Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cleveland Indians: Is Being Average An Improvement?

Recently, Walk Like a Sabermetrician took a look at 2008 hitting by position. They calculated runs created and runs created per game for each position, and used that to create a Runs Above Average metric that compares each player to the average production at their position.

My hypothesis has always been that you should want at least league-average production at every position - or at least a net of league average production.

So how did the Indians fare in 2008? Not too well. If you scroll down to the second to the last table in the Walk post, you see that the Indians were great at shortstop and center field, very good at catcher, and varying degrees of bad everywhere else. That's only three of nine positions above average, and a net of -11 runs above average.

The next step is to predict how the Indians will fare in 2009, to see what, if any, changes need to be made. I couldn't figure out how RAA was calculated. However, I did take the 2009 Marcels and calculated runs created and RC/27 for each of the Cleveland Indians key figures. Having that, I could compare that to the positional averages from the Walk article.

Now, I will admit there are two problems with my methodologies:
1) I'm using the generic RC/27, while "Walk" is using RC/G. RC/G uses the average number of outs per game (since the home team doesn't bat in the ninth when they're leading), which from what I could tell is normally around 25.5.
2) I'm comparing 2009 projections (from an admittedly simplistic projection model) to 2008 numbers, when ideally I should be comparing to several years worth of data.

That being said, here are Cleveland's RC/27 numbers for 2009, according to Marcel:

Unfortunately, the Marcels don't include lefty/righty splits, but that would be a nice thing to look at in the future. Keeping that in mind, the best lineup by these numbers would have Kelly Shoppach catching; Victor Martinez at first; Asdrubal Cabrera, Jamey Carroll, and Jhonny Peralta in the infield (I'll leave the position argument for another article); Ben Francisco, Grady Sizemore, and Shin-Soo Choo in the outfield; and Travis Hafner at DH.

The 2009 projections give Cleveland four players above the league average for their position - Shoppach at catcher, Peralta at short, Sizemore in center, Choo in right, and Hafner at DH - with Cabrera around the league average at second and Martinez not too far behind the league average at first. (Or, if you prefer, you can call Peralta a league-average third baseman and Cabrera an above average shortstop.) You can increase that number to five if you count that Francisco's numbers are above-average for a center fielder and Sizemore's are still above average for a center fielder.

Fans of the Indians should see several nice things in these numbers: Martinez' ability to handle first without much of an offensive number, Cabrera's bat catching up to his glove, Peralta able to hit enough to be at least an average first baseman, and Hafner bouncing back to be productive again. Of course, these are just projections, but the offseason is always a time for optimism.

Now, back to the numbers. To recap, the Indians have five above-average positions (comparing Francisco to a center fielder), one average, one slightly below average, and one well below average. Working solely off these numbers, and thinking only about 2009, the wise choice would be to trade Kelly Shoppach for a league-average infielder. In that situation, Martinez would move back to catcher and Garko would enter the lineup at first base.

Thanks to Peralta and Cabrera's versatility, that infielder can be from any position, although a 5.1 RC/G third baseman would obviously be more productive than a 4.8 RC/G second baseman or 4.4 RC/G shortstop. The increased production from Carroll to the new infielder would more than compensate for the dropoff from Shoppach's 5.36 RC/27 to Garko's 5.21.

Of course, I am in no way suggesting a trade based solely on these findings. But what I am suggesting is that, by virtue of having more players at or above their position's averages in 2009, the Indians can look forward to a better season offensively.