Thursday, May 1, 2014

On How Much Wilmer Flores Needs to Hit to be a Good Shortstop Option for the Mets


With New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada struggling, and Wilmer Flores back to playing shortstop in the minors, I thought it would be a good time to consider whether Wilmer Flores is a reasonable internal option for the Mets. I have discussed this topic before, but it seemed an appropriate time to touch upon the subject again, as Ruben Tejada has looked even worse than last season – five intentional walks in 82 PA’s have boosted his OBP early, but he’s also striking out at a higher rate than ever, with an even lower rate of extra base hits – and Flores has been playing SS regularly for the Las Vegas51s (see these recaps: week 1, 2, 3). Considering it is unlikely that Flores would have improved enough in one off season to go from ‘never going to be a major league SS’ to ‘average major league SS,’ the question I wanted to answer is how much offense Wilmer Flores needs to provide to overcome his poor defense.
For the purpose of answering this question, a value-based statistic like fWAR allowed me to set certain defensive benchmarks for a given fWAR total and investigate the required offensive production. What I really wanted to answer was not whether he could be an upgrade over Ruben Tejada – as of now, almost anyone who is not a butcher in the field would be an upgrade over Tejada – but whether the Mets might have the solution to their SS problem in their own farm system. According to fangraphs, teams have gotten, on average, a little over 2 fWAR from the SS position over the past few seasons. While average production would still be an upgrade over what the Mets have seen since Jose Reyes left, they should be aiming for above-average production from every position, which is why I have chosen to investigate a 3 fWAR benchmark for Flores. Of course, they should be aiming for above-average defense at every position, and Flores is a long shot to ever provide that, but, before a few months ago, it was a long shot that we’d ever talk about Flores as a SS again.
The components of fWAR are determined by UZR for defensive value and wOBA for hitting value. There is also a base running measure that gets added to a players overall offensive value, but I have assumed that to be equal to zero, which is not an unreasonable projection for the average speed of Flores. UZR is not a perfect measure of a players defensive ability, especially over small sample sizes, but it is one of the best defensive metrics publicly available, and it is what fangraphs uses to calculate fWAR, so I am forced to use it. The graph below shows what wOBA Wilmer Flores would need to provide as a SS given certain negative UZR/150 scores. These calculations assume 150 games at SS with 600 PA’s.



Figure 1 – Graph of wOBA v. UZR/150 for a 3 fWAR Mets shortstop.

I did not go beyond -20 UZR/150 because 1) if Wilmer is this poor of a defender, he likely isn’t sticking at shortstop and 2) if he’s hitting this well, they’ll make room for him at 1B or 2B, though they may be discouraged from ever trying him at 2B if he’s that poor of a SS. (For the record, the -20 defender needs a .345 wOBA to reach 2 fWAR). Also, I didn’t go above 0 UZR/150 because that is not relevant to this discussion. If he is an average or better defender at shortstop, then the Mets should give him a long shot to see if he can hit in the majors anywhere near as good as he has showed in the minors. Since 2009, the league average wOBA has dropped from .329 to .314, and from .314 down to .298 for shortstops specifically. One thing to notice is that even an average defensive shortstop would have to hit better than league average to produce 3 fWAR. In between those extremes are three specific benchmarks I’d like to take a closer look at:

Table 1 – Offensive production needed for fWAR total given defensive score.
#Flores4SS
UZR/150
wOBA
wRC+ (’13)
’13 Comp
2 fWAR
-5 UZR/150
-10 UZR/150
-15 UZR/150
.313
101
.324
108
.334
116
3 fWAR
-5 UZR/150
-10 UZR/150
-15 UZR/150
.334
116
.345
124
.356
131

 One more comment on the 2 fWAR requirements before I move – they seem very reachable for a hitter of Flores reputation. Even if you don’t think Flores will be better than a Daniel Murphy-type at his best, Murphy at his best produced a .354 wOBA/126 wRC+ in 2011. That was 3 year’s ago, in Murph’s age-26 season, whereas Wilmer Flores won’t be 23 until August. If nothing else, Flores is making a case as a better possible option at 2B for the Mets moving forward, especially considering the relative costs of the two players.
Since two very different offensive profiles can produce the same wOBA, I wanted to tailor these wOBA’s towards the offensive profile of the player Wilmer Flores has been in the upper minors, which is when he ‘finally’ broke out. I also wanted to separate the rates that are more consistently predictable – like K%/BB%/HR%/XBH% – from the biggest variable in a players production – BABIP. With that in mind, I decided to look at a few possible combinations of those rates for Flores, and see what BABIP would be required to generate the necessary wOBA.


Table 2 – Wilmer’s historical rates and the wOBA produced in the majors.
#FloreSS
PA
K%
BB%
HR%
XBH/PA
ML wOBA
AA
275
10.9
7.3
2.9
10.2
.368
AAA
565
14.3
5.8
2.8
10.6
.359
Minors
3098
12.8
5.3
2.1
8
.324
Majors
105
23.8
4.8
1.0
7.4
.241



































The 'ML wOBA' column is what those offensive rates would produce at the major league level in the 2013 offensive environment (aka, using fangraphs guts constants from 2013). AAA Las Vegas is known as a hitter’s park, so his numbers may be inflated some there, but his AA numbers were similarly strong. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to impress in his sparse playing time after getting called up last season – he was limited by injuries – but that number of PA’s is a very small sample size. I have included his 2014 minor league numbers as of May 1 in Table 2. It may be over confident to do so, but I’m only going to consider 14% < K% <  20%, as anything over 20% seems too high considering his minor league career total. I will also consider the ranges: 5 %< BB% < 7%; 8% < XBH% < 10.5%; with HR% = 2.5% = 15 HR/600 PA. Given a few combinations of these rates, here are the BABIP’s that would be required to reach 3 fWAR, and what the production looks like in more familiar terms.

Table 3 – Various offensive outputs that produce 3 fWAR for a -15 UZR/150 SS.
K%
BB%
XBH%
BABIP Req
AVG
OBP
SLG
2B/600 PA
14
6
9
.342
.309
.350
.458
39
14
7
10.5
.328
.297
.346
.464
48
17.5
6
9.25
.357
.308
.349
.459
41
20
5
8
.383
.318
.352
.455
33
20
7
10
.359
.299
.348
.460
45


Table 4 – Various offensive outputs that produce 3 fWAR for a -10 UZR/150 SS.
K%
BB%
XBH%
BABIP Req
AVG
OBP
SLG
2B/600 PA
14
6
9
.326
.296
.338
.445
39
14
7
10.5
.312
.284
.334
.450
48
17.5
6
9.25
.340
.295
.337
.446
41
20
5
8
.366
.305
.340
.442
33
20
7
10
.342
.286
.336
.447
45


Table 5 – Various offensive outputs that produce 3 fWAR for a -5 UZR/150 SS.
K%
BB%
XBH%
BABIP Req
AVG
OBP
SLG
2B/600 PA
14
6
9
.310
.282
.326
.431
39
14
7
10.5
.296
.270
.321
.437
48
17.5
6
9.25
.324
.281
.324
.433
41
20
5
8
.348
.292
.328
.429
33
20
7
10
.324
.273
.323
.434
45


           While the required slash lines might not look too impressive for the -15 UZR/150 shortstop, the BABIP required to get those slash lines should be considered unlikely until Flores shows he will be a high BABIP hitter, and even then some of those BABIP are improbably high for a player to retain. The slash lines and required BABIP’s are much more reasonable for the -10 UZR/150 player, though he’d still either have to have an ~14% K-rate or ~.340 BABIP to reach 3 fWAR. Lastly, the slash lines for the -5 UZR/150 shortstop seem very attainable for Flores – only the combination of the worst K/BB/XBH rates requires what would be considered a high BABIP at .348.
            So, as long as Flores is better than a -10 UZR/150 shortstop, it is reasonable to believe that he could become a 3 fWAR/600 PA shortstop for the Mets, which would be above average. If this is the case, the Mets should give him a multi-season look at shortstop, allowing him time to adjust to the league and another full offseason to work on his speed, agility, footwork and positioning at short. Also, as long as Flores is better than a -20 UZR/150 shortstop, he should be capable of providing 2 fWAR/600 PA, which appears to be way more than what Tejada is capable of providing at this point. For reference, Asdrubal Cabrera was a -17 UZR/150 shortstop for the Indians last season, and they ran him out there for 122+ games worth of innings in 2013. Dating back to 2009, there are 12 instances of a shortstop playing 1,000+ innings in the field with a -10 UZR/150 or worse, with 2009 Yuniesky Betancourt the low man at -19.9 – other offenders include Derek Jeter, Jason Bartlett, Hanley Ramirez, and Rafael Furcal.
            Right now, however, Flores is dealing with a hand injury from Sunday’s game against Tacoma. On top of that, Flores has not gotten off to the offensive start many were looking for. He had an especially rough first week for the 51s, but has been driving the ball better lately (especially the other way), and is playing in the right league and Home Park to get out of a slump. Plus, he has shown improved patience early on this season, and he has had an excellent eye at the plate.
As a fan, it’s hard to watch Tejada keep getting at-bats, especially when the rest of the lineup is struggling to score. I’d ultimately like to see the Mets upgrade at shortstop, and I’m not too picky about what route they go to do so. In the short term, I think the Mets owe it to themselves to give Flores a major league chance at shortstop when his hand heals, as the best possible outcome for the Mets is that he proves capable there – it solves the shortstop problem, solves the problem of where to play Flores bat, and allows the Mets to hold onto all of their valuable assets (draft picks and other players/prospects). If he shows that he cannot handle shortstop, then the Mets know they have to go outside of the organization for a solution, and Flores should be no worse overall than what Tejada has been (-0.3 fWAR on May 1). Plus, with advanced scouting and fielding positioning, the Mets should be able to help Flores mask the problem of his limited range (his biggest knock). Hey, a fan can dream at least, especially when the team is tied for the 3rd best record on May 1!

No comments:

Post a Comment