Willie Bloomquist Was a Lot of Things

Retirement announcements are seldom surprising, because even from the outside it’s pretty simple to tell when a player has outlived his utility. Willie Bloomquist is 38, now, and after spending the offseason making up his mind, he tweeted the following last Friday:

Bloomquist is hanging them up, which means Bloomquist articles on analytical websites must also hang them up. In a way it’s amazing Bloomquist achieved such Internet fame in the first place, being a career reserve, but his name meant a little something over the years, and here, for one last time, I want to talk about what Willie Bloomquist was.

Bloomquist was a prospect. He was drafted in the third round out of a major program, and for a couple years Baseball America ranked him in the Mariners’ organizational top-10. You could argue that said as much about the Mariners as it said about Bloomquist, but he was always supposed to be a major-leaguer. The same isn’t true of most players within the professional ranks.

Bloomquist was versatile. Both versatile and enduring, really. He’s one of just six players in major-league history to play at least 40 games at first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field, and right field. It’s not like he’s in the company of Hall-of-Famers — we’re talking about names like Denny Hocking and Possum Whitted. But lots of players come up and play all over the field. Very few of them last as long as Bloomquist did.

Bloomquist was a punching bag. He became something of an Internet punchline, and this significantly boosted his name recognition. I’ve played my own role in this, but he’s been drawing mockery going back a decade and a half. I don’t think it was ever personal, and you certainly couldn’t blame Bloomquist for the times he expressed a desire to play more often. Everyone on a major-league bench wants to play more often. But Bloomquist was identified early on for not being good, and his emergence was simultaneous with the rise of analytical snark. So he became a popular target. It wasn’t all fair, but, that’s the Internet.

Bloomquist was just about replacement-level. To the credit of those who were initially critical, Bloomquist never “put it all together.” By our numbers, he was worth a total of one win above replacement. By the numbers at Baseball-Reference, he was worth a total of two wins above replacement. He can’t be considered the model of a replacement-level player, simply because of how often he played. The duration of Bloomquist’s career indicates he was always considered of major-league quality. But rare is the player who plays so often, without accruing at least a handful of WAR. This one pulled it off.

Bloomquist was hard to pin down. That is, while he was never outstanding, and while he played the same brand of baseball for his whole career, there’s a lesson in there about how numbers can bounce around. Numbers change, approaches change, results change, and players can still stay the same. Willie Bloomquist was always Willie Bloomquist, but each of the following is true of individual seasons:

  • Bloomquist was strikeout-prone, once whiffing in a quarter of his trips to the plate.
  • Bloomquist was a contact hitter, having whiffed just once per 14 opportunities.
  • Bloomquist was an on-base machine, walking 13% of the time.
  • Bloomquist was aggressive, walking barely 2% of the time.
  • Bloomquist was dangerous on the bases, ranking in the top-20 in stolen-base value.
  • Bloomquist was differently dangerous on the bases, ranking second-worst in stolen-base value.
  • Bloomquist was a worm-killer, with a grounder rate over 60%.
  • Bloomquist was an air-ball machine, with a grounder rate near to 40%.
  • Bloomquist was potent, putting up the same hard-hit rate as Buster Posey.
  • Bloomquist was weak, posting a lower hard-hit rate than Adam Everett.

Bloomquist was all over the map, a function of both changing approaches and irregular playing time. These things can happen over smaller samples. Season OBPs ranged from .283 to .377. Season wRC+ figures ranged from 62 to 101. Season WAR values ranged from -0.8 to +0.7. He always hovered right around zero. No matter what else was different, the WAR was close to what it was always close to.

Yet, there’s one last thing: Bloomquist was clutch. This doesn’t always go over well, and it’s not like Bloomquist turned into Derek Jeter with the game on the line. But you know that we have a Clutch statistic, that measures offensive contributions while folding in context and win expectancy and the like. Bloomquist finished with bad offensive numbers, but by Win Probability Added, he was more valuable than you would’ve expected. The Clutch rating credits him with about six extra wins, with Bloomquist’s least-productive offense mostly having come in low-leverage plate appearances. Those, as you understand, are the plate appearances that matter the least.

Since 2002, when Bloomquist debuted, 467 players have batted at least 2,000 times. (Bloomquist batted more than 3,000 times.) Looking at all the players, if you sort by WAR per 600 plate appearances, Bloomquist ranks 447th. However, if you sort by Clutch per 600 plate appearances, Bloomquist ranks…first. First, out of everybody. Which means, of the hits Bloomquist was responsible for, he did a pretty good job of timing them. For the record, we have this information going back to 1974. Bloomquist ranks second over that span in Clutch/600, out of 1,184.

As a quick little workaround, we can add Clutch to WAR to try to get closer to actual value, context included. It’s not perfect, but it’s functional, and now we take Bloomquist from 1 career WAR to a little more than 7 career “adjusted” WAR. By the regular number, Bloomquist never had a single season worth at least 1 WAR. If you fold in Clutch, he managed five such seasons. Notably, Bloomquist’s career WAR/600 shoots from 0.2 to 1.4. At 1.4, we also find one Jay Bruce. Also Cameron Maybin and Mike Moustakas. Just below 1.4, we find Adam Dunn, David Murphy, and Russell Branyan. On talent, Bloomquist probably wasn’t better than these players. But less valuable? I don’t think he was less valuable. Not when you really dig in.

Whether this shows skill or luck, I don’t know. The answer is probably both. It doesn’t matter much, because we’re not trying to predict the future; Bloomquist’s career has officially come to a close. Over that career, Bloomquist officially showed some pretty good timing with his offense, which resulted in his having been more valuable than his regular numbers would indicate. It doesn’t mean Willie Bloomquist was good, by the standard set by his major-league peers. But now that the numbers are fixed, one might say that Willie Bloomquist turned out underrated. Not bad for a punching bag.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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dtpollitt
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dtpollitt
2 months 16 days ago

I always feel sad when guys like Willie retire; they seem quite relatable and common man folk. Seems like a good comp for Neifi Perez, no?

KCDaveInLA
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KCDaveInLA
2 months 16 days ago

No, not really. Willie Bloomquist was worth 4.3 WAR more than Neifi Perez, and no team ever traded away an in-the-prime Jermaine Dye for Willie Bloomquist.

MLB needs guys like Willie – they help us appreciate the better-than-replacement players a little more. Maybe you could even say that playing at replacement level is “holding your own”. Willie held his own and made a few million more than you and me over the past decade. God bless you, Willie.

Trotter76
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Trotter76
2 months 16 days ago

I just got back from my softball game tonight, and when I see Willie B crush a shot out of sight like we see above (at age 38 no less), it makes me appreciate how good even “bad” MLB hitters are. In my “prime” I could only dream of hitting a ball half as good.

tz
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tz
2 months 15 days ago

Yes. That video in his tweet was THE perfect response to everyone who ever took a shot at his “mediocrity”. (none of whom ever got to the 99.99th percentile of serious baseball players like he did)

burts_beads
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burts_beads
2 months 16 days ago

Bloomquist has long been a favorite of mine to pick up on The Show or OOTP as a super sub that could play everywhere. I’ve always liked those types, starting with Super Joe McEwing and now Brock Holt (who is definitely more talented than the other two.)

Michael Carpenter
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Michael Carpenter
2 months 16 days ago

I always did the same thing. Willie Bloomquist and Nick Punto were great for depth

olethros
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olethros
2 months 15 days ago

Jose “Secret Weapon” Oquendo was the king of this.

sskim3
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sskim3
2 months 16 days ago

Jeff – this has got my head churning and want to see if there are any others that are like him. Sadly, the closest thing I can think of is Rajai Davis but he produces more WAR due to his steals.

The article makes me want to go down the rabbit hole of middle relief pitcher who was simply average like Willie who stuck around for awhile. Rich Rodriguez … 640 IP with an accumulation of 0.7 WAR.
http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=1276&position=P

Westside guy
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Westside guy
2 months 16 days ago

Speaking non-analytically (read: lazy) – I wonder if there is some amount of innate value when a single player is capable of playing replacement level baseball at pretty much every position on the field.

tz
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tz
2 months 16 days ago

There’s probably a tiny bit of “chaining” value in having a safe-floor substitute available at any position, which might add up for a guy like Willie. There may also be some more roster-management value in that a guy like him frees you up to carry more position players to mix and match in an advantageous way.

So I’m sure there’s real value in this kind of versatility, but good luck to anyone trying to pin down a win value for it. ;)

swyck
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swyck
2 months 15 days ago

But they have calculated the value for it, haven’t they?

I disagree with the authors premise that Bloomquist wasn’t replacement player because he played too much. That is exactly why he played so much – he could be counted on to play at that level. Plenty of players you bring in as replace will actually be negative players.

So IMO Willie Bloomquist was the very definition of a replacement player, and that is not a knock on him. There is plenty of value in just holding down the fort.

So if his calculated value was zero or close to it, that’s a lot better than a negative value.

tz
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tz
2 months 15 days ago

I think they were focusing on the raw definition of a replacement-level player, which is somebody you could pick for nothing off the waiver wire, then DFA when you get a better guy back off the DL. That’s why guys like Reid Brignac and Dewayne Wise and Jeff Manto back in the day make good proxies for the replacement player definition.

But once you get that definition in place, then you can use that as a reference point for the replacement level value, and Bloomquist’s performance using context-neutral WAR is just as good as these guys. Still, it’s hard to call him a replacement-level player when teams held onto him, and even signed him to multi-year FA deals. There’s obviously more intrinsic value for a guy like him than context-neutral WAR captures.

Jetsy Extrano
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Jetsy Extrano
2 months 15 days ago

If a guy can play replacement-level quality at every position, that has quantifiable value to the team, in the contributions of the roster spots he makes available. Instead of a 0-WAR backup infielder, 0-WAR outfielder, 0-WAR last reliever, etc., you carry one 0-WAR supersub, and you have a few roster spots to spend on specialists.

How about look at it this way, if you got to have a 30-man roster, but the extra five could only be freely available talent, could you gain anything? Yes, I think, because you can stash specialists that other teams can’t afford to carry, and you can use them for a single PA when they’re needed.

Maybe an extra ROOGY, a platoon pair of PHers, a Herb Washington PR, etc.

tz
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tz
2 months 16 days ago

On Bloomquist’s clutch, about 1.5 to 2 runs of it simply comes from the way clutch is calculated, which penalizes guys for having more than the expected number of homers, strikeouts, or walks. So the same lack of TTO skills that made Willie a bit of a saber-punchline also helped him to deliver some “clutch” value.

Jetsy Extrano
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Jetsy Extrano
2 months 16 days ago

Hey anybody with a simulator, could you disable any clutchiness option, and run a bunch of seasons to get what the distribution looks like for a player’s measured seasonal clutchiness?

A player with Bloomquist’s overall stats, specifically.

tz
Member
tz
2 months 15 days ago

Are you thinking of how much of Bloomquist’s “clutch” is skill vs. luck?

I’ve got about 1.5-2 wins of “expected” clutch from his overall stat profile, leaving roughly 4 wins of unexplained clutch. He has a higher spread of (mid+high) leverage hitting vs. low leverage hitting than the average player, but it’s hard to say how much of that is actual skill vs. luck (or possibly usage).

Doug Lampert
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Doug Lampert
2 months 15 days ago

How often was he used as a pinch hitter? He may well have profited from a noticeable fraction of his high leverage at bats having been with the platoon advantage because he could come in for anyone.

tz
Member
tz
2 months 15 days ago

I noticed he did hit much better with runners on than bases empty. Beneath this, there’s a weird-looking set of splits based upon whether there’s a runner on second or not, using tOPS+ = own split OPS+ vs own total OPS+ from Baseball Reference:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=bloomwi01&year=Career&t=b

tOPS+ bases empty = 92
tOPS+ runner on 2nd only = 120

tOPS+ runner on 1st only = 107
tOPS+ runners on 1st and 2nd = 122

tOPS+ runner on 3rd only = 134
tOPS+ runners on 2nd and 3rd = 205

tOPS+ runners on 1st and 3rd = 71
tOPS+ bases loaded = 42

Is it possible that Bloomquist had above-average skill in using stolen signs relayed by a runner at second?

Jetsy Extrano
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Jetsy Extrano
2 months 15 days ago

Essentially, yeah. We can’t answer that question for sure, but with a simulator we could answer: given 1000 Willie careers *if there is no clutch skill*, how many player-careers show a clutch of +6 wins or better, by chance?

If it’s 20 out of 1000, then that’s decent evidence that Willie had clutch skill (p = 0.02, with the usual issues with p-values).

bookbook
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bookbook
2 months 16 days ago

I wonder if it is already completely captured in WAR, but I note that Bloomquist was probably worse at defense–at least up the middle–than your typical punchless but speedy replacement-level supersub.

Breadbaker
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Breadbaker
2 months 16 days ago

To me, Willie was always “that guy”. You know the one, the guy who you knew in high school or college and was always better at something, not necessarily baseball, than anyone else, and you always figured would hit it big but didn’t. Not because of luck, or the color of his skin, or how hard he worked, or who his connections were, but because, in the end, he just wasn’t that good. And mind you, Willie was better at baseball than all than about 500 people on this planet at any one time. But to hit it big, you probably have to be better than all but about 50, and Willie wasn’t good enough to do that. So he had a long major league career, he sniffed the postseason once and performed decently, made a ridiculous sum of money for it, has not only the good clutch numbers and the amazingly consistent WAR, but one of the largest boxes for a fielder of any major leaguer on Fangraphs. He has a gorgeous wife and four lovely daughters and he gets to return to his hometown, a pretty nice place to live, and always be honored as “that guy”. He wouldn’t trade that life with a lot of us, although he can probably name every guy whose life he would trade it for, and you could, too.

ginsugarland@gmail.com
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ginsugarland@gmail.com
2 months 15 days ago

So a roster of Willie’s would win 47 games over a season?

Cropper
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Cropper
2 months 15 days ago

Wait, Willie Bloomquist is white? Huh, you learn something new every day.

Jeff Luhnow
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Jeff Luhnow
2 months 15 days ago

I know, right. Blew my mind too.

formerly matt w
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formerly matt w
2 months 15 days ago

Are there a lot of black people named Bloomquist? It’s basically the same name (Blomkvist) as the guy in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

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