Zobrist vs Fielder: A Position Adjustment Primer

Yesterday on Twitter, Buster Olney had some thoughts on WAR, and specifically, the way it values middle-of-the-diamond players compared to first basemen. A few selections from his comments:

#1: “Love advanced metrics,but anybody find something a little skewed to 2B/SS/CF? Ben Zobrist No. 6 overall, ahead of all first basemen, McCann?”

#2: “Zobrist, Victorino, Howie Kendrick and Yunel Escobar all ahead of Prince Fielder in WAR. You do wonder if positional adjustments too steep.”

#3: “If you asked 30 GMs who they would pay the most among these players–Victorino, Yunel, Kendrick, Fielder–off ’11 stats,30 would say Fielder.”

There were a few others sprinkled in there as well, but you get the general point. The common wisdom in baseball has been that run producers are the most valuable players in the game, and since WAR does not line up with that assessment, Buster is questioning whether WAR is wrong.

This is an understandable concern to some degree. When a new metric comes along, there is a legitimate “smell test” that it should pass. If we developed a metric to measure speed that called Bengie Molina the fastest guy in the sport over the last 10 years, you could justifiably assume that we made a big error somewhere. There is a place for logic and reason in testing the validity of calculations. But if all new metrics are forced to line up with preconceived notions of what’s true, they lose all value as well – we should not be willing to believe that what we currently hold true is infallible. The smell test needs to be balanced with an openness to the possibility that the metric is offering new information that we can learn from.

I believe Buster has that openness, for what it’s worth. He wouldn’t even be looking at WAR if he thought it was a junk stat created by nerds in their mother’s basement, so there’s no reason for mocking here. When people have legitimate questions about our metrics, we want to answer them. So, I thought it’d be useful to explain just why WAR likes Ben Zobrist so much more than Prince Fielder, and why that’s not wrong.

Let’s start with what makes a player valuable to begin with – production relative to their peers. A team gets a competitive advantage by having a guy who is better than what their opponents have at the same position, since every team has to field nine guys at the same nine spots. You can’t load up on shortstops or first basemen and have a team full of them, after all – you need a guy at each spot on the field.

Fielder is certainly a great hitter, but there are a lot of great hitting first basemen. He plays the same position as Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, and Mark Teixeira, among others. Just those seven are all considered elite, franchise cornerstone type players, but the fact that there are seven guys at that level at the same position should tell you something about the scarcity of that kind of player. 23 percent of all teams in baseball have a first baseman who could easily be considered one of the best players in the game, and is paid as such.

Even the second tier of first baseman are pretty darn good hitters. We haven’t mentioned the likes of Paul Konerko or Ryan Howard, who routinely get MVP votes and are lauded as two of the games premier run producers. At first base, though, they can’t even crack the top rung. The bar is just set so high.

In 2011, the average line produced by all first baseman is .270/.344/.449, good for a .793 OPS. Right Field has a .775 OPS as a group, and then no other position is over .747. First base is the land of run producing sluggers, and it essentially takes an .800 OPS or better to be an above average hitter for the position. In fact, there are exactly 15 guys at the position with an OPS of .800 or better in 300 or more plate appearances this year.

Prince Fielder’s .991 OPS is obviously terrific, and is actually the best at the position this year, slightly edging out Miguel Cabrera for the top spot so far. It’s almost exactly 200 points better than the league average mark for a first baseman. He’s having a great year, no doubt.

Now, though, let’s look at Zobrist. He’s posting an .861 OPS, 130 points lower than Fielder, so you can see where there’s skepticism that the gap could be made up in other areas. But when you compare Zobrist to the baseline of all second baseman, the gap gets much smaller. The average Major League 2B is hitting .258/.318/.383 on the season, good for a .702 OPS. Zobrist’s mark is 159 points better than average for his position, and like Fielder, his mark is elite for his spot – only Dustin Pedroia (.880) has a better OPS so far this year. In fact, there are only five second baseman with an .800 OPS or better this year (again, 300 PA minimum), and the 15th best hitting second baseman in baseball this year is Alexi Casilla. The bar here is clearly not as high.

A 40 point gap of OPS relative to position average might still seem like a pretty decent difference, but it sounds bigger than it actually is. Fielder has produced 39 runs above an average hitter this year, while Zobrist has produced 24. The 130 point OPS gap is essentially equal to 15 runs, and once you adjust for just the 40 point difference relative to position, the gap closes to just seven runs. It’s certainly an advantage for Fielder, but it’s also the only advantage he has on Zobrist anywhere on the field.

For all of Prince’s exploits at the plate, that’s the only place he produces value. You don’t have to believe in advanced metrics to agree that Fielder is a below average defender at first base and a below average baserunner. By the metrics we use, Fielder is eight runs below average in those two areas put together, so he gives back half of his total (non-position adjusted) offensive advantage by not adding value there.

Zobrist, on the other hand, is an excellent defensive second baseman and a terrific baserunner, and we’ve got him at 11.5 runs better than average between those two aspects of the game. While he doesn’t have Fielder’s power, he is much faster and more athletic, and is able to use those skills to more than close the gap once defense and base running are factored in to the overall package.

By solely focusing on offensive metrics – especially things like HRs and RBIs, which are heavily skewed toward power hitting first baseman – and not looking at the position averages at each position, the sport has had a long history of overvaluing Prince Fielder’s specific player type. The Ryan Howard extension is a perfect example – he’s something pretty close to a league average first baseman, but he’s getting paid like a superstar.

Teams, however, have begun to learn from their mistakes. Look at the relative salary difference that guys like Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth commanded last winter, compared to a bat-only guy like Adam Dunn. By nearly any measure you want to use, Dunn was the superior hitter (until this year, anyway), but he got nearly $100 million less than Crawford because teams realized there was more to the the game than standing at the plate and swinging for the fences.

To Buster’s final point, he’s almost certainly correct that 30 out of 30 MLB teams would take Fielder over Zobrist going forward if the money was equal. But that’s essentially accusing WAR of saying something that it does not attempt to say. Single-season WAR is not, and has never been presented as, a true talent evaluator. It is a measure of past production over a certain time frame, but no one would argue that you should use four months of WAR data to say that one really good player is definitively better going forward than another really good player.

For the kind of which-player-would-a-GM-rather-have question that Buster is posing, we would certainly look at multiple years of data, aging curves, and expected regression in coming up with a projection of future value. We would not suggest that anyone look at 2011 WAR as a definitive ordered list of who the best players in the game are at this time – it’s not even trying to make that claim. It’s talking about past performance only, not what we expect going forward.

In fact, Buster’s criticism of WAR could be applied to any stat you want, traditional or advanced. If you interpret it literally, ERA currently says that Ryan Vogelsong is the best pitcher in the National League. That’s crazy, of course, but no one interprets single-season ERA that way. Single season batting average gives you Casey Kotchman as the third best hitter in baseball. It’s not just the advanced stats that produce results that “don’t pass the smell test”.

I get where Buster’s confusion is coming from. For years, we’ve been told that power hitting first baseman are the creme de la creme of baseball players. WAR does not agree with that assessment, and it challenges long-held beliefs about how players have been valued. But that does not make it wrong by default. Challenging assumptions is something any good metric should do, and the fact that it’s shining a light on previously underrated stars like Zobrist is one of the reasons why WAR is so valuable to begin with.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

226 Responses to “Zobrist vs Fielder: A Position Adjustment Primer”

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  1. A terrific and kind defense. This piece is so well written that it was almost a thrill to read. Not only did it explain the reasons why Zobrist has a higher WAR than Fielder, but it left Buster Olney’s reputation intact, a true act of kindness and respect.

    Well done.

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    • Jon Heyman says:

      Too bad Buster seems intent on doing the opposite.

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    • hunterfan says:

      From the tweets Dave posted, Buster didn’t do anything wrong besides say that WAR wasn’t passing the “sniff test” in his perception.

      Unless there were a lot of tweets Dave didn’t publish that were much worse, there was absolutely no reason Dave should’ve devolved into an SNL Point/Counterpoint sketch.

      The only thing that would’ve served to have done is cement sabermetricians as name-calling jerks who can’t stand anyone questioning their favorite stats. Reasonable questioning should be welcomed as it provides opportunities to (re)examine one’s beliefs, as well as the opportunity to explain in further detail to others.

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      • Thelonious says:

        Wow, I thought the article was pretty reasonable. Not “devolved” at all.

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      • hunterfan says:

        Thelonius, I agree. This is in response to WilliaminMaine who praises Dave for leaving Buster’s reputation intact.

        My point was there was absolutely no reason NOT to leave Buster’s rep intact, since Buster was pretty reasonable about the whole thing.

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      • Telo says:

        Hunterfan – not sure what your point is.

        - Buster tweets negative comments about WAR, a cornerstone of sabermetrics, clearly still ignorant of some of its major aspects

        - Dave writes a perfectly thoughtful and educational response

        - Someinternetguy says “Nice article Dave”

        - You spout off nonsense about saberists being jerks

        If you look closely, there is exactly one jerk in this sequence of events.

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      • hunterfan says:

        Telo: Obviously my first comment wasn’t very clear, and nor was my response.

        In a final effort to make things clear:
        :
        Not bashing Dave. Not bashing Olney. Bashing those who seem to think it took a notable effort of restraint to be civil to Olney, since Olney did nothing to warrant meanness and rudeness.

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      • jrogers says:

        “no reason Dave should’ve devolved into an SNL Point/Counterpoint sketch” …

        Except that starting an article with “Buster, you ignorant slut” would have been hilarious.

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      • Telo says:

        Hunterfan – got it. But considering that Buster is regarded so highly in the baseball world, despite having a firm grasp on such a basic concept as positional adjustment, is pretty astounding. A lesser saberist than Dave could’ve slayed him for it – and would’ve been a million times more justified than the countless “mother’s basement” and “nerds who hate baseball” articles.

        You’re entirely correct that it was the “right” and civil thing to do, respond with respect and deference to Buster, there was no reason to do otherwise – but too often from both sides we don’t see that happen.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        hunterfan, “it took a notable effort of restraint to be civil to Olney” because Buster Olney is Buster Olney.

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      • Sultan of Schwwingg says:

        Telo, why are you assuming that Olney isn’t aware of a simple concept that even I understand? There’s nothing in those tweets that suggest he doesn’t understand WAR. His objection, “Zobrist, Victorino, Howie Kendrick and Yunel Escobar all ahead of Prince Fielder in WAR.” is valid, and his suspicion, “You do wonder if positional adjustments too steep.”, may be as well.

        Cameron did a nice job rationalizing WAR in this case, but still, I’d agree with Olney and his 30 GM’s that the 5th best bat in baseball is worth more than Zobrist, Victorino, Kendrick and Escobar. Those 4 aren’t even the best players at their respective positions, are they all really more valuable than Prince, who is one of only a handful of truly dominant offensive players?

        I get what Olney tweeted and I tend to agree.

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      • Telo says:

        Schwing – you’re completely right. Olney does understand the concept of positional adjustment, even if he is dubious of it’s implementation and weights. My choice of words was too strong.

        These two paragraphs below are really the crux of the rebuttal.

        Very simply: one valuable season does not a great player make. Olney is right, and WAR is also right (taken with error bars).

        “We would not suggest that anyone look at 2011 WAR as a definitive ordered list of who the best players in the game are at this time – it’s not even trying to make that claim. It’s talking about past performance only, not what we expect going forward.

        In fact, Buster’s criticism of WAR could be applied to any stat you want, traditional or advanced. If you interpret it literally, ERA currently says that Ryan Vogelsong is the best pitcher in the National League. That’s crazy, of course, but no one interprets single-season ERA that way. Single season batting average gives you Casey Kotchman as the third best hitter in baseball. It’s not just the advanced stats that produce results that “don’t pass the smell test”.”

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    • Telo says:

      Came to say the same. Really well done, Dave. Hope you’re doing well.

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      • Terry says:

        Wouldn’t starting with “Buster, you ignorant slut” have been much too subjective though? After all its largely relative and would depend upon who was in the room with Buster, wouldn’t it?

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  2. Jason Rose says:

    Agree completely with WilliaminMaine. Very well written and still respectful of Olney, who deserves the respect.

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  3. Thelonious says:

    Regarding the 30 GMs question, I think the author implies that they would all be wrong to choose Fielder over Zobrist, or to pay him more. Yes?

    “For the kind of ‘which player would a GM rather have’ question that Buster is posing, we would certainly look at multiple years of data, aging curves, and expected regression in coming up with a projection of future value.” Over the past 3 seasons, Fielder has 14 WAR and Zobrist has 17.9 WAR. And certainly, Zobrist, the athletic 2B will age more gracefully than the portly 1B. After how many years does WAR have to come out from behind the “not a projection of future value” defense?

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    • Thelonious says:

      I just realized that Zo is three years older, so that would influence a GMs decision.

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      • Craig says:

        Also, like Dave said Fielder provides zero value in baserunning and defense, so he shouldn’t regress there much at all. Where Zobrist provides a lot of value there, and if he ever moves to the OF from 2B because of age and range he loses a lot of value, probably to the point where going forward Fielder is more valuable than him.

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      • BostonFanA says:

        Except that Fielder will be moved to DH in 2-3 yrs because his defense will be horrendous by then.

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      • Craig says:

        Is there a point where a guy gets so horrendous at 1B that a move to DH actually helps his WAR? I’m guessing Prince Fielder can’t be far from that threshold.

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      • chuckb says:

        @ Craig — that’s what I was thinking, too.

        That level certainly exists. Using positional replacements, a DH is worth 5 runs less than 1B so a player’s WAR would actually increase, all things being equal, if he is worse than a minus 5 run defensive 1B. Fielder, right now, is close to that level. Cabrera, too.

        This assumes that the player hits just as well as a DH as he did as a full-time 1B which may be assuming a lot since there’s a lot of conjecture, if not evidence, supporting the idea that players do not hit as well at DH as they do when they play the field full-time.

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      • RC says:

        “Fielder provides zero value in baserunning and defense, so he shouldn’t regress there much at all”

        You can produce less than zero. There are plenty of players in the league who produce negative value on the basepaths (like Adrian Gonzalez)

        That, and in a couple years, Fielder will be a DH.

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      • Craig says:

        Everyone seems so certain that Fielder is gonna be in the AL next year. What team in the AL is actually gonna shell out the money for Fielder? Orioles and maybe the Rangers or Angels are the only teams that I could really see going after Fielder. I think its much more likely that an NL team gives Fielder the big contract. So I don’t see how he’s for sure a DH in a few years.

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      • RC says:

        The Red Sox have a spot open at DH most likely. As do the Yankees.

        The Yankees have a couple guys who probably should be moved to DH, but thats been the case for years.

        With the Sox, Ortiz is a FA next year, and Youk is in 2013. They’d definitely be looking for a DH in the long term.

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      • Craig says:

        So Fielder is gonna wanna move to DH and get paid like DH? Yankees and Red Sox front offices are too smart to pay Fielder the type of money he wants to be a DH.

        PS Sorry replied to the wrong post the first time.

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    • Rally says:

      “And certainly, Zobrist, the athletic 2B will age more gracefully than the portly 1B.”

      If there’s one thing I’ve learned in studying player aging curves, the word “certainly” should never be used. Zobrist may be more likely to age well, but you never know.

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    • Craig says:

      So Fielder is gonna wanna move to DH and get paid like DH? Yankees and Red Sox front offices are too smart to pay Fielder the type of money he wants to be a DH.

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  4. mayshayes says:

    a little confused here:

    “A 40 point gap of OPS relative to position average might still seem like a pretty decent difference, but it sounds bigger than it actually is. Fielder has produced 39 runs above an average hitter this year, while Zobrist has produced 24. That 40 point point OPS gap is essentially equal to 15 runs.”

    doesn’t runs above average hitter ignore position? isn’t the 15 runs representative of the full OPS gap between the two? if not, i have been misunderstanding the “batting” column on the value page. i thought all columns were relative to plain old league average, and the positional adjustment takes care of where a guy plays.

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  5. Nik says:

    How can we have a fangraphs article without taking some pot-shots at Howard and his contract…. League average first-baseman? Laughable.

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    • Thelonious says:

      15th out 28 first baseman in wOBA and 16th in wRC. Seems average to me.

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      • Larry Wayne says:

        I thought a major point of the article was to NOT use single season data.

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      • dutchbrowncoat says:

        @larry wayne

        sorting players listed as 1b on fangraphs by woba, ryan howard is ranked

        2011 – 18th
        2010 -11 -17th
        2009-11 – 11th
        2008-11 – 11th

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      • suicide squeeze says:

        And of course, just using wOBA doesn’t factor in his below average defense.

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      • Dan says:

        wRC+ gives us park adjustments too.

        2011 – 16th
        2010 – 12th
        2009 – 10th
        2008 – 11th

        Considering he’s 31, that rank isn’t likely to climb.

        UZR from 2008 – 2011 = -0.8, 0.2, -11.8, -4.8

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  6. ddriver80 says:

    Great article dave!

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  7. John DiFool says:

    “In 2011, the average line produced by all first baseman is .270/.344/.449, good for a .793 OPS. Right Field has a .775 OPS as a group, and then no other position is over .747. First base is the land of run producing sluggers, and it essentially takes an .800 OPS or better to be an above average hitter for the position. In fact, there are exactly 15 guys at the position with an OPS of .800 or better in 300 or more plate appearances this year.”

    Then I assume that there will be an adjustment forthcoming for the replacement level of DH’s, who (not counting NL DH’s in IL play) were only the 3rd best hitters (at .755 OPS) in the AL? There is sufficient evidence of a “DH Effect”, where some players simply can’t hit there (such as Adam Dunn).

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    • eric says:

      name me a couple more than Adam Dunn and I MIGHT listen to you, but its still a longshot

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    • NWS says:

      There is always an adjustment for the difficulty of hitting as a DH.

      The DH positional adjustment starts at -22.5 runs, but they are credited with 5 runs so it is actually -17.5 runs.

      http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/complete_war_2008/#comments

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      • RC says:

        Right, but those positional adjustments are based on the idea that a DH is the worst possible fielder, and it doesn’t affect his hitting.

        Its entirely possible that the adjustment should be much larger than 5 runs.

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      • Nick says:

        That 5 runs figure is based on historical differences between players hitting as DH vs playing in the field.

        If you are saying that the DH penalty is significantly higher THIS YEAR, then that’s a totally different argument that is both hard to explain and almost impossible to prove

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        RC, those adjustments aren’t based off the assumption that DHing doesn’t affect hitting.

        As NWS just said, DH’s get 5 runs/year credit for the fact that it is more difficult to hit off the bench. The 5 runs is based off of Tango’s studies of this handicap. He didn’t just pick a number out of thin air.

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      • mattinm says:

        @Yirmi – From tangotiger himself:

        “Andy reported the DH issue, but he didn’t go into great detail. Because of the many factors, I didn’t want to go to too strong a positional adjustment. I use -0.5 wins to acknowledge that there is probably some impact, and further research that shows more fully the impact will likely change that number.”

        However, looking at The Book and the work done by Andy, it is suggested that the DH adjustment should be nearly 0.9 wins (half as difficult as PH-ing). However, tango capped it at 0.5 wins because that’s as far as his “sabermetric guts” let him go.

        There definitely needs to be more work done in this field to figure out the true adjustment difficulty for DH-ing. I’d hate to think that we’re actually undervaluing the role.

        (Link to a discussion on DH adjustment: http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/paradox_of_the_dh_adjustment/)

        If there has been more work done that I just haven’t seen, someone please let me know!

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      • Nick says:

        @mattinm:

        “tango capped it at 0.5 wins because that’s as far as his “sabermetric guts” let him go.”

        I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. If you read further down the thread you posted, you see MGL talking about how we always want to er on the side of no effect.

        This is especially important in this situation because there it is quite possible that the effect could be caused by any number of biases, the most notable being the selection bias that arises since semi-injured players are often relegated to DH duty.

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      • mattinm says:

        @nick – I did read further down. The line you quoted (and I semi-quoted) was from the very last sentence in the comment thread by tangotiger himself.

        Yes, it is very possible that the 9 runs is overstated for a DH. However, it’s been well over 2 years since that thread was created, and I haven’t seen any research (again, I could definitely have missed it) that attempts to give a different run-value for DH-ing. Even tango himself said that he’d like to do research into the subject to further verify Andy’s work.

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    • Toffer Peak says:

      Adam Dunn is hitting even worse as a 1B this year than a DH.

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=dunnad01&year=2011&t=b#defp

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  8. jacob says:

    good article DC. i never thought about it before but i guess the obvious point is that a “replacement player” is someone who is average at hitting, fielding, running for THEIR POSITION.

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    • James Lewis says:

      Close but not quite. A “replacement player” is someone who’s production at hitting, fielding and running is no better than production of a readily available player (think Quad-A) for THEIR POSITION. An average hitting, fielding and running player would be a solid big-leaguer, who was, by definition, better than half of the players in the MLB at each of those skill-sets. Being MLB average across the board is actually quite the accomplishment.

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    • Ian R. says:

      Actually, a replacement player is significantly BELOW average for their position (how far below depends on whether you’re looking at stats on BR, FG or BP). League-average players have real value, and are usually around 2 WAR. But yeah, you’ve got the larger point that it depends heavily on position.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Jacob, to illustrate. For his career, Mark DeRosa per full season (600 plate appearances) has -0.8 runs batting, +0.1 runs baserunning, +0.3 runs fielding, and +0.2 runs positional adjustment. He’s an incredibly average player.

      Yet he makes $6 million a year, and (prior to his 2010/2011 injuries) was considered an everyday starter. Average players are quite valuable, and thus by definition, not “replacement players.”

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  9. cpebbles says:

    Once you account for the fact that Fielder and the rest of the Brewers are stealing signs at home and running up their stats there, I don’t know that teams are going to be in as big a rush to throw money at him as Olney suggests.

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    • Jason B says:

      So are you a disgruntled/jealous Cards fan? Reds? Pirates? Just curious.

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    • Mark says:

      Nice to see a representative of the contingent of bitter Cardinal fans has decided to join us for this discussion.

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    • Terry says:

      Tony, is that you? Say high to your daughter for me…she’s smoking hot.

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    • cpebbles says:

      Wow, only 20 Brewers fans here? Someone seriously needs to look into this allegation. The team’s offensive home/road splits are ridiculous, and there is other circumstantial evidence.

      FYI, when I did this to rile up Brewers fans on my team’s message board, I got a p value of 0.057 using only 100 games’ worth of data and crediting Miller with the highest park factor (1.099) I could see suggested, plus another 8% for the usual home advantage.

      Now I suppose on this site I have to play it straight and admit that this only suggests _something_ aside from the usual home and park dynamics going on, and not that it’s direct proof of cheating, but what is the most likely “something?”

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        SSSomething = small sample size.

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      • jim says:

        the rockies and rangers also have big H/R team splits, must they be stealing signs at home too?

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      • funketown says:

        With a p-value of 5.7%, we should expect this type of home/road split to occur with an average of 2 teams per season. That’s not very strong evidence that there is anything “fishy” going on.

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      • cpebbles says:

        For god’s sake, NO. Someone tried that on the forum I was screwing around about this before too. It does NOT say that, and for god’s sake look up what statistics mean before you throw around proclamations about them like that.

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      • Jeff says:

        Explain how instead of being nasty about it. I’m not a statistician, but it sure looks as though this could be expected to happen at least once a year if the p value is .057.

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      • Mike says:

        Yea that’s not what p-value means at all, funketown. But cpebbles is probably still wrong in concluding that the brewers are cheating.

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      • abreutime says:

        For practical purposes, funcketown is right. This is an example of a classic unintentional misuse of p-values. Without defining the hypothesis to test ahead of time (ie. I think the Brewers will steal signs and have an unreasonable home/away split in the upcoming year), then it’s not reasonable to cherry-pick the most extreme split (Oh look, the Brewers have a large split!) and look at the p-value. It’s likely that some team(s) over an non-predetermined time period will perform different from expected.

        Look at ‘multiple comparisons’ tests for how to make adjustments in the standard testing methodology.

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      • funketown says:

        What I mean is that when you have a set of data like MLB teams over the course of the season (30) and you run a hypothesis test on each one, you’ll probably end up rejecting hypotheses that should not be rejected.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_comparisons

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      • funketown says:

        Here’s a more concrete example of what I’m trying to say:

        Let’s say I have 50 coins and I want to determine whether or not they are fair. I construct a standard hypothesis test for each coin, with an alpha value of 0.05. Now, I flip each of these 50 coins 20 times, tallying the heads counts for each coin. It is probable that ONE of these coins will yield 14 or more heads. Now, is this reason to believe that my one coin that came up with 14+ heads is unfair? Of course not – I should expect this to happen even if each coin is fair. This is the fallacy that cpebbles is falling for.

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  10. Matt M says:

    Good article except the use of OPS. As a reader I can add together a slash line if I really want, but truthfully OBP and Slugging separate tell me more about a player than OPS. Hell, since this is Fangraphs maybe wOBA should have more value as a resource than an outdated stat that proves the creator didn’t understand math as well as he/she should have.

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    • Telo says:

      I agree, obviously wOBA/wRC+ is the best choice, followed by triple slash, but he did it be accessible. He knows that many more causal fans than usual will be reading this article.

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    • Friedman says:

      My guess is the OPS was used because the audience of the article is more than the traditional FanGraphs community. Dave would have likely used wOBA otherwise.

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      • Andrew says:

        Newbie to wOBA here. Could someone please explain why HBPs are weighted more than walks, and ROE’s more than singles? Not immediately intuitive to me.

        (Sorry to change subject)

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      • dutchbrowncoat says:

        @andrew

        its all good. the reasoning is because wOBA is based off of linear weights. put simply, it is based off of a historical average of how many runs each event ended up producing. hbp’s will tend to be worth a little more than a traditional walk perhaps because they signal a pitcher losing command. similarly, intentional walks are worth a little less than a regular walk because they are typically done by the defense to gain an advantage. the same concept applies to ROE’s.

        there is some fantastic material (if you are interested in some deeper reading) in the top corner under the glossary tab that can explain it further.

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      • Andrew says:

        Thanks for reply, I guess what I’m struggling with is what it’s trying to do here: determine highest probability for scoring run(s), or assigning credit based on what the batter has control over/should get credit for.

        I.e. it takes more skill to draw a NIBB than a HBP (right?), and that’s why IBB aren’t factored in. And I would argue that a team issuing an IBB is doing so to gain the better situation, of the two being presented (IBB or face the batter). But does the probability of scoring a run(s) drop or stay the same after the IBB? I guess that depends. My initial reaction is issuing a IBB increases the likelihood of the opponent scoring to a lesser extent than it would be vs. facing the actual batter. But that doesn’t mean it’s a desired outcome for the pitching team.

        Don’t want to turn this into a wOBA discussion, I’ll read up more…just responding, thanks.

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  11. Trev says:

    1. In defence off Buster, I don’t care whether he thinks WAR is accurate or not. I’m never going to look for actual analysis from Olney (that’s why I come here) but he is useful because he has great access. The quote from the anonymous GM should just illustrate Olney’s role in the world of baseball media.

    This winter Olney will presumably report all the offers teams make to Prince Fielder, just as he did for Mark Teixeira. Without him we wouldn’t know which teams fell short in the end or which GM is Ruben Amaro.

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  12. brhas says:

    He used OPS because that’s what Onley used and it got the point across just fine. You sound like a tool.

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  13. Mr Punch says:

    See, here’s the problem: there are indeed a lot of great-hitting first basemen – and all or nearly all of them are in the major leagues. There are also a ton of great-fielding middle infielders, many of them in the minors or out of baseball. Of course a player’s fielding matters, potentially as much as his hitting; and both go into determining the contribution that player makes to the team he’s on. But that’s not the same thing as “value.” The trouble is that “replacement level: doesn’t mean the same thing for hitting and fielding. Those 30 GMs know that they can get a fielder as good as Zobrist by giving up a B prospect.

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    • joeiq says:

      They could get a fielder as good as Zobrist, but he would probably be terrible at hitting. Zobrist is a pretty good hitter.

      You would have a much easier time replacing howard.

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  14. Tom says:

    Wish Buster would respond to this. A+++, Dave.

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  15. mike wants wins says:

    Great ending to the article in the 2nd to last paragraph. That should be the main point, shouldn’t it? That no one stat is “perfect”, and that we should look at many things when comparing players (which is actually one of WAR’s strengths).

    great, respectful writeup. If only everyone else could understand that asking a question does not make you a bad person, or a hater….

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    • Brad C says:

      Couldn’t agree more. Advanced stats came to be because fans began asking questions about validity of traditional stats. It is great that people are questioning the validity of WAR. Some advanced stats fans have a horrible tendency to try to go FJM on any opinion that doesn’t 100% support them. There is a difference in Buster Olney saying, “I don’t get how Zorilla is more valuable than Prince.” and saying “VORP??? MORE LIKE DORK AMIRITE??”

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  16. Bookbook says:

    Excellent article. The only thing I might also have wanted was a paragraph acknowledging the greater uncertainty bars around what we know about defense.

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  17. Ousy says:

    This is great. Now please write a similar article explaining Gordon David Beckham’s BB%, K% and ISO trends over the past three years.

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  18. nick says:

    I’m just thinking generally about sports…. NOT all positions are created equal.

    Doesn’t the premise of this article say that its the difference between players at the same position that really matters… “A team gets a competitive advantage by having a guy who is better than what their opponents have at the same position.” But then by using positional adjustments tries to equate each position.

    Look at football: would having a much better that league average Guard be a competitive advantage, yes of course. But would it translate to “WINS” more than having a good but not quite as differentiated QB, maybe not.

    Look at basketball or soccer and you’ll find other examples.

    I think Buster’s point that there is an assumption that strong defense up the middle is overweighted in terms of how much wins or value a player has is valid.

    Look at the elite 1B listed in the article and check out where their teams fit in the standings. 4 division leaders and the Reds and Cardinals. Look at the elite SS and do the same. 1 division leader.

    Maybe having an elite 1B is just more valuable than having an elite SS.

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    • Baseball is a series of one on one matchups played back to back. It is far easier to isolate individual contributions, so for that reason, your comparisons to football or soccer don’t really hold.

      As for your positional scarcity argument, you are ignoring some rather large variables. The big one is payroll. Note the teams willing to pay an elite first baseman is also a team with enough payroll to fund a strong roster elsewhere. just an example

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      it could just be that because elite 1B are overvalued, the teams that can generally afford them can presumably also afford decent players across the board. not saying that this is definitively true, but i wouldn’t assume that having an elite 1B causes a team to be better rather than that wealthier teams that are often better overall are also the ones that can afford to overpay for a scarce commodity.

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    • Sultan of Schwwingg says:

      NIce argument. Nice analogy

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Look at the teams that have an elite 2B.

      Your point was?

      Pedroia – BOS
      Utley – PHL
      Zobrist – TBR
      Kinsler – TEX
      Kendrick – LAA
      Weeks – MIL
      Phillips – CIN
      Cano – NYY

      … and then quality of team tails off as we move much closer to average.

      Not sure any of this is conclusive.

      One of my questions has always been in regards to 1B defense. Does having a really good 2B negatively affect the 1B’s defensive value.

      In other words, if I have Fielder at 1B and Weeks at 2B … or if I have Howard at 1B and Utley at 2B, do I even tell those 1B’s to try for a ball to the right? No. Just get to the damn bag and let Weeks and Utley make the play going to their glove side with their momentum heading in the direction of 1B.

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      • The Ancient Mariner says:

        “Does having a really good 2B negatively affect the 1B’s defensive value.”

        No. On that one, we have over 30 years’ research.

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    • The Ancient Mariner says:

      Actually, nick, all your comment does is show that you don’t understand how or why positional adjustments are done. (Well, that and show that you don’t understand Andrew Fisher’s point either.)

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  19. Garrett says:

    While I still think you’re awful, I will never disparage a piece celebrating the greatness of the #1 fundie.

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  20. hunterfan says:

    The top ten on the WAR leaderboard thus far: Bautista, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Tulowitzki, Reyes, Zobrist, Holliday, Victorino, Kemp, McCutcheon.

    Only two of whom are not 2nd baseman, SS, or CF.

    And most of the value of these guy’s WAR is defensive…UZR and a positional adjustment, none of which can be definitely quantified in the way that say, a batting average is.

    I can see how a person who is skeptical of the notion of WAR would not be assured by an answer heavily reliant on defensive measurements, which are much more qualitative. I’m honestly not sure if I was skeptical of the defensive/positional adjustment of WAR that Dave’s answer would serve to convince me.

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    • suicide squeeze says:

      It’s one year, and the top 10 is an arbitrary cutoff. Other years you would have seen multiple 1Bs in the top 10 (pujols, votto), or 3Bs (longoria, zimmerman).

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    • Keith Hernandez's Mustache says:

      Hunterfan,

      I agree with your final assessment, Buster isn’t demonstrating his lack of understanding of sabermetric stats. Buster is trying to further the acceptance of these stats by questioning and furthering discussion on the underlying principals of a stat that is gaining renown.

      I don’t think Buster disagrees that Zobrist is an extremely valuable player. I think, as you mention, Buster believes that an underlying assumption that first basemen have a negative correlation to their value because of the placement of their position is overvalued. Buster’s problem isn’t one of misunderstanding WAR, but of actually understanding the underlying variables. Buster believes that too high of a premium is assigned to up the middle positions when applying positional adjustments.

      I think it is a legitimate question to desire greater specificity behind the assumptions that created the positional adjustments. Also, considering that defensive metrics are still in the process of being developed and gaining consensus, it is not unreasonable to assume that values credited to different positions by positional adjustment may be updated/corrected in the future.

      Just as the FanGraphs community knows that stats can move beyond the save and move towards tracking high leverage outs, we should understand that WAR is a very useful stat that may need readjustment in the future in order to maintain its usefulness and validity.

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  21. the fume says:

    Many of the best hitters play at first base; I don’t see that as a reason to adjust their value downward in my mind. It’s a tough thing to do, to find a stat that compares values between positions as different as 1B and 2B……if Zobrist played 1B his value would be far less than, and vice versa with Prince, so there’s really no good way to make that comparison without a good bit of uncertainty. And then you throw in the inherent uncertainty with defensive stats. I guess that’s why I like to look at each component….wOBA and UZR and position.

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    • RC says:

      You’re not adjusting their value downward.

      We adjust the value of a SS or 2B upward because only a small subset of baseball players can adequately play those positions. Guys play 1B mostly because they’re not mobile enough to play anything else.

      If Adrian Gonzalez, or Prince Fielder, or Pujols could play SS, they’d be significantly more valuable than they are now, because you could HIDE another big lumbering slugger at 1st.

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      • the fume says:

        I see a negative run factor under positional adjustment, so their value is being adjusted down.

        But just like that argument is relative, I could say that the guys who play first base are better hitters than other positions because that’s where all the guys whose specialty is hitting go. Or 2B/SS is where all the guys who can field but can’t hit go. I get it that 95% of 1B couldn’t play 2B, but I suspect 90% of 2B couldn’t hit well enough to get time at 1B either.

        I guess the relevant factor, if you’re going to talk about X above replacement, is the baseline level or scarcity of replacement players. Or how good is the 31st player in the bigs at each position.

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      • The Ancient Mariner says:

        the fume: the thing is, the second point you note is obvious to everybody (that “90% of 2B couldn’t hit well enough to get time at 1B”), but the first point, which you concede, is usually only inadequately taken into account by fans, if at all (that “95% of 1B couldn’t play 2B”). As such, you have neatly encapsulated the reason why positional adjustments are necessary. It’s not relative at all, it’s balancing the scales.

        “I guess the relevant factor, if you’re going to talk about X above replacement, is the baseline level or scarcity of replacement players.”

        Well, yes, obviously. Which is why there’s been a lot of work put into the question of how you do that, and why there are still disputes among various schools of thought on the subject. (Thus, for instance, one of the reasons why rWAR and fWAR don’t line up — Fangraphs and Rally calculate that baseline somewhat differently.)

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      Not sure that Zobrist’s value at first would be less than Fielder’s. This kind of thing is what the whole positional adjustment is created for. If Zobrist had been playing first for his whole career, he’d almost certainly be one of the best fielding firstbasemen in the game, possibly in the argument for best all-time. His bat isn’t near as good as Fielder’s, but that huge difference in defensive contribution compensates for that.

      What if Fielder had been playing secondbase for his whole career? He’d have at least some skill at playing the position, by dint of being there regularly and having experience and comfortability with the position, but there’s no way anyone could say he’d be even decent at the position. Still, he’d be such a great hitter that his offensive ability might make up for his defensive deficiencies.

      There’s a great deal of uncertainty in any of that, but you can see why players that can man the more difficult positions with ease can be just as valuable as great hitters who struggle to provide any kind of defensive value at the easiest positions.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        2011 Bat Runs + BRun Runs …

        Zobrist: 25 + 2.5 = 27.5
        Fielder: 40 – 4.2 = 35.8

        Over the last 3 years Fielder has averaged -3 fielding runs as a 1B.

        I figure Zobrist would be a top 5 fielding 1B given his prowess at 2B. The 5th best fielding runs for a 1B from 2008-2010 (using 3 years as an assessment) is mark Teixeira at +13 runs, or +4 Fruns per season.

        So, add 4 FRuns to Zobrist and subtract 3 runs from Fielder and if they BOTH played FISRT BASE (caps for emphasis, not yelling), their 2011 values might be …

        Zobrist = 31.5
        Fielder = 32.8

        Ben Zobrist is an exercise in how hard it is to get past what we previously thought we knew, or what we thought was “obvious”.

        Ben Zobrist, as a 1st baseman, is roughly equal to Prince Fielder in terms of overall value. That’s gotta take some time to set in.

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  22. bluejaysstatsgeek says:

    Great piece Dave! I agree with Bookbook about the defense caveat.

    There are a lot of Jay’s fans hoping that they’ll sign Prince, but I fear his defense and what I anticipate will be a steep aging curve. I wonder how long it will be until the likelihood of Prince hitting a triple is less than Juan Molina’s.

    Keep up the good work! I trust the battle’s going well.

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  23. the fume says:

    Also, if WAR is based on comparison to replacement players, the argument comparing to the MLB average loses its weight, doesn’t it?

    And what does that say about a 1B replacement player vs. a 2B replacement player? What OPS do we expect from each? Are 2B who can put up replacement level numbers more scarce?

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    • John says:

      Yes, I was wondering about this too. My sense is that the “replacement level first baseman” is a lot harder to find than this article seems to assume. It seems like when a middle infielder gets injured, it’s pretty easy to find an all glove, no bat guy to slide into the slot. When a first baseman gets injured, it’s much harder to get somebody who will actually be useful offensively.

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      • the fume says:

        I think the whole WAR stat assumes that all replacement level hitters are the same, but them makes positional adjustments based on MLB averages at that position.

        Of course a problem comes in if the difference in hitting ability between an average 1B and replacement level 1B is different than the difference between an average 2B and replacement level 2B.

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      • The Ancient Mariner says:

        the fume: no, it doesn’t.

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      • the fume says:

        TAM: why spend half the article comparing the average 1B to the average 2B if average has nothing to do with it?

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    • Los says:

      Replacement level for any position is by definition not scarce…

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      • the fume says:

        i’m not sure that’s really true…..

        but the point is when the author starts comparing hitters to the average at their position he’s not talking directly about WAR.

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  24. VonHayes says:

    “The 130 point OPS gap is essentially equal to 15 runs, and once you adjust for just the 40 point difference relative to position, the gap closes to just seven runs.”

    How does he go from 15 to 7 runs here? It’s mentioned that Fielder’s OPS is about .200 points higher than the average 1B, and Zobrist’s OPS is about .160 points higher than the average 2B. Then why would this 40 point advantage in OPS relative to position further narrow the offensive gap between the two? Wouldn’t it do the exact opposite and extend Fielder’s offensive value in comparison to Zobrist?

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  25. John Dorian says:

    Now how can I convince my RBI loving dad to read this article…

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  26. domingoes says:

    Does the positional adjustment compensate for the average player at each position’s baserunning? You would think most shortstops would be much faster than most catchers, so I assume the positional adjustment compensates for runs lost due to baserunning.

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    • WilsonC says:

      That’s a good question. Have the positional adjustments been adjusted to include baserunning? If not, I could see a slight systematic bias toward speed positions – after all, if a replacement-level first baseman could run like a replacement-level center fielder, he’d no longer be replacement level; he’d likely be playing in a MLB outfield somewhere.

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  27. tdotsports1 says:

    Buster Olney’s baseball “credit” was just downgraded to AA+.

    I don’t know if this is already factored into all of the stats/metrics but has anyone looked at the park factors for “The Trop” this season? It has been a hell hole for hitters.

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  28. CircleChange11 says:

    I gotta admit, that at first blush it doesn’t make sense that Zobrist is more valuable than Fielder. Not because we know that Fielder is a power hitter, but because we know he’s a rare combination of power hitter and on-base machine.

    But, start looking at the aspects:

    3 year averages (2009-11)

    [1] Defense — Zobrist (+15); Fielder (-4)
    [2] Baserunning — Zobrist (+3); Fielder (-5)
    [3] Batting Runs: Zobrist (+23); Fielder (+40)

    [4] Replacement — Zobrist (+20); Fielder (+21)
    [5] Positional — Zobrist (-1 ); Fielder (-11)

    I think what most don’t recognize is the BIG difference in production between a replacement level 1B (still a good hitter) and a replacement level 2B (not).

    Zobrist for his career a slightly better than league average hitter (.348 wOBA). He has very big years when his BABIP is .310+, which might actually be his true talent range, with 2010 being the outlier.

    There is also perception here. If Zobrist were playing 2B for a major market, he might be far more popular/appreciated than he is in TB. I do think, however, that we need to look at Z’s UZR in 2009, and look at that as an extreme outlier.

    He’s “above average” in lots of areas without being great in any of them. Those players go greatly unappreciated by many, including MSM. We know that.

    We also know there is poor understanding (including myself) in how positional adjustments are figured and administered.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      It would probably not surprise anyone that Dustin pedroia is more valuable than Prince Fielder.

      Pedroia is actually quite a bit more valuable than Fielder.

      Well, Zobrist is a slightly lesser version than Pedroia.

      What we are describing here is also the well described situation in Moneyball (which I recently re-read). The disbelief that Zobrist is more valuable than Fielder is what allows certain teams to get the same or better production in their team for 1/3 (or more) of the cost.

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • RC says:

        Right. The argument could be made that Zobrist is a significantly more valuable asset than Fielder specifically because while he has similar value, conventional thinking will allow the rays to retain him for much cheaper.

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    • Garrett says:

      Its laughable you use one season UZR to conclude Zobrist is a slightly lesser version.

      I prefer the shitty metric “WAR”. Zobrist is 2nd behind first ballot HOF POOPHOLES. Congrats on ur “analysis”.

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      • Garrett says:

        We could rank Pedroia/BZA in hitting/fielding/baserunning/love by New England mongos.

        1 outta 4 ain’t bad for lil ‘droia.

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      • Telo says:

        Your posts are amazingly incoherent. I am impressed.

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      • Garrett says:

        Reading is hard. I mean this is fangraphs, bastion of the SABRtard.

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      • Telo says:

        If we are “SABRtards”… one wonders what one might call a person who uses the word “SABRtard”…

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      • Garrett says:

        Sick comeback asshat. Suddenly your reading comp has improved. huked on fonikz?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Garrett, knock off your shitty attitude. It’s ridiculous.

        Its laughable you use one season UZR to conclude Zobrist is a slightly lesser version.

        I was talking about WAR, not UZR dumbass.

        If we take the last 3 seasons (prorating 2011, and prorated Pedroia’s 2010 to a full season), we get:

        Pedroia = 21.08 WAR
        Zobrist = 20.14 WAR

        Zobrist would lead in WAR due to 2010 being a “half season” for DP. If you want to make that point that Z has been more valuable on the field over the last seasons than DP … that would be a good point to make.

        If we apply a 5/4/3 weighting to most recent seasons, like we often do in order to give more value to recent performances …

        Pedroia = 7.38 WAR
        Zobrist = 6.65 WAR

        In terms of talent, and performance, Zobrist is a slightly lesser version of Pedroia. (Damn, Zobrist is even more valuable than I thought).

        Next time, when insulting one’s knowledge, intelligence, effort, reading, etc … do a little more work outside of just looking at “total WAR”. My 10yo can (and does) do that.

        If you compare their WAR over the last 3.5 seasons with no wieghting or prorating:

        Pedroia = 21.9
        Zobrist = 19.3

        I prefer the shitty metric “WAR”. Zobrist is 2nd behind first ballot HOF POOPHOLES. Congrats on ur “analysis”.

        I’m not sure what WAR you’re talking about. Isn’t DP 2nd in WAR to Bautista?

        At second glance, the attitude is the same, but the usual Garrett is more on point. Is this a fake?

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      • Telo says:

        A thoughtful a well written post by CC. I’m sure Garrett will have nothing intelligent to say in response, though I’d love to be proved wrong.

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      • Garrett says:

        Cool. Did you just magically add half a season of value to Fagdroia? Oyah. You did!

        Congrats on stupidity.

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      • Garrett says:

        To elaborate. Why are BZA’s rate stats better? You have to be insanely dishonest to commence analysis like you attempted. But you’ve never been one for clear thinking or decent analysis. BSR and fielding aren’t even close. UZR is almost 2x a bright on BZA. DRS has BZA 1 run behind (38v39) in less than a third the innings. That totally ignores the OF UZR well north of Crawford’s also corroborated by DRS.

        Zobrist is an excellent fielder, a superior hitter, and a better baserunner all on a rate basis. And you want to add 20% more WAR to Fagdroia to make him competitive?

        Apparently you didn’t realize that Fagdroia’s WAR is bolstered by a huge outlier UZR season. Well obviously not. You’re a fucking idiot. Idiots make trivial errors all the time. My bad.

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      • Garrett says:

        Telo, you’re a meelie mouthed yo boi bitch who can even evaluate arguments put forth by others because you’re too fucking stupid.

        CC11 has no fucking clue about athletic preparation. Apparently Rich Harden is fucking #1 beisball god, since actually being on the field doesn’t mean shit. Congrats broseph. Why don’t you nutride the Dave Cameron salary articles, it may be the only thing stupider than your current selection.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Apparently you didn’t realize that Fagdroia’s WAR is bolstered by a huge outlier UZR season.

        Ben Zobrist UZR (WAR)
        ———————
        2009: 22.8 (8.6)
        2010: 11.2 (3.7)
        2011: 9.0 (5.6)

        Dustin Pedroia UZR (WAR)
        ———————–
        2008: 9.9 (6.8)
        2009: 8.4 (5.1)
        2010: 4.8 (3.3)
        2011: 14.6 (6.7)

        You were some making some type of smart-ass, insulting comment about intelligence and UZR inflated WAR?

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      • Garrett says:

        You’re obviously this stupid. What is a sufficient sample size to determine UZR? Does this corroborate with other advanced metrics? Should the raw figured being input into the WAR calculation be adjusted to evaluate single season value?

        Herp derp derp.

        I find it amazing you think you actually know shit about shit.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Stop trying to move on to another target in order to avoid taking responsibility for your own stupid comments.

        Now, what was this again about Zobrist being 2nd to Pujols in WAR? And Pedroia’s WAR inflate by UZR?

        Just like in our discussion about how the vast majority of baseball players train, this is where you shut up and walk away.

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      • Garrett says:

        @CC, last three years. Lets examine some choice quotes btw: “You were some making some type of smart-ass, insulting comment about intelligence and UZR inflated WAR?”

        Herp derp derp. Get it now?

        PS: I raped you like your Uncle raped you in the training discussion. You’re incredibly naive. I’m sure all baseball players do 5/3/1 like Granderson and Prowler work. Oh wait. Or maybe they all train with Cressey like Collins?

        Do you even know who these fucking people are?

        @jim, when your mom gets my cock out of her mouth, she sometimes mumbles something before I slap her.

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      • Telo says:

        Garrett, I think you may be psychotic.

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  29. mattmaison says:

    Very well thought out article. Great answer/breakdown, Dave.

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  30. SH says:

    “Fielder is certainly a great hitter, but there are a lot of great hitting first basemen. He plays the same position as Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, and Mark Teixeira, among others. Just those seven are all considered elite, franchise cornerstone type players, but the fact that there are seven guys at that level….”

    You’ve listed six first basemen here. Not seven.

    You won’t win over many skeptics by failing to show the computational ability of a first grader counting on his fingers.

    Amazing how apparently none of the SABRists drooling over this article can tell the difference between six and seven either.

    -24 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Telo says:

      “I am debunking thousands and thousands of man-hours of work in the field of sabermetrics by pointing out a typo in an article about WAR”

      VICTORY IS MINE.

      +14 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • SH says:

        It’s not a typo, it’s a mathematical error, which is kind of a bad thing in an article about, you know, math.

        As far as the “thousands and thousands of man-hours”, I don’t subscribe to the labor theory of value.

        I have no problem with sabermetrics, and this was a good article.

        -8 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Nathan says:

        As a math major, I would point out that counting does not equal math.

        +18 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Nathan says:

      Would you discount all of The Great Gatsby or Lolita for a spelling error, as well?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • SH says:

        Two of my favorite books, and Fitzgerald was an absolutely atrocious speller.

        No, I wouldn’t discount those books over a spelling error. A spelling error in a spelling primer, however, would make me rather skeptical about the rest of the content.

        I like this article and agree with the premise. But this sort of thing kind of undermines the strength of the argument.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • FCV says:

        This article is equivalent in what way to the Great Gatsby?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DavidB says:

      The seventh elite 1B is obviously Fielder.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • The Ancient Mariner says:

      This is, I suspect, an editing error of a type with which biblical critics are quite familiar, the eye being confused by the line break. In the copying of texts, it usually results in dittography (the repetition of a word); here, it resulted in a player being counted twice. I did the same thing when I was double-checking the count — I came up with seven, then realized that I had counted “Miguel” and “Cabrera” as two separate people due to the line break. It’s easy enough to do, a relatively common sort of mistake.

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  31. Buster Olney says:

    I’ve only heard of Ben Zobrist once before.
    He’s on the Rays, but they’re not good this year because they didn’t sign free agents back.
    He’s not an RBI guy like I know Prince is, on a contending team.
    He’s a middle infielder but not a SS or Dustin Pedroia?

    Prince>>Zobrist

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  32. Richie says:

    Given that WAR has nothing to do with the ‘average’ anything, this does not strike me as a well-argued article. The ‘average’ 1st/2nd baseman has nothing to tell us regarding Fielder’s/Zobrist’s value relative to each other. It’s whatever the replacement level is.

    And Votto, Howard, Konerko tell us not one blasted thing about what that replacement value is.

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    • RC says:

      Generally, replacement level is determined by some percentage below average.

      I believe its Average – 13%

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    • Terry says:

      Actually WAR is essentially relative to the mythical average major leaguer. That’s why Feilder can be compared to Zobrist.

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  33. Nathan says:

    My favorite part about pieces written for a wider audience is the obvious influx of posters who have never before visited FanGraphs, and as such are obviously confused by very simple concepts.

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  34. joshcohen says:

    your point about the importance of context with regard to single-season WAR, ERA, and AVG couldn’t be said any better.

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  35. vilhelm says:

    WAR IS skewed. vis-a-vis the real world. The reason a premier hitter doesn’t play a skill position is to minimize distractions. What difference does it make if Pujols plays ss or first. Count ‘em. There’s still only one Pujols.. Playing ss is a learned skill most anyone could do to relative degrees of ability that may/may not meet MLB standards. Hitting requires innate talent beyond the work. Premier hitters gravitate toward right field, first base, the positions that require either little fielding and/or rote fielding so they aren’t distracted. . Fielder is WAY WAY more valuable than Zobrist.

    -19 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • RC says:

      If you don’t think that defense requires innate talent, I don’t know what to tell you.

      Its got nothing to do with distraction. Fielder doesn’t play SS because he can’t. Its as simple as that.

      There’s only two reasons that teams move guys down the defensive spectrum : They can’t hack the current position anymore (decline, recurring injuries, whatever), or there’s someone on the team who is better at the position.

      Thats what makes guys like a young ARod so special, they can hit, and they can play a premier defensive position.

      +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Schide says:

        I’d sure as hell like to see Fielder play SS.

        We could set the highlights to Yakety Sax. Fun times for all!

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      The reason a premier hitter doesn’t play a skill position is to minimize distractions.

      Isn;t it to reduce the risk of injury as well?

      Pujols was a JuCo SS that lacked the range to play the position in the pros. He has good enough hands and a decent enough arm to make many of the “routine” plays, but he lacks the agility/range to make all of the other “somewhat routine” plays that is required of a MLB SS.

      The cards moved Pujols off 3B and LF to reduce the risk of injury to his elbow, namely from the throwing.

      Pujols at 3B would likely be more valuable, in terms of WAR, to the Cradinals than at 1B. However, the risk of injury at 3B is greater than at 1B. An injured Pujols provides zero WAR.

      Playing ss is a learned skill most anyone could do to relative degrees of ability that may/may not meet MLB standards.

      IMO, playing MLB SS requires far more “natural abilities” than skills. It’s the balls they get to that sets them apart, not so much the fielding of routine grounders. That’s the knock on Derek “Pastadiving” Jeter, as well.

      Watching Hanley Ramirez at SS, especially against the Cardinals yesterday, reveals a big flaw with him … he can’t get to the balls in the hole. Those grounders got through and cost the marlins the lead.

      Premier hitters are also, very often, big & strong guys, that lack foot speed and range. Hence they tend to play the positions that require the least amount of both.

      Fielder is WAY WAY more valuable than Zobrist

      At the plate, yes. In the field, no. On the bases, no. Above his peers at the same position, no.

      It breaks down like this (posted above):

      3 year averages (2009-11)

      [1] Defense — Zobrist (+15); Fielder (-4)
      [2] Baserunning — Zobrist (+3); Fielder (-5)
      [3] Batting Runs: Zobrist (+23); Fielder (+40)

      [4] Replacement — Zobrist (+20); Fielder (+21)
      [5] Positional — Zobrist (-1 ); Fielder (-11)

      So, when you add up their total “contributions” …

      Zobrist = 15 + 3 + 23 + 20 -1 = 60
      Fielder = -4 -5 + 40 + 21 -11 = 41

      Fielder is 17 runs better than Zobrist at the plate, which is significantly better. We all already knew that.

      But, Zobrist chips away at that lead, and eventually passes Fielder, by being 19 defensive runs better in the field (that puts them even), and 8 runs better on the bases, and 10 runs better by producing all that value at a lesser quality position.

      You can find a 1B that can hit. Not as well as Fielder, but still one that can hit in the middle of the lineup. You can’t find many 2B’s that can hit well AND play above average defense.

      That’s the gist.

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • The Ancient Mariner says:

        I suddenly have a mental image of Derek Jeter bobbing for noodles.

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      • JKB says:

        “You can find a 1B that can hit. Not as well as Fielder, but still one that can hit in the middle of the lineup.”

        Casey Kotchman on the Rays…

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  36. MikeS says:

    The main point is the first one. Elite slugging first basemen are common. Really good hitting middle infielders are hard to find.

    Turn what Olney said around just a little. Fielder and Pujols are going to be on the market and a lot of what I have seen written are all the places they won’t go because they already have a power hitting 1B. If Zobrist hit the market he might have more teams lining up to bid on him than either Fielder or Pujols.

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  37. Mike Green says:

    UZR is actually kind to Fielder. Other metrics, and most subjective evaluations, would have him as much below average defensively.

    There are several different ways to adjust for position, but no matter which one you choose, Zobrist ends up noticeably ahead of Fielder. It should however be noted that according to BBRef’s WAR Braun ends up noticeably ahead of Zobrist (and Fielder), although he is quite far behind Zobrist according to Fangraph’s WAR. Braun is a much, much better baserunner than Prince.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  38. CircleChange11 says:

    What’s amazing to me that Ben Zobrist has been unable to do for WAR what David Eckstein did for grit.

    Many feel that the MSM over valued Eckstein’s grit because they, like him, were undersized white guys that could identify and appreciate Eckstein’s contributions in the face of the more obviously talented players.

    You’d think Zobrist might have the same effect with WAR in the media … or Pedroia (that little dude’s more valuable than most of those big sluggers) … or Chase Utley.

    The most amazing thing is that Joe Morgan is missing the boat on the metric that he would benefit from popularizing the most.

    Looking at what I just typed, 2nd basemen (yeah, you Bobby Grich) have to be the most under-rated position in baseball.

    When you look at powerhouse teams and note what they have that others don’t … it is often a good hitting and good defensive second baseman.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  39. Travis says:

    My biggest problem with WAR is that there seems to be an implicit assumption that most baseball players can only play one position which couldn’t be further from the truth especially when you look at replacement level. For the Phillies the backup centerfielder and backup first baseman are the same player. The 2 backup infielders have rotated between 2B, SS, 3B almost interchangeably based on need. And one of the backup infielders has also played CF at times. When they picked up Polanco a couple of years ago, they signed a 2B to play 3B. If a team has two centerfielders one will play center while the other will play a corner outfield spot. Their difference in defense may be negligible and the better defender is going to get a bump in the defensive metrics anyway[a corner outfielder gets less benefit from range than a CF so they are probably not going to make up the difference on being a better corner outfielder than a corner outfielder that can't play CF].

    fWAR of 15th best player at each position, unqualified since it’s a counting stat.
    C
    2011 Victor Martinez 1.7
    2010 Russel Martin 2.1

    1B
    2011 Todd Helton 2.6
    2010 Billy Butler 2.8

    2B
    2011 Scott Sizemore 1.6
    2010 Freddy Sanchez 2.4

    SS
    2011 Stephen Drew 2.0
    2010 Elvis Andrus 2.3

    3B
    2011 Scott Sizemore 1.6
    2010 Chipper Jones 2.9

    RF
    2011 Brennen Boesh 2.1
    2010 Mike Stanton 2.9

    CF
    2011 Denard Span 2.3
    2010 Shane Victorino 3.7

    LF
    2011 Allen Craig 1.4
    2010 Jose Tabata 2.1

    First baseman certainly hold their own, though it is interesting to note that they are almost to last year’s total despite 30% of the season still to play for a counting stat. CF certainly seems overvalued by this view.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • CircleChange11 says:

      My biggest problem with WAR is that there seems to be an implicit assumption that most baseball players can only play one position which couldn’t be further from the truth especially when you look at replacement level.

      I don’t think WAR comments on what a player could or could not do, or should have done. WAR combines the results of all the things they DID on the field.

      fWAR for pitchers is a bit different. But, we’re not discussing pitchers.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Garrett says:

        Then why did you randomly try to analyze Pedroia with a magical additional half season if WAR combines the results of what they DID?

        You have to be the stupidest fuck or the most dishonest fuck. Either way you’re a fuck.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • CircleChange11 says:

      Allen Craig is the 15th most valuable LF. He has 122 PAs.

      I thought LF was supposed to be the “DH of the NL”?

      Reddick is 10th in LF WAR and has 154 PAs.

      Matt Holliday is looking really good.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • The Ancient Mariner says:

      Actually, quite the opposite: it rests on the idea of the defensive spectrum, which comes out of the Bronze Age of Sabermetrics, and its assumption that players can almost always move to an easier position and play it well, but rarely move to a harder one.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • mattinm says:

      On the ‘single defensive position’ aspect, I would love to see some kind of adjustment for players that do play multiple positions (perhaps it should be on an innings played basis?). Guys like Zobrist, who do routinely play multiple positions, allow the team to better utilize platoon advantages to maximize value from the given positions, which certainly adds value.

      How one would go about researching and assigning this value, however, is something that would take careful consideration.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Yakuzafro says:

        WAR already makes that adjustment.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • mattinm says:

        WAR gives them the Positional Adjustment for each position, yes. If a player gains 200 PA as a 2B, 200 PA as a RF, 200 PA as a 1B, and 100 PA as a 3B, then they will get a total of the pro-rated Positional Adjustment for each position. I understand this and that makes perfect sense.

        What I’m recommending, however, is a further “Flexibility Adjustment”. The ability to play multiple positions allows for better maximization of the 12/13 non-pitchers on the roster. Having a neutral (or at least better than platoon) bat that can play two positions allows you to utilize a platoon in those two positions with only three players, instead of the four that would normally be needed.

        This kind of optimization was seen at times in Tampa this year utilizing Zorilla at 2B/RF. That certainly has to add some kind of value for the player. Sure, he doesn’t *directly* contribute to the runs created by his team; but he is allowing for the ability to enhance the run scoring potential of his team with his versatility.

        I’m not entirely sure how such a factor would be incorporated, but I believe it’s something that should be considered. Perhaps I’ll attempt some kind of community article.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • juan pierre's mustache says:

        i guess what you’re talking about isn’t reflected in zobrist’s stats, but if it does allow the team to field better lineups, it will increase the team’s WAR–he doesn’t get individual credit but if his moving around allows another good player to be on the field more, that other player will accumulate more WAR. giving zobrist some kind of additional bonus would be incorrect as it would be in essence double-counting this contribution.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Detroit Michael says:

        I’m late to the party, but I agree with mattinm’s point. Zobrist’s positional flexibility (and Youkilis and Bautista and others I’m forgetting/omitting) allows for better roster construction. Zobrist is providing a value that is not in WAR and that I’ve not seen quantified elsewhere.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  40. Richie says:

    I’ll confess to not knowing how Replacement Level is computed. I figured it had something to do with an estimation of what actual ‘Quad A’ guys (a phrase I hate, but it suffices for here) do.

    If it is indeed figured from the ‘average’ starter, then it’s a fantastic concept with a useless real-world referent. How good the top dozen 1st basemen, shortstops, center fielders, et.cet., are should have nothing to do with what Replacement Level is at. Albert Pujols having a relatively good/bad year for Albert Pujols, by factoring into average 1st base performance, changes Replacement Level?? Ridiculous.

    Thinking through (for the 1st time) what computing an actual, honest-to-gosh Replacement Level would be, I guess it was darned naive of me to think it was done that way, rather than taking the so-easy shortcut of just marking down XX% from ‘average starter’ level.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • The Ancient Mariner says:

      Actually, you were closer to right the first time.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Telo says:

      Replacement level is just what it sounds like – what the average team could grab from the minors right now to be a replacement on their big league club. Taking a look at the 0 WAR players with >200 PAs should give you a good idea of the level.

      Say Albert Pujols got cloned by a mad scientist. Now there were 50 Albert Pujols. How much should each Albert Pujols be worth at this point? Would they all get 30 million dollar a year contracts? Of course not. They wouldn’t be nearly as valuable as the single Albert Pujols was worth. It’s supply and demand, in a way.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Telo says:

      Just read the glossary on replacement level.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  41. Richie says:

    Hmm. I’ve logically talked myself into being on Buster Olney’s side here.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  42. Cutter says:

    “Let’s start with what makes a player valuable to begin with – production relative to their peers. A team gets a competitive advantage by having a guy who is better than what their opponents have at the same position, since every team has to field nine guys at the same nine spots.”

    This would be absolutely true if it were fantasy baseball. But real baseball is about more than just grabbing the best guys at each position.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  43. jim says:

    dave, are you sure you weren’t reading @TrippingOlney?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  44. It’s really not obvious that Zobrist is more valuable than Fielder? All you have to do is look at the alternatives. If you had a team of average performers at each position, then upgrading to Zobrist translates to more runs than upgrading to Fielder. It’s that simple. You don’t need WAR to tell you that; it’s pretty self-evident. It’s easier to upgrade at first base than any other position on the diamond, except perhaps DH.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      i would not expect it to be obvious to the general baseball public…on fielder’s side, we have 80 bazillion home runs, 100-year-old stats that count up how awesome he is at hitting, and commercials where foreigners are able to recognize his baseball in flight around the globe. on zobrist’s side, he might make the espn top 10 a couple times this year for his defense, but probably will be mostly ignored in the media outside of tampa bay and that one time he hit 11 RBI or whatever in one day. if the brewers traded prince fielder for ben zobrist, the stadium would be burned down by angry milwaukee fans.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  45. Richie says:

    With a 200 PA minimum, the 32nd-best 2nd baseman and 32nd-best 1st baseman currently have near-identical OPS.

    I’m sure that’s an anomaly. But give me some numbers, please, as to where those usually/historically are?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  46. Richie says:

    OK, I’ve waded through the Glossary and found out that “research has shown Replacement Level is about 20% less than the league average”.

    Fine, nice to know that’s what it averages. But it doesn’t work theoretically and doesn’t work mechanically, in that much of what goes into that ‘average’ has no bearing on Replacement Level. If a position is top-heavy (like, say, maybe 1st base?), that will jack that average up to where it approximates the 12th best starter rather than the 16th best starter. So the Replacement Level guy has now been misidentified as the 28th best guy rather than the 32nd best guy. Similarly, if talent at a position is distributed more evenly than’s the norm, the 34th best guy might be misidentified as Replacement Level.

    Maybe empirical research has laid to rest such possibilities. Till I see gobs of that, I’m unimpressed. Because a general average is way too blunt a tool to properly inject into the figuring of Replacement Level.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • mattinm says:

      Isn’t that the exact reason there is Positional Replacement as well? Sure, there are positions where BatR are higher than others (as noted in the article), which is why positions are given their own adjustment.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  47. mattinm says:

    Even if we set Zobrist as a 1B-only, it’s likely that he’s at least Fielder’s equal.

    Just looking at BatR and BsR, we have the following totals:

    Zobrist: 27.5
    Fielder: 35.8

    Is it really outlandish to think that Zobrist would be worth 8.3 or more fielding runs than Fielder if he only played 1B? This also doesn’t consider any advantage Zobrist gives his team in flexibility with his ability to play multiple positions (i.e. make platoon advantages easier).

    Note, as said before, WAR (and RAR) *DO NOT* attempt to be predictive, even within season, so everything must be taken with a grain of salt. So many things don’t stabilize within a single season that attempting to use WAR/RAR as an evaluator of true talent on a per-season basis is misguided.

    What it *DOES* give us, however, is a true measure of performance for a single year: lucky, skill-based, or otherwise. Can UZR spit out some crazy high number for a player over a single-season? Sure. Does that mean the player is that good if a defender? Probably not. But it certainly means he was that good of a defender for that single year, which is all we’re trying to measure. Just as UZR needs to be regressed over multiple years to determine true talent, WAR/RAR also needs to be regressed if one is attempting to determine true talent.

    The same argument can be used for pitching. But that’s another story.

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  48. jpg says:

    @ Schwing – you pretty much hit it on the head. It’s not the aspect of positional adjustment that’s in question its how those adjustments are weighed.

    @ Nik – I’ll probably get painted in a sea of red like you, but calling Howard “closer to league average” is pretty laughable. As another commenter posted he’s 11th in wOBA at his position since 08′ and has been a 3-4 WAR per year guy up until last year when he from being an average defensive 1B pretty much his whole career to an Edwin Encarnacion-esque 12.6 fielding runs below average. Unless his fielding and baserunning have completely gone off of the cliff in one years time as the numbers suggest then calling him league average simply isn’t fair.I don’t watch him everyday but as a Mets fan I see him more than most and he looks the same to me, at least in the field (if anything his OFFENSIVE decline is more obvious). Is he declining? Yes. Is he still elite? No. But c’mon league average? That’s silly.

    League average = Adam LaRoche
    Howard > LaRoche

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  49. Jon Heyman says:

    “There’s nothing in those tweets that suggest he doesn’t understand WAR. ”

    Um, when you say stuff like, “I think WAR is skewed in favor of SS/2B/CF”, then yes, you clearly don’t completely understand the point of the metric.

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      questioning the weighting does not equal total misunderstanding–clearly, he understands it enough to know that the reason WAR likes middle infielders is the positional weights. as many people have mentioned in the thread, the defensive measurements we have are far from perfect and tend to give some odd results over small samples. buster didn’t say that he knew it was wrong, or that WAR was a shitty metric, or anything like that–he just called into question the methodology because the results were surprising to him. granted, his following statement about how GMs would pay fielder more suggests that he’s looking at this through a tinted lens, but it doesn’t seem like his doubt is born of ignorance here.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • CircleChange11 says:

        Well, this is where the rubber meets the road.

        Some teams take Zobrist over Fielder simply because they can’t afford Fielder.

        But, if you give Fielder and Zobrist equal price tags, which one do the 30 teams take?

        What I’d like to know (but cannot know) is which player do OAK, TBR, TOR, CLE, BOS, and the other “smart” FOs take?

        IMO, more teams would take Fielder than we think … perhaps even guys like Sandy Alderson who was on the cutting edge of the data-based movement. I’m not convinced that AA wouldn’t take Fielder. I’m not convinced Beane wouldn’t take Fielder, longing for Jason Giambi. It’s possible that Olney is right in that regard.

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  50. Steve Balboni says:

    You forgot to say “Thank you” to Buster for driving so much traffic your way.

    I suppose addressing a disputant reasonably and with courtesy instead of grumpily was your version of a thank you.

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  51. Richie says:

    WAR could certainly be skewed in favor of SS/2B/CF if you’ve botched up either the Replacement Level or the Positional Adjustments.

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  52. thom nelson says:

    everybody should quit acting like baseball professors, nit picking every little thing. enjoy the game and eat popcorn. you are FANS, that is all. go to the game, cheer for your team, and realize you are FANS, nothing else. you are NOT IN THE CLUB.

    -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • CircleChange11 says:

      Arguing about baseball is as much an American past time as is watching it.

      Let’s not pretend that baseball fans just watch the game and leave it at that.

      We’re THE sport that goes nuts over statistics and the like. It’s why fans of other sports cannot understand how we can stay interested over 162 games.

      That’s the one area where baseball still trumps the other sports … their fans have a strong desire to understand the finer details, rather than just be entertained.

      It’s pretty cool when you think about it.

      Beats the hell out of arguing about politics, religion, and relationships.

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    • jim says:

      hey tom, you spelled your name wrong, maybe your parents should have paid more attention to their english professors

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      • mattinm says:

        I’ve certainly seen Thomas shortened to Tom more often than Thom, but not so much that I’d automatically assume it was a spelling mistake.

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  53. thom nelson says:

    enjoy your coke and popcorn while you sit on the sidelines and are entertained. thats your job.pay the prices, one way or the other, and pretend you are all Earl Weaver. Imagine if you guys were managers!!!!! It would be cool, right?

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      STOP HAVING FUN TALKING ABOUT BASEBALL ITS ONLY FUN TO WATCH

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      • thom nelson says:

        if you get to the games early, you can watch BP and maybe get to say hi to one of the players. and then you could tell him all your strong points about the game. i am sure all the players would interested. do not take it to heart. it is not meant to wound. you are a fan—thats all-baseball needs fansn there is also fantasy baseball which seems like a good spot for some of you.
        i played ball with Pierre in Virginia-summer ball with the Turks. nice guy and hard worker.

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  54. Oasis says:

    Ok, who’s next?

    First, it was Victorino > Howard. Now, it’s Zobrist > Fielder.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Honestly, there are times that I have to sort of convince myself of things that I “should know” … such as Victorino being more valuable than Howard and Zobrist being more valuable than Fielder (even being roughly equal value if they were both full time 1B’s).

      But the reason why some teams are able to compete even with a much smaller budget is that they know, understand, accept, and capitalize on situations like this.

      While some team is going to pay Prince Fielder 15+M/y, TB gets similar production for 7M.

      Gardner >>> Crawford

      A.Gordon >>> Lots of guys (I would not have believed it)

      Peralta >>> Beltran anyone?

      I think you could get a lot of folks with ….

      [1] B.Phillips >>>> ____________________

      and

      [2] Al.Ramirez >>> ___________________

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  55. topper009 says:

    Here is what people need to understand, including Buster. WAR means more valuable, not better. Zobrist is not a better baseball player than Fielder because he can stand on the dirt next to 2nd base instead of 1st base, he is more valuable to his team. Baseball is about hitting, and Fielder is a much better hitter than Zobrist, thus he is a better baseball player. He does the most difficult aspect of baseball better than Zobrist. He is not more valuable, however, for all the reasons pointed out in the article.

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  56. JKB says:

    I would say Zobrist is the most valuable Super-Utility Player, guys that play more than 2 positions (or 3+ positions, define it anyway you want).

    He exceeds the replacement value of most of these types of players because he has the potential to be above replacement at multiple positions. So he potentially raises WAR for multiple positions on a team. Because of this it might take multiple players to replace him without impacting team WAR.

    If a player plays 4 positons above replacement level, he is going to be a superior value to players that play 3 positions above replacement level, if 4 position player’s mean WAR >= th 3 position player’s mean WAR.

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  57. Joel says:

    The concern I have with WAR is the variability of the defensive component. Certainly, we’ve reached a point where we can trust reasonable expectations for a player’s hitting performance from year to year, and good hitters are compensated in line with those expectations. However, investing in a defensive guy seems to be much riskier. Chone Figgins is a good example.

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  58. Joe says:

    One question I have about this article is that for offensive numbers the comparison is within a position, but for defense and especially baserunning, it seems as if he is comparing to average of all positions. Is Fielder a below average baserunner for 1st basemen? Or am i completely confused?

    As far as WAR in general, I do think that until we have much better defensive measures, it will continue to be a flawed measure. As limited other stats are, at least everyone agrees on how to calculate them. As long as FB and BRef use different metrics to calculate WAR, and come up with different numbers, how can we expect the public at large to accept it?

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  59. kiddie says:

    @mattinm
    Too difficult, no new research is done on fangraphs anymore, a moratorium is in place until bbwaa catches up a few decades

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  60. Steve says:

    Quick question and not trolling or arguing.

    Am I correct that hitting is compared to the same position, such as Howard and Fielder, but fielding and baserunning is the league as a whole? Or is it positional for fielding and hitting, but not baserunning?

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  61. Andrew says:

    New to the “WAR” game and I am trying to understand how this works. Could someone please help with an explanation:

    Last year, Wilson Valdez served as a replacement utility player filling in for Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins battling injuries, playing 111 games. Ryan Howard had an injury plagued year, his worst in the majors, but, still batted .276/.353/.505.

    Ryan Howard’s 2010 WAR: 1.3
    Wilson Valdez’s 2010 WAR: 1.0

    Position modifiers, fielding, base running, hitting has already been taken into account in their WAR. As I understand it, a replacement player is the same player playing any position (not a replacement first base man or replacement second baseman).

    Consider the following situation:
    Team A: 2010 Philadelphia Phillies with Valdez as a utility player (1.0) and Howard as a First Baseman (1.3) = 2.3 WAR

    Team B: 2010 Phillies with Wilson Valdez (1.0) as a utility player and a “replacement player” (0) at first base instead of Ryan Howard = 1.0 WAR

    Team C: 2010 Phillies with a “replacement player” (0) as a utility player and Ryan Howard at first base (1.3) = 1.3 WAR

    Is this statistic saying that the Team C (2010 Phillies w/ Ryan Howard w/o Valdez) would finish with nearly the same amount of wins as Team B (2010 Phillies w/ Valdez w/o Howard)?

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  62. Dan says:

    Would Zobrist = Pedroia if they both played 2nd base full time?

    Pedroia v Zobrist, playing 2nd base 2009-2011 =>3-yr stat calculated with 3/4/5 weightings

    Batting (runs/700 PA)
    Pedroia: 15.3, 14.4, 29.1 => 29.3
    Zobrist: 48.3, 3.4, 34.4 => 27.5

    2nd base defense (UZR/150)
    Pedroia: 9.1, 9.6, 22.4 => 14.8
    Zobrist: 23.9, 11.4, 12.3 => 14.9

    Baserunning (runs/150)
    Pedroia: 1.3, -0.6, 0.5 = 0.3
    Zobrist: 2.9, 3.8, 3.6 = 3.5

    Replacement and Positional Adjustment are thrown out since these results are scaled to ~150 games and I’m pretending they’re both full time 2nd basemen.

    Zobrist wins! 45.9 – 44.4! Notably, a full season at 2nd base nets another ~25 runs in replacement and positional adjustment, so both players perform like 7 win guys when at 2nd base full time. Utley, for example, had 7-8.5 wins each year from 2005-2009 (ages 26-30).

    That leaves only these questions:
    (1) Can we add 1.5 seasons to Zobrist’s 2nd base records without impacting his production? How about 0.5 seasons to Pedroia’s?
    (2) Does Pedroia’s being two years younger (27 months or so) change matters?

    Pedroia deserves some credit for actually playing 2nd base exclusively. When the replacement and positional adjustment figures are actually used, he moves ahead by a bit. A 5/4/3 weighted average of their prorated WARs puts Pedroia ahead 7.2 – 7.1. But Zobrist could theoretically match Pedroia if given the opportunity.

    And the age difference gives Pedroia a clear edge going forward.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      We also use too much detail in our WAR comparisons and commentaries.

      The inclusion of numbers after the decimal (ex: 5.2 WAR, 6.3 UZR, etc) insinuate a level of detailed accuracy that is not realistic (I read that from Tango the other day).

      So, in effect 45.9 and 44.4 WAR are the SAME thing … in terms of “true talent” , even moreso.

      Safe to say, Zobrist compares very well to Pedroia (or the other way around). Regardless of whichever is best, I came away with a whole new appreciation for Zobrist from this discussion. Not only is he under-valued and under-appreciated … but he might be the best 2nd baseman in the game.

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  63. Rob says:

    One problem is that you neglected to open the black box that is baserunning and defensive value. There’s a very big leap between “everyone knows that zobrist is a better fielder/baserunner than Prince” and “we’ve calculated that difference to be x”. “X” is a huge part of why Zobrist has been more valuable than Fielder and short of more clarity regarding that figure doubters will continue doubting.

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  64. bobo says:

    Perhaps another way to think of this is to move Fielder from first base over to second base for the rest of his career, and move Zobrist from second base to first base for the rest of his career- how many GMs would take Fielder (going forward) under those circumstances. 30 of 30? I doubt it.

    In a very crude way this highlights positional importance within the context of the same players.

    This thought is not meant to denigrate either player under discussion.

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  65. Phil Smoker says:

    Why do you punish Fielder’s offensive value for being a first baseman and at the same time reward Zobrist’s defensive value for being a second baseman? Seems that if you compare Fielder’s OPS with that of every other first baseman and compare Zobrist’s OPS with that of every other second baseman, then you should not then go into a discussion on who plays the more important position defensively, because they importance of Zobrist’s defensive position is already rewarded by comparing his bat to that of other second basemen.

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