Posted By Jeff Fletcher 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.