Is Rios really underrated? (Why defense matters)

Leave a comment

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.”

Christian Yelich on Manny Machado: “it was a dirty play by a dirty player”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As we wrote during last night’s game, the Brewers and Dodgers benches cleared after Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar and Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado exchanged words at first base. The exchange came after Machado dragged his left leg, slamming it into Aguilar’s leg as he crossed the bag (video of the play appears at the bottom of this article). During postgame interviews in the wee hours this morning, a couple of Brewers players took issue with Machado.

Outfielder Christian Yelich did not mince words, saying the play at first was “a dirty play by a dirty player.” When he was done answering questions, he said of Machado, “F**k that motherf***er.”

His comments in full, not including the expletive, which was noted by several assembled reporters:

You all could see how that unfolded. Everyone has their own opinion. He is a player that has a history with those types of incidents. One time is an accident. Repeated over and over again. It’s a dirty play. It’s a dirty play by a dirty player. I have a lot of respect for him as a player but you can’t respect someone who plays the game like that. it was a tough-fought baseball game. It has no place in our game. We’ve all grounded out. Run through the bag like you’ve been doing your whole life like everybody else does. If it’s an accident it’s an accident. On the replay to us, it clearly looks like you clearly go out of your way to step on someone. It just has no place in our game. It’s unacceptable. I don’t know what his problem is honestly. I’ve played against him for a long time. It has no place in the game.

Travis Shaw had his opinion too:

“Dirty play. You saw the replay. He can say all he wants that he didn’t do it, but it’s pretty obvious he meant to do it. He’s shown it multiple times throughout his career. I mean, it’s just a dirty play. A kick to his leg right there. It was not by mistake.”

Brewers manager Craig Counsell was also asked about Machado and whether he thought the play was dirty. Counsell declined to say so explicitly, but he clearly signaled that he agreed with his players, all while taking a pretty sharp swipe at Machado in his own way. At least when you remember that’s that, in baseball, the usual defense to playing “dirty” is that the guy involved is actually just “playing hard”:

Q. Two things: How did you see the play with Machado at first base? And given that, combined with the slides, do you think he’s going to beyond the grounds of playing hard?

Counsell: I don’t know. I guess they got tangled up at first base. I don’t think he’s playing all that hard.

So yes, I’d say that’s Counsell implying strongly that he thinks the play was dirty while simultaneously taking a swipe at Machado for being lazy. Which, let’s be honest, is also a fair charge given recent events.

For his part, Machado said, “I play baseball, I try to go out there and win for my team. If that’s their comments, that’s their comments, I can’t do nothing about that.” Which, should be noted, is not a denial.

As we’ve noted, this was not the first incident involving Machado on the base paths in this series. In Game 3 Machado twice attempted to interfere with Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia at the second base bag, getting called for interference on the second one. Anyone watching the play with Aguilar could see that Machado was trying to interfere with him too.

It may be worth noting at this point that, four years ago, Machado was suspended for five games for throwing a bat at a guy.

The Dodgers are no doubt happy with their victory, but there are likely a lot of players around the game — including, I would imagine, players on his own team — who are not too happy with what Machado has shown this series.