measure of the shortstop and other musings?

I know this crowd moved far past range factor and zone ratings to evaluate shortstops, but let's look at a couple of integrated models.

First, David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range. You've gotta love the title, because it sounds like you need a P.H.D. to understand it, but second it breaks down performance to a couple of decimal points, which reminds me of how we insanely pay homage to statistics beyond validity. But I digress.

At the top of Pinto's points come the Colorado Rockies and Troy Tulowitzki. Our sample size of Tulowitzki was small, because we'd have to rate him the most overrated player since Mike Greenwell, although to be fair, we only saw FOUR games. Maybe if he had done anything, we might have seen more. Julio Lugo appears in the top third, and first ballot Hall of Famer (yes, going to happen) Derek Jeter was 38 of 39. Jeter gets remembered for his World Series flip, quarterback jump pass on the backhand, and dive into the stands at Yankee Stadium (all memorable). But his defensive body of work gets dwarfed by his offense, his branding as a winner, and his ability to carry himself with class amidst the circus that is New York.

Using Bill James' Win Shares, the proprietary model of the Sox consultant, we see both the compendium of offensive and defensive inputs. Here Lugo doesn't fare so well, while Tulowitzki and Jeter look much better (which of course they should). Tulowitzki comes out at the top here, Lugo in the middle, and Jeter not so bad, but still not great. A defensive whiz like Adam Everett barely shows up because he didn't play that much. Jacoby Ellsbury had six win shares in 33 games, and we're not talking 33 starts either. That pro-rates to almost 30 over a full season, which is in MVP consideration territory. Do you think the Sox are trading away that kind of production POTENTIAL? I don't.

Numbers certainly don't comprise the sole measure of players' worth or relative performance. But they do allow trending, projection, and comparison with players in different situations and different eras.

Money means something else entirely. Maybe Andruw Jones will get fifteen million bucks annually with some Borassian cookbook showing how Andruw really was still great and that last season was an aberration. But if he does get megabucks, that reflects the state of the industry, ownerships' ability to get snookered by Boras, and the desperation of teams to overpay for under achievement.

*Inspiration provided by Rob Neyer's column on

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