02 April 2003

Amazing, but True

As you all probably know by now, New York Yankees shortstop, #2 hitter and #1 superstar Derek Jeter will miss at least the next month or so with a dislocated shoulder, which he suffered Monday Night in the third inning against Toronto. Jeter's a great player, but there are rarely many great players on the market in early April, at least for anything in way of prospects the Yankees have to offer (hint:not much), so now what? Yankees backup IF Enrique Wilson is not the long-term answer, and Yankees farmhand Eric Almonte is so not the answer that prospects guru John Sickels didn't even include him in his 2003 book (thanks, Aaron). So we need someone who's both decent and available.

Naturally, a player of Jeter's magnitude is not easy to replace....or is he?

Take a look at some of the Baseball Prospectus translated stats for three (sorta) players from last year:

Player J 157 .293 107 50 -27 5.9
Player B 117 .247 45 9 32 6.6
Player C 157 .247 60 12 43 8.9
Diff (C-J) nil -.046 -47 -38 70 3.1

First, some explanations of the stats:
G is games played. Baseball Prospectus's Equivalent Average (EqA) and Equivalent Runs (EqR) are all pretty obvious. You can go to Prospectus if you need further explanation on these. BRARP is Batting Runs Above Replacement Position, the number of batting runs the player was responsible for above a replacement-level player at that position. FRAA, similarly, is Fielding Runs above Average, the number of fielding runs more (or less) than an average player at that position. WARP is the drive that always malfunctions whenever Scotty needs something to rant about, but it happens also to stand for Wins Above Replacement Player. This takes into account all the player's contributions, for hitting, fielding and pitching, if applicable.

Now, given the context of the table in discussion, you probably know that player J is the aforementioned baseball demigod, Derek Jeter, and yes, the demi-god is, in fact, demi-god-awful at defense. Player B is what Mike Bordick did last year for the Baltimore Orioles, in 117 games, and Player C is a projection of Bordick's performance over the same number of games Jeter played. The Difference row is the difference between Jeter's actual performance and Bordick's projected performance.

So what strikes you? Well, first of all, you should notice that Bordick gives up 46 points of EqA to Jeter, which is a lot. It's roughly the difference between Mike Piazza and Ben Davis, or Alfonso Soriano and Ramon Vazquez, or between Eric Chavez and Craig Counsell. It's a LOT. Because Bordick played 40 fewer games, he naturally loses a few "counting" runs in the analysis, so the projection is intended to adjust for that. That EqA difference projects out to about 47 fewer runs somehow scored as a result of the Bordick's hitting compared to Jeter's, roughly four or five wins worth.

But on the fielding side, what happens? Despite what Tim McCarver tells you, Jeter is a terrible defensive shortstop, and always has been. Last year, he was 27 runs worse than a league-average defensive SS, while Bordick was 32 runs better, for a net difference of 59 runs, which more than covers the gap in offense. And that's just in the games Bordick actually played! If you take the projected difference over 157 games, Bordick's defense saves 70 runs more than DJ's would! Seventy runs! Holy cow!

So what are we saying here? Theoretically, if Mike Bordick had played every game that Jeter played last year, the Yankees would have actually won two or three more regular season games than they did. Obviously, this way over-simplifies these stats, and Bordick can't really be counted on to play such stellar defense again this year. But it does mean that Jeter may not be as hard to replace as we think: If the Yankees can get a mediocre-hitting SS, (they've got enough offense that they could afford to carry a guy like that, batting him 9th) who happens to be an excellent fielder, they should be able to make up most of what they're missing with Jeter gone, albeit in a different form.

Oh, and they could probably get Bordick or another such player for a song, and pay him beans, while collecting the insurance on Jeter's contract. He may even help Soriano learn some defense, and the Yanks could be better off in the long run.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

eric chavez sux.the a's should trade him for a good player like craig biggo.