Faulty Radar, and Performance by Position

I’ve got a few things on my mind this morning. First off, I’m reorganizing the categories of this here blog, trying to put some of those information architecture skills I learned at my last job to use. Among other things, I’m discovering that it’s a lot harder to organize your own stuff than someone else’s.

Anyway, in the process of doing this, I’ve rediscovered a few ancient posts. One of them (pardon the ugly tables) discusses the limitations in using statistics to evaluate prospects.

I’m thinking of Matt Antonelli and the fact that he’s fallen off a few radar screens because of his poor showing at Portland this year. Not that Antonelli is the same type of player, but I wonder how many folks had given up on Mike Cameron at age 22, before he ever reached Triple-A, based on his career line of .243/.330/.361 to that point?

Again, we’re not comparing Antonelli and Cameron as players. We’re only using them to demonstrate that one season doesn’t always tell us enough about a player.

It makes no more sense now to call Antonelli a bust based on his 2008 performance than it did last year to anoint him a future star based on his 2007 performance. The truth remains somewhere in the middle, although we don’t know exactly where.

What’s Your Position?

I’ve also been thinking about the Padres’ offensive strengths and weaknesses. One of the most surprising aspects of this year’s team is that center field has turned out to be a position of strength. In fact, relative to league, it’s been the position of greatest strength, which is just bizarre given the whole Jim Edmonds debacle.

This got me to wondering how the offense has performed by position over the past few years. Thanks to Baseball-Reference and its handy sOPS+ stat, which measures OPS for a split relative to the major league OPS for that split, we can have ourselves a little look:

Padres Offense by Position, 2004 – 2008
Pos 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are through games of September 23, 2008.
C 114 117 132 111 57
1B 108 79 100 106 109
2B 136 83 96 76 74
3B 74 78 65 93 91
SS 112 90 88 102 77
LF 96 97 79 100 97
CF 73 118 111 101 117
RF 114 122 93 86 103

A few things jump out at me:

  • Since the departure of Gary Bennett, the Padres have gotten remarkable production from their catchers — mostly Ramon Hernandez, Mike Piazza, and Josh Bard,with a little Miguel Olivo thrown in for good measure. This year, of course, they’ve gotten nothing. Nick Hundley and either Luke Carlin or some free-agent veteran (and there are some decent backup catcher options) figure to improve on that. At worst, they should get the club back to Bennett levels; yes, this is damning with faint praise, but the Padres did have a 69 sOPS+ at catcher in 2003, which sounds pretty good right about now.
  • Second base has been a black hole since Mark Loretta’s MVP caliber season. Josh Barfield provided a little spark in ’06, but the last two years have been brutal. That the Padres managed to do worse this season than Marcus Giles boggles the imagination.
  • Third base still isn’t great, but it’s a lot better than it used to be. With Kevin Kouzmanoff manning the hot corner and Chase Headley at the ready should the Padres decide to move Kouz to, say, the Twins for some starting pitching, the days of Sean Burroughs, Joe Randa, Vinny Castilla, and Mark Bellhorn appear to be well behind us.
  • The two best center field performances came when Cameron wasn’t here. How is that even possible? Well, Dave Roberts had a career year in ’05, while Jody Gerut, Scott Hairston (.305/.341/.609 in 186 PA as CF), and Will Venable all have played above expectations in ’08.

Center field is a strength. Who knew? That’s why I look stuff up — to keep from sounding stupider than I already am.

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4 Responses »

  1. At the very least, our utility infielder situation has somewhat stabilized. Edgar Gonzalez may be a below average defender (did anyone see that pop fly he botched last night ?) but the guy can hit and will be a valuable bat off the bench in 2009. Luis Rodriguez has been surprisingly adequate as an everyday player for the last 45 days or so and is a much better option as a backup then a Manny Alexander or Oscar Robles. In addition, both can play all of the infield positions.

    Some fans and a few SD baseball writers pointed to the off season non signing of Geoff Blum as a mistake but after seeing what LRod and Egon have done for good stretches of the season, I don’t believe this to be the case.

  2. I’m not too surprised that CF was one of the most productive position this year, Hairston got off to a hot start, Edmonds only had 102 PA’s, Gerut had a great year and then when he went down Venable came up and got off to a hot start. What does surprise me is that 3B is not closer to 100 and 2B is so low, I figured E. Gon’s run would have pulled those numbers up a little more.

  3. Cool table, Geoff. Neat to look at the trends and remember the glory days of Loretta and Bard/Piazza and even Bowen being above average for a catcher. One question though: is sOPS+ adjusted for park?

  4. “It makes no more sense now to call Antonelli a bust based on his 2008 performance than it did last year to anoint him a future star based on his 2007 performance. The truth remains somewhere in the middle, although we don’t know exactly where.”

    Great point, Geoff, and one I had begun to overlook after Matt’s poor showing at Portland this year. It’s good to remember he still has potential to develop and I wish him all the best next season, of course.

    It really does boggle to see how well CF has ended up this year, and I never would have thought it would look that much better than Cameron’s performance (although some of that can also be due to league fluctuations, right? Because the split is measuring the CF’s performance versus the league for that year, correct?) I’d still rather have him in CF though due to his D and Petco’s HUGE tracts of land!