Griffey And The Outfield

Dave · February 22, 2009 at 9:02 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

(Warning – this post is pretty ridiculously long.)

Okay, so we’ve had the press conference, the first workout, the chemistry/leadership talks, the relationship with Ichiro, and all the related welcome back stories. Now, back to what we do best – talking about the on field issues of the team and finding positions that are supported by evidence.

The topic for today – in what situations should Ken Griffey Jr play left field for the Mariners this year? We’ve spent years preaching the value of outfield defense, especially for a team playing half their games in Safeco Field, and we’ve enthusiastically supported Zduriencik and company as they moved to acquire two elite defensive outfielders this winter. However, as much as we continue to harp on the defense-as-undervalued-asset claim, we’re still aware of the fact that a run is a run, whether it’s produced offensively or saved defensively. We want the team to maximize their run differential, and if there are scenarios that involve Jr in left field giving the team a better chance to outscore their opponent, than that’s the scenario we’re going to support.

So, let’s look into the question – given the current roster, should Ken Griffey Jr ever play left field? And if so, when?

Working off the assumption that Endy Chavez is the current penciled in starting left fielder, we need to evaluate the difference in fielding ability between Chavez and Griffey as well as the difference in offensive ability between Chavez and whoever would be DH’ing when Griffey is in left field. Griffey’s in the line-up either way, so his bat doesn’t really matter for this discussion – we want to know whether there are scenarios where the spread in performance will be larger on the offensive side from having Alternate DH Guy in the line-up in lieu of Chavez than the defensive dropoff from Chavez to Griffey.

First off, let’s start with the defensive difference. Rather than just pointing you to UZR, which is the best defensive metric publicly available, we’ll walk through the defensive opportunities from a big picture standpoint, since I know some of you are skeptical about defensive statistics and because we’re looking for specific situations where it might make sense to put Griffey in LF.

First, the macro view. We can say, with pretty good certainty (thanks to Baseball-Reference), that the Mariners pitching staff will allow something like 1,600 flyballs in 2009. The average major league team gave up 1,621 fly balls in 2008 and 28 of the 30 teams had a total spread of 270 flyballs, ranging from 1,463 (Toronto) to 1,732 (Houston). There was one outlier on both ends, but in general, the spread of team fly balls allowed isn’t all that large. You can bet on something between 1,500 and 1,700 and basically take it to the bank.

Now, of those flyballs, a pretty good chunk are going to fly over the wall, and it wouldn’t matter whether you had Endy Chavez or 74 Ken Griffey Jr’s out there, because those flyballs aren’t going to be caught. If we remove 150 flyballs to account for home runs, that brings us down to 1,450 flyballs in play for the outfielders to try to chase down. How many of those will end up in left field?

Based on spray chart data, the average distribution of flyballs is in the range of 27% LF, 48% CF, and 23% RF. There are more RH hitters than LH hitters in MLB, so LF sees a few more flyballs than RF, while neither corner sees nearly as many as CF.

So, 27% of 1,450 gives us 392 expected flyballs in play to left field. I rounded on the spray distribution percentages anyway, so let’s just call it 400 to make the math easy. If we had a spider monkey on a segway, there are about 400 potential outs to be earned by the team’s left fielder over a full season. Of course, those 400 flyballs aren’t all equally catchable – some will be drives to the gaps that no one can get to while others will be cans of corn that any ambulatory athlete would be able to track down. What percentage of these flyballs can we expect to be turned into outs?

For guidance, let’s look at history. Last year, the Rays did a better job than any team in baseball in turning outfield flyballs into outs, converting 81% of their opportunities by sticking good glove guys in all three OF spots. On the other hand, the Angels only caught about 75% of their opportunities. Of course, these numbers are for the outfields as a whole, not just LF specifically, so the real upper and lower bounds are going to be a bit higher and lower than that – the Angels would have caught a lot less than 75% if they didn’t have Torii Hunter, and the Rays would have caught more than 81% if they had given Eric Hinske’s RF innings to a pure flycatcher. Data from past years confirms these estimates, and we can safely guess that our lower and upper bounds are probably something like 70% and 85% respectively.

In other words, about 70% of all flyballs in play just don’t take much ability to run down. Pretty much any reasonably healthy and skilled major league caliber player would be able to convert them into outs. On the other hand, 15% or so are basically uncatchable for all intents and purposes – these are the almost-home-runs that bang off the wall and the little bloopers into no man’s land that just don’t hang up long enough.

So, we’ve got to use catch rates for Griffey and Chavez of somewhere between 70% and 85%. Chavez is a terrific defensive outfielder, but 85% seems optimistic – let’s put him at 82%, definitely above league average but not into some crazy greatest-LF-glove-of-all-time territory. As for Griffey, well, I think anything above 70% is pretty generous, honestly – he’s been the worst defensive outfielder in baseball over the last three years, and you can’t blame his knee – his worst rate of catching flyballs came in his supposedly healthy 2007 season. But, hey, I like to give the benefit of the doubt to the position that I don’t really hold, so we’ll call Griffey a 72% guy – a bad defensive OF, but not worst in the league.

At those estimates, we’d expect Griffey to catch 288 flyballs (if he played every inning all season long) and Chavez to catch 328 flyballs (ditto on the Ripken season). As you might have already figured out with basic math, if we assume that Chavez will catch 10% more balls than Griffey, and there are 400 opportunities for them both, then that’s a 40 play advantage for Chavez. By the way, this falls directly in line with what all the advanced defensive metrics would predict the gap to be. I just wanted to walk you all through it so you don’t think that someone’s doing gymnastics with numbers to support a preconceived notion.

Okay, so that’s our defensive gap – 40 plays per 162 game season. Each flyball converted to an out is worth about .9 runs (calculated by the distribution of potential outcomes on flyballs and their relative run values), so we’re saying that Chavez would be about 36 runs better than Griffey in the outfield over a full season. 36 runs… this is why we’ve been preaching the value of outfield defense for years. If we were just interested in a macro view, we’d look at that gap, look at the potential bats who would fill in at DH when Junior played the field, and just end the conversation there – there’s nobody in the organization who is 36 runs better with the bat than Chavez over a full season. To make up that gap, you’re looking for a .365ish wOBA hitter, which is something like a Ryan Howard/Carlos Delgado/Derrek Lee. That’s the kind of hitter you’d need to have on the bench to justify sticking Griffey in LF and putting Chavez on the bench from a macro perspective.

However, managers don’t make one line-up on opening day and then see how the next 162 games turn out. They make micro decisions based on the handedness of the other team’s pitchers, the ball in play distribution of their own staff, the park that days game will be played in, and all kinds of other various factors that come into play on a daily basis. What we really want to know is whether there are scenarios where Griffey in LF in lieu of Chavez makes some sense. Of those micro factors that we just mentioned, the two most important are opposing pitcher handedness and batted ball distribution for the M’s starting pitcher.

Essentially, everyone should agree that Griffey should never start in LF against an LHP. Ever. He hasn’t been able to hit lefties for years now, and there’s just no way you could find a RH hitter who would be worth having in the line-up but couldn’t outplay Junior in left field on those days. So, we can pretty much cross 25% of all the games off the list to start off with. If we’re going to find a scenario where Junior makes sense in LF, it’s going to be an when an RHP is starting for the opponent.

However, that’s not a big enough factor on its own. As we mentioned, the bat replacing Chavez wouldn’t be Griffey’s (since it’s assumed he could DH against RHPs), but whoever DH’d in Junior’s place that day. The M’s just don’t have a big thumping LH bat sitting around who won’t be getting playing time if Chavez is in LF. Clement is the closest thing to that kind of player, but there’s every reason to expect him to get significant playing time behind the plate, and any scenario where Clement DH’d and Junior moved to LF, you’d actually be replacing Chavez’s bat in the line-up with Johjima’s, and good luck winning any kind of argument that Johjima is good enough offensively (especially against an RHP) to outweigh the defensive dropoff we’d see in LF.

So, since there isn’t this obvious big bat sitting around that Chavez is keeping out of the line-up, then we need to look for a situation where the defensive difference would be mitigated. The best way to find such a situation would be to look at the ball in play distribution of the team’s starting pitchers.

For now, let’s assume the M’s rotation is set – Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Brandon Morrow, Jarrod Washburn, and Carlos Silva will be taking the hill every five days, with Ryan Rowland-Smith as the #6 guy if someone gets hurt. Could we find a pitcher, or a couple of pitchers, that would decrease the amount of flyballs to left field enough during their starts to shrink the defensive gap to potentially justify using Junior in LF in order to get a better hitter than Chavez in the line-up?

Right off the bat, you can throw Washburn and Rowland-Smith out. As left-handed flyball pitchers, you can guarantee that they’re going to give up more flyballs to LF than the average major league pitcher, and we already know that on average, Junior in LF is a bad idea. There’s no way you want Griffey patrolling left field when you have a LH flyball pitcher on the mound. So, those two are out.

That leaves Felix, Bedard, Morrow, and Silva. To find out how many potential LF opportunities each present per game, I projected their ball in play distributions based on their batted ball histories, then adjusted for handedness, and scaled it to per 30 batters faced in order to line-up with a typical starts worth of potential LF outs.

Felix: 1.20 LF opportunities per 30 batters faced
Bedard: 1.75 LF opportunities per 30 batters faced
Silva: 1.65 LF opportunities per 30 batters faced
Morrow: 1.85 LF opportunities per 30 batters faced

Essentially, 30 batters faced should get you through 7ish Felix/Bedard innings and around 6 Morrow/Silva innings, so the working assumption is that you’d definitely be lifting Griffey for a defensive replacement once you got into the bullpen. Clearly, Felix stands out as the best case scenario here, projecting at least half an LF flyball less per game than everyone else on the staff. In fact, using the projection for Felix of 1.2 LF flyballs per 30 batters faced, you’re looking at .86 catches for Junior and .98 catches for Chavez, or in terms of runs, about .11 runs per Felix start. For the other three, you’re looking at .15 to to .17 runs per start.

So, that’s your defensive gap that has to be overcome to justify starting Griffey in LF given a particular starting pitcher and assuming that the other team has an RHP on the mound that day. Can you make up .11 runs on offense against an RHP with this roster?

Keep in mind, this is .11 runs per 30 batters faced, so Chavez would only get 3 PA in the playing time we’re taking away from him. So, in order to make up that gap, the Alternate DH guy has to be able to be .04 runs per PA better than Chavez against RHP. .04 runs per PA translates to 48 points of wOBA, or about a .280/.360/.470 type of hitter, if you’re looking for an example. How many guys on the Mariners roster who currently don’t have a job do you think can hit .280/.360/.470 against RHP this year? I’m going with zero.

The only possible guy who has that kind of offensive ability and is even potentially going to be on the bench some days is Clement. But, since we set out to try and find a scenario where Griffey in LF makes sense, and we found one that might happen, let’s go ahead and qualify it.

It would make sense to start Ken Griffey Jr in Left Field in 2009 on days where Felix Hernandez is pitching, the opposing team’s starter is right-handed, Jeff Clement is unable to catch but his hitting is unaffected, and you planned on removing Griffey from the game after the sixth or seventh inning.

That’s as good as I can do. Given this roster, Griffey in LF makes sense in that remarkably narrow context, and that remarkably narrow context only. If anyone besides Felix is starting, it’s a no go. If the other team isn’t throwing an RHP, you don’t do it. If Clement is catching, you don’t do it. It’s just a negative proposition in all the other scenarios.

Now, if the M’s can find a LH bat who can post a .360+ wOBA against RHP without giving up much in talent, then we can revisit this conversation. We’re not so set on the Three CF Plan that we’re willing to go forward with a worse team if there’s a better way to win more games.

The problem, though, is that Griffey as an LF doesn’t help you win more games than Griffey as a DH. I know Endy Chavez’s bat isn’t very exciting to most of you, but the defensive difference outweighs the offensive gap between him and practically everyone else on the roster.

This analysis ignores a bunch of ancillary factors – the wear and tear that playing the field could have on Griffey’s health, the potential return on investment from inflating the value of the team’s pitchers with improved defense, the lessened workload on the starting pitchers and the shift in innings towards the starters and away from the bullpen – that also need to be considered in any full scale analysis of who should play the field. However, all of those factors point away from Griffey as an LF, and the deck was already so stacked against the idea that I wanted to try to give it a chance. So, that’s why they weren’t included.


94 Responses to “Griffey And The Outfield”

  1. Jeff Sullivan on February 23rd, 2009 10:19 am

    Re: adroit

    Where can we find this analysis?

    Although I’m not doubting it, intuitively it doesn’t seem right that one missed flyball every fourth game adds up to 36 runs per season. Obviously that’s why we use statistics instead of intuition, but it’d be interesting to see the breakdown.

    You can find run values of each event here. The important bits, when you set an out equal to 0: single = 0.77, double = 1.08, triple = 1.37. These are the four major outcomes we can expect on any flyball hit into play.

    Now, what about flyball distribution? For 2008, you can find that information here. Scroll down to “Hit Trajectory”. Since we’re dealing with balls hit into play in the air, let’s combine flyballs and line drives and exclude home runs. This gives us a 1B/2B/3B ratio of 64.4%/32.2%/3.4%.

    A flyball in play that isn’t caught will turn into a single, double, or triple. If you multiply those percentages by the appropriate run values and add them together, you get 0.496 + 0.348 + 0.046, which totals to 0.89. In other words, the run value of turning a flyball into an out is 0.89 runs, or 0.9 per Dave’s rounding.

  2. decatur7 on February 23rd, 2009 10:25 am

    2) This needs to be sent to Wak right now…

    I agree, but Tom Tango make a good go-between (in case you’re lurking, tangotiger!).

  3. fdeezle on February 23rd, 2009 10:30 am

    I think I missed something. What does the other teams SP have to do with Griffey in the field?

  4. adroit on February 23rd, 2009 10:39 am

    If you multiply those percentages by the appropriate run values and add them together, you get 0.496 + 0.348 + 0.046, which totals to 0.89

    Perfect, thanks. That’s exactly the explanation I was looking for.

  5. pygmalion on February 23rd, 2009 10:40 am

    I think I missed something. What does the other teams SP have to do with Griffey in the field?

    Griffey should never play in the field if a lefty is pitching because he should never play period if a lefty is pitching unless half the team just got suspended for fighting in a brawl the day before.

  6. Tek Jansen on February 23rd, 2009 10:43 am

    “What does the other teams SP have to do with Griffey in the field?”

    I assume that Griffey might take a day off if the M’s face Unit or CC, but I don’t think that a decision between Griffey at DH or LF would be influenced by the opposing pitcher.

  7. The Ancient Mariner on February 23rd, 2009 10:46 am

    No, but a decision between Griffey in the lineup at all and Griffey on the bench had best be influenced by the opposing pitcher, given how pathetic he’s been against LHP the last few years. He ought to be as close to facing RHP only as we can manage.

  8. Dave on February 23rd, 2009 10:47 am

    What does the other teams SP have to do with Griffey in the field?

    From the post:

    Essentially, everyone should agree that Griffey should never start in LF against an LHP. Ever. He hasn’t been able to hit lefties for years now, and there’s just no way you could find a RH hitter who would be worth having in the line-up but couldn’t outplay Junior in left field on those days.

  9. ThundaPC on February 23rd, 2009 10:54 am

    Well, just heard that Geoff Baker is on board with the idea of keeping Griffey off the field and having him DH only (he even praised Dave’s post).

    If Griffey plays the field a little too much you can always go through Baker to find out Wak’s thought process.

    He also mentioned that Giffey was walking around with an ice pack on his knee already. Yea, I think Griffey will see DH time almost exclusively if nothing else to go easy on his knees.

  10. joser on February 23rd, 2009 10:56 am

    Not to mention, Tango probably did this kind of analysis before they signed Griffey. That’s sort of his job, as I understand it. Doesn’t hurt to have a second opinion, of course, and I got the sense that he’s far from the only person in the new FO who visits from time to time, though he’s the only one who (occasionally) posts. (Well, that we know of, anyway. I suspect “AKMariner” might actually be Howard Lincoln).

    But there’s a big gap between knowing what Wakamatsu should be doing and him actually being able to do it given all the other non-statistical circumstances he has to accommodate. (Amusingly, or perhaps tragically, I think one measure of how good a job he’s doing will be the volume of complaints from fans on KJR etc about not seeing Griffey in the outfield.)

  11. joser on February 23rd, 2009 11:02 am

    He also mentioned that Giffey was walking around with an ice pack on his knee already.

    Yikes. You know those awful skiing/snowboarding wipeouts where the guy goes end-over-end down the slope, goggles and gloves and other equipment flying off in an aerial yard sale?

    I fear we’ll see Griffey do the equivalent in left field, except it’ll be on flat ground and some of the things flying off will be his actual kneecaps and hamstrings.

  12. Steve T on February 23rd, 2009 11:10 am

    My prediction, because I am a pessimist, is that Griffey will get 120 games in the outfield, and will bat against both lefties and righties. I’m sure if you asked Griffey, he’d say the same thing Raul Ibanez says: “I’m an outstanding outfielder”, and the vast majority of the fans would agree with him. Chuck Armstrong would agree with him.

    120 games in the outfield would make Griffey one of the the worst players in the league even if he hits some homers.

    All hope rests with Wakamatsu at this point. If he does the right thing, the KJR crowd is going to go bananas, though.

  13. joser on February 23rd, 2009 11:25 am

    All hope rests with Wakamatsu at this point. If he does the right thing, the KJR crowd is going to go bananas, though.

    Well, Wakamatsu is the hard end of the hammer, but it helps a lot if the whole organization is swinging it together. As I think everybody knows, it’s always a lot easier to hold the line when you’re getting support from those above you. Obviously ArmLinc will be most attuned to the bottom line and will be most tempted to sacrifice on-field success on the Pyrrhic pyre of fan sentiment, but analysis like this should stiffen the resolve of the front office if Wakamatsu needs any support. This gets into “managing expectations” I talked about in an earlier thread: the FO can use the regular media to try to do that with fans, but of course they walk a fine line because some people at least are going to be buying tickets to see Griffey, and not just four times at the plate.

    The real problem is that Griffey possesses the ability to go over the heads of everyone in the organization by appealing to the fans directly, if he feels like he should be spending more time in the field. But perhaps the aching throb beneath his ice packs will curtail any impulses he might have in that direction.

  14. skeets35 on February 23rd, 2009 11:38 am

    That is the best post I have ever read about defense. Wow, Kudos for making the explination so clear and simple

  15. Mariner Max on February 23rd, 2009 11:43 am

    I’m worried about Griffey playing in the outfield for many of the reasons that have been discussed, and also because he has about 2 games’ experience in LF.

  16. Tek Jansen on February 23rd, 2009 11:48 am

    Any chance that on days when Gutierrez needs a day off against a tough righty that Griffey plays right, Ichiro plays center, and Endy plays left?

  17. Jeff Tolin on February 23rd, 2009 12:04 pm

    Just one question/thought about the observation that each flyball converted into an out is worth 0.9 runs. This takes into account all non-homer flyballs. Is there any distinction between the 15% of flyballs that the even the best outfielders can’t catch and the 15% of flyballs that great outfielders can catch but bad ones can’t?

    My intuition is that the 15% that no one is catching are very, very dangerous — those are the ones that hit the wall or go deep into the gaps. The 15% that the good ones can get to but the bad ones can’t get to (that is, the difference between 85% and 70%), I would think, might be slightly less dangerous — e.g., bloopers that a fast guy can turn into a shoestring catch but that a slow guy would have to take on one hop. But if that figure of 0.9 runs doesn’t take into account the different characteristics of different flyballs (and I don’t see how it possibly could), it would be a blended number that overstates the difference between good outfielders and poor ones.

    Just a thought, anyway.

  18. Dave on February 23rd, 2009 12:28 pm

    That’s where stats like UZR come in – using vectors and more detailed data, the advanced defensive metrics break down the probability of each ball being caught and the relative run value of those balls in play.

    The UZR/PMR numbers match up with our very general analysis here. We’re not overstating the difference.

  19. gwangung on February 23rd, 2009 12:37 pm

    The real problem is that Griffey possesses the ability to go over the heads of everyone in the organization by appealing to the fans directly, if he feels like he should be spending more time in the field.

    True. But I would think the surge from fans about HAVING Griffey anywhere on the team would be a lot, lot stronger than having Griffey in the outfield. If his bat’s in the lineup, casual fans’ complaints would be a lot, lot less.

  20. msb on February 23rd, 2009 12:46 pm

    I would think that if you had had knee surgery and then were beginning to run regularly, ice packs would be a very sensible thing.

  21. bakomariner on February 23rd, 2009 12:47 pm

    If they really want to play Griff in the outfield, he should be in RF, ICHIRO! in LF and Gutierrez in CF…or you could switch LF and CF…

    As we saw with guys like Buhner and Guillen, RF is the easiest of the three to play, so if Griff HAS to play OF, he’d be best off there…

  22. Ralph_Malph on February 23rd, 2009 12:52 pm

    My intuition is that the 15% that no one is catching are very, very dangerous — those are the ones that hit the wall or go deep into the gaps.

    Maybe. Some of them are soft line drives or little bloopers that drop in front of any outfielder. I have no idea what the breakdown might be — and I suspect you don’t either. Dave has been quite clear that this analysis is a blunt instrument.

    The factor left out of this analysis — and it’s part of “The Drama that is Junior” — is that if he never plays the OF he’ll probably be unhappy and pout, and with his fragile temperament I think that might well affect his hitting. That’s just part of the deal when you decide to sign Junior.

    What made me uncomfortable was the quote I thought I saw from Wakamatsu that it’ll be up to Griffey how often he played LF (I can’t find the link now). That sounded kind of ominous.

  23. Till on February 23rd, 2009 1:17 pm

    Dave wrote: “…and the post was already far too long.”

    Great post, because it is so long and detailed. If I want half-baked, but short analysis I can go elsewhere. Keep the long posts coming, don’t apologize!

  24. Ralph_Malph on February 23rd, 2009 1:18 pm

    I have a question for Dave or someone else who knows defensive stats better than I do (meaning almost everybody on here):

    Griffey’s defensive stats are almost all for CF and RF (RF the last 2 years). Most teams probably put their weakest OF in LF. Granted that his defensive numbers are awful in RF and CF, would they look better for LF? Wouldn’t it be true that an average LF is much worse defensively than an average RF, and wouldn’t that mean he’d cost fewer runs by comparison to average there than if you just used his RF numbers?

    I apologize in advance if that’s a dumb question.

  25. terry on February 23rd, 2009 1:25 pm


    There really isn’t a dramatic difference between the talent pools in the corner outfield slots. In other words a -10 run defender in right might be expected to be roughly a -10 run defender when weighed against his colleagues in left field.

    The value of his arm might change a bit but I don’t think that would dramatically impact his defensive value.

  26. marc w on February 23rd, 2009 1:41 pm

    “My intuition is that the 15% that no one is catching are very, very dangerous — those are the ones that hit the wall or go deep into the gaps.”

    That’s interesting, Jeff – my intuition is almost the complete opposite. A fast OF can run down the “fliner” in the gap, whereas a slow OF simply can’t. To me, the 0.9 may actually understate it, particularly for fly balls down the line or in the deep corner.
    To me, and I realize that we use UZR/wOBA so we don’t have to use intuition, it’s the singles that no OF is going to get. A shallow/bloop single (if classified as a FB, and god knows STATS/BIS seem to have different classifications) is basically not going to be caught. A fly ball (not a line drive) in the gap is routinely caught provided the OF is fast and/or got a decent jump.
    When people look at the numbers and say that it’s impossible that, say, Raul Ibanez could ‘lose’ 20 or 30 runs on D, I suspect they’re thinking of bloop singles. To me, I look at Raul and then, say, Denard Span or Carl Crawford and think that the 30 run figure is, if anything, conservative.

  27. Breadbaker on February 23rd, 2009 2:12 pm

    The important bits, when you set an out equal to 0:

    I don’t think it changes the end result at all, but the run value of an out is not exactly zero for an outfielder if there are men on base. If you get to the ball fast and in perfect position to throw, the runners stay (and if you’re Ichiro, they weren’t even thinking of tagging). If you get to the ball late, have to dive, catch it with your back to the plate, are off-balance, etc., then the runners will take the base off you. That was Raul and that’s Junior these days. Even that great catch and throw in the playoff game against the Twins makes the point: who would run on him in 1994?

  28. slescotts on February 23rd, 2009 3:52 pm

    My god I wish we had Randy Winn back!! I mean, I know Yorvit Torrealba (sp?) and Jesse Foppert proved to be cornerstones of this franchise and all… Seriously, top 5 UZR, good average, a few HR’s, high VORP. Can we find a guy like this anywhere?

  29. JI on February 23rd, 2009 4:10 pm

    Also, I don’t have my chart in front of me, but I think there’s a 10 run adjustment between the corners and centerfield.

  30. joser on February 23rd, 2009 4:50 pm

    Wouldn’t it be true that an average LF is much worse defensively than an average RF, and wouldn’t that mean he’d cost fewer runs by comparison to average there than if you just used his RF numbers?

    In his post over at Fangraphs on Replacement Level for Left Fielders, Dave said

    Now, because there are some differences between the throws between RF and LF, the guys with better arms end up in right field, while the fastest guys end up in CF to get the most opportunities to enhance their defensive value. However, the fundamentals of the positions are all the same, and anyone who can play one outfield spot could play all three. Not equally well, necessarily, but they really aren’t different positions in the way that the infield has different positions.

    For calculating value the positional adjustment for LF and RF is the same, and is one win less than the adjustment for CF (or, as JI put it, about 10 runs).

    But really, the way to look at your question is this: yes, it may be true that teams put their worst defensive outfielder in LF, so Griffey’s stats relative to his peers in LF may be better than his stats relative to the league’s RFs (and especially relative to the league’s CFs). But that doesn’t change his stats, just the context. Racing against slow people doesn’t make you faster. If you were evaluating the contract or looking at various potential acquisitions, that kind of comparison makes sense. But Griffey is already acquired, and the contract is signed. Ultimately the point now is about preventing runs, and the question is how many will Griffey prevent vs other OF options on this team, not other guys on other teams . (Plus the offensive opportunities by having the DH spot open, of course).

  31. pygmalion on February 23rd, 2009 5:06 pm

    Most teams probably put their weakest OF in LF.

    The main problem with this is that, given Safeco’s dimensions – the large left field – you probably shouldn’t put your slowest defender in LF. But Griffey is our slowest defender. So this might actually be worse than placing him in RF.

  32. Ralph_Malph on February 23rd, 2009 5:21 pm

    Actually, my question doesn’t matter much if you’re comparing Griffey to Chavez as leftfielders. Chavez has played much more in CF in his career than in LF, and last year he was mostly a RF. So whatever positional benefit Griffey might get if he moves over as a result of being compared to the average LF would be (mostly) obtained by Chavez as well. So never mind.

  33. jro on February 23rd, 2009 5:47 pm

    Dave – since your analysis (great job, btw) uses historical averages to project down to 40 outs over 162 games, what are the averages with the greatest potential volatility to stray from the historical average?

    Or more to the point, what can make the outcome of this analysis skew more positively or negatively?

  34. Breadbaker on February 23rd, 2009 8:05 pm

    FSN is showing the last game at the Kingdome. Junior just hit his homer (sorry, spoiler). Sele is pitching, Junior made a great play on Mark McLemore. Amazing how many future Mariners and future Rangers were in this game.

  35. Edgarrulez on February 23rd, 2009 8:09 pm

    But you forgot the one factor that overrides all other considerations and WILL cause Jr. to play in LF:

    Howie and Co. think the fans will buy more tickets if they think they might see Griffey in LF.

  36. Jeff Nye on February 23rd, 2009 8:36 pm

    Can we maybe not turn this into yet another “Lincoln/Armstrong are the root of all evil” discussion that we’ve had about 30 million times already?


  37. DMZ on February 23rd, 2009 8:39 pm

    I heard we get a prize at 50m.

  38. Breadbaker on February 23rd, 2009 10:32 pm

    I heard we get a prize at 50m.

    This is your prize.

  39. nycredsfan on February 24th, 2009 9:15 am

    As a lifelong Reds fan who has watched Griffey closely the last 9 years, I applaud this analysis. Watching him play confirms all of the defensive metrics. He just looks slow in the field, and there will be so many balls that it looks like he should get that he won’t even try for. DH is definitely the better solution. Also, while I know this can’t be proven, I think playing the field makes him a worse hitter over the season as it wears him down and makes him more susceptible to the nagging leg and knee injuries he always seems to get. I think if he is primarily a DH, look for a very solid offensive year from him.

  40. PositivePaul on February 24th, 2009 4:35 pm

    Swung on and BELTED, Dave!

    My skepticism of the reliability of defensive stats is well-published online, but this is very helpful in getting me more in line with common thinking here…

    Nice work!

    Can’t wait to see him in CF 😉

    (I’m KIIIIDDIING!!!)

    As a follow-up, I’m not sure if anyone replied to my comment (I haven’t checked yet), but it sure would be interesting to know what Griffey would have to hit to be worth 1 WAR as mostly a DH (i.e. seeing very, very little time in the field – such that the defensive “hit” in his value would be negligible at best, although this article does give us some basis for defining “negligible” in that context).

  41. Dave on February 24th, 2009 5:29 pm

    WAR for a DH is extremely easy to calculate – it’s just Batting Wins Above Average. A league average hitter with no defensive value is basically the definition of a replacement level player, so for a DH, WAR = WAA.

    So, Jr would have to be +10 runs offensively to be a +1 WAR DH. Assuming a league average wOBA of .330 and that Griffey would get 500 PA as a DH, that would put 1 WAR at a .353 wOBA or so.

  42. jjracoon on February 25th, 2009 12:37 am

    Well based on the live conversation that Gasfrom KJR had with Griffey at about 530pm 2/24/09 the following kind of summarizes Griffeys position:

    Griffey is NOT interested in the DH position.

    He is interested in the LF position.

    He would be willing to DH once a month.

    If more DH per month than that discussions will be necessary.

    Based on that conversation with Gas I would say that nothing was said to him about being a fulltime DH!!

  43. DMZ on February 25th, 2009 1:00 am

    Yes, see previous comments (many)

  44. jjracoon on February 25th, 2009 1:04 am

    If a plan was worked out before hand as to playing time in LF versus DH then this is not a good way for him to voice his dissension as I cant see one positive thing that can come from it. For someone identified as bringing the players together, it would put a very negative spin on anything else he says. If I was to read into what he said, and I am going to, he is saying I am going to play LF fulltime as long as I am healthy and use the DH for a rest day once a month. If I am not healthy enough to play LF anymore than I will RETIRE!! I am an outfielder first and only!!

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