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MLB by the numbers: Defensive spectrum major factor in calculating WAR

Updated: June 1, 2013 6:31AM



Under ‘‘player value — batters’’ on each position player’s page at baseball-reference.com, you’ll find wins above replacement, along with its components, offensive WAR and defensive WAR. But if you add oWAR to dWAR, the result isn’t the overall WAR. That’s mostly because each component has a positional adjustment, but WAR uses the adjustment only once.

If you’re weighing the relative defensive value of the White Sox’ Alexei Ramirez and Alex Rios, you have to keep in mind that Ramirez plays shortstop and Rios right field. That’s accounted for in dWAR, which tells us Ramirez was 2.3 wins better in the field last season than a replacement-level shortstop and Rios was 0.0 wins better in the field than a replacement-level right fielder. Rios’ value was almost entirely on offense.

On offense, the Cubs’ Starlin Castro and David DeJesus each had a .753 OPS last season. But by oWAR, it was Castro 3.1 and DeJesus 2.1. That’s because of the positional adjustment, reflecting that it’s easier to find offense from a right fielder/part-time center fielder than from a shortstop.

When evaluating the total player, making the adjustment once will do. Castro’s 3.1 oWAR and 1.2 dWAR combine for a 3.6 WAR, not a 4.3 WAR. Ramirez’s 1.1 oWAR and 2.3 dWAR combine for a 2.5 WAR.

The adjustments reflect what’s referred to as baseball’s ‘‘defensive spectrum.’’ At the left end of the spectrum are the positions where it’s easiest to find players who can handle the defensive responsibilities, and it progresses toward positions with greater defensive demands on the right end.

At the extreme left are designated hitters, followed by first basemen, left fielders, right fielders, third basemen, center fielders, second basemen, shortstops and catchers.

The spectrum fits the way baseball teams behave in roster makeup. Teams are willing to accept less offense from shortstops than they are from right fielders. The average OPS for a shortstop last season was .671 in the American League and .697 in the National League; for right fielders, it was .753 in the AL and .768 in the NL.

And the spectrum fits players’ career paths. An aging third baseman who still can hit but is losing something on defense doesn’t move to shortstop, but he might move to first base.

WAR adjustments closely parallel the defensive spectrum. In the baseball-reference version, the DH adjustment is minus-15 runs, followed by minus-10 at first and minus-7.5 in left and right. The adjustment turns positive in the middle of the spectrum, adding two runs at third, 2.5 in center, three at second, 7.5 at short and 10 at catcher.

For its version of WAR, FanGraphs.com subtracts 17.5 runs at DH, 12.5 at first and 7.5 in left and right but adds 2.5 at third, second and center, 7.5 at shortstop and 12.5 at catcher.

Offense and defense matter for all positions, but the weighting is different, just as managers and general managers weigh them differently in making up lineups and rosters. Up-the-middle defenders and third basemen have value added for their defense. Corner outfielders, first basemen and DHs have some ground to make up with their bats.



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