The Value of Vlad in the Field

The Rangers, like most American League teams before them, will lose an advantage as they travel to a National League park. For Games 1 and 2, and perhaps Games 6 and 7, they will have to decide whether offense or defense is more important. In those two to four games the Rangers will lose either their DH, Vladimir Guerrero, or a cog in their outfield platoon, David Murphy and Jeff Francoeur. Unsurprisingly, Ron Washington is opting to stick with his cleanup hitter:

“You can bet we will figure out a way to get Vlad in the starting lineup,” Washington said Sunday during a media availability. “We are not going to take his bat out of the lineup.”

Looking just at Vlad this might seem like a sound decision. He finished second on the Rangers with a .360 wOBA and has hit fourth for them all season. Why take that kind of hitter out of your lineup? Yet, as with most baseball questions, the answer isn’t as straight forward as we might think. There is certainly a downside to playing Guerrero in the field.

The first obvious downside is self-explanatory: they have to play Guerrero in the field. He played just 125.2 innings in the field this season and has just 141.2 innings during the last two seasons. There is good reason for that. Even when Vlad was younger he wasn’t the fleetest of foot in the outfield. In fact, from 2002 through 2008 his UZR was -20.5 in right field. Those might be a bit low, because his arm score was mostly negative, too. Yet even DRS doesn’t think too highly of him, rating him -1 in those seven seasons, mostly because of his good arm. Yet that might not be the case any longer.

We know Vlad as the guy who throws like this, but is that really the case any more? We have very limited information on Guerrero’s arm right now, but during his 125.2 innings in the field this year both +/- (-1) and UZR (-0.6) showed less than favorable results. They might not provide a totally accurate description of Guerrero’s current throwing skills, but with those numbers, combined with what we can see and what we know about aging arms, I think we can safely assume that Vlad won’t be throwing out runners from the warning track.

In order to complete the analysis we have to look at the player, or players, who would replace Vlad should he find himself in a pinch hitting role. Assuming Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain go in Games 1 and 2, that player would be David Murphy. He’s a generally good outfielder, as his 2.4 career UZR/150 in left field indicates. He did have a down year per UZR, -2.3, though he did play only 533 innings out there during the season. For the most part he’s going to cover more ground than Guerrero. Yet what’s underrated about Murphy is his contribution at the plate this season.

We saw already that Vlad ranked third on the Rangers with a .360 wOBA. In fourth, though, was Murphy, just .002 behind at .358. Most of that came against right-handed pitching. Throughout his career, even when he didn’t hit as well overall as he did in 2010, he still hit righties very well, a career .357 wOBA. Guerrero, unsurprisingly, hit lefties far better than righties this season. He has also had an incredibly slow start to the playoffs, going just 12 for 45 with three extra base hits, all doubles. He might fit better as a bench bat in the first two games.

Having Vlad on the bench also means he can come in and pinch hit should Bruce Bochy bring Javier Lopez into a game. Whether that’s Murphy or Mitch Moreland, it will give the Rangers a late-game advantage. The league-average LI for pinch-hitting situations is 1.31, so that would give even more importance to Guerrero’s at-bats. So while they’d lose him for the game, they’d not only be replacing him with someone who can perhaps hit and field better in those circumstances, but they’d also have him available in select late-game situations that can prove critical to the game’s outcome.

Given what we know, in a general sense, about the current level of performance from both Guerrero and Murphy, it does make sense to use Murphy against the two righties in San Francisco. When the series then moves back to Arlington the Rangers can not only have Guerrero DH, but have him DH against a pair of left-handed pitchers. It’s tough to fault Washington for sticking with Guerrero, but it might not be the best move in this specific situation. Murphy appears to match up better.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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Matt
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Matt
5 years 8 months ago

Interesting choice by the Rangers, especially if Vlad plays his usual RF position. RF at AT&T is NOT a spot where you want the weak link in your defense. It has ot be one of the hardest positions in the majors to field in. Triples Alley could be Inside-the-Park Alley if they aren’t careful. Also, with all those strange caroms off that wall, creaky knees that make it hard to change direction quickly could be a huge liability. Big gamble for Texas.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
5 years 8 months ago

Agree 100%. I think Vlad will be even more of a detriment if he plays RF in San Francisco rather than LF. It makes sense to go w/ Murphy against Cain and Lincecum, but Vlad in LF over Francoeur (in RF) if they get to game 7 against Sanchez. The difference between Vlad’s hitting and Francoeur’s is large enough to justify the defensive drop, IMO. That’s not true, however, when the other option is Murphy.

phoenix
Guest
phoenix
5 years 8 months ago

maybe having murphy against the righties would be a better strategy, but i’d still say that vlad has more upside. he started out the postseason cold, but he did show a little better in the last couple games against the yankees. if vlad gets hot, maybe the only hitter more dangerous than him on that team is hamilton. i think washington is playing for upside and experience over a just by the books approach. while i think that murphy is maybe a smarter choice because it can burn you less, vlad has a much higher potential than murphy imo. still vlad might lose a ball in the gap and allow a triple, while whiffing the whole time, but thats a short series for ya.

Carson Cistulli
Editor
Member
5 years 8 months ago

Awesome stuff, Joe Pawl. Didn’t realize that about Murphy — his hitting against RHPs, I mean.

my gut hurts
Guest
my gut hurts
5 years 8 months ago

Stupid, stupid decision. Defensively alone it makes sense to have Murphy in, but since the end of June Vlad has put up right around a .300 OBP. Pathetic. The gut has finally come to cost the Rangers everything.

t ball
Guest
t ball
5 years 8 months ago

Pitchers hitting really sucks.

Alireza
Guest
5 years 8 months ago

No it doesn’t. It makes managers actually have to think

Sal
Guest
Sal
5 years 8 months ago

I guess he doesn’t know how to play the position…but what about Vlad at 1B? If they had worked with him, could this have been a reality?

Bill Buckner
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Bill Buckner
5 years 8 months ago

Absolutely. Defense at 1B is overrated. Especially in the World Series. What’s the worst that can happen?

Sal
Guest
Sal
5 years 8 months ago

That was both clever and informative. Thank you for replying to my question.

Bob
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Bob
5 years 8 months ago

When did anyone say defense was overrated? Does it become more important in the World Series? Are we comparing one of the most unfortunate mishaps a baseball player has ever committed to a player potentially playing first base?

I guess five other people thought this was funny but your post doesn’t make any sense.

James
Guest
James
5 years 8 months ago

The Hardball Times had an article last week about the fielding value of a player necessary to justify putting him in the field or not.

They gave the following defensive thresholds:
Catcher: -27.8 fielding runs
First base: -4.6 fielding runs
Second base: -18.5 fielding runs
Third base: -18.5 fielding runs
Shortstop: -23.1 fielding runs
Left field: -9.3 fielding runs
Center field: -18.5 fielding runs
Right field: -9.3 fielding runs

If Vlad is truly as bad at fielding as well all know he is, there is much to be lost by moving him into the field and he may do more damage with his glove than with his bat. Honestly, he’s a DH-only guy.

The link to what I am talking about is
http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/to-dh-or-not-to-dh-that-is-the-question/

Alireza
Guest
5 years 8 months ago

1) Younger Vlad was among the fleetest of foot in the game.

2) The UZR arm scores screwed up on him. He rarely gets kills even of late because his reputation is still top notch.

3) Vlad should not, under any circumstances, play RF at AT&T Park. That is beyond ridiculous. That wall is tough for 25 year old defensive studs to play, let alone a guy with Vlad’s leg issues. LF is a good place to hide his glove and may allow him to be of value if a big throw is needed.

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5 years 8 months ago

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Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross
5 years 8 months ago

Why can’t the Rangers just play Vlad at first and bench Moreland?

Hunter
Guest
5 years 8 months ago

I dont agree with the Rangers decision at all, although i do understand them wanting to have more offense (even though they have plenty of that), because as we all saw last night Vlad is definetly not useful in the field committing two errors. He is useful on offense but not useful enough to waste outs on.

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