Here’s an idea I’m instantly regretting: instead of empty open thread posts for playoff games, as we’ve done around here in years past, each day I’m going to attempt to have a hopefully-quick look around at some splits and stats and whatever else stands out on a Jays player’s 2013 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise.

1:00 PM ET – Oakland vs. Detroit – Jarrod Parker (1.9 rWAR) vs. Anibal Sanchez (6.3 rWAR)
3:00 PM ET – St. Louis vs. Pittsburgh – Michael Wacha (1.7 rWAR) vs. Charlie Morton (0.5 rWAR)
6:00 PM ET – Boston vs. Tampa Bay – Clay Buchholz (4.3 rWAR) vs. Alex Cobb (4.0 rWAR)
9:30 PM ET – Atlanta vs. Los Angeles – Freddy Garcia (0.9 rWAR) vs. Ricky Nolasco (0.4 rWAR)
Get news updates on the game as they happen, and whatever else fun comes along the way, by downloading theScore app for free on your moblie device!

It’s funny how Jays fans can see so clearly how the undervaluing of defence played such a role in the run-prevention issues that blasted the 2013 season apart, yet when you ask them to name the best Jays player, most of them will completely miss the mark. Bluebird Banter polled readers last week, and at the time of this writing, Edwin Encarnacion had a massive lead, with 67% of the vote.

The correct answer, of course, is more likely Colby Rasmus. It certainly is if you believe the defensive components of both Baseball Reference’s and FanGraphs’ WAR, where Colby’s high quality defence at a premium position makes up the not insignificant gap in the offensive production between him and Edwin (23 points of wOBA), with him topping Encarnacion by more than a half a win according to both metrics. Baseball Prospectus’s WARP, on the other hand, gives Edwin a slight edge (4.1 to 3.9), but at the very least, even if you don’t trust the precision of the defensive numbers, it’s pretty unlikely they’re so skewed as to not think it’s damn close between the two.

And yet here we are, with Edwin crushing the vote– at least the one in that particular corner of the internet– and Colby coming in with just 22%.

It’s… impressive, actually. Because while Edwin provided no defensive value, or even negative defensive value, he was still so good because he was magnificent with the bat.

Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout he’s not, but he doesn’t have to be otherworldly to be great. By league- and park-adjusted wRC+ he was slightly ahead of Joe Mauer, Troy Tulowitzki, and Robinson Cano. Perhaps best of all about that, over the next three years Tulo will be paid $56-million, Mauer will earn $69-million, and Cano will surely be paid more than, and probably by a healthy margin– maybe even as much as $90-million, if he and his agent, Jay-Z, get their way. Encarnacion, if the Jays pick up his 2016 option, will make just $29-million over that span.

Yeah, there’s that whole ignoring defence thing again, but so what? Edwin’s awesome.

Last month I wrote about Adam Lind, and I tried to make the case that the Jays need to pick up his $7-million option by comparing Lind’s stellar line against right-handers with Edwin’s. Against right-handers!

That’s actually one of the more interesting things about Encarnacion’s season: for the first time since he was a 23-year-old back in 2006, he had a reverse split. And the sample against right-handers was much larger than against lefties– 419 plate appearances versus 111.

From this newfound success in the split, it actually doesn’t even take a lot of wishcasting to think that he might even have more ceiling to attain as a hitter. No, really! If he can maintain the production he had against right-handers this season, while also getting back to last year’s 182 wRC+ against lefties (this year it was just 134), look the fuck out!

I’m not saying it’s going to happen– frankly, it’s probably more likely he regresses from this peak against right-handers– but after the two years of Encarnacion we’ve just seen, considering what depths we all saw him come from, it would be impossible to rule it out.

But why be greedy? Encarnacion made 2012 look like no fluke, and certainly that’s the most buoying thing about his season. After posting walk rates around 8% in his first two full seasons as a Blue Jay, Edwin walked 13.0% of the time in 2012, and was slightly better than that this year. More remarkably, he cut his strikeout rate down by 4.5%, striking out in a career low 10% of his plate appearances this year– a figure that was driven by his split against left-handers, in which over those 111 PA he struck out just 4.7% of the time.

Strikeout rate is said– by Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus– to normalize after 60 plate appearances, so that number should be believable, but it certainly stands in contrast to last season’s rate. In 2012 he struck out 18.5% of the time against lefties and, given that he was much better in the split in last year than in this (.440 wOBA versus .372 wOBA, and a .368 ISO versus .216), uh… maybe he should consider going back to selling out for power against them.

But again, with the numbers he put up, who can really complain?

Sure, there’s the giant defensive elephant in the room, but we’re still talking over four wins of value for each of the last two seasons.

Still, none of the advanced defensive metrics like him very much. Of the 31 first baseman with 600 innings played this year, he ranks fourth worst by UZR/150, and by DRS he’s tied for fourth-worst. DRS, of course, is a counting stat, so that’s a bit skewed; only one of three behind him, Adam Dunn, played fewer innings at the position, and the next closest guy played 100 more. Hey, but while Edwin may come up a little short compared to the defensive standard set by a guy like Prince Fielder, you’ll be pleased to note that he hit a decent amount better than the Tigers’ $214-million man, too (145 wRC+ compared to 125 for Fielder).

Yeah, I’ll take it. And I get why fans saw him as so valuable, too. I mean, are we sure we think enough of first base defence to hold what the numbers are saying against Edwin? Easy to say no when it denigrates your club’s best hitter, but seriously… he’s fine! And can bloody hit! Uh… right??

Comments (63)

  1. Interesting to see he sacrificed power for contact rate, and even more interesting to see he has more value doing the opposite.

    In terms of his defence at first base, as long as he catches the ball when it’s thrown to him, does anything else really matter? 1st base has got to be the one position on the diamond where defense shouldn’t be a big part of the equation when evaluating the player.

    I guess it helps having Bautista’s cannon behind him too if he lets a ball get passed him.

    Anyway, great insight as always, Stoeten!

    • only issue with ur comment , is that if a 1st abseman is a stud defensively, he can take away errors from other players on teh field, and thats huge for ur SS adn 3rd abseman

  2. More walks than strikeouts
    Hooly shor

  3. I’m shocked by the defensive numbers.
    I don’t get it.Don’t make sense to me.
    Rather have EE than Lind defensively.

  4. I have NOOOO problem with Edwin playing 1st base for my baseball club any day of the week. He’s a fucking beast. When you compare his contract to the players he most resembles in terms of his production – you almost feel bad for the guy for signing the contract when he did…. almost. Thank the godless skies above that the Jays got him back from Oakland off of the waiver wire. It’s Colby, Edwin, Lawrie, Bautista, and Reyes that give me hope going forward as a Jays fan.

  5. Surprising defensive rating.
    I guess anytime your name is mentioned in the same line as Adam Dunn when discussing defence it’s not going to be a glowing report. I must be biased though, because I too would take him over Lind defensively at 1B in a heartbeat.

  6. I don’t believe the advanced defensive stats being thrown around for Colby this year. He has been an average CF over his career and he is magically great this year? I don’t buy it. I’ve seen him play and while he has decent range he often doesn’t get a good jump or make good plays and his arm strength and accuracy have much to be desired. when have you seen him throw somebody out? Anyway, Colby had a good year, no question about it but EEE was better enough offensively that I voted for him.

    • and EEE had a .247 BABIP while Colby had a .356 with a whopping 29.5% K rate. A bit fluky for Colby this year between offense and defensive stats. I’d be very surprised if Colby put up a 4.8 WAR again next year….lots of risk.

      • Colby’s had a BABIP like that before, Edwin too. It could be that this is normal for them– for hitters it’s not like most pitchers where it’s going to regress to .300-ish. That said, Edwin has been a little higher, and Colby has had some real dogshit seasons, too. But I don’t think it’s entirely cut and dried that this isn’t who they are, more or less.

        • I hear what you are saying but Rasmus is a career .298 BABIP, not .356. How many career .356 BABIP guys do you know? To pick a few random names…Babe Ruth and Tony Gwynn were at around .340 and Pete Rose was .319.

          I think it is to be expected that the most likely scenario is both will regress a little to their career norms.

        • I feel like a variance in BABIP is understandable when you are comparing a guy that never K’s to a guy that racks up lots of K’s. Colby often sells out on contact in trying to drive balls, where Edwin may at times sell out on power just to make contact, which will result in a lower line-drive rate and less hard hit balls that will drop for hits. That being said I think both of their BABIP are likely to regress back toward the mean a little bit next year.

    • DRS doesn’t have him much better than last year and 2009. UZR has him about the same as 2009. Not sure what the big deal is– the numbers fluctuate quite a bit, which is why a single-season sample isn’t really enough. Mike Trout was well down this year too. I think it’s a pretty accurate reflection of what happened during the season, but I don’t think a single year number alone tells you whether a guy’s a plus defender or not.

      • I agree 100% and that is what I’m trying to say. You can’t go by 1 year…Colby’s career defensive metrics indicate an average CF (2.0 UZR/150).

        • That’s just not how stats work though. The fact that his stats fluctuate so much doesn’t mean that Rasmus wasn’t that good this year, it just means he shouldn’t be expected to be that good going forward.

          It’s funny, because people only seem to make that claim with advanced defensive stats. If a player’s UZR over three years is -1, +2, +17, people jump in and say “Nope, he wasn’t really that good because he’s never been that good in the past.”

          If a player’s home run totals over the same span are 14, 11, 36, no one says “Nope, he didn’t hit that many home runs because he’s never been a good power hitter in the past.”

          It’s weird that offensive stats are known to fluctuate wildly for players from year to year, yet when we see the same thing with defensive stats we assume the stat must be flawed. A player’s defensive value is not a constant.

          • you know the saying ‘speed doesn’t slump?’ well, it may not be that extreme for defense, but I think it is a lot easier for a player to be consistent defensively than it is offensively. I think part of the reason defensive metrics vary so much year to year is partly due to them being in their infancy (relatively speaking) but also because of positioning/different opportunities.

          • and yeah, actually people do say he isn’t very good because he wasn’t that good in the past. Remember Brady Anderson in 1996?

            • That’s not what I said. I’m saying people don’t dispute the individual statistic. You wouldn’t look at Anderson and say “There’s no way he hit 50 homers in 1996 because he wasn’t a good power hitter.” We know he hit 50, and his lack of power in previous years won’t change that.

              John Olerud had two massive outlier seasons where he hit .363 and .354. Other than that, his career high was .302. It’s fair to look at those season and say “He’s not a .350 hitter.” It’s NOT fair to look at those seasons and say “Olerud didn’t hit .363 because he’s a .290 hitter.”

              With defensive metrics, that’s a common response to any fluctuations.

              • It is because defensive metrics are kinda subjective. If someone hits a HR it is pretty objective/indisputable. For defensive metrics every time a ball his hit into the outfield a value is assigned to the player based on how they handled the situation (often relative to how an average outfielder would have handled it). I think ball angle and velocity off the bat should be pretty accurate but estimates are made on where the player was standing before the ball was hit. there are also interactions with other fielders (possibly taking balls away that the fielder could have gotten to maybe). I’m not even sure…do defensive metrics take into account throwing out base runners and holding base runners to fewer bases? Anyway, I certainly don’t think they are an exact science at this point. What makes you think defensive stats should be taken as gospel? Another commentor mentions below Fangraphs says they aren’t exact.

  7. you forgot to mention EEE’s BABIP this year…a measly .247. That should also give some hope he has some upside for next year. :)

  8. advanced stats do say Lind is better defensively than EEE at 1B. interesting. Lind does seem ok at 1B.

    • Defensive advanced stats are dead wrong on this.

      Lind doesn’t fuck up much, but Edwin is plus at 1B.

      • If you want to be so emphatic, please demonstrate that you understand why that is, and not that you’re just really, REALLY sure of the feeling you have.

        I share the feeling. I wouldn’t rule out the metrics so quickly though.

        • This is solely based on what I’ve seen with my eyes the past two years. To my eyes it’s very clear, and I’ve paid a reasonable amount of attention to it.

          I’m not going to pretend that I fully understand why the metrics like Lind, but I will guess aloud that it is a combination of the following…

          A) The metrics are still evolving not my opinion, rather that of those who know more than I.

          B) Lind is very steady eddie in the field. Perhaps the stats reward that?

          That said, so far as stretches, scoops, range, decisions, and throws (yes I said throws), Edwin has become on of the best in the business.

  9. I’m not fishing for a prize here, but I actually called Jays talk after watching Edwin play a stellar defensive game earlier this year just to give him love.

    He is quietly (probably because of the the position he plays) so good in the field.

    Add the Bonds-esque type SO and BB rates and the amazing contract.

    Edwin is the Best.

  10. For anyone who is skeptical of advanced defensive metrics, like I am, check out Roberto Alomar’s metrics while he was playing 2B for the Jays. Best defensive second baseman I’ve ever seen and he was putting up negative defensive values. That was a long time ago (before UZR), but still….

    • That is crazy. Many, many knowledgble people thought he was one of the best ever, and no one thought he was below average.
      If you are going to believe stats, what about the vast knowledge of crowds of people? That should not be dismissed.

  11. I wonder if part of the “who is the best Jay” thing isn’t so much Edwin-love as Colby-hate… you’ll get people that still don’t think he tries hard enough because it’s just so damn easy for him to make plays in CF that would be impossible for others. Also, Fan590 listeners have been hearing from Jeff Blair for years say that Colby is basically human garbage, and Bob McCown is at best cynical about him. So, listeners of those programs would probably not vote for Rasmus as Best Jay anytime soon.

  12. “We’re through the looking glass here people: after years of being beaten over the head with the opposite, for the 2013 Jays, everything will have to break wrong for them to not contend.”

    I made the mistake of breezing through the archives today. Reading the above snippet, and remembering how stoked I was when I originally read it last winter, makes me want to hang myself.

  13. Hey Stoeten – Why the use of rWAR over fWAR? Should we read anything into taking a side – B Ref vs Fangraphs when it comes to fielding?

  14. Even Fangraphs does not believe the defensive components of its own version of WAR. Repeatedly, on that site, I have seen them acknowledge that there are “problems with” the defensive metric.
    Not sure whether or not Baseball Reference is as openly honest.
    For me, those metrics can be one of several indicators, but they are not argument settlers.

    • I think many of the numbers cause people to shake their head. Some of the numbers are indefensible because they don’t make sense. Defensive stats are definitely more subjective than the offensive stats….

  15. The funny thing about this whole “undervaluing defense” meme is that it really just means one guy sucked: Bonifacio.

    We all loved acquiring Reyes and he did ok defensively – and missed half the year either way.

    Melky used to play CF and came with a tumor and hamstring issues.

    So out of 3 changes to position players, 1 sucked, 1 was solid (when healthy) and 1 was never healthy.

    If you want to, you could even add Buehrle as a “gold glove” addition.

    Yes when you add in JPA’s bad year, plus the turf being trampled down, etc., I can see why AA had to take some blame. But treating it like it was some new market exploit (“shitty defense FTW!”) is dumb. If Boni hit for us like he did for the Royals, we would hardly have cared that he took a few months to adjust to the turf.

  16. Okay, I have two problems with using this as a measure of these players’ value, though a large part of it might just be a lack of information on my part.

    1. Go to Fangraphs and sort MLB 1B by defensive value. Not a single one of them has positive defensive value! Not a fucking one! So okay, obviously a CF has to cover more range than a 1B, but someone’s gotta fucking play first base. Now, obviously a first baseman isn’t going to save you very many runs over the course of the season, but you’re telling me that EVERY SINGLE FIRST BASEMAN in baseball has provided negative defensive value? Baseball Reference at least has Napoli worth a whole 0.4 WAR on defense.

    2. Okay, fair enough, every single first baseman in the league makes his team worse compared to a replacement level fielder somehow. But aren’t players offensive WAR adjusted by position? I’m pretty sure they are, meaning that Colby’s hitting is better relative to his position than Edwin’s. But even though this makes sense intuitively, it means that a first baseman is being penalized twice for the position he plays.

    I wouldn’t even necessarily argue that it’s a slam dunk that Edwin was better than Colby. As an economist and statistician I just have a natural resistance to the treatment of coefficients and measurements with various variables as equivalent to single variable rate or sum total statistics. As in economics, applying different weights to different variables can make baseball coefficients say whatever you want them to say (like that Yunel Escobar was more valuable than Derek Jeter in 2012). The underlying single variable statistics never lie (unless you’re in China, but that’s a different story).

    • I’m pretty sure the positional adjustment is factored into the defensive WAR component. What you see for Rasmus’s and Encarnacion’s offensive numbers is relative to a replacement level league player, regardless of position.

      • That doesn’t make any sense because it would be impossible to accurately calculate the value of DH. In addition, if that were the case there would be at least one 1B with a positive dWAR I would think.

        • Oddly enough, I just read this in an old article on John Olerud:

          “The position adjustment that we use for wins above replacement is harsh on first basemen for a reason – even an elite defensive 1B usually doesn’t provide as much value as the average fielder.”

  17. The Trop sounds like Fenway tonight. Jesus, Tampa.

  18. Tampa lookin like a bag of shit early. Hit, hit batter, error.

  19. The team belonging to Joe Madden The Greatest Manager Ever Who Is Responsible For Every Step His Players Take On The Field, has now fucked up defensively in two games in a row. Tonight isn’t like the other day’s Ritchie Tennenbaum-esque defensive meltdown, but they just threw the ball away to spot Boston a lead again.

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