Position Roundtables: Starting Shortstop
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
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.