February 23, 2007
Lies, Damned Lies
Charting the SpectrumSo tonight I was supposed to write a column on shortstop prospects. The first words of my column were to be as follows: "We're going to try and get out of here in less than 2500 words." Unfortunately for that mission, PECOTA identifies 40 or so shortstops as being "good prospects," far more than at any other position save pitcher. This made the column a bit of a daunting task, but I wanted to explain why that was the case.
So I went about doing a lot of writing and rewriting and deleting, decided that it would be best to present my explanation in the form of a graphic…and four hours later, I wound up with a severe case of writer's block but the pretty picture that you see below. At least we're going to manage to get under word count.
I'm not the first person to try and move the defensive spectrum into three dimensions. There is a very good recent discussion at Tom Tango's blog. I also remember Sean Forman doing something similar several years ago in a long-lost post at the old Baseball Primer.
I'm also not a graphic designer, and while it's nice to dream of a day when every college will teach a Sabermetrics 101 course, and this poster will be hanging prominently on the wall, I know that probably won't be the case. But I do know that simplicity is a virtue in design, so some relationships are simplified here. Catchers move directly to first base more often than they use the outfield as a stopping point, and the transition from catcher to third base is not totally unheard of, but there's no way to represent that without messing up the chart's feng shui. Shortstops at the major league level do not move to center field especially often, not any more often than they move to left field or right field, but that shift is becoming more common in the minors (think Adam Jones or Justin Upton), and I think deserves some representation. Pitchers are sometimes conceived of as part of the defensive spectrum, but I haven't included them here.
Otherwise, I'm pretty pleased with how this turned out, even if it means you'll have to wait another few days on the shortstop column. We'll get Jay Jaffe working on the posters in the meantime.