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Monday, March 16, 2009

Is the 2009 Reds opening day outfield worse than last year's?

The Reds are a faster team this year, most notably in the outfield where they might open the year with Dickerson/Taveras/Bruce after beginning last season with Dunn/Patterson/Griffey. Offensively, the latter combination is better than we we have this season. But can the speed of the 2009 trio make up for this loss in offense?

Here's a quick study to that end, inspired by an e-mail exchange.

Hitting

2008:
Dunn: +28.2 runs/150 g
Patterson: -38.9 runs/150 g
Griffey: + 4.6 runs/150 g
Total: -6.1 runs

Granted, I'm counting one of the worst seasons in recent memory here with Patterson. But he was the opening day center fielder, and for all intents and purposes was the CF starter for much of 2008. Who else should we use here?

2009 projected:
Dickerson: -15 runs/150 g
Taveras: -22 runs/150 g
Bruce: +4 runs/150 g
Total: -33 runs/150 g

Obviously, we're losing a lot of sock this year, even taking into account the pure misery of Patterson's season.

Baserunning

2008 baserunning using Dan Fox's stats:

Dunn: -2.5 runs/150 g
Patterson: +1.0 runs/150 g
Griffey: -5.4 runs/150 g
Total: -6.9 runs/150 g

2009 "projections" (average of 2007 & 2008 stats/150 g for Taveras...For Bruce and Dickerson I extrapolated from their 2008 performances, but then regressed half-way to zero in recognition of the small sample sizes on both of them) using Dan Fox's stats:

Dickerson: -1.1 runs/150 g
Taveras: +9.8 runs/150 g
Bruce: -0.1 runs/150 g
Total: +8.6 runs/150 g

That's a difference of 15.5 runs per 150 g in baserunning.

Fielding

Here is the projected runs per 150 games for the 2009 trio of outfielders vs. what the 2008 Reds did according to bUZR:

2008:
Dunn: -19.8 runs/150 g in LF
Patterson: -1.4 runs/150 g in CF
Griffey: -20.6 runs/150 g in RF
Total: -41.8 runs/150 g

2009 projected
:
Dickerson: +3 runs/150 g in LF
Taveras: +3 runs/150 g in CF
Bruce: +2 runs/150 g in RF
Total: +8 runs/150 g

That's a difference of almost exactly 50 runs, due to the change in defense in the outfield between opening day last year and opening day this year. Staggering.


Hitting + Baserunning+Fielding:

For the 2008 opening day squad, I have them as -6.1 runs on offense, -6.9 runs in baserunning, and a mind-blowing -41.8 runs in the field for a total production of 55 runs below average.

For the 2009 opening day squad (assuming Dickerson is in LF), I have them as a miserable -33 runs/150g on offense, +8.6 runs/150 g baserunning, and +8 runs per season in the field for a total projected production of 16 runs below average.

...

So, what these data indicate is that our speed-focused outfield combination of Dickerson/Taveras/Bruce is projected to more productive--on the order of 40 runs and ~4 wins--than the combination we started with last season of Dunn/Patterson/Griffey. I certainly didn't expect the difference to be this large, and wasn't sure it would even be in this direction.

There are all kinds of potential critiques you might levy here, of course. The biggest is that 2008 saw Patterson have one of the worst seasons in reent memory, far below his 2008 projection. And therefore, what we got from our 2008 outfielders might be below their true talent levels.

So let's make Patterson a replacement player and take 20 runs off the difference. Even then, we're talking about a projected 2-win improvement over last year's opening day squad, despite the substantial offensive dropoff.

Maybe there are other changes that you'd make...but can you come up with reasons to subjectively shift the data another 20 runs toward the 2008 team's ledger? Even at that point, you'd only make the 2008 outfield the equals of the 2009 outfield.

If you ask the typical saber-leaning fan, I doubt you'll find many that would believe that our outfield might be at least as good, if not demonstrably better, than it was opening day last season. But that's what these data indicate, and I'm finding the numbers pretty compelling. It's all about improved baserunning and (especially) improved fielding. It makes a huge difference.

Edit: Further discussion at Red Reporter and Redleg Nation. Thanks for the links, guys.
Edit2: And RedsZone.