Unconventional Success

The Moneyball revolution in sports performance analysis, in which the value of on base percentage was hammered into the consciousness of the reader over and over, has perhaps led to an oversimplified vision of what a successful ballplayer’s stat line should look like. Walks are great; it’s been said that walks, like defense, never slumps, and there’s a kernel of truth in that. A good degree of plate patience and discipline helps buffer the hitter from the inevitable streaks in batting average. However, just because a hitter doesn’t walk much doesn’t mean he cannot be successful.

Furthermore, said hitter doesn’t even need to hit for prodigious power to overcome from the lack of walks either. And he doesn’t have to play a premium position either. Ichiro Suzuki who ended up spending the majority of his time in right field this season, and incidentally had close to his worst offensive season of his Major League career and his worst UZR marks in right field ever, still put up 3.3 wins for the Mariners, a total worth just shy of $15 million in value, 26th amongst all outfielders in baseball.

The point of this is not just to spend a little time extolling the excellence of Ichiro, but also to point out this valuable lesson. Anytime that you try to evaluate based on sticking things into pre-determined buckets or roles, you are doing yourself a disservice and providing an opening to your competition to exploit your inefficiency. Ichiro isn’t your prototypical right fielder but he makes it work. Tim Lincecum is under six feet tall and some teams passed on him in the draft because of that.

Baseball is a really simple game and its core; hitters try to avoid outs, pitchers and defenders try to generate them. Always make sure that you are tethered to only that paramount principle and you’ll avoid letting your judgment being clouded by ancillary concerns.

Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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13 years ago

Ichiro also put up his best UZR (period, not per 150) mark in CF, where he played 43% of his innings. If Ichiro is an above average (even if only slightly) fielder in CF then his offense in 2008 makes him a good player, if Ichiro is a below average corner OF (again, even if only slightly), then, with his offense in 2008, Ryan Howard thinks he’s overrated.