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Monday, November 20, 2006

More on Gonzalez

Joe Sheehan discussed the Gonzalez signing at Baseball Prospectus today (if you don't have a subscription, but it on your Christmas list!). Below is the relevant clip. As you'll see, he comes to a rather different conclusion than I did.
So what makes Gonzalez a good stealth signing? After all, he has been above a .300 OBP as many times as he's below that mark, and he's coming off his third straight year with a sub-700 OPS. That anemic bat wouldn't seem to make him a good choice as any kind of free agent, much less one to praise.

Gonzalez, however, is one of the top defensive shortstops in the game. While his numbers in Clay Davenport's system don't look good, Gonzalez consistently ranks among the top glove men in play-by-play systems or zone-based ones, such as the work of Mitchel Lichtman or Chris Dial. With the PBP systems largely in agreement on his value, I take those numbers more seriously than the Davenport ones. Gonzalez's defensive prowess elevates him from a replacement-level player to a slightly-below-average one, more than worth just shy of $5 million per season. He's one of the few players in the game whose defense really does make up for his offense.

Gonzalez may have a greater opportunity to help the Reds than he would on a normal team, too. The Reds don't have a strikeout staff (11th in the NL last year), and in particular, their bullpen is loaded with groundball guys. Gonzalez should help shore up a defense that has been among the worst in the game the past few years. The Reds still look to have major problems with outfield defense--and this signing is another reminder that the Reds no longer have Felipe Lopez at shortstop--but Gonzalez is a better player than his raw numbers indicate and should make them better in '07.
FWIW, I trust John Dewan's plus/minus scoring system more than those of Litchman or Dial. Both of those latter systems calculate fielding based on the number of balls hit into or through a particular zone on the field. While I think UZR (Litchman's system) is a bit more precise than ZR (which Dial then converts into +- runs saved), the Dewan plus/minus system is an improvement upon them. Instead of using zones for infielders, the Dewan system uses vectors, allowing much more precise tracking of where balls are hit and thus better evaluations how how often each particular type of batted ball is fielded on average. Furthermore, the Dewan system also takes into account how hard balls are hit and whether they are fly balls, line drives, or ground balls. So while it is moderately comforting to see the two zone rating-based systems giving Gonzalez's defense high marks, I'm not yet convinced. To be fair, however, I haven't yet purchased the 2006 Dewan plus/minus ratings (2006 leaders by position can be found in the Bill James 2007 Handbook, though I haven't yet figured out if it's possible to purchase all of the 2006 plus/minus stats).

Nevertheless, as before, I'd much rather Sheehan be right about this than me. The Reds really do need to get outstanding defense from Gonzalez for the signing to be worthwhile. And if he can provide that, I'll be very happy about this signing.

Update: JP at R&B has a more on Gonzalez, including a more detailed look using both Dial's and Dewan's stats. He also considers Gonzalez's performance starting and turning the double-play, which I did not consider. ... I'm still not convinced he's anything more than an average defensive MLB shortstop, but at least he's not below average. :)