Fun With Stats: Hardball Times/Julio Lugo Edition

A bit of talk in recent days and weeks around here has been centering around the defense of our respective teams. A happy coincidence, then, that The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 focuses several analysis chapters to the subject of defense.

Perhaps the most interesting is Tom Tango’s look at shortstop defense over the past 15 years.

The article focuses on every Red Sox fan’s favorite whipping boy — Derek Jeter. I won’t go too much into the Jeter analysis, which I admit I did enjoy. It pretty clearly shows that Jeter isn’t just overrated on defense — he’s criminally overrated. Even arguments that he’s good at coming in on balls or leaping for line drives fall flat as Tango shows that Jeter makes fewer plays than almost every shortstop in the game when compared by the pitcher on the mound, batter at the plate, baserunner on first, or ballpark.

We’ll look a little at that, but what he doesn’t mention — and I was surprised to see — was how well this look at defense flatters Julio Lugo (Red Sox fans’ second-favorite whipping boy).

First, the method.

For example, based on pitcher on the mound, Tango found the play-made
percentage for Jeter while, say, Roger Clemens was on the mound, then
did the same for all the other shortstops behind Clemens when  was on
the mound (John Valentin and Adam Everett were the two major ones). He
then did the same for every pitcher Jeter ever played with (and was on
the field with), and calculated all those pitchers’ non-Jeter totals.
So, in the end, you get a Jeter percentage and an "all others"
percentage with the exact same pitchers on the mound, or with the exact
same hitters at the plate, or with the exact same runner on first, or
in the same ballpark.

Finally, he does the same for every shortstop who started a significant
number of games since 1993. In each case, you get a SS percentage, an
"all-others" percentage and a difference between the two, which Tango
calculates per 4,000 chances (roughly a season’s worth). Whew! Got all
that?

Needless to say, Jeter finishes in the bottom five in every category
but ballpark, which seems to indicate he’s not helped by Yankee
Stadium, as he’s "just" ninth from the bottom in that category, but
otherwise indicates that regardless of the type of ball hit to him, he
just makes — and has made — fewer plays overall than nearly everyone
else who has played shortstop over the past 15 years (ranging,
depending on the situation, from between 10 plays to 38 plays below the
rest).

I don’t think this comes as a surprise for many of us. What did
surprise me was that these numbers seem to show Julio Lugo in a much
more positive light than the Plus/Minus numbers that run on these same
principles. Lugo is below average in Plus/Minus and just about average
in other defensive metrics.

By pitcher, Rey Sanches and Adam Everett are the top two, 59 and 57
plays above average, respectively. Other names in the top 10 are not
surprising — Orlando Cabrera, Mark Grudzielanek, Cezar Izturis. But
Julio Lugo ranks eighth — 26 plays better per 4,000 chances than
average. He made plays on 12.8 percent of the balls hit into his zone
(as determined by UZR), while other shortstops behind the same pitchers
made 12.1 percent of the plays. That’s better than Alex Gonzalez
(12.3%, 12.1%, +11), Cal Ripken (12.2 %, 11.9%, +10) and Omar Vizquel
(12.4%, 12.4%, +2).

By batter, it’s the same story. Lugo of course made plays on 12.8
percent of the balls hit into his zone (obviously, that wouldn’t
change, as we’re discussing every single play possible). With the same
batters at the plate, other shortstops made 12.2 percent of the plays.
That’s good for 22 plays made above average — ninth among all
shortstops since 1993 (Everett and Sanchez rank 1-2 again).

By runner? That’s a bit different. Lugo only made plays 12 percent of
the time with a runner on first. With the same runners on first, other
shortstops made 12.3 percent of their plays. Lugo was four plays per
1,300 chances lower than average (the 1,300 chances reflects the lower
number of plays that occur with a runner on first). Why the difference?
I don’t know. Everett is still No. 1, Sanchez is No. 5, Jeter is still
second-to-last (45th).

By ballpark, Lugo returns to the top half of the rankings — other
shortstops made 12.4 percent of their plays while in the same ballparks
as Lugo (remember he’s at 12.8 percent). The 15 plays above average per
season is good for 12th. Sanchez and Everett are again 1-2, by the way.

Compare these results with PMR, which placed Lugo sixth from the bottom in 2007 (but sixth from the top in 2006 and similarly in 2005). RZR? Lugo ranked fifth in the AL (just behind Orlando Cabrera) in ’07. OOZ? Fourth. He had eight throwing errors in 2007, but that’s eighth out of 14 shortstops in the AL with at least 750 innings in the field and far better than his terrible 2006 or bottom-three performance in 2005.

It seems Lugo has been consistently underrated as a shortstop — he received no votes in Fielding Bible voting this year, while even Jeter received four — even though there seems to be a growing statistical consensus that he is in fact quite good, or at least above average. Defensive metrices remain incomplete and tend to vary widely, but these numbers are not unconvincing.

Lugo’s rankings in Tango’s study are consistently ahead of Nomar Garciaparra, Orlando
Cabrera (the only one who’s remotely close), Alex Gonzalez and Edgar
Renteria. Is it truly possible that in the revolving door of shortstops
the Sox have had since 2004 the defensive star may actually be the
one currently on the roster? It seems that may actually be the case.

47 comments… add one

  • [[[ sound of Yankee fans' heads exploding ]]]

    Hudson January 2, 2008, 10:29 pm
  • Good one Hudson. Most of us yankee fans realize exactly what Jeter’s shortcomings are but would still prefer to have him than Lugo any day of the week.

    sam-YF January 2, 2008, 10:39 pm
  • Sure, Sam, and Alex Rodriguez is by any measure vastly superior to Mike Lowell at 3rd, too.
    And yet Lowell and Lugo brought another 21st Century set of rings and trophies back to Boston in 2007, while A-Rod and Captain intangibles went home early again.
    Funny how those preferences work out.

    Hudson January 2, 2008, 11:04 pm
  • Please, please please. I beg of everyone. Let us not invoke the rings. It always starts, works, and ends badly.

    attackgerbil January 2, 2008, 11:57 pm
  • So your argument is since the Red Sox won the won the world series, Yankees fans are unable to compare any yankees players favorably against a sox player. Whats the point of this site then?
    You sound like the type of yankee fan that I always hated when my team was winning. Answering everything with “oh yeah well we won” that makes for a great discourse. My point was simply that Jeter has many benefits to the team to make up for his defensive liabilities. Incidentally, Jeter is the one of the worst players to make take this tact with, considering he has still won more times than anyone on the sox team. If winning is the be all and end all he has clearly been successful.
    Also, I hate to break it to you but it was the yankees pitching that let us down against the tribe not the left side of our infield.

    sam-YF January 2, 2008, 11:58 pm
  • Derek Jeter is a Hall-of-Famer.
    Does anyone disagree with this statement?
    Yeah, he’s a flawed defensive player and some in the mainstream (less and less these days) think he’s a spectacular fielder. And yet ironically, his offensive game is, in many ways, underrated, especially since he doesn’t put up big power numbers. He was robbed of the MVP last season because mainstream writers didn’t correctly value his offensive game last season. He was probably robbed of an MVP in 1999 (he or Pedro should have won then!). Overrated on defense. Well yes! But overall is he overrated? Hardly.
    I’ve suspected for the last couple of years that Theo and Company use some pretty secret and advanced defensive metrics and scouting reports, and that Lugo has consistently scored high on these reports. The Sox have lusted after Lugo since 2005, and while he has been a decent offensive player at times, I think the main reason was his defense.

    Nick-YF January 3, 2008, 12:45 am
  • Wow, Hudson. I wonder how you feel about every Boston player from 1919 to 2003? Ted Williams, what a bum. Clearly, even Luis Sojo is superior, having ‘brought home’ several more 20th century trophies than that so-called ‘Hall Of Famer’ ever did.
    [[[ sound of Hudson's argument pathetically deflating ]]]

    Andrew January 3, 2008, 1:36 am
  • And here I spent most of last season trying to get people to just watch Lugo on defense, and realize that he gets to balls that many other SS’s (including the past Sox SS’s that Paul named) simply don’t get to. He also gets to balls on his feet that others dive for, and thus have to rush or throw the ball off-balance.
    Sure, he makes his share of errors, but some of those he’s turning into outs that other SS’s allow either through lack of effort or lack of talent to get into LF.
    Nick – interesting theory, though I have to think some of it also had to do with his #’s against us (aka the Wes Welker Phenomenon, 123 OPS+) and his #’s at Fenway (116 OPS+)

    QuoSF January 3, 2008, 2:15 am
  • I would say the lower numbers with a runner on first for Lugo would have to do with positioning for double plays (playing too far up the middle as compared to other SS perhaps?), or maybe he cheats a little and breaks to the bag on a hit and run earlier than other shortstops. Anyone noticed any thing like that in Lugos play?

    Dan January 3, 2008, 6:00 am
  • Are we really comparing Julio Lugo to Derek Jeter? Honestly, we’re all better — and smarter — than that.
    Jeter is a first-ballot Hall of Famer whose offense at a usually weak offensive position more than makes up for his defensive flaws. Lugo is an offensively weak player (or he was last year, at any rate) whose poor bat seems to have been largely mitigated by his better-than-credited defense.
    Any Red Sox fan who says he’d rather have Lugo than Jeter on his team is kidding himself.
    Now that I’ve said all that, I’ll return to the point. I think it is easier to accept Lugo’s bad season (really, just a horrific first half) when you look at studies like this, and I think Nick is right that the Sox perhaps feel Lugo is some sort of secret defensive weapon and are just happy for everyone to keep underrating him like they have been…
    It’s interesting to note that the two So players most derided by fans for being “black holes” on offense both may have evened the score on defense. That’s a new way of thinking in the Boston organization from the old days, for sure.

    Paul SF January 3, 2008, 9:00 am
  • I think it’s fair to say that Hudson is an army of one at this site with that line of argument…
    As for the “robbed MVP”, Nick, perhaps the voters got it right: if Jeter’s defense is so hideous all that gaudy offensive stuff may just be balancing out the lack of value in the field. I don’t say this to start a war, but the common idea of “value” clearly underestimates the importance of defense, and therefore the MVP typically goes to someone with big power numbers. Maybe the voters actually get it w/r/t Jeter?!
    (Personally I don’t think so, those voters are knuckleheadish..)

    SF January 3, 2008, 9:17 am
  • “Is it truly possible that in the revolving door of shortstops the Sox have had since 2004 the defensive star may actually be the one currently on the roster?”
    No.

    Mike YF January 3, 2008, 9:35 am
  • “Maybe the voters actually get it w/r/t Jeter?!”
    The problem with this idea is, as far as I know, Jeter wasn’t defensively hideous last season. I recall that a few defensive systems actually rated him as average or slightly below average.

    Nick-YF January 3, 2008, 9:57 am
  • “defense is so hideous all that gaudy offensive stuff may just be balancing out the lack of value in the field.”
    David Ortiz, anyone? :)

    The Sheriff (Andrews) January 3, 2008, 10:19 am
  • SF your point about defense vs offense considerations for the MVP is a good one. However, for the 2006 MVP it doesnt really work. Morneau is a bottom of the pack defender at 1b as well. He “hurts” his team there as much as Jeter may at SS. I understand of course that SS is a more important defensive position but the difference between these two guys is negligible.
    As far as Jeter goes, I think its understood that he is a below average defender but I think we can only push him down so far. His range is what really kills him but he does have some value out there in the field. Regardless, as I posted earlier, I think YFs are very glad to have him out there just as SFs are with a guy like Manny.

    sam-YF January 3, 2008, 10:24 am
  • I can’t remember where I read it, but it seems that defensive metrics might be the current equivalent of what OBP was for Billy Beane back in the beginning of his “Money Ball” philosophy.
    That is, it’s considered by some sabermetric-savvy front offices as a player skillset that is undervalued by many teams.
    As I understand it, Beane’s emphasis on OBP was a way to take advantage of a “market inefficiency” by acquiring useful (and cheap) players from teams that didn’t realize the importance of on-base percentage. Now, however, most teams recognized the significance of OBP.
    Maybe “Theo and his minions” are trying to stay ahead of the curve with a new inefficiency.

    SoxFan January 3, 2008, 10:25 am
  • Nick, Jeter was second-worst in MLB in PMR, fourth-worst in RZR, and as I recall (don’t have the book with me), second-worst in Plus/Minus. He’s just not very good, and considering his age, I think it makes sense that he’s on the decline from the Gold Glove days when he was closer to average.

    Paul SF January 3, 2008, 10:27 am
  • Paul, are you talking about 2007 or 2006?

    Nick-YF January 3, 2008, 10:32 am
  • That is, it’s considered by some sabermetric-savvy front offices as a player skillset that is undervalued by many teams.
    As I understand it, Beane’s emphasis on OBP was a way to take advantage of a “market inefficiency” by acquiring useful (and cheap) players from teams that didn’t realize the importance of on-base percentage. Now, however, most teams recognized the significance of OBP.
    Maybe “Theo and his minions” are trying to stay ahead of the curve with a new inefficiency.

    Yeah, except that by all reports they offered Julio Lugo more money than he would have gotten from anyone else. Same with Drew. Where’s the inefficiency?!

    SF January 3, 2008, 10:34 am
  • Granted, Jeter has defensive shortcomings, but rating him one of the worst SS’s in MLB seems a bit absurd. Am I alone in thinking this? Something must be out of kilter with Tango’s calculations.

    The Sheriff (Andrews) January 3, 2008, 10:42 am
  • Keep in mind that according to Bill James, offense production dwarfs defense production. I’m not sure if it’s up to date, per se, but the token example is that between DJ, who might or might not be the worst SS defensively (BJ say it’s close), and Adam Everett, who is/was the best defensive SS in the league, DJ still outvalues Adam Everett by miles. Okay, it doesn’t take Bill James for us to know that, but Lugo is _probably_ not as good as Everett defensively, and Lugo really had a horrible year at the plate (especially the start)…

    Lar January 3, 2008, 10:46 am
  • Oh ya, the DJ being the worst defensively bit is a few years old. I remember something about him being better (well, around average) the last year or so. Not sure about that, but the bat is still there, so..

    Lar January 3, 2008, 10:47 am
  • Keep in mind that according to Bill James, offense production dwarfs defense production. I’m not sure if it’s up to date, per se, but the token example is that between DJ, who might or might not be the worst SS defensively (BJ say it’s close), and Adam Everett, who is/was the best defensive SS in the league, DJ still outvalues Adam Everett by miles. Okay, it doesn’t take Bill James for us to know that, but Lugo is _probably_ not as good as Everett defensively, and Lugo really had a horrible year at the plate (especially the start)…

    Lar January 3, 2008, 10:56 am
  • I don’t know how that double post happened, but my bad.. computer’s a little off the hook, hehe..

    Lar January 3, 2008, 10:57 am
  • “Yeah, except that by all reports they offered Julio Lugo more money than he would have gotten from anyone else. Same with Drew. Where’s the inefficiency?!”
    Theory is one thing, putting it into practice in real life, on the other hand, ain’t so easy.

    SoxFan January 3, 2008, 10:59 am
  • “I can’t remember where I read it, but it seems that defensive metrics might be the current equivalent of what OBP was for Billy Beane back in the beginning of his “Money Ball” philosophy.”
    I’m sure this occurred to several people around the same time, but the first time I saw it written was in an answer by Rob Neyer to a question about what would be the next frontier in Baseball, around the time Moneyball came out.
    I’m still a little skeptical about the overall benefit of compensating for the undervaluing of defense with the checkbook though, as SF points out. Defense is still tenuously understood, as the wildly variable conclusions that different methods find shows. There’s just so many moving parts, there’s a sort of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle going on; the more you measure it, the more different the results become. Plus, you’re competing with members of the Baseball Old Guard who already over-value defense, but in supposedly arcane ways. In the end, defense might be more than the previously assumed 10% of the game, but I don’t think it’s a full third of it either. So overpay for it at your own risk.
    Still, I’m in complete awe of the breadth and depth of research like this and the people who perform it. Utterly fascinating.

    FenSheaParkway January 3, 2008, 11:10 am
  • You ever heard of leading the MLB in Value Over Replacement among shortstops for multiple seasons including this one? Every here of leading the LEAGUE in VORP in 1999 and 2006? He did have a few big plays in the playoffs here and there, right? Oh, wait he has a monsterload of them too.

    Kaybli_yf January 3, 2008, 11:15 am
  • Paul, are you talking about 2007 or 2006?
    2007, Nick. And it’s not just Tango’s calcs. It’s everyone’s calcs: Pinto’s, Dewan’s, James’… All the advanced defensive metrics say Jeter is among the worst in the game over the last 15 years, and was again in 2007.
    Lar, you make a good point. For me, the key with Lugo is the good defense and the fact that his entire year was dragged down by his hideous May and June:
    April: .256/.346/.344
    July: .313/.377/.448
    August: .286/.309/.410
    September: .244/.306/.378
    TOTAL: .276/.331/.396
    May: .209/.241/.306
    June: .089/.170/.139
    TOTAL: .159/.207/.254
    Hopefully, next year he can be a little more consistent in the first half…

    Paul SF January 3, 2008, 11:23 am
  • “TOTAL: .276/.331/.396″
    Uh, that’s pretty hideous too.
    I’m not going to argue Jeter. Any other team would have been very happy to have his defense over the last 15 years since it comes with his offense. Because of that, he’s the most valuable SS in the game over those same 15 years.

    Mike YF January 3, 2008, 11:28 am
  • Im not too up on all of the metrics for defense but many of them seem to value range the highest. Jeter clearly has issues in terms of range on ground balls. But watching him over these years, he does bring other things to the table such as going back on pop ups, turning DPs, and (at least to my eyes) balls hit that he can actually get. He also has a very strong arm for SS which helps alot. Im not sure how many of these factors are put into the defensive calculations.

    sam-YF January 3, 2008, 11:34 am
  • Paul, my argument was about 2006 and the MVP vote. I recall that Jeter had a decent year (for him) with the glove during his MVP-like season.

    Nick-YF January 3, 2008, 11:34 am
  • The defense was not what hurt Jeter in 2006 considering the same voters gave him the gold glove that year. Also, as i said morneau isnt very good at 1b either.

    sam-YF January 3, 2008, 11:36 am
  • And for those who think Jeter is overrated, dude put up:
    .349/.438/.552, 24 HR, 104 RBI – 153 OPS+
    in 1999 and finished *6th* in the MVP. By that point, with two titles at the age of 25, people had already grown to underappreciate him.

    Mike YF January 3, 2008, 11:38 am
  • My bad, Nick. I misunderstood.
    .276/.331/.396 is middle of the pack for AL shortstops, just behind Orlando Cabrera. So, no. Not hideous. Especially when combined with top-shelf defense.

    Paul SF January 3, 2008, 11:39 am
  • indeed, Mike! Bill James wrote that Derek Jeter was the best player in 1999.

    Nick-YF January 3, 2008, 11:40 am
  • Even if you consider he’s played third for four years, wouldn’t the best SS of the last fifteen years still be A-Rod, and not Jeter?

    SF January 3, 2008, 11:42 am
  • Sam, you’re right about the MVP vote. The irony is that his offensive numbers probably hurt him and that his defense probably bolstered him in the minds of many voters. The great things he does on offense (his high OBP, his baserunning) tend to be underrated by the mainstream, while his jump throw in the hole is way overrated.

    Nick-YF January 3, 2008, 11:42 am
  • 1999 was an unbelievable year for individual performance. We talk about Pedro and Jeter. But don’t forget Manny’s 165 RBI and 173 OPS+ for Cleveland, and he didn’t even finish the highest in the MVP vote on his own team.
    Jeter might have had a case for finishing third in ’99, but Pedro and Manny were the top two that season, in my book.

    Paul SF January 3, 2008, 11:44 am
  • Jeter was first in VORP in 1999 with a 108.5. Nomah was second in the AL with an 88.9. Actually, Bernie rated higher than Manny (79.9 to 78.3). Man, Bernie was awesome that season.

    Nick-YF January 3, 2008, 11:48 am
  • Not sure there’s any sentiment here that Jeter is “overrated” as a player, so I think this is a red herring and I hope we don’t go into a downward spiral on this – Jeter is a Hall of Famer by most measurements, and he’s not done yet by any means. But there is a legitimate question as to how “valuable” a player is when one considers offense and defense in tandem. It could be that “value” is more complicated then citing a gaudy (or “hideous”) offensive stat line, and that’s mostly what Paul’s post is pointing out.

    SF January 3, 2008, 11:52 am
  • We can play this game all day long: Ramirez led the league in Win Shares in 1999, with 35. They were both very good. I think Ramirez was better. I think Pedro was better than both of them.

    Paul SF January 3, 2008, 11:56 am
  • You beat me to it. I was going to post about Manny’s win shares.
    I guess my point is that Jeter had a definitive case for finishing in first is all. Just an opinion.

    Nick-YF January 3, 2008, 12:01 pm
  • “Especially when combined with top-shelf defense.”
    That’s not true – he’s average at best. Or maybe it’s only true when you pick your stat of choice.
    Rate says he’s below average
    FRAA says he’s below average
    DER says he’s average
    OOZ says he’s above average
    Pinto says just a tick above average.
    A-Rod would have been the GOAT of SS’s. At the time, I thought Jeter should have gone to 2B and A-Rod would have stay at SS.

    Mike YF January 3, 2008, 12:07 pm
  • when you pick your stat of choice
    Mike, since you have obviously not read the post (which cited RZR, OOZ, PMR and Tango’s study for multiple years) and decided you’d much rather be confrontational than add any pertinent discussion, please refrain from gracing this thread with your presence.
    Thank you.

    Paul SF January 3, 2008, 12:35 pm
  • SF: His offense at that position so outweight the defensive liability that his value as an ss is still off the charts high in terms of vorp, so the voters did, in fact, screw up royally.
    What’s interesting to me here is the metric: he misses between 10-40 outs per season? Am I reading that right? the average there is 25–heck, round up to 30, and even still you’re at barely 1 out per week below average. That’s peanuts compared to the offensive contribution. Factor in the durability issue and…..

    YF January 3, 2008, 1:06 pm
  • I wasn’t entirely serious about the voters getting it right, my point was that they may have unintentionally validated the idea that defense is worth considering in an MVP vote.
    Let it be known that I am on the record as supporting consideration of defensive contributions in assessing a player in total, hence my agreement with those who think Big Papi should automatically be disadvantaged in an MVP vote due to the fact that he doesn’t play in the field.

    SF January 3, 2008, 1:28 pm
  • I read the post, but you seem to have forgotten what the actual stats said and what you wrote. They don’t say Lugo is “top-shelf” by any means.

    Mike YF January 3, 2008, 6:46 pm

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