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The 2008 All Defense Team

Of late, there’s been a tremendous increase in our ability to evaluate defensive players using saber-related stats as well as a greater appreciation for the value of good defensive play. No point has helped to prove this true than the free agent contracts doled out this offseason to defensively-challenged but offensively-talented players such as Pat Burrell, Bob Abreu, and Adam Dunn. These 3, undoubtedly, entered the offseason thinking they were about to hit the jackpot but their values plummeted partly b/c the market has affected most players (except for those signed before teams realized what was happening in the market like Kyle Lohse) but also b/c teams are simply valuing defense more highly than in years past.

With that in mind, I wanted to construct what I’m calling my All-Defense team for 2008. These guys aren’t necessarily the best defensive players at their positions but they are, basically, all defense. In other words, their offense in 2008 was pretty close to replacement level for their position but their defense was so good as to make them, for the most part, above average players for the season. These players are largely undervalued, as Dave Cameron helped to illustrate Friday b/c their offense just isn’t very good. As it turns out, however, all of the value, or almost all of it, comes from their defense and yet, they were about league average ballplayers in 2008. The casual fan will look at these guys’ offensive stats for 2008 and think me crazy for calling them league average players but, due to their defense, that’s exactly what they were.

So, without further ado, here is the 2008 All-Defense Team:

Pos Player Batting Fielding WAR Value Salary
1B Casey Kotchman -2.5 5.5 1.1 $5.0 $1.5
2B Mark Ellis -4.7 17.0 3.1 $13.9 $5.0
SS Orlando Cabrera -11.1 16.4 3.7 $16.6 $10.0
3B Mike Lowell 4.1 9.9 3.1 $14.0 $12.5
RF Hunter Pence 3.6 8.3 2.6 $11.7 $0.4
CF Adam Jones -7.0 10.3 2.2 $10.1 $0.4
LF Carl Crawford -2.5 18.8 2.7 $12.2 $5.4
Totals -20.1 86.2 18.5 $83.5 $35.2

First of all, catchers aren’t evaluated defensively the same way other fielders are simply due to the unique nature of the position. Since they’re not evaluated in terms of runs and wins on defense, they weren’t included. The winner probably would have been Bengie Molina, however, had I chosen one.

The seven players listed above were worth roughly 8.5 wins simply due to their outstanding defense and they were worth roughly 10.5 wins more on defense than on offense. This helps to illustrate why they are so undervalued – as evidenced by the fact that they were paid less than $50 M LESS than their value in 2008. Bengie Molina was worth more than $13 M to the Giants while they paid him just $6.3 M, adding nearly an additional $7 M to the difference between value and salary for these players.

The inclusion of Pac Man Jones on this list brings a smile to my face, mostly b/c of what it could say about Rasmus this year. For the last 2-3 years, Jones and Rasmus were seen as basically interchangeable on various prospect lists. One would have one a couple of spots higher and another would have the other a couple of spots higher. In my mind, it’s very foreseeable that Rasmus could have an ’09 similar to Jones’ 08 – ok offensively but 10+ runs above average defensively to end up greater than 2 WAR. It would be a very good rookie season meaning that whatever Rasmus provided offensively would be gravy. It’s no difficult at all to see Rasmus being league average or even a 3 win player or so if his defense turns out to be as good as advertised.

I think this list, and their values also says something about a team's ability to find value where it appears none exists. It's not always easy to find an affordable yet above average offensive player. On the other hand, teams on a tight budget can find affordable above average defensive players that can enable them to win games when, if you look at their lineup, you think they're doing it w/ smoke and mirrors.

Finally, let’s have another plug for the Cards’ Maple Street Annual. It starts shipping tomorrow and is gonna be full of good Cards’ stuff.