Boos on Third

I thought I’d take a look at our position players to see how they’re doing so far this season.  It’s…not good.  SURPRISE!

But for the analysis I wanted to do, I needed to evaluate which positions are getting contributions and which are liabilities so far this season.  To do this, I aggregated each position player’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR, primer here) and assigned him a position.  Then, for players who play the same position, I lumped them together and added their WAR totals.  Some of this took some maneuvering, as most players on this team have played multiple positions.  Anyway, here’s where the totals came out, and where I assigned each player:

POS

WAR

Players
C 1.5 Santana, Giminez, Marson, Redmond
1B 0.7 Branyan, LaPorta
2B -0.5 Donald, Grudzielanek
3B 0.1 Peralta, Nix, Marte, Valbuena
SS 0.2 Cabrera, Hernandez
LF 0.8 Kearns, Duncan, Crowe
CF -0.6 Sizemore, Brantley
RF 4.4 Choo
DH 1.1 Hafner, Brown
TOTAL 7.7

Obviously, Santana contributed most of the value at catcher.  In fact, he’s the only catcher who had a positive WAR, meaning that his replacements have been exactly that—replacement level, meaning they wouldn’t be appreciably better than a AAA guy.  Choo is the big name here, which shouldn’t surprise anyone: he has contributed well over half of the team’s production from a position player standpoint (remember, I’m leaving off the pitchers for this exercise).  Centerfield is an obvious shortcoming, but you all know how I feel about our centerfield situation moving forward.  Second base isn’t so hot either, with Donald and Grudzielanek playing well below replacement level; I will certainly discuss that issue another day.

But today I want to address third base.  Here’s how that position breaks down:

Name

WAR

Jayson Nix

0.9

Jhonny Peralta

0.7

Andy Marte

-0.1

Luis Valbuena

-1.4

TOTAL

0.1

It’s not exactly fair to throw Valbuena in this pile, since a good portion of his contributions this season came at second base.  In fact, the same goes for both Marte and Nix, since they’ve moved around the diamond as well.  But their WARs shouldn’t be too influenced by their time spent at other positions: these guys are all “utility” players, and their utility shouldn’t change much as they bounce from position to position.

So what do we see?  First, it was definitely time to cut bait with Peralta, in case you didn’t know that already.  Jhonny posted a 0.7 WAR with the Indians through July, meaning that he was basically a 1.0 WAR player for the entire season.  Considering that on the free agent market, teams are paying about $4 million per win, there is no way the team should have picked up his $7 million option for next season.  We were wise to get an upside prospect while we could.  And despite what some Detroit columnists think, there’s no way the Tigers will pick up the option either.  Since the trade, Jhonny’s batting .236/.310/.438: same old Jhonny.  He’s just obviously not worth $7 million to anyone.

But Jhonny’s old news.  Since the trade, the Front Office and Manny Acta have made it clear that some combination of Nix, Marte and Valbuena will man the hot corner, in the hopes that someone stands out and takes the position going into next season.

Judging merely by WAR—a dangerous thing to do, as we’ll see—it seems Jayson Nix is obviously the best of the group, posting a higher total than Jhonny in far more limited playing time.  Both Marte and Valbuena have played this season at below replacement level, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s watched a game or two.

And it seems that the front office believes in Jayson Nix as well: since the Peralta trade, Nix has started the majority of the games at 3B, with Marte and Valbuena filling in.  But is Jayson Nix the answer?

Let’s look at the respective careers of this triumvirate:

PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA BB% K%
Nix 594 0.221 0.299 0.386 0.304 8.8% 26.2%
Marte 870 0.216 0.276 0.353 0.274 7.4% 21.0%
Valbuena 667 0.221 0.284 0.352 0.279 7.5% 23.6%

This is both shocking and completely expected.  The shocking part: they’re all basically the exact same hitter.  The expected part: they all kinda suck.  Let’s discuss.

Each of these guys has a bit over one season of everyday at bats.  Each has a similar batting average (really bad), similar on-base skills (terrible—all sub-.300), similarly average slugging percentages (though Nix has the highest), and similarly putrid wOBAs (.330 is average!).  Each of these guys strikes out at least three times more often than he walks!  That is…not good.

If we had to choose which of these guys were the best offensively, though?  It would probably be Nix, while holding our collective nose.  He has the highest slugging percentage of the group, the highest walk rate, and consequently, the highest wOBA.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a far below average hitter, but he’s the best offensive player of this little group.

But what about defense?  After all, a run scored is as important as a run prevented.  Oh man, here we go:

FP UZR/150 +/- (per year)
Nix 0.885 -14.2 -20
Marte 0.943 0.5 6
Valbuena 0.917 NA N

All defensive numbers are for third base only

Great.  Nix (as I’m sure we expected) is a terrible third baseman.  He has an .885 fielding percentage and according to UZR he would cost his team more than 14 runs per year playing third.  Baseball-Reference’s +/- has Nix costing 20 runs per season compared to an average 3B.  However you split it, he’s a bad, bad, awful, terrible third baseman.

Marte is certainly better than Nix defensively, but he’s no great shakes either.  UZR rates him as a completely average 3B, while +/- has him slightly above.  Valbuena’s sample size at third is too small to make many conclusions, but I think it’s fair to say he’s not much better than Marte, considering his fielding percentage at third.

So why is Nix’s WAR so high this season for the Indians?  Well, for one, he’s hitting has been better this season than it’s ever been in his career.  This season, Nix’s line is .265/.317/.470 with a .344 wOBA.  That’s just immeasurably better than what his career line would suggest.  Further, he hasn’t played enough (bad) third base to affect his WAR total—too much average second base defense is clouding the defensive component.

But make no mistake: these are three very bad baseball players.  It speaks volumes about the organization that these guys are our only options left for this season.

Not that I want the Indians to bring up either Jared Goedert or Lonnie Chisenhall to fill this massive void of talent.  In my mind, Goedert was probably playing way over his head earlier this year (his recent slump seems to indicate as much) and Lonnie Chisenhall is no where close to ready for the big leagues.

So what do we do for next season?  After all, no one in this group is playing remotely well right now.

Paul Cousineau made the suggestion earlier this week that the Indians might be active in the 3B market this off-season, and he stressed the value of defense as we evaluate potential targets.  Let me lend my support to that notion.  We need to add a third baseman who is, at least, average—which none of our current players are.  In fact, if this team goes into the 2011 season without adding a piece to the third baseman pile (Thanks coach Holmgren!), I believe that the signal will be sent, once again, that the front office doesn’t believe they can win a completely winnable division.

  • Howard Roarke

    It’s nice that someone s doing statistical research to show how incredibly bad this team is.

    Choo is a nice complimentary player on a contending teams – a .285/20/85 guy. Here he’s the star.

    When one considers how Sizemore and Cabrara have both regressed before their injuries (the league adapting to how they pitch them is one thing, but the defensive stats showing they cover less and less ground in their mid-late 20’s is mind-boggling), and how Santana’s BA was nosediving before he got hurt on a play that a catcher should never have tried to make, then one has to look at the Dolan family and wonder how long Shapiro and Antonetti can continue to flim-flam them.

    This is unquestionably one of the 3 worst organizations in MLB. How long can they make excuses about the unfairness of MLB when teams like the Rays and Twins in small and mid markets develop gobs of quality players and compete? The Marlins, Reds, come ‘on. What the Dolan’s/Shapiro and Antonelli have done to this franchise is deplorable, and they need to be called out for it!

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    “It’s not exactly fair to throw Valbuena in this pile”

    Also not fair, some of Valbuena’s throws.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Jon

    @ Howard Roarke/1

    Agree with some of your points, but I didn’t mean for this piece to be an assault on anyone except the third basemen I discussed.

    To wit:

    Choo is fourth among AL outfielders in WAR. He’s not a complementary player on any team. In fact, put him on the Yankees and he competes for an MVP.*

    I mostly agree that Sizemore’s range is decreasing, but when healthy, he could still be a superstar for far less money than he would make on the market. Shapiro deserves credit for how he handled that contract, IMO.

    Disagree completely on Santana: he will be among the best catchers in the AL next season. And I don’t like your suggestion that he somehow deserved to get injured.

    I don’t blindly support the front office, and I was disappointed by a lot of Antonetti’s answers in his most recent interview. But I’m no where near being ready to say that they’re “deplorable.”

    *Also, Choo is not a “complimentary” player; I hear he’s very self-important in the clubhouse.

  • DK

    I dont think this team is as bad as their record indicates…lots of young guys who are trying to make their way in the majors…i have no issues with the guys they got for who they gave up…hindsight is always 20-20 for some trades…

    you win some, you lose some…

    i still like the overall outlook of the team over the next 2-4 years…

  • setstr8

    I had this conversation a while back — I fully expect the Tribe to go after Garrett Atkins (or Ty Wigginton) from Baltimore or even Nick Punto or Mike Lowell as that “veteran / clubhouse” corner infield guy that ultimately we flip in July and revert to Nix/Marte/Goedert for the rest of the season (until it’s all Lonnie all the time in 2012).

    My hindsight:

    I really wish we had converted VMart to third back when we had Bard on the bench and Garko and Max Ramirez in the minors. He wouldn’t have had the same attraction to the Sux/Yawkees and you never know — we might have been able to still flip Bard for Shop (for Tolbert) and had Garko’s plodditude (I just made up a word that works in context!) taking ABs behind the plate and not at 1st or in the OF (what a terrible experiment). And there was always Wyatt Toregas, he of 4-A greatness.

  • Howard Roarke

    Jon,

    With all due respect…..

    Put Choo on the Yankees and he’s an MVP? I see. Before Jeter, A-Rod, Texeria and Cano? The analogy I have is that Choo puts up similar numbers to Tony Perez’ with the Big Red machine. He’s a very good player, but you don’t build a team around him. The Reds had Morgan, Rose, and Bench all hitting over .300. Later Conception as well. Perez was a big coog, but not an impact guy. I like Choo and hope he improves, but an MVP? Don’t think so.

    Sizemore could have been a Hall Of Fame guy. His fundamentals are awful.

    What makes you think that Santana will be one of the best catchers in MLB next year? The top job of a catcher is to handle a pitching staff and call a game. This guy will be in the bottom 25 percentile next year on that. Are we talking fantasy baseball or how Shapiro and Antonetti build a team? We’ll see. As far as the play he got hurt on, tell me when the last time you saw a major league catcher leave his left leg exposed like that with a runner barreling in on him. Sorry, but I coached high school ball, and a catcher should never leave himself exposed like that. If you think a fundamental organization like the Twins or Rays would put up with that, you’d be kidding yourself.

    I heard a part of Antonetti’s interview on the PD website today and turned it off half-way. Like Dolan and Shapiro he is full of excuses that to not stand up to reality.

    Let me put it to you this way….

    Shapiro has been running the Indians for 8 years. He was left CC, Robby, Omar and 3-4 other very good good players on the team and in the farm system. After 8 years, this organization is no better then when it took over. On my mind, it’s worse. Shapiro said then that he was committed to developing pitching. As Terry Pluto notes, since 2000 the Indians have developed ONE pitcher that has made 50 ML starts – Jeremy Guthrie – who mainly did it for Baltimore after they got him and squared him away.

    As Tony Rizzo has been saying the past few weeks, I agree and cannot believe what the Dolan’s, Shapiro and Antonetti have done to what was one of MLB’s best franchises from the mid-90’s to the early 2000’s. As an example, Manny Rameriz had much better numbers in the minors then Santana when he was called up, and he batter 8th and 9th, not 3rd and 4th.

    It’s the old story – by the time some of these young guys get any good, Sizemore, Cabrara, Cordoba and Choo will want out of here. I expect (Choo’s agent) Scott Boros to try to force a trade with Choo in the next 2 years, and possibly this off-season.

    I understand the stat thing. But Terry Pluto gave it up Sunday when he noted that the Indians have one of the worst ranked infield defenses, yet with one exception their starters are all sinker/ground ball pitchers. Only Shapiro/Antonetti could put something screwy like this together.

    The rule granting an MLB player his free agency after 6 years was fought for by the players union specifically because of operations like the Indians. A player ruins enough of his career playing for an operation like this, he shouldn’t have to give it all up.

  • Lloyd Braun

    “The top job of a catcher is to handle a pitching staff and call a game. This guy will be in the bottom 25 percentile next year on that.”

    I would love to see the calculation that determines this. I imagine it includes a ratio of leprechauns to unicorns and a standard deviation of Lake Erie Monsters.

  • PJ

    I never get this straight in my head. If you are on a bad team, how hard do you EVER try?. You have to play hard enough that other teams notice you have talent they’d like. But why would you hustle any harder, when as is generally acknowledged, the Indians won’t be competitive bidders to keep you around and will probably trade you before that becomes a consideration.
    Yet, it DOES appear players play hard, play injured, etc. It can’t be because of ethics. It could be for love of game. It could be because that’s the only real way they can play. But if Pete Rose was on this team–OK, he’s a jerk, but stay with me–would he have played with such reckless abandon, or just enough to stay in the lineup? I’d like to believe some of these players–especially all these young ones–are playing their hearts out. But if you are Santana, isn’t the first thing you say to yourself is: I ruined my career–for this?
    And if they’re really not trying, what the heck are we doing even watching this?

  • Howard Roarke

    Lloyd Braun,

    Obviously it’s not a calculation.

    But it’s why a healthy Jason Varitek was so much more valuable then a Victor Martinez that hits for a higher average, with more homers and RBI.

    Ask any Red Sox fan.

    Won’t be hanging around the site.

    Best of luck to you all.

  • Lloyd Braun

    Serenity now, serenity now…

  • Lloyd Braun

    Jon –

    Never heard that Choo was a bad guy in the clubhouse. Any specifics?

  • Mark

    If memory serves, I don’t think that works Lloyd. It’s what sent you to the nuthouse. But I agree with the sentiment.

  • Fred Beene

    Howard, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  • Hans

    Jon, are you able to track out relative pitching production in the pre, during, and post-Carlos Santana period of the season? When Carlos was behind the plate, it somehow seemed like our pitching was pitching, well…better.

    Speaking of stuff that doesn’t show up in WAR.

  • Hans

    Jon, are you able to track out relative pitching production in the pre, during, and post-Carlos Santana period of the season? When Carlos was behind the plate, it somehow seemed like our pitching was pitching, well…better.

    Speaking of stuff that doesn’t show up in WAR.

  • Carlos

    Howard, do you know what I absolutely love about posters like you? You come in, identify a problem that isn’t germane to the discussion, one that everyone is already aware of, pull out specific little stats or examples that you think you were the only one to notice, blame something that can’t be changed, and then get all defensive and upset when someone calls you out.

    Seriously, if the Indians hired you as a consultant to address third base and your recommendation was to fire management and sell the team, who do think would be in the unemployment line the next day? Unfortunately, Dolan, Shapiro and Antonetti aren’t going anywhere. Offering them up as the whipping boy for everything thing that is wrong with the tribe is asinine.

    You want to contribute meaningfully to this site? How’s about doing some research and posting some ideas like setstr8 did without hijacking the comment section. Impress us with your ability to identify and layout potential solutions based on known constraints. Dolan’s ownership and Shapiro’s inability to properly run this team has been the topic of discussion in dozens of articles on this site. The point of this article was to discuss the situation at third base, please keep your comments relevant to the topic.

  • Howard Roarke

    “Howard, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

    How inventive, Fred!

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Jon

    @ Lloyd:

    I was kidding about Choo. He’s supposed to be a lovely guy. Just a play off of a typo. That’s all.

    @ Hans:

    That sort of stuff does interest me, though I’d like a bit bigger sample size to work with. I’m just not sure Santana was up long enough to separate his superior handling of the staff from just random variation/luck.

    @ Howard:

    Don’t be a stranger. Sure, we disagree on some things, but that’s bound to happen when chatting about sports. Hope you come back.

  • 5KMD

    Howard,

    You mention the Twins and Rays a couple of times. Since the Twins won it all in ’87 and ’91 the Tribe has been to the World Series twice and should have gone in 2007. For all the Twins success, they are never built to win it all, just grind out the long season.

    All the Rays had to do to get where they are now is historically suck for a decade and get the #1 or #2 pick every year. Brilliant organizational model there. Can’t wait until all those guys hit FA.

    “Won’t be hanging around the site”

    Best news I’ve heard in an Indians post all year.

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