Let’s play Florida Marlins GM. On more than one occasion, Larry Beinfest has indicated that the Marlins want to emphasize pitching and defense. Their numerous good young pitchers are a testament to that focus. However, defense has been a problem for the team.
My impression as a fan is that players rarely improve significantly as fielders. So poor or below average defensive players need to be replaced if a team expects to improve. The defense up the middle [CF, SS, 2B & C] is considered the most important part of a team’s defense.
As someone who used to do stats by hand as a kid and then as a young adult would receive my weekly Bill James Fantasy League updates through the mail, the current world of available on-line stats [through ESPN] from the Elias Sports Bureau is amazing.
The best way to measure defensive ability is a combination of fielding percentage [FPCT] and the range factor [RF]. RF numbers will obviously vary significantly between positions, so you can’t really compare those numbers beyond a specific position. The importance of the RF stat is that it helps to determine whether a player has a good fielding percentage partially because he is not getting to the more difficult fielding chances due to their lack of range. I limit my analysis to the National League, i.e. only league playing real baseball.
Let’s look at the Marlins defense at those positions:
- CF – Cody Ross. His RF [2.6] is just below average. His FPCT [.980] ranks last among regular CF’s. Ross splits his time between CF [57% of his games] and RF. He is also one of the hottest hitters in MLB at the moment. But the answer to getting better in center-field is named Cameron Maybin.
- SS – Hanley Ramirez – Hanley’s RF [3.96] and FPCT [.973] are below average for a NL shortstop. His RF has dropped significantly from his first 3 years [4.55 in 06 / 4.27 in 07 / 4.40 in 08 – any of those RF’s would be an above-average stat in 09]. This could be due to his increased weight or to his battling a groin injury, but it’s not good news either way. If the Marlins ever decide to move Hanley to 3B, they will bring RF stats to that meeting.
- C – John Paul Baker [started 62% of games] / Ronny Paulino – In a real statistical anomaly, their defensive stats are practically identical. Their FPCT [.992 both] is below average. I’m going to ignore the RF for catchers, since I think they include strikeouts as putouts [they are above average in this stat–8.07 & 8.24]. The key stat for catchers is the caught stealing percentage [CS%]. Among regular catchers, the stat is bookended by the Magnificent Molina’s, Yadier on top [.455] and Bengie at the bottom [.194]. Both Baker [.184] and Paulino [.195], are more like Bengie. Here again the stat can be misleading. The Marlins young pitchers may be doing a poor job of holding runners on. The answer to getting better at catcher is named Kyle Skipworth.
- 2B – Dan Uggla – His FPCT [.980] is below average and his RF [4.12] is the worst in the NL by a wide margin. Besides the poor defense, Uggla’s problem is that his position is one of the few that the Marlins have a readily available option to improve immediately–Chris Coghlan. Coghlan’s strength is not his defense, but he is seen as an improvement over Uggla.
So why would the Marlins trade a productive hitter for just a marginal improvement defensively? They would do so if they believe they have seen the best of Dan Uggla and could get the most value for him right now.
As I noted in an earlier post, Uggla’s 3 previous seasons indicate that May and June are by far his best months. His offensive numbers have consistently dropped during July and August. One factor working in favor of not trading Uggla is that he is one of the core group of players that fans have gotten to know since 2006.
Given that the Marlins are in contention and the fact that Uggla is one of the highest paid Marlins, trading him could be seen as evidence that management is reverting to their salary dumping ways. In light of the recent approval of the use of public monies towards the building of a new stadium for the 2012 season, trading Uggla would be seen as an even more egregious move than usual. But Matt Lindstrom’s injury / demotion may have just tipped the scales in that equation. Because now the franchise could argue that while they didn’t want to part with Uggla, they could not pass up a key reliever as a way to improve immediately.
So who would the Marlins trade Uggla for? OK first let’s figure out who would benefit most from his offense. See the stats below — click on image to enlarge:
So here are the teams which Uggla would represent an improvement offensively and strategically the teams would not have an issue making a trade [i.e. teams typically would not make a trade within their own division] — Colorado, Detroit, San Diego and Seattle.
Colorado: Their current 2B, Clint Barmes leads the league in RF [5.45 — by the way, so does their shortstop, Tulowitzki @ 4.95] and the team leads the NL in runs scored, so they are an unlikely trade partner.
Detroit: Their current 2B, Placido Polanco is 2nd in the AL to Ian Kinsler in the RF [5.04] and leads the AL in FPCT [.997]. However, Polanco is now 33 years old and a below average offensive player on a team which is right in the middle of the league in runs scored. They could use the offense. But I don’t see the Marlins being interested in the 2 Tiger relievers having the best seasons, Fernando Rodney or Bobby Seay.
San Diego: Their current 2B, David Eckstein is veteran [34 yrs old] and while he has been a good fielder in his career, he currently has a poor RF [4.48] and San Diego is last in the NL in runs scored. So who does San Diego have that the Marlins would want? Heath Bell is tied for the league lead in saves, after having taken over in that role from Trevor Hoffman. Edward Mujica is having a nice year as a setup man, but he’s not worth trading Uggla for. Unfortunately, Uggla is likely not enough to get a top reliever for straight up.
Seattle: Defensively, Dan Uggla would actually represent an improvement over the Mariners current 2B, Jose Lopez [RF 4.07] and Seattle is last in the AL in runs scored, so we could be in business here as well. The Mariners top reliever, David Aardsma, came over from the Red Sox in a trade and is having such good year, that again, Dan Uggla alone is probably not enough to get Seattle to make this deal.
As I see it, the Marlins best option is to trade Uggla to secure a top reliever — either Heath Bell or David Aardsma. But the additional price would likely be one of their young starters [Sean West, for example]. Would you make that trade?