Position Roundtables: Starting Shortstop

Dave · February 18, 2005 at 11:17 am · Filed Under 2005 Roundtables, Mariners 

Dave: Starting Shortstop: Pokey Reese

There aren’t a ton of things in baseball that die hard statistical
analysts and old school scouts will agree on. When you find something
that is being trumpeted as truth by both communities, well, you can be
nearly certain its true. One of these rare truths is that Pokey Reese
is an amazing defensive player, one of the two or three best gloveman
in the game, regardless of position.

Scouts have been raving about Reese’s defensive prowess for nearly a
decade. His defense was the main reason the Mariners tried to acquire
him as the centerpiece of the Ken Griffey Jr trade five years ago.
He’s kept a job in baseball despite hitting like a pitcher for the
past two seasons simply because scouts have seen him vacuum up every
ball that came his way.

In the past couple of seasons, more advanced statistical defensive
metrics have risen to the surface, such as Ultimate Zone Rating,
Defensive Regression Analysis, and the Probablistic Model of Range, as
well as Diamond Mind’s proprietary defensive ratings. UZR, PMR, and
Diamond Mind all base their ratings on specific play by play zone data
that is far more accurate than older, basically worthless stats like
Zone Rating. None of these models are perfect, and we still have a
ways to go in being able to accurately measure defensive performance
statistically, but the consenus among these rankings is clear; Pokey
Reese is worth something like 30 runs with his glove over the course
of a full season. UZR and PRM say about 27; DRA says about 32, and
Diamond Mind consistently gives him the best rating possible.

The only players who even perform at similar levels on a consistent
basis are Darin Erstad (as a center fielder), Mike Cameron, and Scott
Rolen. Saving 30 runs with the glove in one season is basically a
hall of fame type performance defensively, an elite level that few
players can reach.

30 runs is huge, either offensively or defensively. Keep in mind that
Bobby Crosby, last years American League Rookie of the year, only
created 23 runs with his bat. Edgar Renteria, he of the new 4 year,
$40 million contract, created 27 runs with his bat. Even if Reese
doesn’t hit better than .220/.280/.290, he’s still a valuable everyday
player simply based on his glove. For just over a million dollars,
the M’s purchased, arguably, the best defensive player in the game.
That’s just a ridiculous bargain for what he brings to the table.

Jeff: In 1999, Prince could finally party like he’d
always wanted to, the Matrix did for plastic pants what LL Cool J did
for the kangol hat, and something called Napster changed the mix tape
industry forever.

Oh, and 1999 was also the last time Pokey Reese played more than
135 games in a year. He was 26 years old.

Dave’s point about consensus (among people, and among existing
imperfect defensive metrics) is astute. Like blind men attempting to
describe an elephant, basing opinions on only one piece of the puzzle
is often unwise. The fact that Pokey’s glove is respected almost
universally, by baseball minds and by the numbers, is revealing and

Then there’s the injury issue.

A contrarian would point out that Dave’s 30 runs saved figure assumes
Pokey is on the field a lot more than he’s likely to be. A contrarian would
say that this is a guy who played 149 games at his peak, and the last three
years has played 119, 37 and 96, respectively.

Fortunately, I’m not a contrarian. I’m also on the Pokey bandwagon. His
penchant for getting nicked up, though, almost ensures you will hear in
2005 four words you never wanted to hear again:

Willie Bloomquist, starting shortstop.

I love having Reese on the team, think he was a great value signing, and
am excited to watch him for a number of reasons non-statistical. His cockeyed
cap, gleam-eyed love for game and enormous uniform are all a pleasure to watch.

He’ll turn 32 in the middle of this season, though, so maybe I won’t get
to watch him as much as I’d like.

While you’re lighting that candle for King Felix, it couldn’t hurt to throw
an extra thought out there for Pokey.

Jason: OK, so I guess this means I’m the designated
“negative” on Pokey Reese?

It’s actually tough. Sure, he can’t hit a lick — but he’s not supposed to.
If the M’s lose 100 games this season and Reese hits .200, nobody will blame
Pokey for the team’s offensive failings.

At the risk of reading too much into his stat lines, it appears he hits
significantly better when he gets decent playing time. Of course,
significantly better for Reese means a .700 OPS (1999, 2000, close in 2002)
as opposed to anemic .600 or worse seasons like he posted in 2001 and each
of the past two seasons. Again, there’s a positive correlation between his
playing time and his offense, which would appear to be a benefit here since
he’s the starting shortstop as opposed to backup middle infielder.

The injuries are troulbing, though. Last season he missed handful of games
with a thumb injury (pun intended), then missed 45 games with a rib cage
injury and finished the season in a 4-for-49 slump.

In any event, I wouldn’t worry too much about seeing Bloomquist at
shortstop. Looking over the roster, there appears to be a very good chance
one of the spring training non-roster invitees — Ramon Santiago, Benji Gil,
Ricky Gutierrez — will make the roster as Pokey’s backup, since Bloomquist
really can’t handle the position.

With Adrian Beltre, Bret Boone, Richie Sexson and Reese around the infield,
shouldn’t we be more excited about the team’s pitching this season? Well
sure, except that this flyball staff won’t be able to take full advantage of
the upgraded defense.

Jeff: Is the bit about Santiago, Gil or Gutierrez serving
as the backup shortstop — and hence starting when Pokey’s hurt — intended
to make me feel better?

If so, that’s very nice of Jason to try to cheer me up. Nice, but ineffective — kind of like Bloomquist.

Dave: Jason and Jeff are right; Reese’s health is a legitimate concern, and
the backups are cringe worthy. Really, we’d be foolish to assume that
we’ll get a full season out of Reese, and every game he doesn’t play
is a game that we’ll be running a Triple-A player out to play
shortstop. That’s a problem.

Thankfully, there’s probably a 10-20 percent chance that Jose Lopez
makes The Prospect Leap, so if he’s hitting .330/.380/.580 in Tacoma,
he’d be a legitimate option, especially if the alternative is Ramon
Santiago getting at-bats every day for a month.

And yes, our infield defense is going to be something else this year.
Which is why we should want Dan Reichert on the staff, but that’s for
a later roundtable.

Jason: I will say nothing of his bat, but at least
Santiago’s a solid defensive player.

With respect to Lopez — isn’t the organization set on moving him to 2B? If
he spends two months in Tacoma, hits as you suggest and is playing second, I
doubt they’d move him back to shortstop just to fill in for a week or so if
Reese is hurt.

Dave: If it was just a week, you’re right, Lopez wouldn’t get
the call. If it was a month or two, well, that’s another story, I think. Yes, the
organization wants him adjusting to second base, but he’s going to play some
shortstop down there as well, and if they were faced with giving Ramon Santiago
200 at-bats, well, I think Lopez would look a lot more appealing. Especially if
he’s whacking the ball all over Cheney Stadium.


36 Responses to “Position Roundtables: Starting Shortstop”

  1. Westfried on February 18th, 2005 11:29 am

    Great piece, guys, thanks.

    What are your thoughts of Justin Leone as the backup SS? I’ve heard mention that he can play there, but can he really? How would his defense stack up against Santaiago, Gill, or Willie B.? Seems likely that his offense would be better than the rest.

  2. paul mocker on February 18th, 2005 11:36 am

    What does 30 defensive runs saved translate to in terms of wins?

  3. Chris Begley on February 18th, 2005 11:37 am

    So is Peter only allowed out of the locked basement once a month to post?

  4. paul mocker on February 18th, 2005 11:53 am

    That intro drew me in like a monkey to a ripe banana, Jeff. Funny!

  5. Dirk on February 18th, 2005 11:58 am

    #2 — In general, 10 runs = 1 win. Doesn’t matter if its defensive or offensive.

  6. eponymous coward on February 18th, 2005 12:51 pm

    The problem is that ping-ponging a so-so defensive player all over the field (“No, you play short. Wait, second base! No, short…”) is unlikely to help his defensive performance. If this was Pokey Reese it might work- not sure about Lopez.

    The M’s really need to decide where Lopez is going to play and stick him there REGARDLESS of what happens at other positions… and have better options to back up SS than 3 no-hit SS’s. Santiago might be OK with the glove, but his bat is truly awful.

  7. forgotten schmo on February 18th, 2005 12:56 pm

    Reese is a joy to watch in the field. He was criticised his last year with Reds for not playing after the docs had cleared him to play. So not just injury but playing when you are less than 100% could be an issue.

  8. Paul Covert on February 18th, 2005 12:56 pm

    Dirk is correct: Looking over the standings since 1996 (i.e. the current string of full 162-game seasons), the formula W = 81+(R-RA)/10 gets it right (empirically) within five games about 80% of the time, and within 10 games about 99% of the time.

    With some basic calculus, you can derive this relationship from the Pythagorean formula and an assumed five-runs-per-game environment.

    So, given that an added win seems to be worth roughly $2M of marginal revenue to the team, a healthy Pokey could well turn out to be worth up to $6M per year.

    (Perhaps he should look for a new agent?)

  9. Dave on February 18th, 2005 12:59 pm

    Keep in mind, the 30 runs is over 162 games. Since there’s almost no chance he plays every game, we have to ratchet that down a bit.

    But, yea, I’d have been fine with paying Pokey up to $2.5-$3 million.

  10. Paul Covert on February 18th, 2005 1:02 pm

    Oh, and re. Leone: I remember him struggling defensively with the ’99 Aquasox, but then (by reputation, at least) blossomed into an outstanding defensive 3B in the years following. So I’m guessing that he was just dealing with nervousness in his first pro year, and that the same thing came back a bit in his intro to the majors last year– that he’ll be okay once he gets settled into the majors.

    Once he does, I’d be happy to see him try his hand at shortstop once in a while, in the hope of developing him into a super-utility guy. In particular, as long has he’s not a total embarrassment at SS, I’d rather see him there than any of the other available backing-up-Pokey options.

  11. Paul Covert on February 18th, 2005 1:04 pm

    Dave– oops, yes, that’s correct (that’s what I get for typing these things in one shot). And of course the fact that he’ll be pinch-hit for sometimes gets factored in there also. So we can drop the 30 to a real-world value of maybe 20 or so, and adjust the other numbers accordingly.

  12. Westfried on February 18th, 2005 1:11 pm

    Thanks, Paul.

    That was exactly my question. For the sake of argument, I’ll assume Willie may be better defensively at SS than Leone. But, we know Leone can play 3B well, and by extension 1B. If he can cover SS with some competency, then I think you have your backup IF. No question he hits better than WB. Unless Reese goes down for 20+ games, I don’t see the benefit of Gil or Santiago over Leone.

    Reese was a great signing, and will be a benefit if he’s healthy. But he’ll probably miss some time here and there, which is why I’m focused on the backup situation.

  13. eponymous coward on February 18th, 2005 1:24 pm

    I’d say Bloomquist and Leone are both equally out of position at SS…

  14. Graham on February 18th, 2005 1:33 pm

    Wasn’t Leone drafted as a shortstop?

  15. Todd on February 18th, 2005 1:37 pm

    Is there any chance that Yuni Betancourt would eventually be called up this year to serve as a backup infielder? All accounts that I have perused would rate him as superior defensively to Willie B. and Leone at SS and 2b, and he has to to able hit better than Santiago.

  16. Brock on February 18th, 2005 1:42 pm

    You are all totally forgeting about Betancourt! Remember the guy that is equal to a first or second round pick! Factor in that he has basically been playing in the minor leagues (mexico) for several years, and he could contibute right away. If the reports about him are true, then he is a slick fielding infielder (can play SS and 2B, I am not sure about 1B and 3B), but also carries a pretty good stick.

    I say if you are going to waste a roster spot on an only defensive IF like Gil, Santiago, Bloomie, etc. might as well give it to a guy we MIGHT be able to get a few hits. IMO defense is pretty translatable, either you can catch a gounder and throw to first or you cant, so we probably don’t have to be worried about his defense much, and we KNOW that the other utility IF CANT hit, so we might as well try a guy who has a CHANCE to be able to hit!

  17. Brock on February 18th, 2005 1:43 pm

    dang it #15, you beat me by mere minutes!

  18. tino on February 18th, 2005 1:44 pm

    Isn’t Pokey’s offensive performance below replacement level at SS? While we consider him a +30 on defense, isn’t he a net (-) on offense? We should consider this — before we get his agent on the phone ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Graham on February 18th, 2005 2:10 pm

    As to Betancourt, from what I’ve read he has a clause in his contract that makes in in the M’s best interest to keep his service time down for now (the 4th year in the deal goes from minimums-ish + incentives to full arbitration, or something like that). I think he’ll end up in Tacoma by the end of the year, but that’s just me guessing.

  20. fiction on February 18th, 2005 2:24 pm

    With those convincing stats regarding Pokey and knowing M’s have an option year who is the likely permanet replacement in a year or two? Have read here the superior defensive skills of Cabrerra but see him on future forty now at 2nd base. Isn’t he a Pokey equivalent in a couple of years?

    If Lopez is 2nd base of future wouldn”t be wise to groom SS so there will be continuity to infiels as we know Beltre is here. In the meantime Pokey is a joy to watch defensively and will remember the posting stats when bats..

  21. Jerry on February 18th, 2005 2:25 pm

    Perhaps the M’s should look into trading for a utility infielder. Someone like Alex Cintron would be a nice addition. If the M’s end up not needing Franklin in the rotation, perhaps they could trade him to a team in desperate need of an innings eater in exchange for a decent backup infielder. Just a thought.

    I really think that the M’s should be on the lookout for a more viable long-term solution at SS, given the probability that the backup might be playing half the season.

  22. chris w on February 18th, 2005 2:33 pm

    I’m on the Leone for backup SS bandwagon. No, his defense isn’t good, but that isn’t the point. Having his pop on the bench is valuable in itself, and the fact that he can play ss in a pinch is gravy. If Pokey suffers an injury that will keep him out for an extended period, it would probably be wise to reevaluate, but until then, that’s a satisfactory arrangement.

  23. paul mocker on February 18th, 2005 2:52 pm

    With all this navel gazing I’m starting to think we have a chance in 2005. Are we just fiddling while Rome burns?

    In any case I can’t wait for the season to start.

  24. Digger on February 18th, 2005 2:53 pm

    For a full year (equivalent to his +30 defensively), Pokey’s bat is worth about -15. So the net is +15. Better re-do all your calculations on his worth on that basis.

  25. Jeff on February 18th, 2005 3:12 pm

    Be careful with the “Leone for Backup Shortstop” rhetoric. We don’t want Jeff and Trent to get still another idea for a URL.

  26. Paul Covert on February 18th, 2005 5:49 pm

    Digger– I was following Dave’s comment #37 in the original Pokey signing thread, which noted that Pokey played through an injury that dragged down his numbers to the tune of a 2-for-43 slump. Based on that, I’m assuming Pokey’s offense to be about replacement-level (or, more precisely, what would be replacement-level offense for an average defensive shortstop).

    If we were to assume that Pokey is likely to suffer through a similar injury this year– or, equivalently, that he was playing over his head before the injury, so that last year’s stat line remains our expectation for him this year– then yes, -15 + 30 = +15 would be correct. (I remain more optimistic than that, though.)

  27. Digger on February 18th, 2005 8:13 pm

    Pokey’s VORP (adjusted for a full year = 600AB) for the last 4 years has been -12/+9/-30/-15 for an average of -12. His average AB have been about 300/year. So (ignoring aging) we can expect Pokey to give us(+30-12)/2 =9 runs next year. For reference, that’s what we got from Cabrera, Hansen, and Olerud last year. For me, that’s about what we can expect next year. But still better than any of the alternatives that have been discussed in this thread unless Lopez picks up the challenge.

  28. Rob on February 18th, 2005 9:02 pm

    “basically worthless stats like Zone Rating.”

    Wow, is that ignorant.

  29. Tyler on February 19th, 2005 8:36 am

    What was the net value of our shortstops last season?

    I’m going to assume that the shortstop position was several runs to the negative last season. In that case, shouldn’t we also be talking about how much Pokey’s +18 net per 162 games will improve the team over the -30, or whatever SS gave the M’s last season.

  30. msb on February 19th, 2005 8:41 am

    #17-“Reese is a joy to watch in the field. He was criticised his last year with Reds for not playing after the docs had cleared him to play. So not just injury but playing when you are less than 100% could be an issue.”–Comment by forgotten schmo รขโ‚ฌโ€ 2/18/2005 @ 12:56 pm

    well, he wouldn’t have been the first Red to get criticised for ‘not playing’… do you mean there might be an issue of Reese hurting himself by trying to play when not 100%, or that he might try to sit himself when hurt?

  31. Jeremy on February 19th, 2005 10:03 am

    28: “Wow, is that ignorant”

    Zone rating is to baseball stats as the earth is flat is to science.

  32. Pilots fan on February 19th, 2005 2:31 pm

    I would like to hear more from anyone (if there is anyone) who has some insight into the more realistic Pokey backup alternatives. Leone is not in the team’s plans at SS. I’m pretty sure I read that Betancourt has already been decided to start the year at AA.

    So, Gil/Gutierrez/Bloomquist/Santiago/other … what Pokey backup strategy do you all think the M’s will break camp with and why? I’ve seen Bloomquist play a lot, and a little of Santiago. Both worry me (unless Santiago finds a way to start hitting, which I guess COULD happen … but probably won’t). I really don’t know much about Gil and Gutierrez besides a few stat lines here and there.


  33. Graham on February 19th, 2005 4:41 pm

    “Leone is not in the team’s plans at SS.”

    Sounds like you have some insight there yourself, Pilots fan. Could you share your sources on this?

  34. Pilots fan on February 20th, 2005 8:25 am

    The only insight I have into that is what I see and read. How many innings did Leone play at SS last year when that position was somewhat open? Not many if any. If the M’s saw him as a potential SS (even as a backup) I think we would have seen him play there at least as much as Bloomquist.

    Also, when you see quotes from the M’s about future SS’s, you see them talk about Morse, Betancourt, Jones, etc. Maybe Lopez, but as discussed above it looks like he’s slated for 2B. I have not ever seen or heard (not that these don’t exist, but certainly not in quantity) the M’s talk about Leone as a solution at SS. And by that I mean as a 1-2 month fill-in for an injured Pokey.

    So again, I think this situation will be one of the more interesting ones coming out of Peoria this spring — who is the Pokey backup solution? Bavasi spoke of this when signing Reese. I think they will keep someone on the bench that they expect can fill in for an extended period of time at SS.

    Who does this forum think that will be? I certainly don’t have that answer.

  35. David J Corcoran on February 20th, 2005 10:47 am

    Leone played 14 games at short last year, whenever Dobbs was in Tacoma and Santiago was in Seattle. Lopez slid over to second, Leone to Short, and Dobbs played 3rd. I have no problem running Leone out at short on an as-needed basis.
    In fact, I have advocated this for a long time.

  36. SAL on February 27th, 2005 1:32 pm

    To the start the season, i like the idea of leone basically backing up pokey and sexson, providing some nice pop off the bench. He’s a versatile guy with power, and would be above average defensively at the corners and as adequate as willie B at short. But I dont understand why more hasn’t been made of Morse as a viable backup SS. Seems to me that we’d be better off with leone and morse backing up the infield than spiezo and bloomquist. Platoon Bucky and Raul in DH, keeping Raul off the field as often as possible.

    Some combo of Choo Snelling and Strong backing up the OF, with Morse, Betancourt, and Leone takin the infield. Why pay veteran utilty guys when you can get a look at young players with some upside?