The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet


My nigga Joe Posnanski has a column up ostensibly about George Brett that sort of wanders into a general musing on offense and then back again. It’s a good article, and I’m all for fun with numbers lord knows, but there’s one little thing.

JoePo (take that, CarGo boosters!) tells us that the Royals’ batters checked in at 8.9 WAR for the 1985 season. This stat is two things: ridiculously, crazy low for a team that (by the way) won the World Series, and also 100% undeniably correct. You can see for yourself here. He then tells us that George Brett accounted for 8.0 of that 8.9, which is also completely true. Brett was unbelievable that year, and he undoubtedly carried the Royals’ offense. But the resultant conclusion — that the offense was the George Brett show and nothing else — isn’t quite correct, because of two things.

First of all: defense. Batter WAR includes defense. Joe knows this, and subsequently shifts into oRAR (Offensive Runs Above Replacement) — Brett’s was 77 on the year.

More importantly, though (since, for fuck’s sake, niggling about defense is semantic garbage and doesn’t change the tenor of the argument anyhow), is the fact that I see players at 15, 15, and 14 oRAR also. While that ain’t a patch on Brett’s 77 — and I’m not saying it is — those aren’t trivial numbers. And they indicate my point: Brett’s 77, plus the 15, 15, and 14 from their other productive hitters (Steve Balboni, Frank White, and Willie Wilson, but, uh, in reverse order) add up to far more than the team’s total oRAR of 91. What gives?

What gives, of course, is the truly amazing number of position players the Kansas City Royals ran out on the field in 1985 who played below replacement level. They accumulated a total of 54 negative oRAR, which is five and a half entire wins. If the Royals had sacked all those dudes and replaced them with unremarkable minor leaguers, their team oRAR would have shot up to 145, and Brett’s share of it, while still remarkable, stops looking quite as preposterous.

In case you’re thinking they’d suffer for defense if they did that, the negative-oRAR group posted a total -0.4 dRAR — also below replacement level. And they’re not being sunk by one shitty player, either; Pat Sheridan was the group leader at 0.2. So, yes, I’m saying that if the Royals had replaced nine players on their world championship team with random AAA callups, they’d have been a lot better. Their batting WAR would have gone from a ridiculous 8.9 to a merely conventionally sad 14.7. Nearly six wins. And George Brett at 8.0 of 14.7 doesn’t seem quite so much like a one-man team.

Oh, but what I actually came to talk about is Derek Jeter, huh. The name "Jeter" appears in Joe’s George Brett article fifteen times. I counted. This is because Joe makes the comparison between Brett carrying the Royals’ offense in 1985 to Jeter carrying the Yankees’ offense like five times. And the comparison’s not a bad one. But I feel compelled to point this out:

oRAR is a great stat. Gives you an excellent idea of the overall offensive value of a player relative to his peers. It is also a stat that is uniquely unsuitable for describing Derek Jeter’s value. Don’t worry — I’m not about to regale you with folklore about the baseball pope’s calm eyes and leadership aura and sword +2, nine lives stealer. But there is one regard in which Derek Jeter is pretty much unique among all players, and it limits the utility of oRAR in his case; Joe gets close to it when he points out that his list of championship team-leading oRARs includes David Eckstein.

oRAR, like most stats ending in AR, involves the concept of "replacement level." Being above replacement level is like being above average, only the average you’re above isn’t the average of just anything — it’s the average of AAA players in the current season at your position. That last part’s important. Players who play a premium defensive position — catchers, shortstops, and second basemen, basically — get what amounts to a "bonus" in their xAR stats due to the lower lever of offensive performance at that position, which is completely reasonable; Jeter’s career .314 / .385 / .452 would make him a good-but-not-great first baseman, but in reality makes him one of the best offensive shortstops of all time. All of this is true and totally fine.

But. If you use oRAR (only) to evaluate Derek Jeter specifically, you have an issue. The problem is that Jeter is probably the second-best offensive shortstop of all time (trailing only Honus Wagner — though, to be fair, Honus’ lead is immense), but he is the very worst defensive player ever to stick at shortstop. If you use offense-only statistics, you are giving him the positional bonus for playing a premium position while totally ignoring the fact that he plays the position badly enough to have cost his teams almost fourteen wins in the field. This is almost never an issue, because players who field so badly don’t tend to stick at high-value positions for seventeen years. But Derek Jeter, probably due to his intangible rod of lordly might, has.

848 words ago, I had some kind of point in mind, but I no longer remember what it might have been. So you’re welcome for that. Happy Bacon Connoisseur’s Week.

March 18th, 2011 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

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