Is Rios really underrated? (Why defense matters)

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This morning part of my analysis of the Blue Jays’ decision to dump Alex Rios’ contract on the White Sox included referring to him as “an underrated outfielder in his prime.” That statement drew quite a few e-mails, comments, and tweets from people who disagreed, some very strongly, so let’s examine things a bit further.
Most of the anti-Rios sentiment came from people focusing on his offensive production, which is admittedly far from jaw-dropping. He’s a career .285/.335/.451 hitter who’s batting just .264/.317/.427 this season, and many comments boiled down to “they’re paying $60 million for a guy with a .750 OPS?!” The problem with that line of thinking is that it ignores Rios’ tremendous defensive value and strong baserunning.
According to Ultimate Zone Rating, per 150 games Rios’ defense has been worth 14 runs more than an average right fielder and 12 runs more than an average center fielder, although the center-field numbers are derived from a relatively small sample of playing time. He’s also stolen 68 bases at an 82-percent success rate during the past three seasons, along with being a very good baserunner in general.
His offense is indeed nothing special, but .285/.335/.451 is hardly poor production from right field or center field and when combined with a glove that’s 10-15 runs better than average and another handful of runs on the bases it equals a very good all-around player. Add it all up and during the past four seasons Rios has been worth 35-40 runs more than a replacement-level outfielder per 600 plate appearances.
Rios hasn’t lived up to his usual standards so far this year, but last season he was worth 55 runs above replacement level, which ranked third among AL outfielders behind only Grady Sizemore and Nick Markakis. Two seasons ago he was worth 47 runs above replacement level, which ranked fifth among AL outfielders behind Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson, Grady Sizemore, and Ichiro Suzuki.
Rios offers average offense with outstanding defense, but for various reasons it’s a lot easier for most people to recognize value in someone who puts up strong numbers at the plate while playing poor defense. For instance, my friend Howard Sinker of the Minneapolis Star Tribune compares Rios to Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who will make $8.5 million in 2010 and $10.5 million in 2011.
Cuddyer has an edge offensively, but the difference isn’t anywhere close to as huge as the advantage Rios holds defensively. Over the past four seasons Cuddyer has been 15 runs above average offensively per 600 plate appearances, compared to 10 runs for Rios. However, during that same time Cuddyer has been five runs below average defensively per 600 plate appearances, compared to 10 runs above average for Rios.
In other words, Cuddyer is +15 offensively and -5 defensively. Rios is +10 offensively and +10 defensively. Cuddyer appears better if you focus strictly on hitting, but at the end of the day a run is a run regardless of what facet of the game it comes from and their overall values relative to “average” are +10 for Cuddyer and +20 for Rios. Similar comparisons can be made to good-bat, poor-glove outfielders across both leagues.
Defense matters, even if it’s not as easy to measure and analyze as offense, and Rios is an elite defensive outfielder. Assuming that he bounces back to his previous norms offensively–and at 28 years old he should–Rios is among the best all-around outfielders in baseball. Focusing on his OPS doesn’t even begin to tell the story, which is why he’s “an underrated outfielder in his prime.”

World Series Game 2 Lineups: No Jason Heyward once again

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 31:  Jorge Soler #68 of the Chicago Cubs hits a lead-off double in the 6th inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field on August 31, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Chris Coghlan is not in the Cubs starting lineup tonight. But that doesn’t mean Jason Heyward is. Nope, Jorge Soler gets the start in right field against the Indians’ righty, Trevor Bauer. Willson Contreras is behind the plate which is not surprising given that someone other than Jon Lester is pitching. Otherwise for the Cubs just some shuffling of the bottom third of the order.

For the Indians, Carlos Santana is back in the leadoff spot, Tyler Naquin is in center in place of Rajai Davis and Coco Crisp takes over for Brandon Guyer in left field. The Indians big longball man from last night — Roberto Perez — is batting ninth once again. Tonight expect him to get fewer pitches to hit.


1. Dexter Fowler (S) CF
2. Kris Bryant (R) 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
4. Ben Zobrist (S) LF
5. Kyle Schwarber (L) DH
6. Javier Baez (R) 2B
7. Willson Contreras (R) C
8. Jorge Soler (R) RF
9. Addison Russell (R) SS


1. Carlos Santana (S) DH
2. Jason Kipnis (L) 2B
3. Francisco Lindor (S) SS
4. Mike Napoli (R) 1B
5. Jose Ramirez (S) 3B
6. Lonnie Chisenhall (L) RF
7. Coco Crisp (S) LF
8. Tyler Naquin (L) CF
9. Roberto Perez (R) C

Search warrant affidavit in Jose Fernandez boat crash cites “strong odor of alcohol”

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins pitches in the first inning to the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on September 14, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Miami Herald reports that a search warrant affidavit connected to the investigation of the boat crash which killed Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez says the bodies Fernandez and his friends had a “strong odor of alcohol” on them when they were recovered by divers.

The warrant was released today by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office. It was executed for purposes of seeking possible criminal culpability in the fatal crash, though given that all of the boat’s occupants were killed, it is unclear what if any further steps law enforcement might take. The search warrant affidavit does mention a receipt for alcohol from a Miami Beach bar Fernandez and his friends had been to before the accident.

The warrant likewise says investigators found evidence that the driver of the vessel was driving at a high rate of speed and with a “recklessness’’ that was “exacerbated by the consumption of alcohol.”