Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hitting by Position, 2013

Of all the annual repeat posts I write, this is the one which most interests me--I have always been fascinated by patterns of offensive production by fielding position, particularly trends over baseball history and cases in which teams have unusual distributions of offense by position. I also contend that offensive positional adjustments, when carefully crafted and appropriately applied, remain a viable and somewhat more objective competitor to the defensive positional adjustments often in use, although this post does not really address those broad philosophical questions.

The first obvious thing to look at is the positional totals for 2013, 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 overall major league average (this is a departure from past posts; I’ll discuss this a little at the end). “LPADJ” is the long-term positional adjustment that I use, based on 2002-2011 data. The rows “79” and “3D” are the combined corner outfield and 1B/DH totals, respectively:



In 2012, there was an unusual convergence of overall positional RG for third base, DH, and all three outfield spots. This did not carry over to 2013 as a more typical spread returned to the defensive spectrum. Still, when compared to the long-term averages, there were quirks as usual. Catchers continued their strong performance with a PADJ of 94 after a 97 in 2012. Right fielders went back to their recent trend of solidly outhitting their left field cousins (one of the quirks that one must be cognizant of when attempting to use offensive data to craft positional adjustments). DHs were about as low as they’ve ever been (a 102 in 1985 is the only lower showing), and pitchers rebounded from a historical low of 1 to post a PADJ of 3, which obviously vindicates any continuing resistance to the DH.

That provides a useful segue from which to take a quick look at the performance by team of NL pitchers. I need to stress that the runs created method I’m using here does not take into account sacrifices, which usually is not a big deal but can be significant for pitchers. Note that all team figures from this point forward in the post are park-adjusted. The RAA figures for each position are baselined against the overall major league average RG for the position, except for left field and right field which are pooled. So pitchers as you can see from the chart above are compared to their robust average output of .11 runs per 25.5 outs:



Dodger pitchers led in BA, OBA, and SLG and ran away with the RG lead. Zack Greinke was the standout, hitting a raw .328/.409/.379 over 72 PA thanks to a .396 BABIP. Greinke drew seven walks, as many or more than the pitching collectives of the Padres, Marlins, Cubs, Reds, and Brewers. However, the most remarkable performance is that of Pittsburgh’s pitchers, who trudged through 318 plate appearances without a single extra base hit. In 2012 the Pirates only mustered one double in 304 PA. I assumed last year that the Pirate performance was without precedent, and clearly a .000 ISO has never been topped. San Francisco gave Pittsburgh a run for their money at the bottom of the list with a .099 BA and just one double and one triple.

I don’t run a full chart of the leading positions since you will very easily be able to go down the list and identify the individual primarily responsible for the team’s performance and you won’t be shocked by any of them, but the teams with the highest RAA at each spot were:

C--MIN, 1B--CIN, 2B--NYA, 3B--DET, SS--LA, LF--STL, CF--LAA, RF--WAS, DH--BOS

More interesting are the worst performing positions; the player listed is the one who appeared in the most games at that position for the team:



The Marlins, Blue Jays, and Yankees all land multiple names on the list, but Houston’s centerfielders were the very worst outfit, a hole that has been plugged elegantly by trading for Dexter Fowler. Jeff Mathis was also replaced in Miami by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Carlos Beltran should improve the Yankees production at right field and/or DH. Yankee DHs .186 BA was the worst of any non-NL pitcher spot, with Chicago, Toronto, and Miami catchers all posting a .193 mark. Or, to express their futility in another manner, it seems kind of shocking that only twelve team positions were less productive in terms of RG than Yankee DHs.

Teams with unusual profiles of offense by position has been of interest to me in recent years because of the way the Indians have been constructed--often they have gotten good production from positions on the right side of the defensive spectrum while struggling at the more offensively-inclined positions. The easiest way I’ve come up with to express this numerically is the correlation between a team’s RG by position and the long-term positional adjustment (I’ve pooled left and right field but not 1B and DH in this case; pitchers are excluded for all teams and DHs excluded for NL teams, and I’ve broken the lists out by league because of this):



As usual, the Indians had a negative correlation between PADJ and RG, but they were only the seventh-most extreme team in the majors. Seattle is the team which had the highest correlation, as they got little production from catcher and middle infield (2.6 RG from backstops, 3.2 from the keystone positions) while the four corners and DH all created at least 4.5 RG. On the flip side was Minnesota, largely due to the fact that catcher was easily their most productive position with 6.4 RG and their left fielders and DH created 3.3 RG, only better than their shortstops.

Boston and St. Louis won their pennants largely thanks to respectively having the best offense in their leagues, and in a neat coincidence here, they were near the middle of the pack in correlation for their leagues with identical marks of +.44.

The following charts, broken out by division, display RAA for each position, with teams sorted by the sum of positional RAA. Positions with negative RAA are in red, and positions that are +/-20 RAA are bolded:



Atlanta led the NL in corner infield RAA. New York was last in the NL in outfield RAA. Miami had the worst offense in the majors with a remarkable six positions at -20 runs or worse, and the left fielders just missed at -18. Only the Giancarlo Stanton-led right fielders were above average, and their +18 only managed to offset the opposite outfield corner. The whole division struggled with production from centerfield; the division total of -104 RAA from one position was easily the worst in the majors as the next worst division total was -49 from NL Central shortstops.



St. Louis led all of the majors in outfield RAA as they were the only team with two +20 positions in the outfield. Pittsburgh’s McCutchen-led centerfielders had the highest RAA of any position in the NL. Cincinnati’s offense continues to look wobbly post-Choo as only the star led first base, center, and right units were above average. As seen above, Milwaukee had the most unusual distribution of offense by position in the NL, and it’s actually somewhat impressive that they managed to field an average offense despite -37 runs from first base. Chicago had the worst middle infield RAA in the majors and their infield as a whole was awful at -70, with only the disaster in Miami sparing them from finishing last.



Los Angeles middle infielders led the NL in RAA; San Francisco and Arizona tied for the NL lead for total infield RAA. Colorado had the worst corner infield RAA in the NL, which may explain the desire (albeit not the decision) to give Justin Morneau a multi-year deal. This division had the highest total RAA for a position with 59 RAA from their shortstops.



Boston led the majors in total RAA as only their third basemen were below average. Red Sox middle infielders led the majors in RAA. The Yankees finishing with just two above average positions is still jarring; another way to look at their troubles is that they spent $50.5 million on their intended corner infield starters and wound up with the worst corner infield RAA in the majors.



Detroit led the majors in corner infield and overall infield RAA thanks almost solely their third basemen compiling a whopping 71 RAA (all Cabrera has other Tiger third basemen combined for 85 PA with a .222/.341/.306 line). The rest of their offense was far from impressive, though, although it wouldn’t be fair for me to snark too much about it since the 1,000 run talk was non-existent in the spring. The Indians were close to average around the diamond except for catcher and second base (excellent) and third base (bad). Kansas City’s middle infielders were last in the AL in RAA and as the corner infielders were bad as well, the infield’s total RAA was also last in the league. Minnesota had only one above average position and the worst outfield production in the majors. Chicago had just two above average positions, but just barely with a total of 3 RAA between, leading to the lowest team total RAA in the AL.



Angel outfielders led the AL in RAA, which of course is due to the great Mike Trout. Seattle’s offense is still bad, but the last two seasons have moved them past the laughingstock phase and into consistent organization deficiency status. Houston had only one above average position, but at least they have the excuse that they weren’t really trying; what can the Yankees say?

The full spreadsheet is available here.

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