Big Red Letter Bartlett

After destroying the internets with the title on my last post about Jason Bartlett (Break the Reimold as it were), it’s only fitting that I follow it up with a title just as putrid. That’s not to say, however, that I don’t think the Padres were acting rationally when they signed their new shortstop to a two-year, $11 million contract that buys out his last year of arbitration and his first year of free agency. It may not have been a big-red-letter signing – instead, it could possibly be as solid as this title was bad.

Year one should come at about a 20% discount given the structure of salary arbitration, so this contract is sort of the same as valuing Bartlett as about a $12.2 million player over two years. Look at Bartlett’s six-year career, and you’ll see that only once has he failed to live up to being a player worth about six million a year. He’s managed better than 1.8 WAR every year… except last year.

Look a little closer at the ways he has offered value, and you’ll see that most of his drop-off last year came from his worst UZR/150 rating of his career, by far. After having a positive Range component in his UZR every year of his career, he suddenly showed a -9.3 in that statistic in 2010. We know that UZR/150 works better in three-year samples, and that it’s unlikely that a 30-year-old shortstop would suddenly lose all of his range as Bartlett did last year. Just look at Edgar Renteria‘s recent UZR history, and you’ll see that though he’s generally been declining, he’s never swung as many as ten points in the Range category. Yuniesky Betancourt, who was once thought of as an okay defender and was yet the worst-rated shortstop by UZR/150 since 2007, has never seen a swing that large. It’s a big swing for Bartlett, one in which luck may have had something to do with it.

What’s a little more worrisome is that some who watch Bartlett play also feel that he’s losing some range. Our own R.J. Anderson has watched plenty of Bartlett (on purpose, no less) and feels that the range is slipping and some of the throws are being forced. R.J. pointed to Bartlett’s lower body injuries as a sign that his athleticism is fading – the former Rays shortstop has hit the 15-day DL in each of the last three years, once with a right hamstring injury, once with a left ankle sprain, and once with a left knee strain. Perhaps last year’s hamstring strain was the ’cause’ of the bad defensive numbers, but it’s part of a pattern of missed time.

Still, there’s the bare fact that Bartlett has shown the tenth-best WAR at shortstop since 2007, and with Michael Young moving off the position, he’s actually ninth on that list. Yunel Escobar is only a couple years younger and has only produced two wins more over that same time frame, so it’s not like Bartlett has been massively out-produced by the peers close to him on that list. Miguel Tejada has produced about a half win less than Bartlett and has a checkered UZR/150 past of his own – and he got $6.5 million from the Giants. Bartlett is also four and a half years younger than Tejada.

Bartlett’s career suggests that two-win seasons are easily within the range of his upside. If he produced two wins both seasons, he would produce six to eight million dollars in surplus value. If he hit his basement as defined by last year, he would still be worth about seven million dollars over the two years, meaning the team would lose about four million dollars on the deal, plus the potential surplus value of the two relievers the team gave up to get Bartlett. Given the relatively low career upside for relief prospects (as defined by WAR), the team is likely risking less than they can win. For what it’s worth, if he hits his fan projections (which are about the same as Bill James’), he’ll be a bargain and worth as much as twice his deal.

The crowd has it: it’s a good deal. It may not be a big ole’ signing in big red letters in the national papers, but it’s smart baseball.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


9 Responses to “Big Red Letter Bartlett”

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  1. Drakos says:

    Has anyone looked at the benefit of playing next to defensive player with good range? Chase Headley was second among third baseman in the range portion of UZR and first in both UZR and DRS in 2010. Unfortunately we don’t have a large sample for his defensive stats since he was basically an outfielder in the majors before moving to third full time last year.

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    • Josh Amaral says:

      You bring up an interesting concept that I’d love to investigate. However in the case of Bartlett, he’s going from Longoria to Headley. I don’t expect there to be much of a difference there.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      IMHO, this is very significant. A 1B who has a rangy, get everything 2B, is going to be called off on a lot of foul pops, and is going to be encouraged NOT to range to his right, and just get to the bag.

      A strong 3B will cut off some of the plays in the hole that a good SS might get to (upping his UZR), but now will not have the chance.

      I think it is a very legitimate concern & question.

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  2. Choo says:

    Like, what effect did Ozzie Smith’s range have on Terry Pendleton’s range and vice versa? Based solely on playing experience (no statistics), I believe corner infielders have a greater positive/negative impact on middle infielder range than the other way around, and in terms of impacting the entire infield, third basemen have the greatest potential for positive range impact, and first basemen have the greatest potential for negative range impact.

    I can explain in detail, but I’m heading to a meeting in a moment.

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      just to clarify, are you saying that a third baseman with very little range will force the shortstop to get balls out of his (SS) position and into the third baseman’s territory, thereby making the shortstop seem as if he has better range? and then if the third baseman has great range, he might “steal” some balls from the shortstop’s territory, thereby making it look like the SS has less range? I may have this totally wrong, so I’m asking.

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      • Choo says:

        The third baseman plays in front of the shortstop and, with momentum flowing toward first base on most routine groundballs, makes a number plays in sectors that traditionally belong to the shortstop. This isn’t bad for the shortstop, because the more glove-side range a third baseman has, the more a shortstop can cheat to his glove side and improve his RngR. (“Yeah, but isn’t the shortstop just trading a portion of one fringe sector for another?”) Yes, but playing closer to first base allows the shortstop to covert a higher percentage of fringe-sector groundballs, plus he is not penalized for groundballs he can no longer reach in the 56 hole (the most difficult play for a shortstop) because the third baseman is in a position to cut those off (one of the easiest plays for a third baseman).

        In this scenario, the second baseman may also get a RngR boost as he cheats toward his glove side in unison with the shortstop, provided the game situation doesn’t prevent him from doing so (pitcher/batter tendencies, runners on base, etc). This can also decrease the negative impact a first baseman has on his middle infielders who must otherwise compensate for the first baseman’s limited range and time spent chained to the bag holding runners.

        (“Can it work the other way around, with an ultra-rangy shortstop helping/hurting the third baseman’s RngR?”) Maybe, but exactly how is tough to figure. Even against the pulliest pull-hitting righty, the third baseman is positioned as far from the foul line as possible without compromising his ability to backhand a hard smash. In other words, a rangy shortstop isn’t going to nudge the third baseman closer to the line – it would only put him in a position to field groundballs in foul territory (pointless), plus the positive impact to the shortstop’s RngR would depend on his ability to convert an increased volume of circus throws from the Siberian corner of the 56 hole.

        However, the shortstop can definitely improve the second baseman’s RngR for all of the same reasons a third baseman can improve the shortstop’s RngR. Was Tommy Herr wasn’t that great of a 2B, but Ozzie’s glove side range (ridiculous) had a major impact on the number of balls Herr was able to reach in the 34 hole, which was his bread and butter play.

        Just clarify, I am not advocating third base as the most important infield position (not even close), but it might be the most impactful infield position in terms of trickle-down RngR.

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  3. The Duder says:

    Eno:

    UZR’s ambiguity lends itself to bending and twisting of numbers to suit narratives, and I think it’s hard to say “well, his range has been positive every year except last year” without really looking at the big picture. If you asked me to find a quintessential example of a fielder in decline, based purely on the numbers themselves, it’s Bartlett

    PLAYS UZR/150
    167 26.3
    293 17.8
    373 9.2
    285 2.8
    309 -6.9
    301 -13.8

    I only include plays so that we can see he’s getting a normal amount of chances each year, as using UZR/150 can be deceptive without some volume.

    If you believe in UZR at ALL, then these numbers should be at least somewhat compelling, and *expecting* him to be an above average fielder would seem to me to be crazy. I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if he were a slightly above average defender, but I’d certainly bet against it.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I agree with you about the way it looks, and subjective analysis also agrees with you. However, we’ve also heard that UZR/150 is better in three-year samples. So if you take that for truth, he’s likely to be close to the -3 SS that the fans projected. slightly below average, but at SS that’s worth something, something more than $6 mill probably.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I think single year UZR is about as useful as single year BABIP.

      I think at FG that we have seen comments (the UZR primer here) from the developer of UZR that seemingly speak to not using single year UZR, but averaging the last few years.

      This plays a very large role in WAR, and especially in using WAR in contract evaluations.

      I really do think we should consider (at least in our articles), averaging 3-year UZR, when we use it in this fashion. IMHO, it would be like using BA without examining BABIP

      So if you take that for truth, he’s likely to be close to the -3 SS that the fans projected. slightly below average, but at SS that’s worth something, something more than $6 mill probably.

      That’s exactly what I am referring to. The difference between a -13 and -3 SS, changes the evaluation completely.

      I think with UZR, etc we have to approach it form a “conservative approach”, and examine ways of limiting extreme fluctuation in order to increase the probability of accurate analysis.

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