As I am sure all of you know; a position player’s overall value is not simply tied to offense (with the exception of the David Ortiz’s and Miguel Cabrera‘s of the world). In the world of the Bill James, defense and speed play an imperative role in the calculation of the overall worth of a player.
Through my recent association with Fire Brand and its new group of writers, I have found myself not only reading very well informed articles, but also learning a good deal about advanced baseball statistics, or, sabermetrics. New age statistics like UZR, BABIP, wOBA, Spd, and UBR try to generate the value of a player on offense, defense, and the bases. Subsequently WAR was created as essentially the aggregate of all of these aforementioned stats.
A player’s value is far too often measured solely upon if they can produce gaudy offensive numbers or not. Obviously Shane Victorino will not produce eye opening offensive numbers, but he does not have to. He is, at the very least, a solid upgrade over Cody Ross. Below are Victorino’s WAR, UBR (Base Running Runs), UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating/150 Games), and Spd (rating on speed and baserunning ability) since 2008:
Although Victorino does have plenty of offensive value (particularly against LHP), much of his extracurricular value lies in his above average defense and impressive work on the basepaths. Throughout Victorino’s career he has consistently been an above average center fielder. When observing his UZR/150 – essentially a statistic to measure defensive performance – you see that Victorino has been, according to the Fan Graph table to the left, an average to above average center fielder for most of his career. Aside from playing 411 innings in LF for the Dodgers last year, Victorino has really not played any other position.
To put this into perspective, Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2011 season produced a Gold Glove caliber 15.7; hands down, Ellsbury is the better CF. Thus, while a move to RF may be beneficial for Victorino, can we expect his UZR/150 to increase?
While it is dangerous to use a small sample size of UZR as evidence for progression or regression, Victorino performed very well as the leftfielder for the Dodgers: 19.3 UZR/150 in 411 innings. Since his 2012 UZR/150 is fairly skewed and will more likely than not decrease, let’s instead compare Victorino with Cody Ross. Ross was an admirable Red Sox that would have fit right in with the 2004 World Champion crew. He is also the one many Sox fans’ were proponents of resigning to play right field everyday.
To the chagrin of many, Boston inked Victorino, and Ross signed a 3 year $26 million deal with the Diamondbacks. Is Ross worth that much money? I have my reservations. He certainly is not a better all-around player than Victorino. However, Ross, surprisingly, is on a level playing field with Victorino in terms of UZR/150. Holding firm to the belief that UZR is accurate, both Ross and Victorino have been consistently inconsistent: enjoying their peaks and wallowing in their pitfalls. Consequently, I am going to give the slight advantage to Victorino based on his recent three-year stretch of above average play.
When comparing Ross’s and Victorino’s UBR, Spd, and WAR there is, well, no comparison. Victorino wins. Victorino’s UBR has never been below 1.3 while Ross’s has never been above 1.8. Meanwhile according to the Fan Graph Spd table to above, Victorino has never been below 7.0 and usually has been better than excellent. Per 162 games, Victorino averages 30 SB a year versus Ross’s 2. Perhaps this is a radical suggestion, but combine Victorino with Ellsbury’s 52 steals per 162 and the Red Sox all of a sudden have what everyone thought they had with Ellsbury and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (Carl Crawford). No, Victorino is not as physically gifted as Crawford, but we know Victorino is used to playing on a big stage with a passionate fan base. Crawford, as we all found out, was not (WAR: 0.0 and 0.4 in two years).
“Speed kills” as the saying goes and it impacts the game in a variety of different ways. The ability to steal bases is an undervalued commodity in baseball. A walk or an error can essentially turn into a double if you have a good base stealer. Speed puts pressure on a pitcher to be quick to the plate with a slide step to prevent a steal, which inevitably results in a decrease in velocity and accuracy. It also puts pressure on a defense to be extremely fundamentally sound; a slight bobble, misstep, or hurried throw by a position player can result in an error, extra base, or worse. Having Ellsbury and Victorino atop the lineup for the Red Sox will put enormous pressure on opposing defenses to be clean.
Sure, the Ross/Victorino WAR comparison has been close every year, but Victorino has consistently been the winner; even with his dismal 2012 campaign! While hitting .255 Victorino managed 3.3 WAR while Ross’s 2.4 WAR was one of his better seasons. This is because of Victorino’s speed and defense.
However, all of this aside, one attribute sabermetrics can’t pin a number on is the intangible/”it” factor: toughness, versatility, excitement, and heart. Dustin Pedroia and (I think) Will Middlebrooks have it; Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Gabe Kapler, Jason Varitek, and Curt Schilling had it; and Victorino has it: the ability to play hard with mental toughness every single day. These are qualities which will eventually rub off on teammates, like they did in 2004. The 2012 employees who did not have “it” are out the door, kicked to the curb to play in places that do not have a die hard, passionate fan base. Good riddance.
I will take my Shane Victorino . I will root for a guy who puts his heart and soul into making the team better. Throughout my baseball career my grandfather always said, “The great thing about baseball is that if you aren’t hitting well, you have the opportunity to contribute in the field, and vice versa.” Victorino will have nights where he goes 0-5, but you better believe he will be doing everything he can to make up for it on defense and on the basepaths. That is more than we can say for the likes of Crawford, Beckett, and Gonzalez.
The signing of Victorino was a step in the right direction for the Red Sox who could use an injection of toughness, heart, and excitement. Here is the hoping it will be productive and fun to watch.