The B.J. Upton Positioning
The shift post is a natural segue to this. You had to know it was coming at some point. A natural disclaimer: These numbers are rough because they aren’t based on play-by-play data, but rather gamelogs. I don’t have play-by-play database skills, so my attempt at a With Or Without You analysis is lacking. The sample sizes are extremely small too and I did consider removing home runs allowed from the equation because I don’t believe it affects the analysis much at all. Oh well. Just take it for what it is, an open pin-up full of rough thoughts and calculations. Here we go.
Presumably Joe Maddon has some level of control over whether B.J. Upton plays shallow or not. I’ll pretend he does for this post because this isn’t Finding Friedman or whatever the daughter version of this site would be. The question is: How much does Upton’s positioning really matter? He’s one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball already. His UZR has him in the top three and the Fan’s Scouting Report supports his above average standing. He certainly passes the eyeball test too.
The question sent me to attempt a WOWY analysis. The methodology is simple and my metrics were simple. I wanted to know how many hits the Rays gave up in games with (and without) Upton in center since the positioning began, and how many of those hits were doubles and/or triples. Here’s the chart with a brief summary:
Split W W/O G 282 42 3B 55 7 2B 529 79 H 2401 369 3B% 0.023 0.019 2B% 0.22 0.21 H/G 8.51 8.79
We know that Upton is the Rays’ best defensive centerfielder, so even when assuming all other things equal, I would not expect a lineup with him involved to give up more hits than the ones without him. The double/triple percentage is more understandable. As I’ve always seen it, the Rays decision to place Upton shallow is the sacrifice of slugging in favor for lowering the on-base percentage against.
If we assume the distribution of fieldable balls is equal – which, truth be told, it’s probably not – then over the span of 150 games, the defense with Upton prevents 45 hits that the lineup without Upton does not. We see, however, that the lineup with Upton allows more triples and doubles, not many, but a few. Using those 150 games worth of hits, we have the Upton manned unit allowing 1,275 and the Uptonless team allowing 1,320. Let’s use those double and triple percentages and apply it here.
640 total bases
629 total bases
Despite giving up 45 fewer hits, Upton’s defense allows 11 extra bases. To put this relationship into perspective, let’s use a fictional 500 plate appearance set. So, what is more valuable: Saving the hits, even if they are singles, or allowing an extra 11 bases? It would appear that there is strength in numbers here, and it goes beyond the difference in OPS, since we know that metric undervalues the importance of OBP.
Split PA TOB TB OBP SLG OPS W 500 100 111 0.2 0.222 0.422 W/O 500 145 100 0.29 0.200 0.490
Over 500 plate appearances, that’s a difference of something like 13 runs. But the problem is that I have no viable way of separating what is purely skill Upton possesses from whatever effect (if any) the positioning has on his ability to catch batted balls. I’d be it’s more Upton and less the positioning. Which sort of makes this whole thing an exercise in futility.
Now I know what it’s like to hit a ball towards Upton.