Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Power at the Corners

Over at Baseball Prospectus Hall of Fame guru Jay Jaffe has posted an interesting article that you can read here if you are Baseball Prospectus insider. In general, the article breaks down the average offensive production, by each position for the 2011 season using a statistic called True Average. In short, this statistic basically rolls up a player's offensive value into one figure that is then presented on the average scale.

The most interesting finding from this study was the significant drop off in production from third basemen last season. Third base, which has typically been one of the most difficult positions to find premium talent for (there are less third basemen in the Hall of Fame than any other position) dropped below league average True Average for the first time since 2003. In fact, in 2011, third base production reached its lowest point since 1950. In fact, the only positions that it ranked higher in production in were catchers and short stops.

Another position that experienced a significant drop in production in 2011, was left field. Left fielders actually fell in production even more last season than third basemen. For the first time since 1966, left fielders ranked below center fielders in offensive output as judged by True Average.

One of the most popular mantras throughout baseball is power on the corners with defense up the middle. However, in today's game of shrinking offensive production, two of the corners appear to be harder to fill with mashers than they were just a few seasons ago.

If teams are able to find middle of the order production from their middle of the diamond players, they usually are able to field strong offenses. This is because of the scarcity of really good hitters at middle of the diamond positions. If third base and left field turn into positions of scare offensive quality it would mean that the teams able to find quality mashers at these positions would be at a huge advantage. This is the same concept that makes top prospects at premium positions so coveted. Players that can rake at low offense positions are worth more than if their bat is being played at a position on the opposite end of the defensive spectrum

What this means for the Kansas City Royals, is that if production continues to decline from the third base and left field positions, and the Royals can lock up Gordon to an extension, the Royals will be well positioned for the future. Alex Gordon's bat and glove combination would play up even more, should the left fielders around baseball continue the current trend. If Mike Moustakas turns into what the Royals believe he will be, he'll not only be a middle of the order hitter, but he'll also come from a position that around baseball has less production than second base.

Jaffe suggests at the end of the article that there is a good chance the decline in third base production could've been a perfect storm in 2011. Some of the stars of the position were aging and others were hurt. Some league average third basemen regressed, while bad third basemen were worthless. The third base position could be turning itself over to a new generation, led by Mike Moustakas and Lonnie Chisenhall. It will be interesting to see if baseball can find other quality players at the position, or if Moustakas and Chisenhall will be aberrations and as a result, be all the more valuable to their organizations.

In this post today Kevin Goldstein stated "there is little doubt the club (Kansas City) is going to turn into an offensive juggernaut." Production from sub optimum offensive positions would go a long way in turning this prediction into reality.

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