What’s the A’s best defensive alignment?

Posted By on January 16, 2009 8:12 pm

With Jason Giambi and Jack Cust both in the A’s lineup, one of those guys is going to have to carry his glove to the field with him, leaving A’s fans to cross their fingers and hope. So I wondered which combination is better defensively: Daric Barton at first and Jack Cust in right field (with Giambi DH), or Giambi at first and Travis Buck in right (with Cust at DH).

Before I get into it, my instinct was that the Giambi-Buck combo is better, simply because I think Buck’s a better outfielder than Barton is a first baseman. (I also happen to like Buck over Barton offensively, so maybe I had a natural leaning that way.)

I wanted to use some stats to get an idea of which combo is better defensively, but I wasn’t sure what numbers to use, so I consulted Farhan Zaidi, the A’s top Numbers Geek (a phrase I use with all due respect, of course). He pushed me toward the ol’ FRAA at Baseball Prospectus. That’s Fielding Runs Above Average. I won’t bore you with the details of how this is derived (mostly since I can’t figure it out), but it shows the number of runs that a particular player will prevent, above average. So, big numbers are good. It means a guy is saving a lot of runs. The numbers are adjusted for position, so a terrible outfielder will not cost you as many runs as an equally terrible shortstop.

Disclaimer time: It’s entirely possible that this number is really meaningless, because Yuniesky Betancourt and Derek Jeter came up as the two worst shortstops in baseball. That would be the guy who won three Gold Gloves (Jeter) and a guy who a lot of people think is actually the best shortstop in the league (Betancourt). So don’t take this as the gospel. Anyhow, back to our original question…

I’m using the rate of FRAA per 100 games for each guy. Barton was -4 in 2008. Not good, despite all that talk about how much he improved. Giambi was -10. Even worse, as you’d suspect.

As for the outfielders, Cust was -6 as a left fielder. He only played a few games in right, so his numbers there aren’t really telling. (Over 53 career games in right, he’s -10, but I don’t think that’s quite a big enough sample size.) Anyway, we’ll adjust him to about -8 for his true rating in right. Buck only played 34 games in right last year, so we’ll use his 99 career games in right. He’s a +3.

Now, we just add ‘em up: Barton (-4) + Cust (-8) is -12. Giambi (-10) + Buck (+3) is -7.

So it looks like Giambi and Buck is better, although still below average. I think that’s the better offensive lineup, too, with Cust at DH and Barton on the bench.

Wow, the numbers back up what I thought in the first place. Guess that means these stats aren’t meaningless.

Unless you are Yuniesky Betancourt, that is.


9 Responses to “What’s the A’s best defensive alignment?”

  1. Mark says:

    Brian Cartwright at Fangraphs just put an excellent article up on why Derek Jeter just is not a good defensive SS. Here is the link:


  2. Mark says:

    Just to take another look at this let’s see what UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) as found on fangraphs has to say. To get to your same scale of per 100 games I am going to take 2/3s of UZR/150.BR/BR/First let’s look at the rightfielders. Cust was -10.6 in LF in 2008 while -7.6 in RF for his career. Averaging this as you did and we get -9.1 for Jack. Buck was +10.2 in RF in 2008 while +9.3 for his career. Like you I will use Travis’ career number of +9.3. The net of this is that Travis Buck has a 17.8 run defensive advantage in 100 games over Jack Cust. Now let’s look at the firstbasemen. Giambi was -1.7 and Barton +4.5 In 2008 giving Daric a 6.2 run defensive advantage in 100 games over Jason.

    So UZR sees things the way you and FRAA do. Buck and Giambi have an 11.6 (17.8-6.2) run defensive advantage in 100 games over Cust and Barton.

  3. Mark says:

    I also want to give you some more data on your disclaimer concerns with regards to Derek Jeter and Yuniesky Betancourt. None of the defensive metrics publicly available like either of these. It is the judgement of the sabermetric community that Jeter’s so called gold glove defense is all NY Hype and completely false.

    The link I am about to post takes data in runs per 150 games from all six of these publicly available defensive metrics and averages them.


    You also might notice that they do not think much of the Giants new SS’s defense either.

  4. Larry Mahnken says:

    Having watched Jeter from the press box, I can indeed confirm he’s a dreadful defensive player. Good hands, great arm… horrid range. He comes nowhere near balls hit up the middle that other shortstops field routinely.

  5. Jeff Fletcher says:

    The Jeter thing doesn’t surprise me. I knew he was overrated. I’m more shocked by Betancourt, because I thought he was pretty good.

  6. Brian Cartwright says:

    Regards Jeter, my article show that his Gold Gloves are not “NY Hype” – Jeter does very well in what the GG voters seem to treasure most – getting outs on the balls he gets to. It’s just that there’s so many balls he doesn’t get to.

  7. Robert says:

    Betancourt is terrible.

  8. scatterbrian says:

    I happen to think the A’s best defensive alignment should be contingent upon the type of pitcher the A’s are starting. For fly ball pitchers, play Buck in right, Giambi at 1B, and Cust at DH. For groundball pitchers, put Cust in left, Barton at 1B, and Giambi at DH.

  9. Jeff Fletcher says:

    The comments about Betancourt here (and on some other sites to which this was linked) got me wondering about my own perception. So I checked with another scout (not the one quoted in the earlier posts about the A’s and Giants), and here is what he said about Betancourt:

    “Betancourt has very special ability with his glove, and he can throw plenty. He has good instincts and can make most any athletic play. Downside is added weight in the lower body last season, and a flippant attitude. He makes errors he shouldn’t due to that attitude. For me, that creates habits that cost you when the game is on the line. I hope it is a maturity thing, because the guy is very good.”

    That’s a good perspective because I think it reconciles the discrepency between the perception of his ability and the numbers.

    I think it’s wrong for people to take a stance that “the numbers are always right” or “the scouts are always right.” There is room for both.

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