Name That Keystone

The second base position is currently undergoing some renovations. For the longest time, keystone cornermen were primarily thought of as defense-first players, making any and all offensive contributions bonuses. With the emergence of power bats like Jeff Kent, and, more recently, guys like Chase Utley and Dan Uggla, the reputation of the position simply isn’t the same. Otherwise, an all-defense player like Mark Ellis would garner as much attention as the all-offense player Uggla.

Many second basemen these days achieve the middle ground, with a solid bat accompanied by decent fielding skills. Below are the win values, from 2006-08, for four different mystery second basemen:

2B #1: 28 yrs old, +1.6, +4.9, +3.2
2B #2: 31 yrs old, +2.3, +3.1, +1.9
2B #3: 31 yrs old, +4.5, +3.6, -0.6
2B #4: 26 yrs old, +2.7, +3.6 +0.5

The bookends are the youngest of this group, with #1 appearing to be the most productive in this three-year span. Nobody comes anywhere near Chase Utley‘s +22.7 wins since 2006, but Utley is practically in an elite league of his own. Before the names of these players are revealed, I will let it be known that both #1 and #2 have reputations as being top-tier second baseman. Additionally, players #2 and #4 both missed significant time in 2008, leading to their lower win values that season.

In fact, let’s continue with the discussion of #2 and #4. #4 produced about a half-win better than #2 in each of 2006 and 2007, but played half as many games in 2008. In equal amounts of playing time, the gap in 2008 closes a bit. Regardless, since injuries are real and should not be automatically discounted, #2 has produced just +0.6 wins more than #4 throughout the last three seasons. Who are these players?

#1 = Brandon Phillips and #3 = Freddy Sanchez. #2 is current free agent Orlando Hudson, who, as I previously mentioned boasts the reputation of a top-tier second baseman. That leaves #4… Aaron Hill of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Yes, over the last three seasons, Hill has produced +6.7 wins to the +7.3 of Hudson, outperformed Hudson in two of the three seasons, and failed to repeat the feat primarily due to playing in just 55 games last season; Hudson logged just 107 himself, which amounts to two times the playing time of Hill. Why is it then that Hudson has such a prestigious reputation yet half of the baseball fandom could not point out Aaron Hill in a lineup surrounded by famous cartoon characters? Okay, maybe he could be pointed out in that lineup, but you catch my drift, right?

This is not meant to be a knock on Hudson, because an average of +2.5 wins/yr from a second baseman is still very good. However, his reputation seemingly elevates him past that mark. The major differences between the two are where the bulk of their value stems from. Outside of positional and replacement level adjustments, Hudson has an aggregate +24.8 batting runs and -12.7 defensive runs. Hill is largely the opposite, with -5.6 batting runs and +17.7 defensive runs. Fans tend to place a premium on offense so it makes sense that Hudson is more well-known.

Still, a run is a run is a run. Tom Tango likes to emphasize this point whenever possible: a run saved on defense = a run produced on offense. Hill might not swing a sexy bat but he sure knows how to use his glove. He is also five years the junior of Hudson. The O-Dawg is a very good player and will make whichever team signs him a bit better, but he is not necessarily an elite second baseman of the Utley or Roberts ilk. Even Phillips, three years his junior, looks better by comparison.

The second base position may be gradually inching closer to an offensive-heavy area, but league average hitters with very solid defensive skills are still extremely valuable, which seems to get lost in the Hudson-Hill comparison.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


13 Responses to “Name That Keystone”

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  1. Matt B. says:

    Jays quietly picked up former #1 overall pick SS turned SP Matt Bush….

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  2. don says:

    To be fair, Uggla is a win a year better than Ellis and three years younger to boot. What’s up with his defense, though? +10,-15,0 over the last three years? Sample size?

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  3. tom says:

    I read your 2B column with much interest; but I’d like to point out that 2B has generally had pretty fair representation of decent hitters in each generation of play, aside from the obvious like Hornsby, Cuuccinello, Doerr, Gordon, Gehringer, etc. Even the bat-starved ’60s had guys who kept their heads above water like Fox, Temple, Runnels, Gilliam, the tragic Ken Hubbs, Beckert, Hunt and Lumpe.

    Comparing my own defense + RC metrics for 2B mentioned in your article, and using 85RC per each lineup “slot” [85*9=765/162=4.72 runs/game], I get the following for each from 2006 through 2008 in aggregate runs:

    2B…………Offense RC………Defense Runs……..Net Runs….”Slot’ AVG

    Phillips………266…………………-12.25…………..253.75……..255

    Hudson……..245.9……………….+24.6…………..270.60………255

    Sanchez…….257.9……………….+ 6.8…………..267.70………255

    Hill…………..200.5……………….+18.4…………..219.30………255

    Utley………..378.0………………..- 4.8…………..373.20……….255

    Uggla……….296.4……………….-12.25………….284.15……….255

    The last column presumes a hitter at 2B who offensively creates 85 runs and is defense neutral @ +/- 0. With a high hitting climate, I’m presuming 4.1 PA @ 162 games = 664 plate appearances. 85 RC = .1280 RC/PA.

    If I’m near right, the players above would rate as follows:

    Player………………Net + Runs………Runs as Wins

    Utley…………………118.2………………..11.82
    Uggla……………….. 29.2………………….2.92
    Hudson…………….. 15.6………………….1.56
    Sanchez…………….. 12.7………………….1.27
    Phillips……………..- 1.75………………..-0.18
    Hill………………….- 36.1…………………-3.61

    Runs are 3 year aggregates, so Utley would be worth (11.82/3) = +3.94 Wins per each of the last three seasons.

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    • don says:

      You’re comparing to average rather than replacement, so there’s two of your wins/season back.

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    • josh says:

      phillips at the bottom of the last list doesn’t make sense. in the first table, is that saying that he’s saved 12.25 runs on defense or just the opposite?

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  4. tom says:

    Don:

    I saw nothing in the article that defined performance against replacement. In fact, the +/- numbers eeven amon the “elite” 2B named were so small on a seasonal average basis as to belie that.

    Also the offense +/- defense construction above replacement and amounting to only 22.7 wins, net, above replacement, seem to be not that much of an accomplishment.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Tom, don’t take this the wrong way but it would be in your best interest to get familiar with our metrics. Performance is ALWAYS defined against replacement here. The way we construct win values is as follows:

      1) Convert wOBA to wRAA, which is the batting component
      2) Add to the UZR defense component
      3) Add in a positional adjustment per 162 games, prorated if below 162 games
      4) Add in adjustment above replacement, which is +20 runs per 600 PA.

      The wRAA and UZR compare to the league average, but the replacement adjustment takes care of that.

      And +22.7 wins over 3 yrs is INSANELY impressive. That’s over +7 wins/yr. To say it isn’t an accomplishment is to not understand what good win values are, in all honesty.

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      • tom says:

        OK, I get it. New to FanGraphs, I did not realize that UZR was a fixed standard; nor was I led to presume that in the face of refined granularity of wOBA and wRAA [with the "A"] assumed as average, that there might be an argument for reducing defense to above replacement.

        Applying my own defense measure for Utley against repalcement, I get a composite +178 runs for Utley or +5.93 runs/year. I stand corrected on the obvious bit though: +5.93 or +7 WINS IS insanely good @ a position/year. [I let yself get thrown by the “replcement” reference.

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  5. Eric Seidman says:

    Tom, no problem whatsoever, I just wanted to make sure that you were familiar with how we do things before we could really engage in a discussion. Otherwise, I’d end up explaining steps 4 and 5 for things with which you had no basis for steps 1-3, you know?

    UZR is a defensive metric created by Mitchel Lichtman, former head statmaster for the St. Louis Cardinals. Both UZR and wRAA are in fact measured above average, but we need to convert that to replacement level, so the +20 runs per 600 PA come into play. Then the positional adjustment per 162 games comes into play (-12.5 1B, +2.5 2B/3B/CF, +12.5 C, -7.5 LF/RF, +7.5 SS).

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  6. Dave Jones says:

    Pretty nice article, i have been doing construction for a while now and agree.

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