Friday, September 10, 2010

Better Than You Thought (part 2)

If you’re beginning to see a bit of a pattern here, you’re not alone. Most of the lesser-known players who score well in statistics like WAR do so based on their high defensive scores in UZR and TZ. These statistics are newer and less well accepted and known in the baseball mainstream. Additionally, it’s pretty easy to tell who’s a good offensive player. It might not be as easy to compare different types of hitters or determine exactly the value a player adds with his bat, but most players whose traditional stats are good will also score well sabermetrically. Since the mainstream statistic for defense, fielding percentage, hasn’t changed for over 100 years and is inherently incredibly flawed, sabermetric defensive statistics often tell us players we thought were good aren’t, and those who didn’t look outstanding on the surface actually provide fairly decent glovework.

Angel Pagan is another such player. In a year in which much of the Mets’ outfield has either underperformed expectations (Jason Bay), dealt with injury (Carlos Beltran), or been just plain bad (Jeff Francoeur), Pagan has been the one bright spot. Pagan has been the most valuable Met this season, his 4.5 WAR outscoring David Wright’s 3.9 and Johan Santana’s 3.7. Much of his value has come from his fantastic outfield defense, where he’s been worth 13.3 fielding runs above replacement. He’s spent roughly half his year in center, making 80 starts so far there this year. In center, he’s put up a UZR/150 of 13.1, which is stellar. However, the Mets seem to not know what they have in Pagan, and have played him in rightfield in 21 games and 17 starts. Playing in right doesn’t give Pagan as much room to roam, so even though his UZR/150 is a ridiculous 48.3 in right, the Mets would be better served letting Pagan play center full time. It seems as though Omar Minaya will be out as GM by the start of next season. Let’s hope, for Pagan’s sake, his successor understands the value Pagan can provide.

As was well documented in sabermetric circles (think Moneyball), OBP is one of the most underrated skills in baseball today. So if you’ve got a guy with a good glove who walks a ton, you can expect him to both be extremely valuable and to not be fully appreciated by traditional baseball people. Daric Barton is perhaps the best example. Barton’s put up 4.3 WAR, buoyed by his 9.7 fielding runs above replacement and his .399 OBP. While old-school people like Shawon Dunston (players who take walks are “cheating the game”) and Dusty Baker (high OBP guys are “clogging up the bases”) may not fully appreciate the value Barton’s .399 OBP provides for the A’s, Billy Beane certainly does. Barton has been the 6th most valuable first baseman in baseball this season, but I’m sure you haven’t heard him in the same conversation as Prince Fielder (4.0 WAR), Adam Dunn (3.9), or Mark Texiera (3.3).

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll be switching to the other side of the ball and taking a look at a few pitchers who should be on baseball fans’ radar.

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