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.”

Tim Tebow hits a homer in his first instructional league at bat

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - SEPTEMBER 20: Tim Tebow #15 of the New York Mets hits a home run at an instructional league day at Tradition Field on September 20, 2016 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Because of course he did.

It wasn’t just his first at bat, but it was his first pitch. It came off of John Kilichowski, an 11th round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals out of Vanderbilt.  The ball went out to left center, off the bat of the lefty Tebow.

Next time, meat, throw him a breaking ball.

Joaquin Benoit blames overly-sensitive hitters for benches-clearing incidents

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 12: Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the seventh inning during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 12, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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The other night, Blue Jays reliever Joaquin Benoit needed help getting off the field after the second benches-clearing incident with the Yankees. It was later revealed that Benoit tore a calf muscle during the fracas, ending his season.

Yesterday he pointed the finger at just about everyone else for the incidents like the one that led to his injury. Hitters specifically. From The Star:

“I believe as pitchers we’re entitled to use the whole plate and pitch in if that’s the way we’re going to succeed,” Benoit said. “I believe that right now baseball is taking things so far that in some situations most hitters believe that they can’t be brushed out. Some teams take it personally.”

That “take it personally” line is interesting coming from Benoit as, in this instance, it seemed pretty clear that the whole plunking exchange which led to his injury started because Josh Donaldson took an inside pitch that did not seem to be a purpose pitch at all, too personally.

Did Benoit take a veiled swipe at his teammate here? If so, that’s pretty notable. If not it’s notable in another way, right? As it suggests that Benoit believes it’s OK for his teammates to take issue with inside pitches but anyone else who does is part of the problem?

Which is it, Joaquin?