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:
Santana, Giminez, Marson, Redmond
Peralta, Nix, Marte, Valbuena
Kearns, Duncan, Crowe
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:
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:
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 leastthree 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:
+/- (per year)
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.