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Monday, August 01, 2005


Finding middle ground best way to field .500 team

In Chicago, the Sears Tower looms over the city like a navigational star.

On a clear day, the tower is visible from almost any vantage point in the city where you aren't blocked by a tall building. As long as you know where the tower is, you can find your way around Chicago's grid-like overlay of streets.

In baseball statistics, average is like that - a standard by which measurements can be weighed in context so that you can find your way. A statistical navigational star, if you will.

When looking at baseball statistics, envision a flat line with a vertical tick right in the middle. The tick represents league average. The further to the right you go on this line, the greater is the positive contribution of your roster. You win. All the way to the right means champagne, parades and a tell-all, ghost-written autobiography.

The opposite is true to the left of the tick - the further you move away from the middle, the worse you are for it. All the way to the left means you're in the Max Scherzer sweepstakes and keeping track of Scott Boras' client list.

As a result, for the stronger teams, average is the wrong direction. They want to keep pushing to the right, towards championship level. But for the weaker teams, the tick in the middle is something to strive for. For them, average is a necessary first step.

One of the beautiful things about baseball's orderly universe is the relationship between the component categories (doubles, home runs, walks, etc.) and the category that determines who wins a game: runs.

We can count up all of the component parts and get a pretty good estimate of how many runs they are worth. Even better, when we know how many runs a team has scored and allowed, we can usually come pretty close to calculating that team's winning percentage.

If a team is exactly average, meaning that they've scored and allowed an equal number of runs, then they are a .500 team. Their actual record may vary a few games on the plus or minus side because of some mitigating factors (clutch hitting, record in one-run games, etc.) but the talent level of that team is still .500.

We can (and should) apply this logic to player evaluation. A player who produces runs at a higher rate than an average player in his league is helping his team win with his bat. A shortstop who makes more plays than a league-average shortstop is helping a team win with his glove. In both cases, the inverse is also true.

For the Royals, average is the dividing line between acceptable and not acceptable. Every player is a balance sheet of debits and credits, with a red line down the middle, as Henry Miller might say.

So let's break down the Royals' current roster of positional players into three groups - those who are above average with both the bat and the glove, those who are above average in one area but not the other and those who fall short in both areas. The methodology, corroborating data and additional comments can be found on the Stat Guy blog.


ABOVE AVERAGE IN ONE: Mike Sweeney (bat), Emil Brown (bat), Matt Stairs (bat), Alberto Castillo (glove).

BELOW AVERAGE IN BOTH: Terrence Long, Mark Teahen, Ruben Gotay, Joe McEwing, John Buck, Angel Berroa.

For Royals fans who have managed to watch most of the games this season, it comes as no surprise to find that DeJesus grades out as the Royals' most well-rounded player. However, keep in mind that Sweeney is so far above average with the bat that his overall contribution is positive to the bottom line regardless of his performance with the glove. He is still the Royals' best player.

As for the others, Stairs and Castillo are right about league average overall, but every other positional player on the roster is a drag in the quest to achieve mediocrity.

It's a little disturbing to see the young positional players who comprise the Royals' future core grade so poorly. However, Teahen, Gotay and Buck are young and their numbers are presumably on an upward trajectory. Whether they'll get to where they need to be remains to be seen, but at least there is hope.

As for Berroa, he's been one of the worst all-round players in baseball this season (-14.4 runs with the bat, -11 runs with the glove). Worse, he's 27 years old - he ought to be right smack in his prime.

Returning to our previous analogy, the Royals are all bunched up on the wrong side of the line. If the Royals are going to challenge the .500 barrier any time soon, they'll have to look toward the middle to find their way.


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