On Defense

I don’t mind seeing what they’ve got this spring but I think we’re deluding ourselves if we think that either Skip or Mather is going to win the 2b job and keep it throughout the season.
I posted that right here on February 8. I really don’t think I was that far off base at the time. I based that conclusion on 2 things – the notion that Skip’s defense would be pretty bad and CHONE’s offensive projections for Skip. CHONE had Skip w/ a .328 wOBA – roughly league average – and 0.2 wRAA and a UZR/150 equal to 2008’s worst defensive 2nd baseman. Last year, Jeff Kent’s UZR/150 was minus 15.5. This led me to the conclusion that Skip would be worth roughly 0.7 WAR, hardly very good production from a regular player.
wRAA UZR/150 positional adjustment replacement level Total RAR WAR
Skip 0.2 -15.5 2.5 20 7.2 0.7

Over at fangraphs, R.J. Anderson had a more sanguine take on Skip’s move to the keystone. He used a different offensive assumption than I did. Rather than using CHONE’s projections, he assumed that Skip would have the same offensive season he had in 2008 – 6 wRAA. On defense, his assumption was basically the same as mine, though he took the average UZRs of the majors’ worst 2nd basemen over the last 5 years and came up w/ a UZR of minus 14. Using these numbers, Skip’s transition seemed to make a little more sense.

wRAA UZR/150 positional adjustment replacement level Total RAR WAR
Skip 6 -14 2.5 20 14.5 1.45

But something happened on the way to mediocrity. For one thing, Skip’s offense hasn’t been quite as good as in 2008 but it’s been better than CHONE projected. Right now, he’s sitting w/ a wOBA of .334 – slightly above league average – and 1.7 wRAA. That’s a pace for approximately 2.4 wRAA by season’s end. As for his defense…well, it’s been pretty bad, but it’s been better than either R.J. or I anticipated. Right now his UZR is minus 9.7 runs and his UZR/150 is minus 12.8. This puts him last in the big leagues in UZR/150 but 2nd to last – in front of the RoyalsAlberto Callaspo – in UZR. Like I said, it’s bad but it’s not quite as bad as anticipated. Put it together and, as of right now, Skip’s prorated 2nd base numbers put him roughly at

wRAA UZR/150 positional adjustment replacement level Total RAR WAR
Skip 1.65 -9.7 2.17 13.84 7.96 0.80

The positional adjustment above is computed based on the fact that Skip has played 86.5% of his innings this year at 2nd base. The wRAA and replacement level numbers are prorated based on the fact that Skip only has 3 starts in the OF. Therefore, approximately 3% of his PAs have come as an OF and 97% of his PAs have come as a 2B. This puts him on a pace to be worth roughly 1.13 WAR as a 2nd baseman. He’s been basically replacement level, or maybe a little less, as an OF.

But here’s the thing: Skip’s defense is improving. Derrick Goold noted that billjamesonline stated as much.

Bill James Online tracks a fielder's plus/minus, which awards a plus for a play outside an assigned zone and a minus for a missed play inside the zone. Schumaker had a minus 14 three months into his first season. In the past month, he has been a minus 3.

His UZR right now is minus 9.7 but his UZR/150 is getting lower and lower as the year goes along. By season’s end, it might be lower than minus 9.7 runs, but that run total is decreasing at a decreasing pace. In other words, I wouldn’t necessarily expect that he will be 30% MORE runs below 0 just b/c we have 30% of the season left. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me all that much if he’s still around minus 10 at season’s end. If so, we will have witnessed a remarkable transformation – one whose improvement would hopefully continue next season.

On the other hand, not enough has been made of La Russa’s bizarre decision the other night to allow Rick Ankiel to pinch hit with noted lefty-killer Arthur Rhodes on the mound. Khalil Greene was in the dugout and, w/ 2 out and 2 on in the bottom of the 8th, the situation called for Greene’s use. If not, under what circumstances WILL La Russa turn to Greene? If he can’t turn to him in those situations, why is he even on the roster? Allen Craig would’ve been a much better option there than Ankiel.

Allen Craig, inexplicably, has never been given a chance w/ the big club this year. Craig raked in spring training and is still hitting the cover off the ball w/ Memphis. Now, of course, we have no 3B ready to step in next year and, for whatever reason, Craig’s name never enters the discussion. We’re told that his defense prevents him from being considered.

True to the company line, Craig has played only 13 games at 3B this year. Most of his work has been done in LF and, failing a Holliday resigning, he absolutely needs to be considered for the LF job next year w/ the big club. That said, in looking at his total zone numbers I fail to see why he doesn’t get at least SOME consideration for the 3B job. Am I saying "Give him the job outright?" I absolutely am not. What I’m saying is – "Give him a shot at it!"

If you look at Craig’s total zone numbers over his minor league career, he’s been 2 runs below average at the hot corner over 630 minor league chances spread out over 4 seasons. Last year, David Wright and Kevin Kouzmanoff led all major league 3B in total chances w/ 416. So 630 chances is roughly a season and a half’s worth of chances – maybe a little more than that since we wouldn’t expect Craig to play as the hot corner as well as those 2. Let’s say it’s worth 1.6 seasons’ worth of chances. Craig’s -2, if we assume total zone is roughly equal to UZR and most people say they’re pretty close, would convert to approximately a UZR of minus 3.2 runs over a full season. Now, that’s below average (thus the minus!) but it’s also in the same neighborhood as ARod, Mark Reynolds and Aramis Ramirez last season and better than ARod, Wright, and Mike Lowell this season. In other words, there’s no reason to believe that Craig can’t be at least a respectable third baseman. If we’re ok going into the season believing that Skip’s going to be a minus 10 to minus 15 second baseman, isn’t a minus 3 third baseman worth a shot?

Finally, some here – and, of course Dan and Al – made light of Dusty Baker’s use of the infield shift to attempt to defend against Albert the other night. In case you missed it, he pulled Brandon Phillips almost behind 2nd base and moved (the since-traded) Alex Gonzalez more into the hole at short. Our illustrious broadcasters, as well as some Cards’ fans, scoffed at this – mostly b/c Dusty is a (ahem!) "peculiar" manager. However, if you look at Albert’s hit chart at mlb.com, the idea isn’t so crazy. (I’ve obviously forgotten how to capture an image from a screen, so go to the link and check "singles" and "ground outs" and you’ll see where Albert’s hit the ball so far this season.)

In looking at the hit chart for Busch Stadium, (you can’t create a hit chart for all stadiums at once) Albert has just 3 ground outs to the right of 2nd base all season. He only has 2 singles at Busch that might have been fielded by the right fielder. While his fly balls are much more evenly distributed, his hits and ground outs are strongly to the left side of 2nd base or up the middle. It seems to me that just by looking at that hit chart, there’s no reason not to put the shift on for Albert. We have this notion that Albert hits to all fields, and certainly he CAN, but he doesn’t very often. Positioning a 2nd baseman up the middle and a shortstop more in the hole will take more hits away from Albert than it will yield.

Besides, if I’m an opposing manager, I want to try and goad Albert into trying to sneak a single into the open hole I created by moving the 2nd baseman behind 2nd base. That way, he won’t hit the ball out of the ballpark. If I were Albert, I wouldn’t fall for their ploy. I have no idea how many hits this shift will take away from Albert – probably a net of fewer than 10 over the course of a season – but it’s better than nothing.

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