The Value of Vlad in the Field

The Rangers, like most American League teams before them, will lose an advantage as they travel to a National League park. For Games 1 and 2, and perhaps Games 6 and 7, they will have to decide whether offense or defense is more important. In those two to four games the Rangers will lose either their DH, Vladimir Guerrero, or a cog in their outfield platoon, David Murphy and Jeff Francoeur. Unsurprisingly, Ron Washington is opting to stick with his cleanup hitter:

“You can bet we will figure out a way to get Vlad in the starting lineup,” Washington said Sunday during a media availability. “We are not going to take his bat out of the lineup.”

Looking just at Vlad this might seem like a sound decision. He finished second on the Rangers with a .360 wOBA and has hit fourth for them all season. Why take that kind of hitter out of your lineup? Yet, as with most baseball questions, the answer isn’t as straight forward as we might think. There is certainly a downside to playing Guerrero in the field.

The first obvious downside is self-explanatory: they have to play Guerrero in the field. He played just 125.2 innings in the field this season and has just 141.2 innings during the last two seasons. There is good reason for that. Even when Vlad was younger he wasn’t the fleetest of foot in the outfield. In fact, from 2002 through 2008 his UZR was -20.5 in right field. Those might be a bit low, because his arm score was mostly negative, too. Yet even DRS doesn’t think too highly of him, rating him -1 in those seven seasons, mostly because of his good arm. Yet that might not be the case any longer.

We know Vlad as the guy who throws like this, but is that really the case any more? We have very limited information on Guerrero’s arm right now, but during his 125.2 innings in the field this year both +/- (-1) and UZR (-0.6) showed less than favorable results. They might not provide a totally accurate description of Guerrero’s current throwing skills, but with those numbers, combined with what we can see and what we know about aging arms, I think we can safely assume that Vlad won’t be throwing out runners from the warning track.

In order to complete the analysis we have to look at the player, or players, who would replace Vlad should he find himself in a pinch hitting role. Assuming Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain go in Games 1 and 2, that player would be David Murphy. He’s a generally good outfielder, as his 2.4 career UZR/150 in left field indicates. He did have a down year per UZR, -2.3, though he did play only 533 innings out there during the season. For the most part he’s going to cover more ground than Guerrero. Yet what’s underrated about Murphy is his contribution at the plate this season.

We saw already that Vlad ranked third on the Rangers with a .360 wOBA. In fourth, though, was Murphy, just .002 behind at .358. Most of that came against right-handed pitching. Throughout his career, even when he didn’t hit as well overall as he did in 2010, he still hit righties very well, a career .357 wOBA. Guerrero, unsurprisingly, hit lefties far better than righties this season. He has also had an incredibly slow start to the playoffs, going just 12 for 45 with three extra base hits, all doubles. He might fit better as a bench bat in the first two games.

Having Vlad on the bench also means he can come in and pinch hit should Bruce Bochy bring Javier Lopez into a game. Whether that’s Murphy or Mitch Moreland, it will give the Rangers a late-game advantage. The league-average LI for pinch-hitting situations is 1.31, so that would give even more importance to Guerrero’s at-bats. So while they’d lose him for the game, they’d not only be replacing him with someone who can perhaps hit and field better in those circumstances, but they’d also have him available in select late-game situations that can prove critical to the game’s outcome.

Given what we know, in a general sense, about the current level of performance from both Guerrero and Murphy, it does make sense to use Murphy against the two righties in San Francisco. When the series then moves back to Arlington the Rangers can not only have Guerrero DH, but have him DH against a pair of left-handed pitchers. It’s tough to fault Washington for sticking with Guerrero, but it might not be the best move in this specific situation. Murphy appears to match up better.

We hoped you liked reading The Value of Vlad in the Field by Joe Pawlikowski!

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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Interesting choice by the Rangers, especially if Vlad plays his usual RF position. RF at AT&T is NOT a spot where you want the weak link in your defense. It has ot be one of the hardest positions in the majors to field in. Triples Alley could be Inside-the-Park Alley if they aren’t careful. Also, with all those strange caroms off that wall, creaky knees that make it hard to change direction quickly could be a huge liability. Big gamble for Texas.