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6/12/09

Please make your comments to my section 220 guest post here

Howard Sinker of the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked me to be a guest writer in his "A Fan's View from Section 220" blog at the strib. My post appeared there today. Since Howard has disabled comments for that post on his blog, feel free to use this space for commenting to my post there so dialogue can be established.

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21 comments:

brett said...

Nice job, Thrylos.

I'm an admitted Punto fan (even now!) but I'm with you about Harris. He should be our starting shortstop. We can cycle Punto in with Tolbert in at 2nd and see who performs more. He simply has to hit. If he doesn't, he's on the bench, no matter what we paid.

thrylos98 said...

Thanks!

I think that Gardenhire should play the hot hand and Harris has been that now. Punto can be fine as the starting 2B until someone (Tolbert, Casilla, Tolleson? a trade?) produces better. At this point Punto is producing better than them.

John said...

As I'm sure you know, defensive metrics such as UZR require fairly large sample sizes to really draw conclusions. But even so, your post appears to contain several factual errors or at least misleading interpretations.

First of all, whether Harris is comfortable at 2nd base, according to UZR it is actually his best defensive position. He does best both in terms of range and turning double plays. He does commit more errors, perhaps indicative of less overall experience there (and hence lack of "comfort").

I am curious where it has been shown "more than once" that players "produce better at the plate" when they are "comfortable on the field." I would appreciate being directed to a statistical analysis of this phenomenon.

So far as Harris at shortstop, the evidence is overwhelming that he lacks range and is average at best turning double plays. He does commit few errors at the position. In any case, the numbers for this season do nothing to change his defensive outlook. In a small sample, he still has been below average in range: roughly -5 runs over a 150 game season.

Granted, this would be a major improvement over his previous numbers at SS, but alas, sample size almost certainly is a factor, as Harris has only 23 games there this season. Harris' range numbers are likely to decline further, though perhaps not quite to the depths of '08. He is absolutely not a "slightly above average" shortstop.

The post also cherry picks various offensive numbers, but the bottom line there is that Harris is a roughly .750 OPS hitter, which is pretty decent for a middle infielder. Playing SS full time isn't going to suddenly boost him into .800+ territory, though.

Having said all that, Harris is indeed a no-brainer to start at shortstop. This has more to do with the alternatives than Harris, since Punto is one of the worst hitters in baseball and gets hurt all the time on top of it.

The Baseball Bat said...

Another instance of players being more comfortable at a natural position is Jose Reyes. I believe I heard that he wasn't comfortable at 2nd at all in 2004, and he slumped terribly because of it. The Mets eventually moved him over to his natural SS, and well you know...

thrylos98 said...

John,

So far, Harris has been a slightly better than average SS (UZR = 0.3). In the past he hasn't. One of the thing that one should take into consideration is that some players might improve with time in certain positions (see: Koskie, Cory). So I take the past with a grain of Salt. This season Harris has 193 innings at SS and it the only position he ever posted a positive UZR (other than 3B this season). Time will tell but...


My premise is that an above average hitter and an average fielder will be fine for SS for the Twins. Harris' .848 OPS gives him a 139 OPS+ as compared to other SS. As a matter of fact that would put him 4th in the majors below Ramirez (.905), Tejada (.886) and Scutaro (.851) as far as full time SS go.



I am curious where it has been shown "more than once" that players "produce better at the plate" when they are "comfortable on the field." I would appreciate being directed to a statistical analysis of this phenomenon.

that would be an interesting thing to to analyze statistically, but the wording was It has been shown more than once that some players produce better at the plate. The example given was Cuddyer. As I said, I'd love to look at it more. Sounds like a good off-season project :)

Anonymous said...

It may very well be that Harris' offense benefits from being comfortable at SS, but I'm not convinced based on this post. I am convinced that he's currently the right choice at short though.

John said...

One of the thing that one should take into consideration is that some players might improve with time in certain positions (see: Koskie, Cory). So I take the past with a grain of Salt.

Nothing wrong with being an optimist, there's just no actual reason to think Harris suddenly experienced a huge improvement in his fielding. For a fielder, 193 innings is a small sample.

My premise is that an above average hitter and an average fielder will be fine for SS for the Twins. Harris' .848 OPS gives him a 139 OPS+ as compared to other SS. As a matter of fact that would put him 4th in the majors below Ramirez (.905), Tejada (.886) and Scutaro (.851) as far as full time SS go.

You don't seriously think Harris will have an OPS of .850 from here on out, do you?

that would be an interesting thing to to analyze statistically, but the wording was It has been shown more than once that some players produce better at the plate. The example given was Cuddyer.

Or Cuddyer just hit better because he had more experience at the plate. It's a nice theory but there's just no evidence for it... nothing more than idle speculation.

Harris is a decent option at SS but he is most definitely not one of the best in the league, nor will he ever be.

thrylos98 said...

You don't seriously think Harris will have an OPS of .850 from here on out, do you?

Other than Ramirez, I don't think that the other 2 will as well. Harris' career OPS in SS is .764 in 676 PA (which is significant). Given the facts that:
a. a lot of those PA were when he was younger with the Cubs, Expos/Nats and Reds
b. his OPS when he was mostly the Rays' full time SS was .811 at SS (370 PAs at SS, close to significant),
c. is now entering his prime

I suspect that his OPS as a SS could well be in the .800s this season

It's a nice theory but there's just no evidence for it

I understand. The only "evidence" is what Cuddyer and Gardehire said about it. As I said before, I will try to look at it formally some time in the future. I plan to look at all players from 2000 on to see whether there might be statistic evidence to support the hypothesis that some players hit better when they play a particular position. I do have to have to consider maturation (or decline) as hitters, but I can normalize for that...

Anonymous said...

Thrylos -

Great comment overall...I think to get any of the aforementioned shortstops, like Guzman or Tejada, will take something like Wilson Ramos and Mulvey, which i think is too much. Solving the problem in house is far preferable, but I think Bill Smith has shown an uncanny inability to want to solve obvious gaping holes on the major league roster (the BULLPEN, livan hernandez, giving lamb/everett so many at bats, etc.). The fact that ayala/crain are still pitching significant innings is pathetic; we have a wealth of talented young arms that should be called up - people tend to forget that Santana was a dominant reliever on the big league team before he became a starter halfway through his 2nd season. Harris will definitely not keep up his #s as they stand; however, he is capable of occasional power and a solid OBP, two things Punto can't do on his best days. The defense will take a slight step back, but perhaps the "demotion" will get Punto in line - he always seems to be a much better player when he's not handed the pressures of a starting job (witness his 3B 2007 debacle).

Justin said...

Or Cuddyer just hit better because he had more experience at the plate. It's a nice theory but there's just no evidence for it... nothing more than idle speculation.

So it's possible for a player to make a large leap as a hitter, but...

Nothing wrong with being an optimist, there's just no actual reason to think Harris suddenly experienced a huge improvement in his fielding.

...not as a fielder?

Jeff in So Cal said...

Thrylos
Great analysis on Harris and I tend to agree with you. It appears they do not want him playing 2nd base at all. We need to upgrade there in a huge way and Sanchez is that player as he fits everything that we need right now.

thrylos98 said...

Jeff,

I had been somewhat skeptical about Sanchez, until I watched last night's game against Detroit. Now I am officially on the Sanchez bandwagon. The guy can hit and he is riding a hot streak right now. Pittsburg has a couple of decent relievers as well; I wonder whether a package deal might be in order here.

Anonymous said...

So it's possible for a player to make a large leap as a hitter, but...



...not as a fielder?


Improvements as a fielder tend to come to those players who have the physical skills, but lack experience. For example, Koskie had not played a lot of baseball as a kid, but was always a pretty gifted athelete, who had some range, hand-eye coordination, and guickness. He became a good fielder by practicing fielding ground balls and gaining experience at what is likely to occur when playing third base.

Harris' problems are mostly related to range, and that cannot be learned.

ALso, genuine improvement as a fielder does not occur 'overnight.' It takes time...seasons even.

But...Harris should be playing SS everyday right now for the Twins, that much I agree on.

kab21 said...

All that I'm going to agree with in your guest article is that Harris should be playing somewhere (either 2B or SS).

You have made a fairly significant leap in saying that Harris is more comfortable hitting at SS because he has done poorly in 40+ PA's at 2B this season. This is an absurd misuse of stats.

There is also not nearly enough defensive data for 2009 to make any accurate assessment of Harris' defense at any position. The more accurate assessment would be made using his recent stats from past seasons which form a larger sample size and say that he is not a great defender at SS.

Simply put when Punto is out there he should be at SS because he is a much better fielder than Harris and SS will typically get more fielding chances.

But Harris shouldn't be taken out of the starting lineup.

thrylos98 said...

You have made a fairly significant leap in saying that Harris is more comfortable hitting at SS because he has done poorly in 40+ PA's at 2B this season

That is not what I am saying :)

What I am saying is that Harris has historically been hitting better while playing at SS. His 2007 numbers at SS with Tampa (.811 OPS 370 PA) support this year's numbers while at SS (.812 OPS current while at SS 106 PA)

Let's talk after the season about his fielding at SS, if that makes it more significant. On the other hand, my argument there is that he is an average defender with an above average bat...

toby said...

I fall somewhere between those crying "small sample size" re: the OPS at SS and the defensive improvement this year and Thrylos (closer to Thrylos on the OPS at SS, which seems intuitively plausible), but to me the most salient datum is simply that Harris is coming into his age prime and thus can be expected to put up his best offensive numbers yet starting right now. That very well could be an .800+ OPS. Given that he has yet to start hemoorrhaging runs at SS, he absolutely needs to be out there in lieu of Punto. Now if someone can just make the earth-shattering decision to give Tolleson a crack at 2nd I'll be happy.

Anonymous said...

[This is romer] Very adroit of you, thry, to focus on Harris being the reason that Harris should replace Punto. But ironically, Punto himself perhaps just put the icing on the cake with his good performance while holding down 2B this weekend.*

Note: Harris's comparable lack of range may hurt the Twins here and there this year (perhaps all too often); but next year on the grass, not so much.

*Would you now be willing to do a similar analysis of Punto playing 2B and 3B v. SS and his relevant offensive output pertaining to these infield positions? Which means, would you be ready for all the slum-bucket responses you'll get!?

thrylos98 said...

John,

about that earlier discussion we had whether playing a particular position on the field can make someone hit better, here is an article from PPress where it mentions this: "Vavra contends that players' defensive comfort reflects in their offense".

Who am I to argue with Vavra ;)

thrylos98 said...

romer,

so you want me to do an analysis to support why the most overpaid utility player in the big should start every day? :)

Here are Punto's career splits by position:

2B: .253/.330/.358 (.689 OPS; 596 PA)
3B: .259/.327/.339 (.666 OPS; 844 PA)
SS: .230/.298/.285 (.583 OPS; 737 PA)

If anything, when he plays SS he is the worse with the bat. That .689 OPS in 2B is still questionable for an everyday player at his age 31 season, even in a middle infield position.

If you compare Harris with Punto at SS, yes Punto has more range but Harris is a more accurate fielder and he has a much stronger arm.

romer said...

Of course Punto is no permanent answer at any of the three positions (and X your fingers, Harris could be at SS). But I was thinking he exudes too much concentration while holding down SS. You know, kind of the self-imposed captain of the IF, and it's more physically demanding.

And he was great in '96 in his months at 3B. Sure enough, the stats you provide (and thanks) at least initially back up my thinking by showing these tendencies.

He could easily be the answer at 2B the rest of this season. Perhaps the great Punto v. Harris debate is over.

thrylos98 said...

I hope so, romer. And I think that Punto played hurt earlier. He had a decent series with the Cubs... let's see if it continues.