Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hitting by Position, 2010

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 certainly are 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 2010 only.

The first obvious thing to look at is the positional totals for 2010, with the data coming from Baseball-Reference.com. "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 use, based on 1992-2001 data. The rows “79” and “3D” are the combined corner outfield and 1B/DH totals, respectively:

Most of the positions matched the default PADJ fairly closely in 2010, with the big exception being DH (and thus, the 1B/DH combination as well). DHs only created 4.76 runs per game versus a position player average of 4.65. While first basemen were 18% better than average, 1B/DH were a combined 13% above average, about equal with RF. RF has outperformed LF since 2007, by similar margins, but I wouldn't read anything into that. As recently as 2006 LF out hit RF 5.6 to 5.4, and the players are fairly interchangeable. Perhaps there has been a slight trend to put weak-hitting leadoff types in left (like Scott Podsednik or Juan Pierre), but the samples for single seasons are small enough that a couple unconventional team choices can create the narrow margin between the two corner spots.

Pitchers hit at just 5% of the position player average, which is as low as they've ever been, although not significantly different than the performances over the past few seasons. For the NL teams, pitchers' offensive performance was as follows (for this and all the subsequent team data, park adjustments are applied. Runs above average are figured against the overall 2010 major league average for each position--no distinction between AL and NL. Sacrifices are not included in any way which is not a big deal for any position other than pitcher--this is their performance when allowed to swing away (or when failing to get a bunt down for a sacrifice)):

After two years of Cubs pitchers leading the way, there was a new leader as Yovani Gallardo (.254/.329/.508 in 72 PA with 4 longballs) powered Milwaukee to the top of the heap. LA's -11 was the worst in the last three seasons, as Dodger pitchers' extra base contributions consisted of just two doubles.

Among AL teams, pitchers' PA ranged from 15 to 25, but only Boston managed to create more than one run per game (5.2 off a .306/.327/.368 line). After two consecutive years of failing to put a single pitcher on base, Toronto pitchers mustered a single, a double, and a walk. Two AL teams failed to have a pitcher reach base this season--Detroit and, naturally, Seattle. The nearly unfathomable offensive outage in the Pacific Northwest extended to the already ill-supported hurlers as well.

Next, let's look at the leading and trailing positions in terms of RAA. As mentioned above, all figures are park-adjusted but utilize the 2010 major league positional average, not the averages for each league. Additionally, left field and right field (but not first base and DH) are based on a combined average for the two positions.

I will not go through the formality of a chart for the leading positions, as the individuals responsible should be fairly obvious, and will rank highly on individual leader boards. It's a little different when dealing with batting order position, since even outstanding hitters are sometimes shuffled around in the lineup. Most top players stick to one position, though. The teams that led at each position were:


Toronto's center fielders were a bit of a surprise for me, with Vernon Wells rebounding to lead the way. Pittsburgh and Andrew McCutchen were second on the list. CF had the smallest standard deviation of RG (.72); RF was close behind at .75. The largest standard deviation was at first base (1.5).

For the worst RAA at each position, the player listed is the one who played in the most games in that fielding position. It doesn't necessarily indicate that the player in question is personally responsible for such a dreadful showing:

Baltimore and Seattle each had multiple positions among the worst in the league; of course, it had to be Seattle that led with three. As an Indians fan, it is a shame to see the center fielders here; what made it worse was the Grady Sizemore contributed to the ineptitude when he was healthy enough to be in the lineup.

The following charts give the RAA at each position for each team, split up by division. The charts are sorted by the sum of RAA for the listed positions. As mentioned earlier, the league totals will not sum to zero since the overall ML average is being used and not the specific league average. Positions with negative RAA are in red; positions with +/- 20 RAA are bolded:

Philadelphia tied for the NL lead with six above average positions, although I can't for the life of me figure out how a position manned by the $25 million man couldn't muster any more than three RAA. Atlanta was the only NL team to boast three +20 positions. Florida led all of the majors with 70 RAA from middle infielders, which was enough to lift the entire infield to the top RAA in the NL despite below-average hitting from both corners.

Cincinnati tied with the Phillies in the NL with six above-average players, led in corner infield RAA, and led in overall positional RAA. St. Louis had the NL's lowest middle infield RAA, but the highest outfield RAA and the #1 single position in baseball (first base, naturally). You can see that almost all of their plus performance came from their three positions manned by star-types (yes Tony, Colby Rasmus), but that outside of them only right field was above average. Pittsburgh and Houston both had just one above-average position, but the Astros only managed a +2 out of right field while Andrew McCutchen carried Pirate center fielders to a +23. Thus, Houston trailed the NL and 28 other clubs with -103 positional RAA.

It's hard to find a division with a smaller range of offensive performance from position players, 33 runs from top to bottom. San Francisco was the only team in the NL that didn't have a +/- 20 RAA position. San Diego had the worst offensive outfield in MLB, but that -37 was offset by first base alone, and the rest of the positions were just a bit below average.

New York was the only team above average at all positions, but only their second basemen were real standouts. It was still enough to lead in total positional RAA, although Cincinnati had a higher average given the DH. Toronto tied for the AL lead with three +20 positions. Baltimore was one of two teams to have four -20 positions, had the worst single position in MLB (first base), and had the lowest middle infield RAA in MLB.

Minnesota tied for the AL lead with three +20 positions. Kansas City was the only AL team without a +/- 20 RAA position. Without Shin-Soo Choo and right field, Cleveland would have been in big trouble. It's worth noting, though, that Indian DHs were pretty much average. While Travis Hafner's contract has inarguably been a huge impediment to the organization, Hafner the ballplayer is not killing the team on the field, and that's a distinction that fans are having trouble making.

Texas led the majors in outfield RAA despite a well-below average contribution from their centerfielders. The rest of the team offered little notable offense; the rest of the division even less. Seattle, as you can imagine, led in a lot of negatives: fewest above average positions in the AL, most -20 positions in the majors, lowest corner infield RAA, lowest middle infield RAA, lowest infield RAA. The five -20 positions all ranked in the bottom seventeen positions in all of MLB. Let me write that gain: of the seventeen worst offensive positions in the majors, five of them belonged to Seattle.

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

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