The
Mets shortstop issues have been well documented since the departure of star
Jose Reyes. Things didn’t actually look so bad in 2012 when Ruben Tejada,
Ronnie Cedeno and Omar Quintanilla combined for 2.8 fWAR – that isn’t Jose
Reyes production, but it’s still solid production (average team received 2.4
fWAR from their shortstop in 2012), and good value for ~$3 million in combined
salaries. Unfortunately, the Mets could not get repeat performances from Tejada
or Quintanilla in 2013, who’s combined 586 PA’s produced a 0.7 fWAR. Somehow
the Mets are starting 2014 with Ruben Tejada and Omar Quintanilla getting
another chance as the majority shortstops, with Quintanilla yet to get an
appearance. However, word came out during spring training that the Mets would
be using Wilmer Flores at shortstop at AAA again. As you may have read, he was
moved off shortstop three years ago due to a lack of lateral quickness – many
scouts actually were impressed with his arm and upper body movements but said
he would never have the feet to stay at shortstop. After fitness camp this past
winter, Wilmer came into the spring camp looking leaner and perhaps a little
quicker or more agile than in previous years – this is really yet to be
determined, fans should wait to see what professional scouts say after seeing
him over an extended period of time, assuming they give him a fair chance. This
is relevant to the 2014 Mets because word also came out during spring training that
the Mets might be willing to give Wilmer Flores a try at shortstop should Ruben
Tejada play his way out of the starting role during April. Now, I’m not rooting
against Tejada, I want all the Mets to succeed, I just won’t be confident he
can return to the potential he showed even two years ago until I see it. I still think Tejada can be a useful bench piece, but am hopeful the Mets
are looking for better longterm (and shortterm) solutions.
Before they look outside of the
organization for the shortstop solution, and considering the available outside
options might cost more than what the front office considers appropriate, it
makes sense the Mets would want to explore all internal options. Unfortunately,
I haven’t seen any scout or blog come out and say that Wilmer looks good enough
to handle shortstop in the majors, so the assumption (at least so far) has to
be that he will be a negative defensive shortstop. (I’ve been keeping an eye on
him at Vegas and will be tweeting about any plays in his vicinity. I would also
like to put together a list of plays in his vicinity that he did or did not get
to from weektoweek, so stay tuned for that.) So the question becomes, can he
hit enough to be more valuable to the Mets than Tejada (as measured by fWAR)? Of
more interest, really, is if he can hit enough to be a good, longterm option for the Mets.
A good option would provide
slightly above average or better production – ideally with both the glove and
the bat – and average shortstop production has ranged from 22.5 fWAR for the
past dozen years, hence the 3 fWAR benchmark. Besting Tejada would require
average, at best, value from the shortstop position, so I’ll also report on how
much Flores would have to hit to reach that mark below. Since I’m not expecting
even average defense from Flores just yet, the first objective is to determine
how much offensive value he needs to offset a given negative defensive value.
fWAR breaks offensive value down into a base running component (BSR) and a
weighted runs above average (wRAA) component based on wOBA and a park factor.
For this exercise, I will assume a BSR contribution of 0 runs for simplicity,
perhaps a fair assumption anyway. The defensive component of fWAR is based on a
players UZR score and a positional adjustment, which is +7.5 runs/162 games for
shortstops. These two components (relative offensive and defensive value) and a
replacements level adjustment of +17.5 runs/162 games are actually all that one
needs to calculate fWAR. So, for the first part of this exercise, I needed to
determine what wOBA Flores needed to provide given a certain negative UZR
rating (really UZR/150). This was a simple calculation that even an Excel
spreadsheet could handle, but I needed a little more information for the
offensive component – the ‘guts’ of wOBA. Weighted on base average (wOBA) uses
the run expectancy of events in the current season to determine the proper
coefficients used in its formula. Additionally, wOBA has historically been
scaled to be similar to OBP, and that scale varies yeartoyear, though
yeartoyear variations in both the coefficients and the scale factor tend to
be minor. Because the changes are generally minor, I am using the 2013 run
environment for these calculations. As I discussed in my previous post on
predicting key Mets player stats, the fWAR estimations were within +/ 0.3
fWAR in 201112 using the 2013 run environment, so, ignoring BSR, I should
provide an accurate estimate of the necessary wOBA to make up for poor defense. To make things easier, I will
assume 600 PA’s over 150 games (obviously more than he will reach). For the
second part of this exercise, I will need to determine what reasonable
offensive profiles, if any, Wilmer could provide to produce the necessary wOBA.
Figure 1 – Graph of wOBA v. UZR/150
for a 3 fWAR Mets shortstop.
I did not go beyond 20 UZR/150
because 1) if Wilmer is this poor of a defender, he likely isn’t sticking at shortstop
and 2) if he’s hitting this well, they’ll make room for him at 1B or 2B, though
they may be discouraged from ever trying him at 2B if he’s that poor at SS. (For
the record, the 20 defender needs a .345 wOBA to reach 2 fWAR). Also, I didn’t
go above 0 UZR/150 because that is not what this discussion is interested in.
If he is an average or better defender at shortstop, then the Mets should give
him a long shot to see if he can hit in the majors anywhere near as good as he
has showed in the minors. Since 2009, the league average wOBA has dropped from
.329 to .314, and from .314 down to .298 for shortstops specifically. One thing
to notice is that even an average defensive shortstop would have to hit a little better
than league average to produce 3 fWAR. In between those extremes are three
specific benchmarks I’d like to take a closer look at:
Table 1 – Offensive production needed for fWAR total given
defensive score.
#WilmerFlores4SS

UZR/150



2 fWAR




3 fWAR



One more comment on the 2 fWAR requirements before I move –
they seem very reachable for a hitter of Flores reputation. Even if you don’t
think Flores will be better than Murphy at their best, Murphy at his best
produced a .354 wOBA/126 wRC+ in 2011. That was 3 year’s ago, in Murph’s age26
season, whereas Wilmer Flores won’t be 23 until August. If nothing else, Flores
is likely going to be the better option at 2B for the Mets moving forward,
especially considering the relative costs of the two players.
For the next part of this
discussion, I wanted to redefine the wOBA using rates that are generally pretty
consistent yeartoyear (K/PA, BB/PA, XBH/PA and HR/PA) and a BABIP factor. First,
I would like to set the HR rate at 15 HR/600 PA (2.5%) for all calculations – I
would like to reduce the number of variables, I saw multiple projection models
give him a HR rate of around 2.5% preseason and HR% has the largest wOBA
coefficient, which means it will cause the biggest relative variations in wOBA.
Second, the XBH% is going to be somewhat BABIP dependent, and I wasn’t sure how
I wanted to handle that, so I have to consider them separate. However, the
higher a player’s BABIP, the lower the XBH% would need to be to produce 3 fWAR,
and viceversa. Considering HR% is set, variations in BABIP are responsible for
the biggest variations in wOBA, followed, in order, by BB%, XBH% and K% (note:
XBH% is really 2B% now, as Flores is not a threat for triples without some
help). Given his minor league rates in AA/AAA, I will estimate some possible
BB%, K% and XBH% rates, and then calculate the minimum BABIP Flores would
require given various combinations of said rates. The results will be various
offensive profiles that Flores could provide to make up for certain levels of
negative defense, finally! :) Before I get to the results, let me recap
Wilmer’s minor and major league totals the last year and a half to give an idea
of where my estimates are coming from.
Table 2 – Wilmer’s historical rates and the wOBA produced in
the majors.
#Wilmer4SS

PA

K%

BB%

HR%

XBH/PA

ML wOBA

AA

275

10.9

7.3

2.9

10.2

.326

AAA

481

13.9

5.4

3.1

11.4

.341

Minors

3014

12.6

5.2

2.1

8

.325

Majors

105

23.8

4.8

1.0

7.4

.241

The ML wOBA column is what those
offensive rates would produce at the major league level. AAA Las Vegas is known
as a hitter’s park, so his numbers may be inflated some there, but his AA
numbers are similarly excellent. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to impress in
his sparse playing time after getting called up last season – he was limited by
injuries – but that number of PA’s is a very small sample size. It may be over
confident to do so, but I’m only going to consider 14% < K% < 20%, as anything over 20% seems too
high considering his minor league career total. I will also consider the
ranges: 5 %< BB% < 7%; 8% < XBH% < 10.5%; with HR% = 2.5% = 15
HR/600 PA. Given a few combinations of these rates, here are the BABIP’s that would
be required to reach 3 fWAR, and what the production looks like in more
familiar terms.
Table 3 – Various offensive outputs that produce 3 fWAR for
a 15 UZR/150 SS.
K%

BB%

XBH%

BABIP Req

AVG

OBP

SLG

2B/600 PA

14

6

9

.342

.309

.350

.458

39

14

7

10.5

.328

.297

.346

.464

48

17.5

6

9.25

.357

.308

.349

.459

41

20

5

8

.383

.318

.352

.455

33

20

7

10

.359

.299

.348

.460

45

Table 4 – Various offensive outputs that produce 3 fWAR for
a 10 UZR/150 SS.
K%

BB%

XBH%

BABIP Req

AVG

OBP

SLG

2B/600 PA

14

6

9

.326

.296

.338

.445

39

14

7

10.5

.312

.284

.334

.450

48

17.5

6

9.25

.340

.295

.337

.446

41

20

5

8

.366

.305

.340

.442

33

20

7

10

.342

.286

.336

.447

45

Table 5 – Various offensive outputs that produce 3 fWAR for
a 5 UZR/150 SS.
K%

BB%

XBH%

BABIP Req

AVG

OBP

SLG

2B/600 PA

14

6

9

.310

.282

.326

.431

39

14

7

10.5

.296

.270

.321

.437

48

17.5

6

9.25

.324

.281

.324

.433

41

20

5

8

.348

.292

.328

.429

33

20

7

10

.324

.273

.323

.434

45

Finally,
if you’ve read this far, I hope I wasn’t too wordy or confusing. If you’re just
skipping ahead to see the results (which is fine), there they are, you can
decide for yourself what is reasonable and what is not. You’ll notice that
these are various ways to arrive at similar OPS totals, but the variations in
K/BB/XBH rate describe noticeably different player profiles. While the required
slash lines might not look too impressive for the 15 UZR/150 shortstop, the
BABIP required to get those slash lines should be considered unlikely until
Flores shows he will be a high BABIP hitter, and even then some of those BABIP
are improbably high for a player to retain. The slash lines and required
BABIP’s are much more reasonable for the 10 UZR/150 player, though he’d still
either have to have an ~14% Krate or ~.340 BABIP to reach 3 fWAR. Lastly, the
slash lines for the 5 UZR/150 shortstop seem very attainable for Flores – only
the combination of the worst K/BB/XBH rates requires what would be considered a
high BABIP at .348.
So,
as long as Flores is better than a 10 UZR/150 shortstop, it is reasonable to
believe that he could become a 3 fWAR/600 PA shortstop for the Mets, which
would be above average. If this is the case, the Mets should give him a
multiseason look at shortstop, allowing him time to adjust to the league and
another offseason to work on his speed, agility, footwork and positioning at short.
Also, as long as Flores is better than a 20 UZR/150 shortstop, he could be
capable of providing 2 fWAR/600 PA, which appears to be more than what Tejada
is capable of providing at this point. For reference, Asdrubal Cabrera was a
17 UZR/150 shortstop for the Indians last season, and they ran him out there
for 122+ games worth of innings in 2013. Dating back to 2009, there are 12
instances of a shortstop playing 1,000+ innings in the field with a 10 UZR/150
or worse, with 2009 Betancourt the low man at 19.9 – other offenders include
Jeter, Bartlett, Hanley Ramirez, and Furcal. Having watched Flores while he’s
been playing shortstop the past week at Vegas, I will say that he looks at
least as good as Jeter and Ramirez have the past few years, to my eye at least (and over a very small
sample size). He has had 2 errors the past 2 games, but those happen, and he's shown some range and a strong arm as well. I have seen nothing to suggest he shouldn’t get a chance to take
over for Tejada soon, and personally think he should be better than 10 UZR/150
(though I’m just an optimistic Mets fan with a poor camera angle on the games in Vegas). If that’s
the case, the Mets might have just found a longterm shortstop solution in
their own farm, and Flores is about to prove dozens of scouts, those who wrote
his future as a shortstop off years ago, wrong.
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