August 21, 2009 at 12:43 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones, Defense, Injuries, Statistical Analysis
I like defense. Most people don’t think about it when constructing a team, but it’s a lot easier to win with a good defense. It makes your pitchers better, energizes your team, etc. This year, the Braves’ worst positions defensively have been 2B, LF, and CF–costing the team a combined 26 runs. Third base has cost the team 5 runs. No other position is in the red.
Eventually, the Braves’ outfield will consist of–left to right–McLouth, Schafer, and Heyward. I don’t see any way this alignment is less than average. I strongly believe McLouth will be an above-average defender at a corner, Schafer will be plus, and Heyward will be plus.
Provided LaRoche leaves via free agency, the obvious solution to the hole is to move Prado to 1B and insert one of Kelly Johnson or Infante in at 2B. I have a different idea.
Chipper Jones has been awful at 3B this year, costing the team fourteen runs with his glove. 3B doesn’t rank as the team’s worst position because Prado has been very good there in a back-up role, saving the team 6 runs in only 184 defensive innings.
If you extrapolate Prado’s defensive prowess over a full season at 3B (which you can’t do, so I don’t for my actual calculations), he saves 32 runs at 3B, good for more than 3 wins. Chipper’s is good for -16 runs.
For how good Prado’s been at 3B, he’s been equally bad–for his entire career–at 2B. No matter what method you use, he’s been worth about -10 runs, or -1 win, at 2B over a full season. It’s pretty easy to see why. Prado moves better when he’s running forward (i.e. charging a bunt, something that you don’t do at 2B), but his lateral range is suspect. Plus his best asset is his throwing arm (which is a beauty). The arm is on display at 3B but wasted at 2B.
You probably see where I’m going at this point. The idea is simple. Play Kelly Johnson at 2B (I truly believe he is an above-average MLB 2B–with both the bat and glove–that fell on some bad luck this season), a position where he’s about average, play Prado at 3B, and move Chipper to 1B.
The question then becomes, how bad at 1B would Chipper have to be to make this defensive alignment a misallocation of resources?
Well, I’ve pegged Prado, for the purposes of conservative calculations, at +19 runs at 3B. I’ve got Kelly Johnson at +2 at 2B. I’ve got Prado at -10 at 2B and Chipper at -16 at 3B. Between the two positions, you’re looking at a 47 run difference, assuming whatever 1B we were going to use plays average defense.
So, you’re looking at a 47 run, or roughly 5 win, improvement just by shifting the infielders a bit. And Chipper would have to be 47 runs below average to make this alignment disadvantageous.
Mike Jacobs was the worst fielding 1B last year and he cost his team 20 runs. I think I may be on to something here. Unless Chipper is 27 runs worse than the worst, the alignment is, overall, helpful.
Then you get into injuries. Chipper’s most valuable asset is obviously his bat and you want to keep that bat in there at all costs. People suggesting moving Chipper to 1B to prevent injuries is silly for 2 reasons. 1) he hardly ever gets hurt in the field (usually swinging and missing). 2) 1B has way more chances than 3B, so I think the injury risk is greater at 1B. As I said, though, he hardly ever gets hurt in the field. Let’s assume, for a second, that the change in position will require Chipper to miss more time. Then, how much time will he have to miss to make the change in position counter-productive?
Over his career, Chipper has been worth approximately 0.26 runs above average (using simple wOBA extractions) with his bat every game he plays. Assuming he’s bottom-of-the-barrel bad at 1B, -20 runs, how many games would he have to miss to justify not making the change in defensive alignments?
The answer? 104.
It’s not that crazy. Prado is a very good defender at 3B, he’s a bad defender at 2B. The Braves have an average defender at 2B on their roster. And they don’t have a 1B. But they have a 3B who is 37 years old and costing the team runs left and right with his glove at 3B. It’s almost stupid not to move Chipper to 1B. Prado-Yunel-KJ-Chipper 3rd to 1st. I could live with that.
Of course this all hinges on Kelly Johnson hitting next year, which I think he will.
The solution at 1B may be internal for this club. I think it is. Keeping the pitching staff intact and using Chipper at 1st may be the key to getting back to the post-season.