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August 16, 2000

From The Mailbag

Shortstop defense and The Imbalance Sheet

by Baseball Prospectus

Catching The Damn Ball

Where are Vizquel and Ordonez on your list of top shortstops? And 20-30 runs possible difference from one position is high, isn't it? Can the range be that large?

--ZR

Well, you can figure out the possible range of effects within a reasonable bound pretty quickly. Range Factor (RF) is a measure of how many plays per nine innings a defender makes at a given position. It's not a perfect measure, and is subject to distortion depending on the tendencies of the pitching staff. (For example, infielders behind flyball or strikeout pitchers will get fewer chances than behind a rotation of groundballers.)

Currently, Derek Jeter's Range Factor is 4.20.

The American League Median is about 4.68; I can't get a precise number because of data limitations, but that number's pretty close to both the median and the average. To make the arithmetic easier, and to give Derek a break, let's call the average 4.60.

That means that Derek Jeter's making about .40 less plays per nine innings than a generic AL shortstop. Over 150 games, that's .40 x 150 or 60 fewer plays than a generic shortstop over the course of a season.

How many runs is that worth?

Well, I think it's safe to say that if 60 extra balls get through, none of them are going to be for extra bases. Let's call them all singles.

Using linear weights, we can determine how many extra runs turning 60 outs into singles is worth. (For more information on Linear Weights, check out Thorn and Palmer, or check out www.stathead.com.) Each single is worth about .47 runs to an offense, and each out is worth about -.25 runs. So, over the course of a season....

  .47 x 60 = + +28.2 Runs (Adding Singles)
 -.25 x 60 = - -15.0 Runs (Subtracting Outs)
--------------------------------------------
 TOTAL          43.2 Runs

That's a difference of 43 runs for a generic defensive shortstop compared to Jeter. Of course, you can't take that number as gospel; there are lots of variables that will affect this, and my guess (and nothing more) is that the actual number is probably somewhere in the 20-30 range. Furthermore, no model is perfect, and RF isn't a perfect metric, either.

A lot of people wrote in and asked about Omar Vizquel and Rey Ordonez. Vizquel's RF in 2000 is right at the AL average, and his ZR is right in the middle of the pack as well. He's very soft handed, as is amply demonstrated by his single error this season, and he's great fun to watch, but he's also 33 years old now, doesn't have a cannon for an arm, and his defensive reputation is probably inflated in all our eyes due to lots of media coverage in the postseason, being very slick with his bare hand, and looking graceful every time he touches the ball. Vizquel is a very fine shortstop, and his overall value remains very high.

As for Rey Ordonez, he is excellent defensively, but due to his injury, I didn't have good tapes available to review, and there's no current data. I would have tracked that information down, but I don't think he's going to be coming back to a starting job.

--Gary Huckabay

Why was Desi Relaford not among the five worst defensive shortstops in the game? His ZR (.862) was far worse than Jeter's and his RF (4.370) eclipsed Jeter's by a mere .088, not to mention that Jeter also had the higher fielding % (.975 to .950).

--DN

You are absolutely correct. When looking at the data, my source for ZR was sortable by both ZR and RF, but only the first 16 or so shortstops are listed. Relaford totally slipped under my radar, because he's so awful defensively that he didn't make the ZR list, and I didn't have his RF on the other list I had, so I missed him when I double checked. Relaford's RF, by the way, is a comically bad 4.13, topped off nicely by a over a score of errors. I didn't even try to get a tape of Relaford -- I just totally missed him on the uptake, and I apologize to all those courteous Derek Jeter fans who wrote in -- He's not the worst starting shortstop in baseball after all! Now get off my porch, and take the effigy with you.

--Gary Huckabay

Park Effects

Upon inspection of two of your sites features, Clay Davenport's EqA and Michael Wolverton's pitching reports, I discovered that the two had vastly different ratings for park effect. Isn't there some type of standard? For instance, Davenport lists Ted Turner Field at -.3% (997 rating when 1000 is neutral) while Wolverton's page lists Ted Turner Field at -11.6%. A tad bit of a difference there. Any kind of explanation? This might make for an interesting article. I have noticed numerous places listing ballparks as vastly different when it comes to run scoring effect. If there isn't a standard, there should be.

--MG

The two major differences between the park factors used in the EqA and pitching reports are:

  • The EqA park factors are based on results from this season, while the pitching report park factors are based on combined results from 1998 and 1999. (Exceptions: Montreal's PF is from 1999 alone, and Houston, San Francisco, Detroit, and Seattle are treated as neutral except for the DH adjustment mentioned next).

  • The pitching report park factors are adjusted up or down to reflect the presence or absence of the DH rule in that park. The EqA park factors don't include this adjustment, and shouldn't, since they're being used to rate hitters.

There is no hard and fast standard for the "best" measure of a park's effect on run scoring. The main difference is between multi-year park factors and single- or partial-year park factors, and there are arguments on both sides of that issue.

--Michael Wolverton

The Imbalance Sheet

I thought I'd point out a few things that may not be common knowledge outside the Southern Ohio area.

Jim Allen, CEO, has since admitted that his comments on a mid-season ticket hike were poorly timed. Such a hike was being considered--but it was not due to Larkin's new salary.

The reason is August 1 is supposed to be the start day of new stadium construction. The first step is to tear down roughly 1/5 of Riverfront Stadium to make room. Therefore the Reds lose the same amount of available seating. Less seating = Less income, so they considered raising prices to compensate.

However, a mid season price hike would be moot as most of the tickets have pre-sold already. The majority of unsold tickets being in the upper outfield - which is the section they are tearing down. The mid-season plan has since been abandoned.

Cincinnati Reds ticket prices will go up next year--more due to reduced seat availability and Griffey's popularity then Larkin's new salary. And since the Reds were in the bottom five in ticket and food prices, there will be little uproar.

--JB

Indeed, another reader also attributed the quote to Allen; it's possible that the AP writer behind the story I read had his names wrong. If you look at too many baseball executives, their faces do start to blur.

I think you nailed it in your final paragraph: Ticket prices will go up ... because there will be greater demand. New stadium? Increased demand. Perhaps a bright outlook, since the Reds are hanging tough this year even without Denny Neagle? Increased demand. And perhaps a little demand from hardcore Barry Larkin fans who would have abandoned the team without him.

--Keith Law

The Rest

I just thought I would share with you something I heard on the radio today. I live outside of Chicago and was listening to WSCR "The Score". They were talking to Ruben Quevedo about his performance last night.

They were celebrating the toughness of Quevedo for going 130 pitches in getting a complete game. Doing some quick math in my head, I figured that out to be 60 PAPs for a 21-year-old pitcher.

Well, I guess he better get all of his radio interviews in really quick, before he blows out his arm like a certain Texan on that pitching staff.

--LH

One of the things I'm trying to be careful of is overreacting to one high-pitch start. You may recall Rick Ankiel's 120-odd-pitch outing earlier this year. That really stands out in his season, and he hasn't suffered any ill effects.

A pattern of excessive use, or isolated 140- pitch outings for young pitchers, are cause for concern.

That said, the decision to leave Quevedo in was questionable at best, because of the Cubs' big lead and their newly-effective bullpen.

--Joe Sheehan

I was wondering what your take on the current Mark Grace situation is. In my opinion, he is one of the worst #4 hitters in the major leagues, and unlike the likes of Richie Sexson or Preston Wilson (two of the lesser cleanup hitters in the majors) he is not a power hitter, and is too old to be getting any better. He's currently hitting under .300 with 11 home runs. That's horrible production for a #4 hitter. Even worse, the Cubs are talking about basing the whole rebuilding process around him.

--AR

Mark Grace could be a significant asset to a team that got its power from other places, say center field or shortstop. The Cubs are not and have generally not been that team, and their problems scoring runs in the Grace Era are in part attributable to his lack of power.

That he bats fourth is not the issue. It's not up to him, and that Don Baylor bats him behind Sammy Sosa instead of ahead of him is just another one of those Don Baylor things that many of us don't understand.

Grace is not the Cubs' biggest problem, though; he's a good player being misused on a team that doesn't have the personnel to make best use of him.

--Joe Sheehan

In trying to do some research of my own, I often run into problems with being unable to get good information. I'm wondering what sources you use for data and what software you use to compute/sort it.

--SK

The best places to find player and team data on the web are

The best sortable statistics are ESPN's at http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/statistics . CNN/SI's baseball statistics page, at which you can rank many thing many ways, is also useful at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/mlb/ml/stats/.

The best places to get minor league data are Baseball America at http://www.baseballamerica.com/Stats/index.html, and CNN/SI, through http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/minors/index.html.

You can find all-time stats at:

And don't forget that you can find the latest Equivalent Average, SNWL, and RRE reports here at baseballprospectus.com.

--Greg Spira

We'd love to hear your thoughts on anything baseball-related at info@baseballprospectus.com. We'll publish the best of what we get frequently at www.baseballprospectus.com.

Related Content:  Data Use,  AT&T Park,  Year Of The Injury,  Mlb.com

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