Effect of Defense on Run Production to Maintain Average Performance
(Part 2 of 2: Catcher and Outfield)
January 21, 2009by Jon Shepherd
In Part 1, we generated several illustrations to indicate how much offensive production is required to wind up with an average infield player given certain levels of defensive aptitude. Part 2 continues with the previous analysis, but focuses on the outfield and catcher.
The methods have been set forth in part 1. The average OBP and SLG used in this Part 2 are listed in the table to the right. Examples of players are given for the outfield positions, but not for the catchers. It is uncertain to the author how exactly to quantify catching defensive worth. I would also like to explicitly mention something again that some found confusing in Part 1. All I am doing here is providing a connection between offensive production and defensive production using OBP and SLG. What someone needs to do to use these graphs is figure out how many runs on defense a player saves or costs. The examples I use in this article are based on last year's offensive numbers and a qualitative approximation of defensive value based on a consensus of UZR/150, Dewan, my system using RZR, and scouting reports.
Catcher is probably the position with the most difficult scenario to determine defensive worth. The ability to throw out ball players, prevent chances being taken for stolen bases, prevent wild pitches and passed balls, calling a game, and technique around the plate on throws home. I'm not aware of a useable format to collapse all of these variables. It probably exists somewhere. Some form may be available to the public. I am not aware of it though. So, in light of that . . . to the left is a chart depicting what type of production would be needed with respect to defensive prowess.
This corner outfield position has lately become a slot where teams stick poor fielders not relegated to 1B/DH due to footspeed or further defensive ineptitude. One such outfielder is Adam Dunn. He is one of the worst left fielders in baseball and costs his team about 20 runs. His bat though has been solid enough to result in a total player who is slightly above average. If he is able to continue hitting like he has been and not have his fielding degrade anymore . . . he is probably worth about 12-14MM a year. Of course, if he suffers any degradation of talent, his value will collapse. Baltimore's Luke Scott is being used here as representative of an average fielding left fielder. His season last year was also quite average offensively. His overall value will take a slight hit as it appears he is headed toward being a DH with Baltimore's recent acquisition of Feliz Pie. Finally, Jacoby Elsbury played a stellar left field as he saved over 20 runs last year if you project his left field performance over the course of the year. With that level of defense, even if he maintains a 720ops, he rates as an above average left fielder. If Jason Bay reverts to a -10 run defense, he is more valuable than Elsbury as a left fielder. If his -15 run defense degrades more, the Red Sox may think twice about extending him. Although, his bat probably will sustain 4 or 5 years at DH.
Center FieldOffensive production from center field is similar to what is expected from second base. Of course, this position is typically more difficult to play. Aaron Rowand signed a nice contract last year after a surprising year in Philly. His offense in 2007 over-compensated for his defensive deficiencies. In 2008, his offensive numbers dropped more in line with his career average, exposing him as a below-average center fielder. There are 4 years and 48MM left on that deal. Ichiro rates as an average center fielder these days and his bat also rates as average. Finally, Carlos Gomez played a great center field last season for the Twins. His bat was pretty dreadful and he rated out as below average as a player. He was only 22 last year, so his hitting should get a little better and his defense should maintain this high level for a few seasons.
Right FieldThe last position in this series is the position with the second most run production, trailing only first base. An example of a great outfielder is Randy Winn who has been performing well the past two seasons in the Giants's right field. His offensive numbers are rather average for a right fielder, but his defense is so good it makes Winn two wins better than average and one of the better right fielders in the game last year. Another player who is worth about two wins more than average is Nick Markakis. His defense rates as about average, although with his arm he probably saves about 8-10 more runs a season. Assuming he is just average in the field, he still rates out as one of the best right fielders in the game. Finally, Bobby Abreu is our example of a defenisvely inept right fielder. The Yankees just might have known what they were doing when they decided not to offer arbitration as he is almost 10 runs worse than average based on this metric system.
ConclusionAlthough not explicitly discussed in this section, the numbers here in general agree with the valuations over at FanGraphs. The method developed here is a bit more simplistic than what is done over there. The purpose here was to provide a quick set of illustrations to determine how a player rates with respect to his fielding and offense. Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of this study is recognizing that defensively adept center fielders may be utilized as a left fielder and deliver above average performance by buffering his bat with his glove.