What Every Utility Infielder Was Worth in 2012

Yesterday, the Chicago White Sox warmed the cockles of the present author’s heart by taking 29-year-old infield-type Angel Sanchez from the Angels in the Rule 5 draft. Because Sanchez can play the infield (including shortstop) and because he has some kind of offensive upside (owing to his excellent contact skills) and because he’s cheap (he still has just two years of service time and will likely make the league minimum), Sanchez will allow the White Sox to spend money elsewhere. Or, otherwise, to not spend money elsewhere and just keep that money and use it for whatever, like for a donation to an important New England boarding school.

Players who are chosen in the major-league phase of the Rule 5 draft (as was Sanchez) must be kept on the selecting team’s 25-man major league roster for the entire season after the draft — which suggests, if he’s retained by the White Sox, that Sanchez will fill some manner of utility role behind Gordon Beckham, Jeff Keppinger, and Alexei Ramirez.

Paying a player like Sanchez at or near the league-minimum salary would seem to give the signing time a competitive advantage. It’s also possible that that’s not the case at all. What the author found himself wondering — and what he attempted to answer by means of this post — is the question: “How much are utility infielders worth these days?”

To answer said question, I used MLB Depth Charts to find the players who were considered bench players on each 25-man roster at the beginning of 2012, isolating those field players who seemed reasonably likely to play second base, third base, or shortstop. I then found the salaries (at Cot’s Contracts) and WAR totals (here) for all the players selected.

There is, of course, all manner of caveat to be made here. Because Mark Trumbo (who started eight games there) was considered, at some level, to be the Angels’ starting third baseman for 2012, Alberto Callaspo (who actually started 122 games) is listed as a utility infielder. In other cases, a player — like Willie Bloomquist, for example — isn’t listed here, because he began the season as the nominal starter (in Bloomquist’s case, because Stephen Drew was on the disabled list).

In the (sortable) table below are all the players who fulfilled the above criteria. Listed next to each player are his team at the beginning of 2012, his plate-appearance and WAR totals, his salary, his WAR pro-rated to 600 plate appearances, and then his value (assuming $5 million per win) pro-rated to 600 plate appearances, as well.


Player Team PA WAR Salary WAR/600 Val/600
Eric Young Rockies 196 1.8 $0.48 5.5 $27.55
Josh Donaldson Athletics 294 1.8 $0.48 3.7 $18.37
Justin Sellers Dodgers 50 0.3 $0.48 3.6 $18.00
Eric Chavez Yankees 313 1.8 $0.90 3.5 $17.25
Jerry Hairston Dodgers 267 1.5 $2.25 3.4 $16.85
Kyle Seager Mariners 651 3.6 $0.48 3.3 $16.59
Alberto Callaspo Angels 520 2.7 $3.15 3.1 $15.58
Eduardo Nunez Yankees 100 0.5 $0.52 3.0 $15.00
Chad Tracy Nationals 105 0.5 $0.75 2.9 $14.29
Matt Carpenter Cardinals 340 1.6 $0.48 2.8 $14.12
Adam Kennedy Dodgers 201 0.8 $0.80 2.4 $11.94
Juan Francisco Braves 205 0.8 $0.48 2.3 $11.71
Pete Orr Phillies 57 0.2 $0.60 2.1 $10.53
John McDonald D-backs 213 0.7 $1.50 2.0 $9.86
Ronny Cedeno Mets 186 0.6 $1.15 1.9 $9.68
Luis Valbuena Cubs 303 0.9 $0.49 1.8 $8.91
Justin Turner Mets 185 0.5 $0.49 1.6 $8.11
Nick Punto Red Sox 191 0.5 $1.50 1.6 $7.85
Trevor Plouffe Twins 465 1.2 $0.49 1.5 $7.74
Chris Getz Royals 210 0.5 $0.97 1.4 $7.14
Maicer Izturis Angels 319 0.7 $3.97 1.3 $6.58
Sean Rodriguez Rays 342 0.7 $0.49 1.2 $6.14
Steve Lombardozzi Nationals 416 0.8 $0.48 1.2 $5.77
Alexi Amarista Angels 300 0.5 $0.48 1.0 $5.00
Josh Harrison Pirates 276 0.3 $0.48 0.7 $3.26
Brian Bixler Astros 96 0.1 $0.48 0.6 $3.13
Jonathan Herrera Rockies 251 0.2 $0.48 0.5 $2.39
Jordan Pacheco Rockies 505 0.2 $0.48 0.2 $1.19
Casey McGehee Pirates 352 0.1 $2.54 0.2 $0.85
Cesar Izturis Brewers 173 0.0 $0.88 0.0 $0.00
Alberto Gonzalez Rangers 55 0.0 $0.75 0.0 $0.00
Tyler Greene Cardinals 330 0.0 $0.48 0.0 $0.00
Alex Liddi Mariners 126 0.0 $0.48 0.0 $0.00
Andy Parrino Padres 138 0.0 $0.48 0.0 $0.00
Eduardo Escobar White Sox 146 -0.1 $0.48 -0.4 -$2.05
Donnie Murphy Marlins 129 -0.1 $0.56 -0.5 -$2.33
Jose Lopez Indians 248 -0.4 $0.80 -1.0 -$4.84
Danny Worth Tigers 90 -0.2 $0.48 -1.3 -$6.67
Ryan Flaherty Orioles 167 -0.4 $0.48 -1.4 -$7.19
Munenori Kawasaki Mariners 115 -0.3 $0.63 -1.6 -$7.83
Matt Downs Astros 191 -0.5 $0.49 -1.6 -$7.85
Jason Donald Indians 135 -0.4 $0.48 -1.8 -$8.89
Greg Dobbs Marlins 342 -1.1 $1.40 -1.9 -$9.65
Geoff Blum D-backs 31 -0.1 $1.35 -1.9 -$9.68
Omar Vizquel Blue Jays 163 -0.6 $0.75 -2.2 -$11.04
Brent Lillibridge White Sox 209 -0.8 $0.50 -2.3 -$11.48
Emmanuel Burriss Giants 150 -0.7 $0.63 -2.8 -$14.00
Wilson Valdez Reds 208 -1.1 $0.93 -3.2 -$15.87
Don Kelly Tigers 127 -0.7 $0.90 -3.3 -$16.54
Sean Burroughs Twins 18 -0.1 $0.53 -3.3 -$16.67
Joe Mather Cubs 243 -1.5 $0.49 -3.7 -$18.52
Miguel Cairo Reds 156 -1.0 $1.00 -3.8 -$19.23
Yamaico Navarro Pirates 56 -0.4 $0.48 -4.3 -$21.43
Willie Harris Reds 48 -0.4 $0.80 -5.0 -$25.00
Jack Wilson Braves 77 -0.8 $1.00 -6.2 -$31.17
Blake DeWitt Cubs 30 -0.4 $1.10 -8.0 -$40.00
Reid Brignac Rays 22 -0.3 $0.49 -8.2 -$40.91
Luke Hughes Twins 24 -0.4 $0.49 -10.0 -$50.00
Average 204 0.2 $0.84 0.7 $3.44

Notes
• Utility infielders, at least using this (admittedly flawed) methodology, averaged ca. 200 plate appearances last season.

• In those ca. 200 plate appearances, utility infielders were worth about 0.2 WAR a piece.

• The average utility infielder was paid about $840,000 in 2012.

• Colorado’s Eric Young was the most valuable player by this critiera, posting a 1.8 WAR in just under 200 plate appearances while earning the league-minimum salary — although, it should be noted, he actually ended up playing exactly zero innings in the infield this past season.

• Oakland’s Josh Donaldson, second on this list, really did play the infield — exactly 71 games at third base, in fact.



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Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
ThirteenOfTwo
Guest
ThirteenOfTwo
3 years 7 months ago

I think we all know who the true most valuable utility man was: Munenori Kawasaki. There is no sabermetric stat for adorableness.

Bryz
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

His dance moves score a NERD of 15.

Bad Bill
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Bad Bill
3 years 7 months ago

What is Kyle Seager doing on this list? He was the starter at 3B from day one.

Twain
Guest
Twain
3 years 7 months ago

Technically, Figgins was. But what is the point of this list if we include guys like Seager and omit guys like Bloomquist? Does it tell us anything?

Twain
Guest
Twain
3 years 7 months ago

Maybe the title should be “What some utility infielders were worth with some starters and outfielders inexplicably included.”

Danmay
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Danmay
3 years 7 months ago

As cool as this list sounds, I don’t think it’s telling us much either. Sure, Josh Donaldson wasn’t the starting 3B at the beginning of the year, but he certainly was by the end. And more to the point, he didn’t start generating positive value until after he was given the starting job.

Dag Gummit
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

Right. The M’s opening day lineup consisted of Figgins at 3B, Carp in LF and Saunders in CF.

Interesting when you think about how the M’s only 3 actually good hitters last year (Seager, Saunders, Jaso) were all bench/ backup/ UT guys before Gutierrez went down in ST.

walt526
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walt526
3 years 7 months ago

Interesting, but seems to me like your mechanism for identifying “bench players” could use some refinement, IMHO.

Alex
Guest
Alex
3 years 7 months ago

Young Jr. seriously needs to be given more playing time. He’s done decently in every single major league stint, and the team still demotes him after one month. He’s better than half of the other utility players that fill out the Rockies’ roster

jim
Guest
jim
3 years 7 months ago

well, young never got demoted this year, but rather was hurt. his problem has historically been lack of a position to play, but has showed a lot of progress defensively in 2012. you are correct that he deserves a starting shot

rusty
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rusty
3 years 7 months ago

I was surprised at his WAR/600 number (although I was somewhat aware that he’d had a pretty good season relative to expectations) — isn’t it a long-standing complaint that the defensive components of WAR hurt Rockies outfielders?

Mcshane
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Mcshane
3 years 7 months ago

Hey where is Pedro Ciriaco? My man was good for 0.9 WAR in 272 PA’s.

BurleighGrimes
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BurleighGrimes
3 years 7 months ago

Damn, the Reds gave so many fruitless at-bats to Wilson Valdez and Miguel Cairo last year.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 7 months ago

A lot of you are missing the point. Determining who was or wasn’t a utility player after the fact would be a clear selection bias and would result in meaningless data.
This article does a pretty good job of showing how much value teams recieved for players who were expected to be utility players before the season began. Yes, some ended up as starters and some probably ended up out of baseball, but that’s just part of the results.
This table serves as a rough guide for how much a team should be willing to pay for a utility player, though the characteristics of each such player would be the more important factor.

That Guy
Guest
That Guy
3 years 7 months ago

Chris Getz was expected to be a utility guy before last season? The confusion seems to be what one thinks of a “bench” player. I don’t know that I’d consider a true utility guy (getting say 100 PAs at 3 different positions, or 250 at 2 different – or whatever thresholds float your boat) to necessarily be a “bench” guy.

Rusty Faker
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Rusty Faker
3 years 7 months ago

Thanks, Dusty Baker, for giving Wilson Valdez so many PA’s in front of Joey Votto this year.

Travis
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Travis
3 years 7 months ago

It seems weird that injuries to start the season are treated differently than injuries during the season. Don’t a lot of utility infielders get playing time because someone else got injured? Ty Wiggington/Freddy Galvis/Michael Martinez for the Phillies would all seem to count as utility infielders except for injuries to start the season.

Charles
Guest
Charles
3 years 7 months ago

Removing those who became starters (100+ starts) and did not play at least 1 game at a middle infield position, we have:

Justin Sellers Dodgers 50 0.3 $0.48 3.6 $18.00
Jerry Hairston Dodgers 267 1.5 $2.25 3.4 $16.85
Eduardo Nunez Yankees 100 0.5 $0.52 3.0 $15.00
Matt Carpenter Cardinals 340 1.6 $0.48 2.8 $14.12
Adam Kennedy Dodgers 201 0.8 $0.80 2.4 $11.94
Pete Orr Phillies 57 0.2 $0.60 2.1 $10.53

Not bad, Dodgers, not bad. Not good, but not bad.

channelclemente
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channelclemente
3 years 7 months ago

Where is Joaquin Arias with the Giants?

Andrew
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Andrew
3 years 7 months ago

Any reason Paul Janish of the Braves was left off?

giantsrainman
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giantsrainman
3 years 7 months ago

You method of determining “Every” is flawed. You didn’t even include the two Utility Infielders from the World Champions. Neither Theroit nor Aries were on your list.

Gabriel
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

A quick question: given that the average value of backup infielders was so low (0.2 WAR/160), doesn’t this give us a pretty strong reason to believe that the actual replacement level is lower than what we are using? Even if these are the 23rd to 25th men (and some clearly were not), I’d expect a bigger drop than 0.2/160 in going to the next guy in line.

Big Jgke
Member
Big Jgke
3 years 7 months ago

I am shocked, SHOCKED, that Omar Vizquel was not the worst player in the league last year. A great career, but wow, was it sad watching that guy drag his carcass around the field all season.

David
Guest
David
3 years 7 months ago

I’m not really sure why you’re including WAR/600 or Val/600? It shows a comparable level to a starting player, but it’s only achievable if there’s a season-ending injury or such. Shouldn’t it simply be WAR * $5M? Because more than likely, you’re paying him to ride the bench, not to play.

Pathogen
Guest
Pathogen
3 years 7 months ago

Maybe I’m missing something, but Jamey Carroll should be on this list (I think his WAR was around 3 last season (shocking))

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