Well, this is different
“I look at Corcoran, and opposing hitters averaged .283 against him,” Wakamatsu said. “But he had a four-to-one ratio of ground balls (to fly balls). Did they find every hole?
“The fact is that we have to catch more ground balls. I want to bring these kinds of statistics to the coaches and players. It’s a way to get better. Maybe it just means we need to shade the middle more, or maybe we need to focus more on what specific hitters do against each of our specific pitchers.”
If you weren’t already convinced, this organization understands the value of defense now.
“We’re looking to see if there is a plus-plus defensive second baseman out there,” Wakamatsu said. “Then if we move Jose to first base, and he can defend there and make us above average on the right side, that would be good. That’s the whole focus — can we defend?
“Look at Tampa Bay. Look at what (shortstop Jason) Bartlett did for that team last year. They had some phenomenal players already, but sometimes it’s that one player in a key position that makes things work.”
Obviously, I love the fact that our new manager thinks like this. This is a huge step forward in analytical skills from the bench. That said, I don’t think I’m on board with Lopez as a first baseman. Let’s break it down.
If we assume that Lopez is below average at second base (UZR has him at average-ish the last three years, but trending worse), then we’d call him -5 at the position. If he moved to first base, he’d certainly be one of the better defensive 1B in the league (thanks to the fact that the comparison group is full of immobile stiffs), but would also have decreased opportunities. Let’s call him +5 at first base, though, since we’re running through Wakamatsu’s scenario here.
Now, the team wants a “plus plus defender” at second base if they’re going to move Lopez, so we have to assume that new guy would be +10 or so. Adam Kennedy would be a pretty good example of a +10 defensive second baseman, and he’s not exactly happy in St. Louis, so let’s just pretend the M’s could go trade for Kennedy to make this all happen.
With Kennedy at 2nd and Lopez at first, you’d have a +15 defensive right side of the infield. With Lopez at second and a Branyan/Shelton platoon at first, you’d have something like a -7 defensive right side of the infield (Branyan’s below average, Shelton’s above average, but Branyan will play more, so I call that platoon -2). So, the positive defensive result would be +22 runs. That’s a lot.
However, the M’s would be filling the last remaining spot in the line-up with Adam Kennedy. Remember when I projected the position players last week? I assumed the team would find a cheap, .340 wOBA DH. That guy would be out, replaced by Kennedy’s bat, and because the Branyan/Shelton duo would be DH’ing, there’d be less at-bats for Clement at DH, so we’d have to adjust his PA’s downward a bit.
The 1B/2B/DH spots are good for about 1850 plate appearances. Right now, I have those allocated as something like 600 for Lopez, 50 for Corona, 450 for Branyan, 200 for Shelton, 500 for random DH, and 100 for Clement. A weighted average offensive value for that group at those PA levels would be +6 runs. You replace Random DH with Kennedy and shift 50 of Clement’s at-bats to Kennedy, and the weighted average offensive value for the new group would be -11 runs.
If we assume that the M’s were going to get a generic, below average DH (Griffey, for instance), and that this strategy would result in them acquiring a top notch defensive second baseman, and that Lopez would adjust to first base without any problems, the overall net gain to the team would be something like 5 runs.
That’s not a big enough deal to justify upsetting Lopez, nuking his trade value as a second baseman, and giving up something to get a guy like Kennedy. I’ve been pushing this team to improve their defense for years, but clearly, it’s a balance – if the offensive trade-off is nearly as large as the defensive gain, then you’re not improving the roster (and vice versa).
And in this case, it creates some long term issues as well. Say Adam Moore or Rob Johnson develop and Clement shows he just can’t hack it behind the plate, so you want to move Clement to DH. Now you’re benching Branyan, because you’ve blocked off first base, and you’re taking one of the better bats on the roster out of the line-up. You’re also putting Lopez in Mike Carp’s way, and with the Luis Valbuena trade, the organization doesn’t really have a long term replacement at second base anymore.
I’m thrilled Wakamatsu recognizes that the defense was a problem, and that it really messed up the pitching staff the last few years. I love the fact that our manager is going after knowledge that could improve the club, even if it’s not conventional, by-the-book stuff. I love that he’s publicly quoting Roy Corcoran’s ground ball rate.
But, I don’t think I’m on board with Lopez as a first baseman. If the team wants to improve their infield defense, they should be looking to trade Lopez, not move him to first base.