2009 Replacement Level: Third Base

As most of you know, the Win Values we present here on FanGraphs are wins above a replacement level player. Replacement level, essentially, is the expected performance you could get from a player who costs nothing to acquire and makes the league minimum. That’s the baseline that players add value over – performance over their no-cost substitute.

However, I know examples can be extremely helpful, so starting on Monday, we began looking at some players who currently personify replacement level, and what their respective organizations should expect from them in 2009. We’ve already covered catcher, first base, second base, and shortstop, and we’ll move on through all of the positions the rest of this week.

Third Base

As we talked about earlier this winter, there’s a lot of crossover between second base and third base. Of the players below, most of them have experience at both positions, and several of them were signed for their potential versatility to play multiple spots. Their availability continues to show that the gap between 2B and 3B isn’t as large as is normally perceived.

Jose Castillo, Washington, .299 wOBA
Brooks Conrad, Atlanta, .295 wOBA
Chris Gomez, Baltimore, .294 wOBA
Andy Phillips, Pittsburgh, .341 wOBA
Terry Tiffee, Philadelphia, .328 wOBA
Jesus Guzman, San Francisco, .303 wOBA
Joel Guzman, Washington, .316 wOBA

That’s an average wOBA of .311, a bit better than the second baseman. Let’s put that through the run conversion formula:

((.311 – .330) / 1.20) * 600 = -9.5

That’s not bad – they’re about one win below average as hitters. However, what they have extra in offense they give back in defense. This is a pretty lousy group of defenders. Castillo is probably league average at third, and Gomez is somewhere in that vicinity as well, while the rest are somewhere between bad and cover-your-eyes terrible. I’d say the upper and lower bounds of defensive expectations for this group would be -5 to -10, so we’ll split the difference and call it -7.5

So, that gives us -9.5 offense, -7.5 defense, and +2.5 position adjustment for a total of -14.5, or about 1.5 wins below average. The theme continues.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

4 Responses to “2009 Replacement Level: Third Base”

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  1. b_rider says:

    I have a question. As you’ve done this series, some positions have ended up close to -2, while others, like third base, end up at -1.5 or even less. Is that because of random year-to-year differences (i.e., the players that happen to be available at each position this year) or does it mean that the position adjustments for replacement need tweaking–a lower adjustment for third base, for example?

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      The most likely causes of the differences are sample size (we’re talking 6 to 8 players per position, so one outlier projection can skew things) and defensive issues. As you’ve probably noticed, I have continually rated the minor league free agents as below average defensively. Historically, we’ve seen that replacement level players are usually pretty close to average defensively, so it could be that I’m underrating their defensive abilities. That’s tough to prove, though, considering we have limited defensive data for most of these guys.

      In general, though, there’s no reason to believe that replacement level is always exactly -2 wins at every position in every season. It almost certainly fluctuates based on available talent levels, so the fact that we’ve been between -1.5 wins and -2 wins at every single position so far is actually a sign of how well the replacement level holds up. Really, this wasn’t meant to be a conclusive study of replacement level, but based on the results, it’s almost impossible for anyone to argue for a lower replacement level than what we’re presenting on FanGraphs.

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  2. lookatthosetwins says:

    Interesting stuff… can’t wait for the pitchers.

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  3. coreyjro says:

    I’m sort of upset that a Mariner didn’t make this list. I thought they had the market cornered. Also, shortstop link is broken.

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