announced that Mark Reynolds reprieve from third base has ended and he will return to the position that so flummoxed him in 2011. It was an awful season. A season where many of us winced when batted balls suggested they were heading to the hot corner. Over at Camden Chat, Andrew expressed his negative reaction upon hearing the news. I would be surprised if he was alone in his frustration. Me? I shrugged. I find myself shrugging a lot lately. In this post, I would like to go beyond shrugging and try to understand what Reynolds did last year and how that informs us on what should be done with him this year given the current roster.
First, it is good to look at the numbers in a historical context. In 114 games at third, Reynolds' defense was measured as -18 runs there. That equals what Bob Aspromonte (1967; 144 games), Todd Zeile (1993; 153 games), David Wright (2009; 142 games), and Danny Valencia (2011; 147 games). Reynolds accumulated that deficit while playing about 30 fewer games than the players he tied.
As you would expect, those with greater deficits typically played fewer games at the hot corner. Worse seasons were Greg Norton's (1999; -19; 120 games), Jim Presley's (1990; -20; 133 games), Joel Youngblood's (1984; -21; 117 games), Toby Harrah's (1979; -21; 127 games), Fernando Tatis' (1999; -22; 147 games), Edwin Encarnacion's (2007; -22; 137 games), Mark Teahan's (2005; -24; 128 games), Joe Torre's (1971; -25; 161 games), Ty Wigginton's (2003; -28; 155 games), Gary Sheffield's (1993; -31; 133 games), and Ryan Braun's (2007; -35; 112). Braun's season is of special note because his rate of losing a run every 3.2 games is almost twice as unproductive as Reynolds' rate (6.3 games per lost run). Keep in mind though that in general, a bad defensive third baseman is one who loses a run every 15 games. Reynolds certainly was not the historically worst third baseman to log significant time in the field, but he was the worst regular with only Houston's Chris Johnson as his only serious competitor.
So...why push him back to third base after such a dreadful, soul crushing year? Well, Reynolds wanted to go back to third. A player's wishes only go so far though, so those wishes had to be in concert with what the organization as a whole wanted to do. Reynolds' 2007 year may be a bit of a career year in terms of awfulness. He has typically been a player who would give up about 10 runs over the course of 150 games. That fits neatly with the one lost run every 15 games level of badness. His ability to take a walk and to force fresh white baseballs into the pitcher's hand for the subsequent batter has typically more than made up for his glove of stone. You could suggest that his 2011 year was not indicative of his true talent level and that he will regress upward to being bad at third instead of being somewhat historically bad. You could also suggest that even though the 27-30 age seasons are a time of offensive peaking that this is about the time where defense begins to deteriorate for many players.
For this post, I decided that it might be good to compare how the roster could fill in with Mark Reynolds at a variety of positions. For simplicity's sake, I used the Bill James projections (which always feel optimistic, but perform just as well as any of the others) available at Fangraphs. I projected WAR for each player by using the OBP/SLG projections, scaling them over 600 plate appearances, and predicting defensive capability.
For Mark Reynolds, I projected him as a 1B, 3B, LF, and DH. You my remember that in the beginning of the off season that I suggested that the Orioles think about sending Reynolds to left. That never happened, but I can still dream. I foresaw him being worth -10 runs at 1B, -15 runs at 3B, and -10 in left field. His WAR would be 2.3 at 1B, 3.2 at 3B, 2.8 in LF, and 2.6 as DH. The 2.8 WAR in LF with a -10 run defense still says to me that he should be trotted out there. He has athleticism.
Other options at first base include Chris Davis (2.8 WAR, -5 runs) and Nolan Reimold (1.5 WAR, -10 runs). I projected the Robert Andino / Matt Antonelli / Ryan Flaherty combination as worth 1.2 WAR. Other options at third were the combo at 1.2 WAR and Chris Davis (2.7 WAR, a potentially kind -10 runs). In left field, Reynolds would have company with Nolan Reimold (2.2 WAR, -5 runs) and Endy Chavez (2.1 WAR, +15 runs). Finally, DH could also be manned by Chris Davis (2 WAR) or Nolan Reimold (1.8 WAR).
Mark Reynolds at First Base
With Reynolds at 1B and earning 2.3 WAR the following is the best setup according to the projections: 3B Chris Davis (2.7 WAR), LF Endy Chavez (2.1 WAR), and DH Nolan Reimold (1.8 WAR). 8.9 WAR
Mark Reynolds at Third Base
Reynolds is slated for 3.2 WAR at third with 1B Chris Davis (2.8 WAR), LF Endy Chavez (2.1 WAR), and DH Nolan Reimold (1.8 WAR). 9.9 WAR
Mark Reynolds in Left Field
We start with a conservative 2.8 WAR for Reynolds with 1B Chris Davis (2.8 WAR), 3B Combo (1.2 WAR), DH Nolan Reimold (1.8 WAR). 8.6 WAR
Mark Reynolds as Designated Hitter
DH Mark Reynolds (2.6 WAR), 1B Nolan Reimold (1.5 WAR), 3B Chris Davis (2.7 WAR), LF Endy Chavez (2.1 WAR). 8.9 WAR
Based on the above projections, the Orioles placing Reynolds at third base gives them 11% more projected production from the current roster. Even a best case scenario where Reynolds would provide league average defense in left field would not be more productive than the current set up with him at third base.
Additionally, this little exercise made me aware of something else: Endy Chavez is likely to be a full timer this year in left field. The only things preventing him from doing so would be Nolan Reimold taking another step forward firming his grip on LF, Jai Miller all of a sudden figuring things out, or an injury.
I am shrugging.