Well, this is different

Dave · December 19, 2008 at 6:52 am · Filed Under Mariners 

From Hickey’s blog:

“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.


90 Responses to “Well, this is different”

  1. RoninX on December 19th, 2008 12:08 pm

    I think what most people are basically saying regarding upgrading the SS Defense is that, based on the personnel in place right now defense at shortstop is a bigger problem for this team than defense at 2nd. That is we do have some people on the team that can at least play second base adequately – but barring Yuni losing 25lbs in the offseason and returning the “Rolls Royce” form, we do not have anyone ready to play everyday who can claim “adequate” label at SS.

    People would rather see the team talking about looking for a “plus plus” shortstop. Of course, since shortstop quality defenders are harder to find than 2nd basemen (who, as you demonstrated over at fangraphs, are essentially drawn from a pool of failed SSs) everyone is in that same boat, fishing in more or less the same pond.

    Of course, we also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that any discussion along these lines is amazingly encouraging!!

  2. jro on December 19th, 2008 12:09 pm

    Dave – just curious, but how do you arrive at +5 for Lopez at 1st? You have him at -5 at second base, where he would have far more fielding opportunities, but a +5 at first.

    Conservatively, it seems like he might be closer to a push (0) at first base, which actually strengthens your assessment of improvement via trading Lopez vs. moving him to first.

    Just trying to understand the basis for value assignment.

  3. CCW on December 19th, 2008 12:28 pm

    Can someone point me to research on a typical player’s career arc as far as defensive ability goes? That seems like something that is missing from all these conversations about defense. What should we really expect from Lopez, Gutierrez, Chavez, Beltre, Ichiro, etc. a few years from now? You hear folks talk about re-signing Beltre, for example, but intuitively, you’d think his defense could take a big plunge as he gets older and fatter and creakier.

  4. RoninX on December 19th, 2008 12:35 pm

    @ CCW – That is a good question. As the authors here have addressed in regards to Ichiro, body type and “fitness” level have a great deal to do with an individuals arc. I am sure it varies considerably from position to position as well.

  5. Dave on December 19th, 2008 12:36 pm
  6. Joe C on December 19th, 2008 12:46 pm

    In this offseason he is training with Mariners MVP Raul Ibanez down in Florida. He could very well have a turn-around year.Is there any hope that this all works out?

    I hope this puts Yuni in a time machine back to 2006.

  7. jephdood on December 19th, 2008 12:47 pm

    I’m all for defensive upgrades, but WHO is going to produce runs for this team?

  8. CMC_Stags on December 19th, 2008 12:51 pm

    Seriously, this whole “Lopez is okay at defense but Yuni is horrible” thing has to stop. Lopez is worse defensively than Betancourt. Worse, not better. Worse.

    I’m not saying that Lopez is a better defender than Yuni. I know that the UZR/150 is based on their peer groups at their respective positions and that the peer group at SS is better than the peer group at 2B (failed shortstops)… Yuni is probably about -10 at SS and Jose is between even to maybe a -5 at 2B. The positional adjustment from SS to 2B is about 5 runs (+7.5 for SS versus +2.5 for 2B) though I’m not sure how that translates into UZR. Would Yuni make a better 2B than Lopez? Probably, but how much would that improvement be enough to overcome Jose’s offensive output?

    My post wasn’t that Lopez is good at defense and Yuni is bad, it was regarding my opinion that Lopez makes a better 2B for the team than Yuni. Bringing in a better SS should be the top priority for the M’s for the rest of the off-season as it is their last major hole.

  9. CCW on December 19th, 2008 1:00 pm


    I’m sure I’m misinterpreting the link, but I can’t find any aging analysis here, as it applies to defensive ability.

  10. Dave on December 19th, 2008 1:10 pm

    Hmm, I could have sworn it was on there.

    Tango did some work on it a few years ago. If I remember correctly, we expect players to lose about a run per year off their value after age 24 or so.

  11. CCW on December 19th, 2008 1:19 pm

    I haven’t seen it proved anywhere, but intuition suggests that defensive ability might be a lot more variable than hitting ability, especially for particularly good defenders. Take a guy like Orlando Hudson, who everyone agrees has been a great defender over his career, and who has been improving with the bat at the same time. I can imagine him turning into an average defender over the next 3-4 years, while not losing nearly as much with the bat. Same thing with Beltre. For a SS or a CF, or even a 2B, losing a step is a very big deal defensively, but might not affect hitting ability at all. Anyway, it’s an area that I’m sure will be explored more as metrics like UZR (and others) are vetted and begin to be applied over entire careers.

  12. RoninX on December 19th, 2008 1:33 pm

    Here is something by Tango from earlier this year: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/fielding-aging-curves/

    If I remember correctly, we expect players to lose about a run per year off their value after age 24 or so.

    Thats before adding in their bonuses for “wiliness” and “veterantude,” right?

    But seriously, that is interesting. I would not have thought the average decline was that gradual. I guess it is a product of large number of personal “plateau” and “cliffs.” Or is the perception that there is a defensive “cliff” that players fall off just an illusion, generated by gradual change?

    Tango’s data seems to support both a cliff and a gradual decline if I am reading it right. At least for SS. He shows fielding peaking between 23-28. Then then show a decline. To me it looks like he shows a bit of a cliff at age 29-30, but he doesn’t address this so maybe it is not statistically signification(?) Follow by a more gradual decline.

    I couldn’t find the follow up article on other positions that he mentioned at the bottom.

  13. Paul B on December 19th, 2008 1:57 pm

    Rather than shift Lopez all the way to 1B, how about somewhat less of a shift on the defensive spectrum? How about to third or left? The M’s have a hole in left (well, they now have a platoon of a good glove no hit, and a poor glove may not hit) and as for third, how long with Beltre be around? There’s always rumors of him being traded. Someone up above tossed out the crazy idea of shifting Beltre to second. Could that work?

  14. dchappelle on December 19th, 2008 2:01 pm

    See Dave’s work at fangraphs. yes, it could absolutely work, although he might be too tall. heh.

  15. Christian on December 19th, 2008 2:09 pm

    It’s writing and analysis like this that keep me coming back here day after day. Thanks again!

  16. Graham on December 19th, 2008 2:12 pm

    but intuition suggests that defensive ability might be a lot more variable than hitting ability

    Actually, I suspect that the skill probably just as variable as hitting skill, but defensive metrics have a lot more inbuilt error.

  17. TomTuttle on December 19th, 2008 2:16 pm

    If the team wants to improve their infield defense, they should be looking to trade Lopez, not move him to first base.

    Or put him at DH. . .

  18. Paul L on December 19th, 2008 2:43 pm

    Dave, you may be right on this.


    The fact that we’re even having this conversation – that our team is trying to improve things in the right way, but not be going far enough – is such a GIGANTIC improvement over what we’ve been going through over the last few years.

    I feel like Andy Dufresne, raising his arms to the sky after having crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of #@!$ smelling foulness I can’t even imagine, or maybe I just don’t want too.

    Five hundred yards… that’s the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile.

    Remember Red, hope is a good thing.

  19. Evan on December 19th, 2008 2:43 pm

    He’d be a very weak-hitting DH.

    Didn’t we learn anything from Vidro?

  20. insidetheparker on December 19th, 2008 3:53 pm

    My post wasn’t that Lopez is good at defense and Yuni is bad, it was regarding my opinion that Lopez makes a better 2B for the team than Yuni.

    I agree. Given the lack of bats in our outfield I think it would be a good idea to try and use Lopez as an above average bat from second base. I love the talk of defense but making defense the only thing to look at is probably not a good idea. Dave said that Yuni and Lopez are about the same defensively but Lopez is better at the plate so you have to think that SS is a bigger problem right now.

  21. patnmic on December 19th, 2008 3:55 pm

    If we want to shore up the middle it looks like Bobby Crosby is free for the taking. Oakland has him on waivers (msn.foxsports.com).
    Betancourt (Marcel, 2009) OPS = .720 UZR (2008) = -14.5
    Crosby (Marcel, 2009) OPS = .656 UZR (2008) = 0.0

    We would loose a little in the offense and improve significantly in the defense.

  22. SonOfZavaras on December 19th, 2008 4:00 pm

    It’s official. I’m now enamored with the new perspective these guys are showing. And I’m now officially looking forward to 2009.

    I’m still reading up on UZR and how to compute it. Just got done with VORP, the cliff-note version.

    But, if Dave Cameron’s analysis is as cogent as what I suspect it is, then wouldn’t basic business sense dictate that the best avenue to explore is to trade an asset (Lopez) while its value is higher than it’s ever been?

    I really don’t agree with the idea of making him a DH because there are only so many ABs in that slot to go around, and there’s already a few pieces (Clement,Shelton,Branyan,Balentien) that you’ll have to move there in order to maximize their offensive production/minimize their defensive hindrance.

    I’m not a Lopez guy and never have been. When I see him play I always am thinking “Carlos Baerga, Pt.2”. If they can land a viable candidate through trade with a +9 or +10 defensive value, I’d do backflips.

    My thought- you bought low on Lopez, now sell high…if you can manage to not slit the offense’s throat, all the better…

  23. qwerty on December 19th, 2008 4:14 pm

    I’m not fluent on this like you guys so I need to ask: I see the numbers, but is Crosby a good option? I remember him coming up and hearing he was a whizkid. Has he slowed?

    I’m wondering if and when he clears waivers if he’d be an upgrade over Yuni or Lopez.
    I’m asking…
    …you’ll tell me it’s insane….right?

  24. dchappelle on December 19th, 2008 4:24 pm

    Have to say… sure would be nice if we had a +7.3 UZR/150 second baseman with a Marcel wOBA of .335, like say.. the one we traded for a terrible half of a DH platoon? link

  25. Jeff Sullivan on December 19th, 2008 4:54 pm

    Wait a second. Batters hit .239 against Roy Corcoran.

  26. insidetheparker on December 19th, 2008 5:35 pm

    well the point is still valid….even though it doesn’t apply to Corcoran directly anymore

  27. DAMellen on December 19th, 2008 6:07 pm

    Is there any chance we deal Beltre for a package that includes a major league ready middle infielder and move Lopez to thirdbase? It seems to me that that would make more sense than playing Lopez at first. I guess if the middle infielder is a shortstop, we could move Betancourt to secondbase too.

  28. Matt the Dragon on December 19th, 2008 6:16 pm

    Wait a second. Batters hit .239 against Roy Corcoran.

    It appears Wakamatsu was quoting his home numbers only, for some reason.

  29. aeschylus1320 on December 19th, 2008 6:42 pm

    There probably is a good chance we trade Beltre since he costs so much, and we seem to be trimming salary for the rebuild (or reboot?). We already have two potential players at first base as Dave said. Of course the team seems to be moving toward small ball. I’m not sure how much Zduriencik is valuing power. Both he and Wakamatsu seem to want more defense in the lineup, Lopez at first may make more sense to them. Given the chance though, Branyan may prove to provide solid defense at first.

  30. Breadbaker on December 19th, 2008 7:22 pm

    I don’t know enough about Wakamatsu’s management style yet to know if this is him saying “Jose Lopez should expect to play first base” or something more like “Jose Lopez had better come to spring training focused on his defense, regardless of where he’s playing.” I like either message, but with no track record, I don’t know if we should take his messages at face value or if they are intended to have some other meaning to the player that we can’t necessarily figure out yet.

  31. Alec on December 19th, 2008 7:23 pm

    I’m a zeliever is the best user name I have seen.

  32. ima-zeliever on December 20th, 2008 12:15 am

    Thanks Alec!

    DAMellen asks a great question and I think the answer is yes and Z would probably love to get JJ Hardy. However, there is more than just that trade out there.

    It seems to me that the following factors are in play…

    1. We don’t want to pay Beltre’s salary this year even though we love his D.
    2. They (Don/Z) seem to be mentally preparing Lopez to move while saying things that are counter-productive if we are thinking of trading him.
    3. We have pitchers to trade and the Brewers are in great need in that department as are many other teams.
    4. I get the feeling that Z is not as high on Morrow where Morrow where a handful of GMs value him very highly… Am I high or has anyone else got this idea?
    5. The next trade Z makes will likely address the infield defense and add some pop to the lineup.

    Cheap Infield:

    1B-Platoon Branyan, Shelton, Morse, Clement, Carp
    2B-Yuni (future: Triunfel)

    This is a better offensive infield than last year, WAY less expensive, and about the same on defense (???) when you take out Beltre’s glove and replace Yuni with JJ and Lopez with Yuni.

    Would some of the numbers experts weigh in on this?

    Also, I am curious how willing the Brewers may be in dealing JJ Hardy. I heard there were supposed whispers of conversations at the winter meeting with the Brewers about him.

  33. qwerty on December 20th, 2008 8:34 am

    Is there any chance we deal Beltre for a package that includes a major league ready middle infielder and move Lopez to thirdbase?

    What is Lopez’ issue? lack of range? Lack of quickness/reflexes? Lack of concentration?
    Wouldn’t these issues remain at 3B?
    It seems to make more sense to me to just Move Jose and find a Mark Ellis/McLemore-type Bridge until Triunfel is ready.

    Also, Is it preferable that if you must have a weaker defender in the infield that it be at 2b or 3b?

    We’d also move Beltre which seems inevitable.

    Dave, are there any quality 3b’s at someone’s AAA that are stuck behind a major league stud? (A la Nelson at 1b behind Fielder?)

  34. Steve Nelson on December 20th, 2008 9:29 am

    insidetheparker on December 19th, 2008 3:53 pm:

    Dave said that Yuni and Lopez are about the same defensively but Lopez is better at the plate so you have to think that SS is a bigger problem right now.

    What Dave said was:

    Seriously, this whole “Lopez is okay at defense but Yuni is horrible” thing has to stop. Lopez is worse defensively than Betancourt. Worse, not better. Worse.

    Betancourt appears worse by UZR because of who he’s being compared to. If you swapped Betancourt and Lopez, you would all think Lopez was a disaster and Betancourt was just fine.

    As 2008 winds down, you, my good sir, have an unassailable lead in the competition for the USSM Mischaracterization of the Year Trophy. Here to present your award is George Clooney, reprising his role as Batman in Batman and Robin.

  35. insidetheparker on December 20th, 2008 9:36 am

    Oops. Sorry. I take it back. Thanks Steve.

  36. cheeseheadtransplantmax on December 20th, 2008 9:41 am

    I also do not think that the Lopez-at-first statement is Z’s long-term plan. Z just went out and signed a first base platoon, as well as getting a first base prospect in a trade. Moving Lopez to first would be counterproductive to what Z has done this offseason. I like the idea of trading Beltre for an ML-ready middle infielder and moving Lopez to third if he is not traded.

  37. The Ancient Mariner on December 20th, 2008 9:59 am

    Am I the only one who suspects that Wakamatsu made this statement mostly to put Lopez on notice and give him a sharp prod in the backside? I could be wrong, but this sounds more like a motivational ploy to me than anything: if you want the 2B job back, work on your fielding.

  38. msfan26 on December 20th, 2008 3:03 pm

    Why is Hulett not getting a look at second if Lopez is moved? He has average power for that position and plays way better defense( range and arm, and also knows how to take a walk unlike some other m’s) than Lopez. Plays hard everytime he is in the lineup. I dont the threads on here about going after a washed up Kennedy( I am a Cardinals fan as well and he absolutely has been a disapointment since he showed up) as well as the Aaron miles option which Tug could easily put up better numbers than him and would be at a less of a salary.
    I think that the new coach is looking more to move Lopez either to first or third( if beltre is dealt) and have Carona and Tug fight it out in spring training for the starting role at second. Carona will be the utility infielder for sure considering they have to keep him on the 25 man roster the whole season. I really think that either Seattle is scared to be shown up if Tug plays lights out or the fans/media still think this team will sign some big names and be a contender this season, which is a pipe dream!!!!!!!!!!

  39. micahjr on December 21st, 2008 12:41 am

    You might be right about Hulett, but in any trade we have to get a upgrade at shortstop, dump a pitcher (Washburn), or pick up a hard-hitting outfielder.

    Any statheads have some numbers on Hulett’s defense?

  40. msfan26 on December 22nd, 2008 11:27 am

    Here is some of tugs stats from last season for tacoma and then seattle.

    Tacoma fielding %-
    81 games (36 at second base and 45 at shortstop)
    .983 at second and .984 at short with 363 total chances. only 3 errors at each position. In seattle he had a .1000 fielding percentage with not alot of chances, but I remember one play that he made against Maur from the twins, up the middle backhand behind second base and threw him out to end the inning! do you remember that one?
    In tacoma Tug batted .298 14 hr’s, 47 Rbi’s from eather leadoff or the 2 hole!!
    In seattle Tug batted .224 in only 49 at bats 1 hr and a double and 2 rbi’s. He did srike out 17 times but in his first stint in the majors with limited ab’s and coming off the bench late in games that not bad at all. He did hit his first career hr. and in his first game in the majors he got his first major league hit and was 1-3 and could have been 2-3 if he was not robbed by a leaping grudzelanik(SP) in Kansas City.
    If given the chance he could be the answer at second if Lopez is moved.

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