Optimal Sub

For the last few seasons, sabermetrician Tom Tango has conducted a defensive survey called The Fans Scouting Report. I’ve mentioned it in the past, and I’m sure that some of you participated. Essentially fans rate players on a variety of traits. I’m not going to rehash how the Tigers did because Lee has covered that already. I’m going to focus on Brandon Inge (because it’s always good for traffic and comment numbers) and how he can be expected to fare as he moves all over the diamond this summer.

When fans are instructed to fill out the survey, they are told to make their evaluations independent of position. For example don’t compare Curtis Granderson’s speed to that of other center fielders. Compare him to all baseball players. This is relevant because Tango has developed a system to weight the different traits based on their importance to a given position.

The traits that are evaluated are instincts, first step, speed, hands, release, throwing strength, and throwing accuracy. In the case of Inge he rated as follows:

Instincts: 83
First Step: 83
Speed: 68
Hands: 73
Release: 75
Arm Strength: 91
Throwing Accuracy: 62

To give you a feel for the scale, an average player rates as 50 and one standard deviation is 20 points meaning that two-thirds of the league fall in between 30 and 70. If a player is above 70 he’s in the top 16%.

As you can see, and it’s no surprise, Inge rates as a top flight defender in most categories and his overall position neutral score is 77. Inge’s rating was across 53 ballots making for a decent sample size. Tango also provides an agreement score to see how much variation there is in ballots. Inge’s score was .75 and the norm was .71 meaning that most fans thought along the same lines.

But given Inge’s skill set, where is he best suited to play? Applying the weightings to Inge’s scores it shakes out like this:

Catcher: 78
First Base: 76
Second Base: 80
Shortstop: 78
Third Base: 78
Left Field: 77
Center Field: 77
Right Field: 77

Basically he has the skills to succeed anywhere on the field. I’m a little surprised to see second base come on out on top, but the differences are so small it doesn’t really make too much of a difference. The fact that Inge doesn’t really rate poorly in any area provides for the remarkable consistency at each position. He only really gets penalized at first base where his strongest trait, his arm strength, doesn’t carry much weight.

Now some caveats on the fans survey, it’s all subjective. It’s clearly not a perfect system but as more data is gathered the more I tend to trust it. There are other limitations, like the fact that the intention is that the ratings should be observation based and not stat based. It’s tough to separate the two, and many of the people going to the site are at least stat-aware. So don’t view this as the be all, end all because it’s not. It’s just one more attempt at getting a better understanding of defensive value.

As an aside, I also ran Miguel Cabrera’s numbers through the weighting. Keep in mind that there were only 9 ballots turned in (not a lot of Marlins fans out there which is why he and Dontrelle Willis are Tigers in the first place). Interestingly enough, Cabrera’s skills have him best suited as a third baseman with a score of 49. As an outfielder he only rates as a 38.

10 Comments

  1. Chris in Nashville

    January 29, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Sorry I’m off topic here…but I think the Tigers had a big win today. Johan Santana is not only leaving our division, but he’s also not going to the Red Sox or Yankees. That is huge for us. Good riddance Johan!

  2. Walt at CMU

    January 29, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    So does a 49 rating for miggy mean that he is an average 3B? Or is 50 only average for the particular skills?

  3. Rings

    January 29, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    Interesting post, Bilfer, but as you admit…these “ratings” are based on fan responses…and we all know what we think of the “average fan opinion”…LOL!
    Thanks for another interesting take.

  4. David

    January 30, 2008 at 1:58 am

    I still say he’d be best suited for SS… and I wouldn’t personally ever play him at 1st or in the outfield.

    I’d be surprised if by mid-May he isn’t starting on our team due to an injury(ies)

    I wonder if Shef crapped out again or was ineffective if they would DH Cabrera and stick Ingey at 3rd?

    They wouldn’t DH Inge I’m guessing ;)

    By the way

    Watch out for the Royals I’ll bet money they come in no worse than 3rd place in our division this year.

  5. Ravi

    January 30, 2008 at 8:16 am

    I would love to have seen those numbers for Aurelio Rodriguez when he was playing third for the Tigers. Phenomenal defensive skills, not much of a bat. And yet the Tigers managed to win with him despite his “liability”.

    I’m glad Dombrowski wasn’t so stupid as to just give Inge away, now if he could just find a regular spot for him. I would rather see Inge happy to be a Tiger than resigned to it.

  6. The Spot Starters

    January 30, 2008 at 11:28 am

    I’m hesitant to buy into this. Obviously all fans are not educated equally. They don’t all watch the same amount of baseball. They have different backgrounds. It’s gotta be tricky to filter out what one REALLY thinks what they think because of Baseball Tonight or ESPN or Sports Illustrated.

  7. Joey C.

    January 30, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    I think this is a brilliant evaluative process. As a believer in the value of observation as opposed to a strictly stat based evaluative process, I think this is great.

    Obviously the concerns regarding the value of fan evaluations has to be given weight. A question I have in this vein is how are survey participants selected? I think that the sample is probably important when looking at these numbers. I mean if they’re handing surveys out at elementary schools (or a major league park for that matter) I’m probably not gonna look at the results with anything other than a skeptical eye.

    On the other hand, if the people filling out surveys are primarily the regular readers of blogs such as DTW, than why not use this as a reliable tool?

  8. David

    January 30, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    Yup

    not exactly scientific, but I would have (and did) rate him higher

    I think all of his skills are at least 1SD above the mean

  9. billfer

    January 30, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Joey -

    I linked to the survey earlier in the season. Anybody is welcome to fill it out, but I would guess that typically it is fans who are referred from blogs.

  10. bob

    March 4, 2008 at 2:54 pm

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