11 April 2008

Scott Moore vs the Defensive Spectrum

Scott Moore officially began his attempt to swim against the current last night.
Moore fielded two ground balls cleanly but was unable to come up with Michael Young's hard grounder in the third inning.

Moore was pinch hit for at the top of the seventh in hope of pushing the game into the win column. All in all, not that bad of a first game at second base. He was fairly competent out there, but did not seem to field as well as Brian Roberts, who can be kindly said as being slightly above average as a defender. So, switching from third base to second base. What is Moore up against?

The venerable Bill James.

Back in the 80s, James devised the defensive spectrum. The defensive spectrum suggests that there is a hierarchy of skill associated to each position. The order is as follows from most skill to least skill:

Second Base
Third Base
First Base

The thought is that it is quite difficult to move up. If a shift in defensive position occurs, then it will be downward. That is not to say that any shift downward will be successful. We can all remember Jay Gibbons and Javy Lopez. They shifted downward and could not be competent at 1B. Some skill sets that are advantageous for one position may not be useful to another and vice versa. For instance, I imagine it would be rare for a catcher to be able to successfully convert to being a centerfielder. It has been done (i.e., Biggio), but it is rare. I cannot think of a single instance where a centerfielder became a successful catcher (someone want to doublecheck that?).

There is something unspoken about the defensive spectrum. The indirect effects on offense. As defense becomes a premium, a lesser level of offense is tolerated. Luis Hernandez had a slight chance of being called to the majors as a light hitting defensive wiz at shortstop. If you shift him to first and have his glove anointed by St. Peter, yet keep his bat the same . . . he would be riding the pine in Quibor. To this extent, even if Javy and Jay could have played first base . . . they would have been relatively worthless as firstbasemen in terms of offensive production. In 2007, the defensive spectrum had OPS+ as follows:

Catcher (88 OPS+)
Shortstop (88 OPS+)
Second Base (99 OPS+)
Centerfield (98 OPS+)
Third Base (100 OPS+)
Rightfield (116 OPS+)
Leftfield (100 OPS+)
First Base (108 OPS+)

This line of thinking remains relatively true. I imagine if you combine several seasons together it would wash out that bottom end. Last year seems to have been an amazing success for right fielders. In 2006, that bottom three slots were 110, 105, and 111 collectively. I doubt that LF has become more difficult to defend and imagine that LF has now become a spot to just throw people who have no real position. Typically, these guys would be on the bench or at DH. It is becoming more and more common though to have a full time DH. It is also becoming more common to throw your mistake free agent purchases in LF (read: Jay Payton). Right field is so important defensively on extra base hits that you cannot simply hide people there and Magglio Ordonez and Vladimir Guerrero help push things up offensively. Another interesting thing is how second base has become more and more of an offensive position over recent years with the emergence of guys like Robinson Cano and Brian Roberts.

So what about Moore?

Traditionally, his bat would make him more valuable at second base than third base. However, more and more production is coming from that position. The question is it because traditional secondbasemen are developing more power OR defensive ability is now being downplayed at the position (did Soriano and the Yanks start this?). I would have to think it would be the latter. Fringe guys who should be in left field or third base are being put at second to get more production from that position. Moore's background as an amateur SS should help him somewhat, but playing middle infield several years ago at a lower competition level and learning second base in the majors is quite different. His body shape has also changed. He is still quite athletic and people tend to think he could be passable at second . . . he is a more natural thirdbaseman at this point in his career.

I figure as soon as Mora leaves, he will shift back. The only way he can stay at second base would be that his hitting develops to the point that his defense is not considered as much of a liability. In simple OPS+ terms, he needs to do about 115 . . . which is about where Brian Roberts is. At third base, he can be a viable major leaguer if he can hit consistently around 100-105. I would think if he dips below either of these, he is not helping the team. If he can hit these consistently, then he can probably be a fringe starter until age 30. In the former case (115 OPS+), he would need to be switched to a less demanding position. In the latter case (105 OPS+), he needs to find a comfortable place on the bench or in the stands. I like him. I wouldn't give up on him, but I would not expect him to ever be considered one of the best at his position. Someone like Todd Walker would be the best I would hope for.

And, I am heading out of Camden Depot for the weekend.

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