Monday, January 11, 2010

Hitting by Position, 2009

Offensive performance by position (and the closely related topic of positional adjustments) has always interested me, and so each year I like to examine the most recent season's totals. I believe that offensive positional averages can be an important tool for approximating the defensive value of each position, but they are certainly not a magic bullet and need to include more than one year of data if they are to be utilized in that capacity. So the discussion that follows is not rigorous and focuses on 2009 only.

The first obvious thing to look at is the positional totals for 2009, with the data coming from "MLB” is the overall total for MLB, which is not the same as the sum of all the positions here, as pinch-hitters and runners are not included in those. “POS” is the MLB totals minus the pitcher totals, yielding the composite performance by non-pitchers. “PADJ” is the position adjustment, which is the position RG divided by the position (non-pitcher) average. “LPADJ” is the long-term positional adjustment that I used, based on 1992-2001 data. The rows “79” and “3D” are the combined corner outfield and 1B/DH totals, respectively:

I will refrain from commenting, since any drawing any conclusions based on one year of data would be inappropriate.

Next, let's look at NL pitchers' hitting by team. I'm not even going to snark about this, at least not this year. The teams are ranked by RAA above an average pitching staff, which as you can see in the chart above created .28 runs per game. RG is based on just the basic offensive stats plus SB and CS, so sacrifices, which I don't have to tell you are quite frequent for pitchers, play no part in the estimate:

For the second consecutive season, Cubs pitchers were the most productive, but they did drop from +18 to +9. St. Louis, second last year at +8, dropped to +5 but still finished a respectable third. As a group, major league pitchers created runs at just 6% of the overall average, which is about as low as it ever has been.

For the second consecutive season, Toronto pitchers failed to reach base (by hit or walk) in 20 PA, bringing their two year total to 36 PA without reaching. Assuming that they had a true OBA talent of just .150, the probability of this is 1 in 347. Cleveland, Texas, and Minnesota pitchers all failed to collect a hit in their limited chances, but Toronto stood alone in failing to reach base.

Now, let's take a look at the teams with the highest and lowest RAA at each position. RAA is figured using the 2009 positional averages only, without distinguishing between leagues, which means that AL and NL teams will not sum to zero. This is a little distracting but doesn't do much to change the rank order as the opportunities for each team position are relatively equal. Left and right fielders are considered together to figure their baseline (but not first baseman and DHs). The figures have been park-adjusted.

I will not bother running a chart for highest RAA, as it is not exactly surprising that Minnesota catchers or St. Louis first baseman were standouts. It is the trailing teams that are more interesting to investigate. A simple list of the leading teams will suffice:


It is interesting that Dodger left fielders and Met center fielders managed to lead the way despite missing their flagship players for significant portions of the season. The Dodgers had Manny (944 OPS in 418 PA) and Juan Pierre (778 in 308) in left almost exclusively (only 4 PA went to other hitters), and it is obvious that their first place showing was mostly Manny's doing. Carlos Beltran was the main force behind the Met performance (930 OPS in 342 PA), but Angel Pagan (818 in 264) helped the cause as well, and 109 PA came from four other players.

Now, the worst performances, along with the player who led the team in games played at the position:

AL teams do not fare well, but it's more of a coincidence than a systematic bias--AL position players (not including pinch-hitters) combined to hit .268/.333/.430 while their NL counterparts hit .267/.336/.425, essentially the same level of production. It just so happened that Kansas City and Seattle punted on getting offensive out of two positions each.

Let me conclude by looking at the RAA for each position, with negative performances in red and those +/- 20 runs bolded (an arbitrary cutoff, to be sure). The teams are grouped by division and sorted by the sum of RAA across all listed positions:

The Phillies led the NL with six above average positions. Strangely, first base, manned by perennial MVP candidate Ryan Howard, was only their fourth-most productive spot. At least the Mets can't blame their star players for team shortcomings this year, although I'm sure someone will try. As you already knew, Washington's offense wasn't really that bad, but in this division that leaves them at the bottom.

Milwaukee picked up the Mets' banner for a star-driven offense this year, leading the NL with three +20 RAA positions, although second base has to be considered a surprise. They led the NL in infield and corner (1B, 3B, LF, and RF) RAA. On the other hand, the Cards were operating on the one star plan. The Pirates had just one above average position, tied for the fewest in the NL, and were last in the NL in infield and corner RAA, but still beat out the Reds, the only NL team with four -20 positions and the owners of the worst outfield production in the circuit. It's a good thing they got rid of Adam Dunn (*) and signed Willy Taveras, obviously.

(*) I'm not making any statement on Dunn's fielding or his contract, just the amazing ability of some Reds fans to scapegoat him for everything, including his offense.

Los Angeles boasted baseball's most productive outfield, but was just +2 total at the other positions. For the second straight season, the Padres got surprising production out of center field; last year it was Jody Gerut and Scott Hairston who manned the position. This year, Hairston was great in 146 PA and 378 PA from Tony Gwynn Jr. were good enough. Arizona and San Francisco both have offenses filled with black holes, but the DBacks had five above average performers while only the Giants third baseman (read: Sandoval) were above average.

Another entry in the obvious department: the Yankee offense was good. They led the AL in above average positions (8), infield RAA, and corner RAA. All four infield positions were +20 or better, and their center fielders just missed breaking even. Boston had the AL's top outfield RAA, with solid performances everywhere except shortstop.

Minnesota did their best to balance out Joe Mauer's amazing season with a disastrous second base performance, while Cleveland joined the Angels and Pirates as the only teams in baseball with no positions +/- 20 runs. The Pirates were bad overall, the Indians average, and the Angels good. Detroit and Kansas City were the only teams in the AL with just two positive positions, but Chicago wasn't far behind as none of their four above average positions were better than +4. The Royals had four -20 positions and the worst outfield RAA in the majors.

I didn't make any attempt to measure it formally, but the Angles probably had the most balanced positional offense in baseball, with all positions in the -6 to +19 range. Ranger first baseman had the lowest RAA of any position. Oakland had the majors' lowest infield and corner RAA, largely driven by their first baseman, who were almost as bad as those of the Rangers. Seattle was worse overall, despite a good performance from Ichiro in right, as they had three black holes.

Yuniesky Betancourt deserves a special mention, as he helped lead the Royals to the lowest RAA at short in the majors and the Mariners to second worst. He didn't do it all alone, however; shockingly, in both stints he had a higher OPS at short than his teammates did. Taking 39% of the Mariners SS PA, he had a 609 OPS vs. 587 for his teammates, and in 43% of the Royals SS PA he OPSed 642 to his teammates 517. And that's just sad.

Here is a link to a spreadsheet with each team's performance by position.


  1. Batting by position for every season (1871-2009):

    Years that are not estimates show pinch hitting and pinch running. For the estimates I multiplied the players batting stats by the percentage of estimated innings he played at each position. Here's an example:

    AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB
    500 100 150 30 5 30 100 90

    2400 800 800

    LF 300 60 90 18 3 18 60 54
    RF 100 20 30 6 1 6 20 18
    1B 100 20 30 6 1 6 20 18

    I also included league breakdowns for starting/relief pitching. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of a good way to estimate starting/relief stats for years where Retrosheet doesn't have boxscores.

  2. Good stuff. I've published some historical positional data in the past, but it was based solely on primary position rather than splitting by defensive innings.

    I don't have any ideas on the starter/reliever conundrum you're facing, especially with the way that bullpen usage has been in flux throughout the history of the game.


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