The pendulum has swung and instead of disregarding the effects of defense, teams and fans are beginning to emphasize and embrace exceptional defensive players. While some great defensive players are also very good offensive performers, a lot of teams appear willing to use excellent defensive players even though they are well-below-average hitters.
In the AL West, CHONE projects that the Angels, Athletics, and Rangers will each carry two players who will OPS below .700. The Mariners have six such players! But what is the effect of carrying a player whose offense is so limited?
Using the lineup optimizer at Baseball Musings, one can plug in OBP and SLG for nine individuals and estimate the number of runs the team would be expected to score during the course of a 162-game season. Provided in the table below are a series of columns that begin with a slightly above-average American League lineup which would be expected to score 802 runs in a season (Column 2). Switching from a productive hitter to the ultimate black hole, an average pitcher, produces a more than 100-run drop in production (Column 3). The actual difference in scoring between American and National League teams in 2009 was less than what is projected here (63 runs) due to interleague play and the use of pinch hitters who reduced pitcher plate appearances by approximately one-third.
Column 4 (w/def wiz) reveals that a weak-hitting shortstop, catcher, or outfielder can cost a team more than 20 runs of offense during a season. More detrimental is a middle-of-the-lineup hitter mired in a slump -- or Ken Griffey -- since they can cost a team 35 runs during a season (Column 5). Interestingly, teams that carry a defensive player with impaired offense are particularly susceptible to a slumping power hitter as noted by the 60-run drop in run expectancy shown in the last column.
In 2009, the Rangers received sub-.700 OPS production from three positions -- shortstop, catcher, and first base. As noted in the table below, the team received league-average or better offense from each of the remaining six defensive positions. Particularly egregious were the Rangers' first basemen who posted a cumulative .681 OPS in 2009, which was second worst in all of baseball and more than 150 OPS points behind the league average of .845. The team's catchers posted a cumulative .662 OPS, which ranked 25th among all teams in 2009. Had the team enjoyed league-average performance from its catchers and first basemen in 2009, the team would have been expected to have scored almost 70 additional runs (see Column 4). Those 70 runs would have likely pushed the Rangers' win total close to 95 wins and perhaps a playoff birth.
Looking ahead to 2010, the Rangers' offense would certainly benefit from improvements at first base and catcher. Fortunately, most projection systems expect Chris Davis, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Taylor Teagarden to perform much better during the coming season. Provided in the second column in the table below are the CHONE projections for each of the Rangers' starting nine and an estimate for how many runs that offense would be expected to score during the season. Now before you get overly excited about a prediction of 840 runs, it is worth noting that this is almost certainly an over-estimate, since it represents the team’s optimal offensive unit. Replacing the performances of the starters periodically with that of their backups will most assuredly reduce the productivity of the offense.
Now consider the effect that injuries or ineffectiveness might have on the team. Replacing Kinsler with Andres Blanco would be expected to cost the Rangers almost 40 runs (Column 3). Replacing Elvis Andrus with Blanco would actually have very little effect on the offense, though there might be some cost on defense (Column 4). Likewise, replacing Michael Young’s projected offense with that of Esteban German would only slightly reduce the effectiveness of the offense, though the team’s defense could suffer (Column 5). Davis, Saltalamacchia, or Josh Hamilton repeating their 2009 performances for a full season in 2010 would likely cost the team close to fifteen runs of offense (Columns 6, 7, and 8). Having Hamilton and Davis both repeating their 2009 would be almost as devastating as losing Kinsler for the season (Column 9).
Get well soon, Kins!