Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hitting by Position, 2011

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.

The first obvious thing to look at is the positional totals for 2011, 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:



The 2011 results were most notable for the poor performance by third basemen and the pathetic effort by left fielders, who were slightly less productive than the average non-pitcher. After a down 2010, DHs rebounded to a respectable 110. The other positions were fairly close to their historical norms, and pitchers avoided setting a new all-time low, although the difference between 7 and 5 is negligible.

Speaking of pitchers, here are the aggregate park-adjusted totals for NL pitching teams. This analysis is based on simple ERP, and thus ignores sacrifices and the other situational goodness that makes pitcher hitting such an exciting and integral part of our national pastime:



Milwaukee ranked second and Arizona first last year, but on the other hand the Mets were third in 2010 and dead last in 2011. AL pitchers don’t get enough opportunities to bother with a chart, but for trivia’s sake, Baltimore’s pitchers raked .405/.405/.630, while Kansas City’s failed to reach base in eighteen plate appearances.

Moving on to positions that are actually expected to hit, I figured park-adjusted RAA for each position. The baseline for average is the overall 2011 MLB average RG for each position, with left and right field pooled. The leading team at each position was as follows (these are generally unsurprising so I’ll spare you a big chart):

C--DET, 1B--DET, 2B--BOS, 3B--CHN, SS--NYN, LF--MIL, CF--LA, RF--TOR, DH--BOS

The only one of these that was a bit surprising to me even after looking at the final stats for individuals was the Cubs’ third basemen (led of course by Aramis Ramirez). But a lot of the usual suspects at third base had injuries and other issues this year (Longoria, Zimmerman, Wright, Youkilis).

Now the worst performance at each position, along with a column displaying the team leader in games played at that spot:



It’s mostly a coincidence that all of the worst-hitting positions were from AL teams, although they do generally get more PA in which to drive down their RAA. I wrote about the Twins and Angels catchers a little in the previous post, but note here that Houston’s catchers were second last with -31 RAA and the Angels managed -29. The continuing inability of Seattle to generate offense is a marvel, and Juan Pierre is an appropriate banner carrier for 2011’s crop of poor hitting left fielders.

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:



Third base and shortstop led the Mets to the highest infield RAA in the NL. Atlanta tied for the lowest outfield RAA in the NL. There must be something wrong with my spreadsheet as surely the Phillies first basemen combined for more than 8 RAA, led by their perennial MVP candidate.



St. Louis was the only team in the game to be above average at every position, and really stood at out at the three biggest offensive positions. Their outfield combined to lead MLB in RAA. Milwaukee’s offense was structured similarly, although right field did not stand out and they gave a lot of it back with a black hole at third base. The Cubs’ outfield production was evenly distributed and combined to tie Atlanta for the lowest mark in the NL. Pittsburgh’s infield tied for the NL’s trailer spot. Houston got decent production in the outfield but nowhere else.



The fact that the Los Angeles infield tied for the fewest RAA in the NL and yet the offense combined to lead the division should give you a quick idea on the offensive character of the NL West. While the World Series title makes it easy for some to overlook, San Francisco’s offensive struggles are persistent and pitching can only take you so far.



Boston’s offense was terrific despite right field, leading the majors in infield RAA. Toronto pulled a neat trick by combining for -17 RAA from the outfield despite having Jose Bautista.



Kansas City led the AL in outfield RAA, which not many would have predicted from Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Francoeur. Cleveland’s outfield was second-worst in the majors, and under normal circumstances -62 from the outfield would stick out more. The best thing that can be said about Chicago’s -98 RAA is that it was balanced -49/-49 between infield and outfield, with catcher and DH nearly average (+2/-2).



Texas kept the AL West from looking like it’s NL counterparts. Chris Iannetta and some guy whose name I can’t remember should do wonders for LAA. Oakland’s -50 runs from the infield was the worst in the majors, almost all driven by dreadful production at first base. And then there’s Seattle. What can one say about Seattle? Every outfield position was at least -20 (only five other outfield spots across the other 29 teams were at -20). Catcher, third base, and DH also stood out for the hapless Mariners.

Earlier I displayed some long-term positional adjustments that I’ve used over the years. It dawned on me in September that those were based on the ten-year period from 1992-2001, and that at this point, none of the most recent ten years are included in the sample. So I figured it would be an opportune time to recalibrate my position adjustments, using the ten years from 2002-2011 as the basis.

I figured two sets of PADJs; one which compared each position to the overall league average (including pitchers), and one that compared it to the league average less pitchers. There is very little difference, of course--the ones compared to the average including pitchers tend to be one or two points higher. This table compares the 1992-2001 and the 2002-2011 adjustments:



The big movers relative to 1992-2001 were the middle infield positions, improving offensively as first base/DH declined a little. In the end, though, the defensive spectrum one would draw based on offense doesn’t change at all, except for third base switching places with center field (and the differences were miniscule in both decades) to match Bill James’ spectrum.

A longer digression about the application of position adjustments, and some reasons why one might want to consider using offensive adjustments, will have to wait for another time, but would be appropriate here.

This spreadsheet includes the 2011 data by position.

1 comment:

  1. The White Sox 1B being worth -7 RAA struck me as odd, considering Konerko is such a masher. A glance at B-ref shows Konerko played 111 games at 1B with an .878 OPS, a bit lower than his season total of .906. While Dunn's 35 games at 1B contributed an OPS of .442. Both played subpar defense(-1,-5) and ran the bases poorly(-5, -3).

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