Sample Size


Each team must make the determination on how to use each individual player to maximize not just their own set of talents but also to effectively work within the team talent base.  Player A may be an effective player in Center Fielder. However, should the team acquire player B who is a far more effective player in that position you must then determine how to make use Player A’s talent set.

Of course everyone and their brother wants to bring in Curtis Granderson to their team. What if he was traded to the Mariners? Where we already have a very skilled (arguably the best) center fielder in Franklin Gutierrez. Granderson would most likely be pushed to one of the corner outfielder positions. Most likely left since Ichiro already occupies right. His talents indicate he would be an upgrade at this position.

Well this process works the same when losing talent as much as when gaining. Prior to looking to acquire talent to replace the talent lost, we must see if it can first internally can make up that difference. I have more on this, but for the time lets just use this as a primer and stop here.

Russell Branyan is now a free-agent and with that being the case he is available to negotiate a contract with all 30 MLB teams. Meanwhile we all wait to see if he will either return or if he is replaced, maybe through free-agency or possibly internal means.

Of course our internal options are rather slim. You have Mike Carp who has the potential to play above replacement value and Rich Poythress who looks to be about a year away maybe less. Oh and uh there is a rumor going around that Jose Lopez could be put into that group. Yeah, sure he has experience at first base. Not only through his 12 games he started in 2008. But, also his 12 games started in 2009. Not only that, he has also played first during winter ball and also last year during WBC practice. Remember last off-season we were in a similar position and there was a lot of speculation that he could take over that position.

Taking a look at Jose Lopez stats at first base people tend to get overly excited.

In 24 starts and a total of 222 innings playing first, Lopez has accumulated a UZR of 2.2 and a UZR/150 of 11.  Stats like this show he’d be a solid choice for a first basemen. Right?

Well, unfortunately the thing about this is that 24 starts in baseball is too small of a sample size to really grasp how good of a player he could be at first base defensively.

This is similar to the John Smoltz debate with his abilities and effectiveness. Boston felt that within 40 IP that he wasn’t someone that could continue being effective. Then during his 33 IP for St. Louis he showed an ability to continue playing at a solid level. So which was it … is he done or does he still have some in the tank. There are some good articles available on John Smolts case and how sample size plays into it, more from Fan Graphs and if nothing else read this article from Tom Tango.

The point that I am trying to make isn’t about John Smoltz but rather the potential danger of using sample sizes. Boston could have potentially reaped the benefits of John Smoltz either through on field production or trading him to St. Louis instead of letting him walk for free.

First base isn’t a reasonably hard position to maintain defensively and with Jose Lopez athletic build there is plenty of evidence that supports his ability to be above average at a corner infield position.

What doesn’t support the theory of Jose Lopez reposition to first base is his offensive output.  Which I compare below against the American League first base average offensive out put.

Currently American League first basemen average an offensive put of the following


Jose Lopez 2010 offensive out puts as projected by Bill James


As you can tell his offensive out put is completely below the American League average for first basemen. While yes, defensively he could potentially play an above average corner infield position. But, he would have to play significant defense and not just great but down right awesome defense to really make it worth him playing such an potent offensive position and currently lacking the overall ability to produce such numbers.

Bill James numbers may not be 100% correct but he is pretty accurate and has been doing this for a while. It’s important to realize that there is room for people to continue to grow and that the numbers don’t take into account injuries.

Jose Lopez has put a lot of extra muscle on in the last couple of years and his power numbers have gone upwards. However, because he has produced increasing power numbers the last couple of years, there is still a possibility that the numbers have been misconstrued based upon the overall length of balls hit.

Still this winter is going to present many rumors as we have already scene. People are going to bring up the idea that Jose Lopez could just simply be moved to first and we would not have to fill that position. While it’s a good attempt at trying to fill the position internally that theory is just plain wrong.

Lopez while maybe a suitable placement at third if moved, is only slightly above average at second and moving to a position that puts a premium on offense such as first base makes him a below average player at that position.