Sunday, February 15, 2004


In a comment to my previous entry about A-Rod becoming the greatest 3B of all time to spare Jeter's ego, Niles suggested that A-Rod wouldn't even be as good (defensively, at least) as Eric Chavez.

That wasn't meant as a criticism, I don't think, just that perhaps I had overestimated A-Rod's prowess.

Frankly, I didn't buy it. Clearly, being among the best SS would make you a better fielder than the best 3B, right?

So I decided to put some research into it, and found this interesting study by Tangotiger. Using MGL's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Tangotiger calculated a True Fielding Level Talent to guestimate a way to rank players' fielding abilities across different positions.

Sure enough, Eric Chavez does rate slightly higher than Rodriguez. Both are among the better fielders in baseball, but Chavez rates +11 runs better than average in True Talent, while A-Rod only +10 runs. (Sorry for doubting you, Niles, but at least it was close enough that I don't come off as an idiot. Besides, I'll even give Chavez a definitive edge considering he's actually been playing the position all these years.)

UZR and Tangotiger's charts suggest that Chavez is not the gold standard for 3B, however. Scott Rolen, Placido Polanco, and David Bell all rate +19 runs better than average.

What's really interesting is that Tangotiger then extracted these True Talent Rating Levels and applied them to different positions, suggesting how a given player's defensive abilities at his normal position might translate to others. In the case of Eric Chavez, his True Talent Rating Level of 11 means he'd be +8 runs above the average SS, +7 runs above the average CF, and +18 runs above the average 1B. (Obviously, this doesn't mean the A's would be better off moving Chavez to 1B, since even the average 3B prevents more runs and has more chances than the average 1B.)

So, what's to stop us from using these numbers to guestimate how the different possible configurations of the left side of the Yankee infield might fare in 2004.

With a True Talent of 10, Alex Rodriguez rates +7 runs better than the average SS.

Mr. Clutch, however, with a dismal -12 True Talent Rating Level, is actually -23 runs worse than the average SS. (Yes, that places him dead last among all shortstops. It's basically as bad as Jason Giambi would be at SS. Honest.)

Alex Rodriguez rates +10 runs better than the average 3B, and Jeter -14 runs worse than the average 3B.

So, taking out our calculators, we find... a Yankee defense of A-Rod at SS and Jeter at 3B would be about -7 runs worse than the average SS-3B combo. Considering they'll easily out-hit any other duo (only Rolen and Renteria, a combined +25 runs better than average, would come close), I think it'd be worth it.

But with Jeter staying at SS as planned and A-Rod moving to 3B, they'll be -13 runs worse than average.

Now, A-Rod rates higher defensively than Aaron Boone, and only a little less than Robin Ventura, and the Yanks were still good enough to make it to the World Series again last year, and considering A-Rod will handily out hit them, keeping Mr. Clutch happy probably isn't the end of the world. Just getting A-Rod, regardless of where he plays, is a massive improvement.

Tangotiger cautions not to take the results too seriously, and off the top of my head I can think of a bunch of problems with using this data scientifically considering different positions require different skills that can be learned to compensate for athletic ability.

But considering the only position where Jeter might actually be about average defensively is at 1B, I think it's clear that for the sake of fairness and in the interest of baseball fans everywhere the only option is for the Yankees to move Giambi to SS.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?