Monday, July 13, 2009

The Second Base Experiment

I was browsing through my daily baseball websites when I saw an article on Fangraphs regarding the Kansas City Royals' trade for Yuniesky Betancourt. The main point of that article was to point out what a bad player Betancourt is (he "doesn't hit for power, walk, take coaching well, field, or keep himself in shape"). But what struck me was the first line: "The Royals desperately needed a shortstop. Their collective group was batting a cool .208/.234/.281 [now at .210/.242/.275] with awful defense..."

The thing about that is, that's actually almost equivalent to what Twins second basemen have done in 2009. As bad as those Royal shortstops have been, Twins second basemen have combined to hit .191/.271/.243, resulting in the worst OPS (.514) at any position for any team in the big leagues. Royals shortstops narrowly beat them out at .518, although the Twins second basemen are ahead of them in wOBA (.243 to .236). No other team's position has an OPS lower than .570 or a wOBA lower than .256.

So on the hitting side, I think it's clear that these two groups have been the worst in the league. For the Royals, the culprits have been: Willie Bloomquist (126 PA, .729 OPS, .330 wOBA), Mike Aviles (123, .473, .212), Tony Pena (53, .118, .118), Luis Hernandez (48, .355, .167), and Alberto Callaspo (5, .650, .320); for the Twins: Matt Tolbert (140, .504, .237), Alexi Casilla (121, .467, .221), Nick Punto (66, .686, .336), and Brendan Harris (47, .437, .187). Yes, as surprising as it may be, Harris' time at second was actually the most abysmal.

(As a side note, check out Tony Pena's offensive (in both senses) stats over the past two years and tell me he's not one of the worst hitters ever.)

The Royals SS have combined for 15 walks and 72 strikeouts, a ratio only Delmon Young wouldn't be embarrased by. Meanwhile, the Twins 2B have accumulated just 12 extra-base hits in 374 plate appearances. All of it adds up to some pretty awful performances.

How about that "awful defense" from the Royals shortstops? That should put the Twins over the top, right? Fangraphs doesn't have UZR totals for teams, so we'll have to consider individual performances, which of course causes problems with small samples. Bloomquist (-14.0 UZR/150 this season) is a bad defensive shortstop for his career, but that number is most likely a little exaggerated. Aviles (-8.0) has probably not been nearly that bad, as he rated at 31.6 UZR/150 over almost 750 innings last season. Hernandez (1.7) doesn't have many innings in his career, so I'll just assume that's fairly accurate. Pena's number (-15.4) is almost certainly way off, as before this year he'd logged just short of 2000 innings at shortstop and sported a 14.6 UZR/150.

The Twins defense at second, meanwhile, has been legitimately awful this year. Punto's (13.0) been the bright spot and his career numbers there are good, so it may be a good estimate. Harris (-20.5) and Casilla (-20.1) have been awful this year, and are bad second basemen for their careers, meaning those aren't necessarily too far off. Tolbert (-11.1) has limited innings for his career, so you have to take his value for what it is, and that's not good.

Between their horrible defense and humiliating offense, Twins second basemen have laid claim to being the worst position in the big leagues to this point. Swapping Tolbert for Casilla probably won't solve that problem, as Casilla's been part of it to this point, but I definitely would rather have him than Tolbert.

[Fangraphs also had a good read on Twins prospect Rene Tosoni]

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