Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Who is the best bargain at shortstop?

With all the Jeter bashing, I thought it was time to write at least one post that feigned objectivity. And in fact, I'll try not to mention Jeter unless I absolutely have to -- and I'll all together avoid mentioning him in a negative light (but if you're dying to hear such thoughts, you can go here and here).

Anyway, after hearing the latest round of rumors concerning Nomar being shipped to parts unknown (actually the Cubs, but "parts unknown" sounds a bit more mysterious) I got to thinking about who were the highest paid shortstops and how well their performance correlated to their salaries.

Well, I wasn't really surprised to find out that Jeter is currently the highest paid shortstop ($18.6 mil in '04) with Garciaparra second ($11.5 mil in '04). And while that's not news, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at which shortstops offer the best bang for the buck -- that is, who is most affordable given their output.

Here's what I did. Using data from ESPN.com, I created a makeshift measure of defensive prowess by multiplying range factor (RF) by zone rating (ZR). To estimate offensive effectiveness I combined two measures. The first measure adds runs, hits and walks minus strikeouts; the second measure is OPS (OBP + SLGP). I then multiplied the two measures for an overall measure of offensive prowess.

I then added the offensive and defensive measures and ranked them. I then ranked player salaries and ranked them as well. Finally, I combined the offensive/defensive rankings and the salary rankings; this allowed me to see who not only was having a good season (offensively and defensively), but it also allows me to take salaries into consideration (given that salaries are so much larger than the measures I created, I took the logs of salary and went through the same process. I found little difference in the overall findings).

The findings are interesting (at least I thought they were). The best bargain at shortstop based on first half statistics is the Rangers' Michael Young (he has the 23rd highest salary at his position), followed by Jack Wilson and Carlos Guillen. Derek Jeter ranked 23rd followed by Kaz Matsui and in last place...Montreal's Orlando Cabrera.

Here's a look at the top 10 shortstops and their statistics during the first half (ODS rank is the offensive/defensive ranking plus the salary ranking I described above and Salaries are in millions):

Player R H BB OPS Salary ODS rank
Michael Young 66 129 29 0.878 0.450 1
Carlos Guillen 66 110 37 0.950 2.500 2
Jack Wilson 47 119 11 0.845 1.850 2
Adam Everett 49 79 12 0.642 0.370 4
Bobby Crosby 41 80 25 0.774 0.300 5
Julio Lugo 46 92 29 0.772 1.750 5
Royce Clayton 65 98 29 0.811 0.650 7
Miguel Tejada 47 107 28 0.852 4.789 8
Cesar Izturis 39 103 24 0.698 0.359 9
Rafael Furcal 57 73 31 0.779 3.700 10
And here's a look and bottom 10 shortstops:

Player R H BB OPS Salary ODS rank
Alex Cintron 31 78 19 0.644 0.335 21
Jimmy Rollins 56 96 31 0.700 2.425 22
Angel Berroa 38 70 11 0.657 0.373 23
Omar Vizquel 51 96 34 0.754 6.250 24
Cristian Guzman 50 99 15 0.696 3.725 25
Edgar Renteria 53 95 25 0.742 7.250 26
Derek Jeter 55 100 20 0.786 18.600 27
Alex Gonzalez 31 75 10 0.715 2.800 28
Kaz Matsui 56 100 36 0.757 5.067 29
Orlando Cabrera 36 79 25 0.599 6.000 30
(Don't fret Red Sox haters, Nomar would have easily been at the bottom of the list but because he missed more than 50 games I didn't include him) Being at the bottom of the list is not necessarily an indictment against a particular shortstop's performance -- it also has something to do with (1) how big their salary is, and (2) how well other shortstops in the league are performing.

That said, it's pretty impressive that Miguel Tejada, who has the 9th highest SS salary, ranks 8th in the ODS statistic. Taken a step further, Tejada was first in his offensive/defensive production and the reason he was only ranked 8th overall was because of his large salary.

Another bright spot, in addition to Michael Young, is Jack Wilson. During his first season and a half in the majors he was never known to have much pop, but he already has eight jacks at the break. He ranked fourth overall in the offensive/defensive measure and 11th in overall salary. His ODS rank was second. I don't think many people would dispute that Wilson has been a surprise this season (although he has always been a solid fielder), but I doubt anyone would've considered him one of the best shortstops for the money going into 2004.

So I guess an important question to ask if you're a GM is this: "What tradeoff am I willing to make for production and salary?" That is, there's obviously a correlation between salary and production. The question then becomes how much production is a GM willing to pay? This question becomes easier if you're Brian Cashman or Theo Epstein, but requires a little more thought if you're Dave Littlefield or whoever the GM for the Royals is.

And even though the Yankees and Red Sox can afford to pay their shortstops $18.6 million and $11.5 million, respectively, the real question is does it make sense? Given that both of these teams are known to make trades on the fly -- fixing trouble spots as they arise during the season -- wouldn't they be better served by having more money on hand to address needs as they come up (or to at least act like you're trying to avoid the salary cap fines)?

Maybe. It will be interesting to see what the Red Sox offer Nomar when his contract expires at the end of the season (if he's still with the team), and given that it's a buyer's market (Tejada is only making $4.8 million this season), Nomar's best chance at getting paid may have been the contract he turned down last season.