The Average Player

One of my long-time battles is explaining that MLB average players are actually good and important to winning ballgames. A few months ago, I ran across a piece on Driveline Mechanics that highlighted the most average players through means of WAR (simply put, Runs Above Replacement – Replacement Runs) and loved it. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen an update by the author, appropriately named Devil_Fingers, in a while. So, in his spirit I decided to highlight the players who exemplify league average performances this year.

Keep in mind; this is simply this year and not a complete representation of their true talent levels.

The most average players in baseball – which is to say those with the closest proximity to zero either way – are a pair of outfielders who hit about as well as anyone in the bigs, but field about as well as … well anyone in your local beer league. I’m talking about Brad Hawpe and Jason Bay. After them you have names like Luis Castillo, Mark DeRosa, Cristian Guzman, and Jimmy Rollins. Former top prospects like Billy Butler, B.J. Upton, and Andy LaRoche are within stone throws away from being average one way or the other.

Much like how Hawpe and Bay were penalized for their inability to field, Randy Winn has runs deducted for his poor bat. J.J. Hardy too. Clint Barmes has his offense and defense basically cancel out, and Jose Lopez is slightly poor at both things, but his positional adjustments cancel the struggles out.

You should be able to take away that average players are everywhere, unique to themselves and useful to their teams. I can go on for a while, comparing average players to snowflakes or butterflies, but that seems boring and misguided.

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31 Responses to “The Average Player”

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  1. Slugger O'Toole says:

    Good stuff. I always appreciate putting a few faces to league average preformance. I find it helps one to remember the level of play that falls dead center.

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  2. bikozu says:

    “I can go on for a while, comparing average players to snowflakes or butterflies, but that seems boring and misguided.”

    This seems almost forced but at the same time make me crack a smile.

    Nice piece, RJ, I enjoy reading your work here and at DRays Bay (even as a non-Rays fan)

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  3. Michael says:

    devil_fingers had Adam Dunn in the mix there as well, interested that he may be out of the league average fold. I’m going to guess his defense got worse.

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  4. Tom Au says:

    Jason Bay, “average?” The Pirates remember his huge bat. His fielding must be really poor to pull him down so much.

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  5. Dan says:

    Wouldn’t a true “average” player require being both middle of the road at the plate and in the field? Being exceptional at one facet and horrendous at another does not necessarily equate to “average” in the true sense of the word.

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    • Steve says:

      isn’t that kindof the definition of what it means to take an “average” of something? in this case, contributions on a baseball field…

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    • Yeah, there’s a old joke, about the man with his feet in the freezer and his head in the oven: on average, he’s at a great temperature!

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      • Ted Lehman says:

        I always thought that joke was kind of stupid, since the average temperature of those two things would probably be somewhere around 200 degrees.

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      • puck says:

        Well, the man didn’t say what temp the oven was set to. Maybe it was set around 110-120 F.

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  6. Jamesian says:

    Very, very true. If you do not believe it, just ask the Washington Nationals fans. They’ve got some good players and lots of bad players. They need some average ones.

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  7. CincoBrothers says:

    So this article is saying that Jason Bay and Randy Winn are equal players? You neglected to mention that Bay is being paid 2 million less than Winn this year. Just a couple of average players… one productive as hell, the other about to be bounced from the pros after this season.

    Jason Bay, a 3 time all-star and former rookie of the year, can be counted on 30-35 homeruns, 100 runs, 100 RBI, 10-15 steals, and 8-12 OF assists(from LF) every year. His fielding is below average, but he hustles. He’s also a smart base runner. Guess you’re just biased against the Red Sox, because Bay is the only legitimate all-star on here who will be one for years to come.

    Upton and his devilish OPS of .666 are a stone’s throw away from being an average player? Since Upton is close to being average, what happened to his power and RBI? The guy belongs in the minors, but stat geeks probably hate fundamentals. How do you strike out 30 percent of the time, but only have 7 homeruns in Tropicana Field? Might as well have Jeff Francoeur on here, he has a better future than Upton.

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    • Dan says:

      The whole point of a site like this is that A) ‘hustling’ means nothing when it comes to the numbers, and B) ‘counting on’ a player for a certain amount of HRs/RBIs/etc is not a sure thing. You’re being a homer, and not looking at the stats, which clearly show that his pretty darn good batting is being almost totally eclipsed by his terrible fielding.

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      • wobatus says:

        And these guys continuously overrate their ability to quantify fielding value as compared to hitting value. You have a pretty good idea how many runs Jason Bay is better than the “average” hitter, but the amount of runs he costs you in the field is not as easily toted up, even though strides are being made in that regard. And I am also not sure if he is talking average compared to all major league regulars, or average compared to all major league players. There are about 90 major league regular outfielders give or take.

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      • Phil says:

        By the way, Bay really doesn’t hustle in the field. Have you seen how painfully slowly he approaches balls that drop?

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      • CincoBrothers says:

        I’m not from Boston. It’s absurd saying he’s an average ballplayer. Is he elite? No, but he’s an all-star. Wobatus is right, these guys overrate their ability to measure fielding value. There’s no way you can be accurate and prove he’s costing his team this many runs with his defense.

        I guess Howard, Manny, Chipper Jones and Jeter are all team killers. In the past, you think Piazza didn’t help his teams win?

        The writer of this is a homer… If Upton who just so happens to play for the Rays is “a stone’s throw away from being average” than Bay is a stone’s throw away from being a Hall of Famer. Upton would be in double-A if he couldn’t run.

        Just nerd numbers calculated by dorks so they can feel smarter.

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      • Slick says:

        Counting on Adam Dunn to hit 40 HRs and 100 RBIs a year is a sure thing. He’s done it for 4 season in a row and had 46 five seasons ago and also looks poised to do it again playing half his games in a pitcher’s park. Then again, who cares where you hit HRs as long as they go over the fence. Of course, sabremetrically he ‘sucks’ cuz he strikes out a lot and plays horrific defense, etc, etc. But at least you can count on his production and they didn’t sign him to win a gold glove.

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      • Jay5ive says:

        I’ll take Upton and his better defense with potential over Bay and his awful defense and inflated batting stats this year. Saying Upton would be in the minors if he couldn’t run would be like saying Bay would be in the minors if he couldn’t hit. It’s irrelevant. Let’s not forget Upton came into this season dealing with shoulder issues as well. It’s obvious his superior defense outweighs his lack of production at the plate where as Bay has putrid defense that takes away from his batting prowess. It’s not that hard to figure out.

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  8. Tom Au says:

    Jason Bay is underpaid this year because the Pirates talked him into a “cheap” contract extension through 2009, then traded him long before then. We’ll find out how much he is really worth when he files for free agency (or re-signs with the Red Sox) at the end of the year.

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  9. puck says:

    I wonder when these players were selected. Clint Barmes’s wOBA is down to .316, which in Coors seems like it would be far enough below the positional average to more than negate his 5.7 fielding runs.

    Then again, what is the positional average? Are those figures available somewhere on fangraphs?

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  10. Brian says:

    Jimmy Rollins has struggled at the plate this year and besides his MVP year in 2007 his hitting has been average, but I watch him on an everyday basis and his defense his way above average, and his speed is also above average. When Jimmy scores a run the Phillies record is 48-11. I wouldn’t call Jimmy Rollins the best player in the league but I think calling him an average player is a little low.

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  11. Andrew W says:

    Interesting. Let’s hear some “big name” below average players. Someone mentioned Adam Dunn. He seems like a player many teams would like to have (contract not withstanding).

    After hearing some of these names being referred to as average, and verified with statistics, it makes me realize that there are mostly below-average players in the MLB. But would that defy the of averages, or is it that the quality of great 2-way players like Pujols, Tulowitzki, Teixeira, etc. balance out the quantity of the below-average players?

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  12. hennethannun says:

    Shouldn’t we be careful to remember the distinction between ‘average’ level and ‘replacement’ level?

    I mean in theory the bar for replacement level should be lower than the bar for average. An average player should have a roughly median value, meaning about as many players in the majors are worse than him as are better. But a ‘replacement level’ player is the theoretical expression of ‘freely available talent’ that any major league team could acquire in the form of minor league free agents and unemployed veterans. Of course this sort of thing only works on a macro-scale. On the micro-scale everything is context dependent. The Brewers probably have an above ‘average’ level of replacement at SS in Escobar, while the red sox clearly have a much lower than ‘average’ replacement level at SS having moved lugo and diaz and lost lowrie.

    But the point is that we should remember to think about where the replacement level bar has been set relative to ‘league average performance’ when talking about the value of specific players relative to replacement level.

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  13. Not David says:

    What I wouldn’t give to have more average players surrounding Mauer and Morneau.

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  14. Mark says:

    Let’s be real. The term “average” is brutally misused in its context here, first of all — perhaps you could include some sort of caveat to indicate such. Also, it’s a big stretch to label someone as average if they are subpar in one category and above-par in another. I’m of the belief that while defense is important and all, great offensive players are several times more valuable than great defensive players, for obvious reasons–thus rendering the “average” term all the more obsolete. And yes, I’m aware that merely stating such a belief is appalling to the most dyed-in-the-wool statheads. I don’t care.

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    • Michael says:

      I think part of the problem here is that people seem to think “average” is a bad thing. Average players contribute around 2 WAR a season, or about $8-9M on free agent market value a year. I don’t think people need to get up in arms on that.

      Not sure where your “obvious reasons” comes into play. Maybe the work being done on defensive metrics isn’t always precise (i.e. not all metrics agree), but it is based on sound principles and should absolutely be taken seriously. Does it require more regression? Sure, and we should regress defense more because it does change so radically year-to-year. But when a player posts three or four years worth of -10 or more runs on defense, you gotta think his value is right around there.

      I have a strong belief that while year-to-year defensive projections are difficult, the actual values you get are trustworthy, or at least trustworthy enough within the error bars (I believe MGL has UZR/150 at +/- 5, for what that’s worth).

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      • wobatus says:

        That’s a fair point. I don’t discount the fielding values completely. I think fangraphs has had some examples where they are pretty hard line about what they think values are. The biggest examples I recall, and neither of these are 20/20 hindsight, were saying Giles was worth his contract and padres holding onto him wasn’t so bad, and Kubel was not worth his contract. I thought these opinions were wrong on both counts at the time and didn’t take the probablility of regeression on one hand or progression on the other into account enough. Neither of which are speciafically fielding based issues, but they overemphasized Giles fielding value compared to what seemed a likely regression in hitting, and for Kubel overemphasized his dh status and underemphasized the good possibility of increase in his hitting value.

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      • Mark says:

        No, my point is that a great offensive player will win you more games with his offense than a great defensive player will with his defense.

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  15. dbuff says:

    Jason Bay plays half his games at Fenway Park where the defensive demands on a left-fielder are minimal.

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