What Do People See in Wilson Valdez?

The poll depicted on the right accompanied Bob Brookover’s post on Chase Utley‘s addition to the disabled list on the Phillies Zone blog on Philly.com. The question asks readers their preferred starting second baseman for Opening Day (and presumably for as long as Utley is out). At the time I perused the website, 137 ballots had been cast, with an overwhelming 75 percent of them in favor of Wilson Valdez.

137 is not the largest of sample sizes, but it is more than enough for us to know that Valdez’s 63 percent lead over Luis Castillo is not a fluke, unless someone felt the urgent need to mechanically inflate Valdez’s vote total for an otherwise meaningless Internet poll.

My immediate reaction to this was, “What on Earth do people see in Wilson Valdez that I don’t?” This question is spawned from more than just the results of that poll. On Twitter several weeks ago, I engaged in a discussion with a Phillies fan who swore that Valdez was way more valuable than Sabermetric illustrated. Last year, Valdez posted 0.9 WAR per FanGraphs and was worth a shade under $4 million — not bad, considering the Phillies signed him to a Minor League contract before the season.

Going deeper into his stats, we find that he was rather unimpressive with the bat. Spending most of his time at second base and shortstop, Valdez posted a .306 on-base percentage and a .360 slugging percentage, both numbers below the average .333 OBP and .387 SLG for National League second basemen, and the .325 OBP and .388 SLG for shortstops. PECOTA expects him to be worse in 2011, projecting a .309 OBP and .333 SLG.

Defensively, Valdez certainly didn’t hurt. He was about average at second base and slightly above-average at shortstop. His Aggregate Defensive Rating, which is like the sampler platter of defensive metrics (found at FanGraphs) was +1 at second base and +3 at shortstop, both with a standard error plus or minus 1.

Going forward, we should expect Valdez to be about replacement level overall. Light-hitting infielders with good defense aren’t valueless, but these qualities certainly don’t make Valdez the obvious candidate at second base that most Phillies fans seem to think he is. It seems most fans fell in love with his strong arm and supposed clutchness, which biases their comparisons with other similarly-skilled candidates. He’s really interchangeable with the rest of the crew.

2011 PECOTA Projections
Name OBP SLG OPS
W. Valdez .309 .333 .642
L. Castillo .335 .292 .627
M. Martinez .270 .345 .615
J. Barfield .274 .336 .610
P. Orr .272 .335 .607

Miscellany

Once again, Crashburn Alley has advanced in the Phillies blog bracket The Phield. We received the most votes of any other blog that was still alive. The road ahead will be tough: the next match-up is with Phillies Nation.

I am flattered with how strongly voters represented Crashburn Alley and can only hope that the support persists throughout the tournament. There’s no tangible prize at the end, just validation that what we do as bloggers does make a difference. Sorry for getting mushy, but I was floored by the results and am extremely grateful. You, the reader, are really what makes this blog (and others) great — you are the fuel that keeps us going.

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23 comments

  1. Jon

    March 25, 2011 10:40 AM

    There was some illusion last year where it seemed Valdez was having a great year. Fueled by Wheels and TMac and Sarge, and the media. To the naked eye, all you saw was Valdez doing something good with echoes of “He is doing a phenomenal job filling in for Rollins/Utley!” but when you look closer (at the numbers) it was really just an average year

  2. loctastic

    March 25, 2011 10:41 AM

    The answer is much more simple than that. Philly.com readers have heard of Wilson Valdez because he was on the team last year. That’s it.

  3. sean

    March 25, 2011 10:48 AM

    gritty superlatives. cannon arm. people tend to forget the hitting into a double play meme that happened last year. wilson valdez #allstar

  4. Nik

    March 25, 2011 10:57 AM

    So after all that, he’s still projected as having the best OPS and he’s a known defensive asset. Count me in as one who’d vote for him.

  5. Bill Baer

    March 25, 2011 11:04 AM

    Nik,

    What is the level of certainty around the projections, though? The distance between first and last in the list is 35 points of OPS. I’m certainly not sold on projections nailing OPS within 35 points for players with track records similar to Valdez and Co.

    The point is that they’re all in the same general vicinity; they’re interchangeable, for the most part. From what you’re hearing, you’d think that Valdez is a full win better than the rest.

  6. Nik

    March 25, 2011 11:10 AM

    I’d maybe consider a guy with some upside instead of Wilson but its unlikely any of those other guys can outperform expectations.

    Valdez has also had a nice spring and Charlie feels comfortable with him. Unless they bring in a clear upgrade, I’d rather just roll with Exxon.

  7. egadfly

    March 25, 2011 11:11 AM

    Valdez stepped in when it became clear Castro couldn’t get the job done. If he’d done nothing else but stop the bleeding on defense, fans would be grateful, but he played with grit and determination.

    Not everything that happens on the field is quantifiable: if you think character doesn’t matter, you might as well be a Yankees fan.

  8. hk

    March 25, 2011 12:00 PM

    Jon,

    Frantzke and Anderson deserve blame in addition to the TV guys. Earlier this Spring, I heard them refer to Valdez as the MVP of the 2010 Phillies.

  9. lbillama

    March 25, 2011 12:04 PM

    All in all Wilson Valdez did a good job as a replacement last year. Key words being there – As a replacement. He’s not an ideal everyday player but shows some potential. As a fill in he does the job as best as can be expected from someone who doesn’t get the everyday playtime as utley and rollins. Depending on the length of Utley’s DL stint would determine how long I would keep him there.

  10. JR

    March 25, 2011 01:17 PM

    Why would you not give Valdez the chance? Anybody who compares him to Utley and Rollins in an everyday role or as the MVP of the Phillies last year is crazy – Valdez would be the first to admit that. However, I do not see the other candidates even matching Valdez who is also a step above in the field and has a little speed. He has had a good spring and also comes cheap. If we had money to burn or an Utley or a good prospect in the wings, then that would be another story. All in all, I agree with lbillama. He did a good job as a replacement player. Hopefully, Utley comes back and that is all the Phillies will need.

  11. John M

    March 25, 2011 01:57 PM

    Bill – I tend to agree with JR, above. While I don’t think Wilson Valdez is a “good” player as a starter, I can’t see how any other option on the list distinguishes himself to be rated above Valdez. At best, he’s a fill in who is at least average defensively. Castillo isn’t even that. Martinez is an unknown quantity. Pete Orr is much like Valdez, a bench guy. I personally like Delwyn Young, but he and Barfield have no track record.

    For the fans who voted, I’m sure they chose Valdez because of the announcers bias that comes out in every game, and the fact Valdez played a lot last year, and didn’t blow up the team. I doubt most who voted for Valdez would argue that he’s some kind of star. Just a lack of options here…

  12. Scott G

    March 25, 2011 02:30 PM

    Are people that impressionable that they believe whatever the announcers say? I mean are they going to flat out say, Wilson Valdez is playing average (which for him looks great)? No. People need to be able to form their own opinions.

    On topic, I actually do love his rocket for an arm. He absolutely fires the ball all over the diamond, and I love how it’s usually a perfect strike. I’m not in love with the man, though.

  13. Nik

    March 25, 2011 03:07 PM

    Come on, who can forget when he busts out the under-armor arm sleeve and goes yard. Or when he lets his bright orange facial hair grow out. Or the way his ears stick out reminiscent of Bat Boy from the Weekly World News. Exxon is the total package.

  14. Me

    March 25, 2011 03:19 PM

    I think this post misses the big picture. How will any Phillies fan be able to survive life without Utley when they have to give up the “Wilson Valdez Double Play Drinking Game”. Two drinks when he turns one or hits into one. One when he hits a ball that should or would be one (error,2 outs, etc)

  15. Jon

    March 25, 2011 04:34 PM

    Scott, yes I believe they are. Which is why those guys can get away with saying the things they do about Valdez

  16. Kate

    March 25, 2011 11:17 PM

    Valdez is no Utley/Rollins/Howard, but he won the job over Juan Castro because he did better than Castro did.

    It wasn’t just Franzke and Andersen calling Exxon the club MVP. A certain Mr. Charlie Manuel was quoted as saying the same thing.

    Wilson Valdez will probably never be an everyday player, but he was a pivotal part of holding the fort when we needed a guy who could not only get on base at least a good part of the time, but who could also SAVE runs from crossing the plate.

    I enjoyed watching the evolution of Valdez in ’10. While I’d rather have Utley on 2B on Opening Day, there’s no reason to go outside the house when we have guys who can get the job done right on our own bench.

  17. awh

    March 26, 2011 01:52 AM

    Bill, you’re right in that if you look at the ‘uncertain’ projections, they’re all in the same “range”, but the difference in those projections has meaning.

    First of all, looking at the projected OBP of Orr, Barfield and Martinez disqualifies them from the discussion, IMO, because Castillo’s superior OBP should be about 9-10 runs, or one win better than those two.

    So if I’m going to have to choose between Valdez and Castillo, I see that Castillo is projected to get on base approximately 12 more times than Valdez if they got 450 PA. Assuming the additional times on base are not HR, then that means Castillo might score 3-4 more runs in 2011 than Valdez (using the NL average from last season).

    However, could Valdez negate that 3-4 run advantage with his “superior” SLG and saved runs because of better defense?

    IMO, probably, but even if that’s not the case it narrows the gap, and still I’ll take the guy with the better defense over the guy that’s going to get on base 12 more times – especially with this pitching staff.

  18. w.

    March 26, 2011 06:47 AM

    Valdez doubled and scored the only run that got Halladay the win in his perfect game. That’s a win that meant a lot more to the 2010 team than just another game.

    Interestingly, Valdez and Castro each had two hits in that game, outhitting the rest of the team combined.

  19. hunterfan

    March 26, 2011 07:36 AM

    From the stats that you published, Castillo and Valdez seem to be best contenders from an offensive perspective. Valdez, however, beats Castillo be a country mile on defense. Therefore, to me, the pretty obvious choice as a fill in is Valdez.

    Orr, Young, Martinez, and Barfield are pretty much unknowns, who project worse offensively and defensively than Valdez. Also, I haven’t heard any of them having a tremendous amount of upside, either. If I was told Martinez could turn into the next Robinson Cano given regular playing time, that would obviously affect my calculation. But I have heard no such thing.

    Viewed from that perspective, Valdez becomes the pretty obvious choice. That doesn’t mean everyone who voted for him thinks he’s going to put up 5 WAR and be the team MVP (I think 1.5-2 over a full year might be realistic if he performs well)….just that Valdez is the most reasonable choice given the crappy options.

  20. hk

    March 26, 2011 08:26 AM

    Despite the fact that I recognize that Valdez is barely above replacement level, I would still probably vote for him as opposed to the other barely above (if that) replacement level options. However, the real issue to me is not the vote on the lesser of many evils, it’s the number of media types and fans (and maybe even the manager) who think Valdez is an upgrade over the likes of Jimmy Rollins.

  21. Jeff P

    March 26, 2011 05:15 PM

    I think it’s also partially because he’s a known quantity. Phillies fans watched him last year, and was painted as somewhat of a ‘savior’ by mediatypes as he performed fair while filling in for Utley and Rollins, and had a few big hits later in the season. (Whereas, earlier in the season, he GIDP’d every single AB). But he’s at least a known quantity, and there’s an emotional connection there

    So, while everyone is fairly similar, Valdez is at least known. While Castillo is “that guy not even the Mets wanted who Jon Heyman says is going to ruin our locker room” and Martinez is that rule 5 guy, and Barfield and Orr are AAA guys.

    And honestly, it’s not like it’s a huge gap from Castillo to Valdez. I’d prefer Castillo, but only barely. It’s not like the poll was “Should Valdez replace Rollins at SS?” after Rollins struggles for a week or two. As hk pointed out, THATS where you should be outraged, at the idiots who say that he deserves to be a starter, not an injury fill in.

  22. TMC

    March 28, 2011 08:20 AM

    I know folks on this blog (and similar blogs) cringe at the mention of things like intangibles, but I’m going to invoke them here anyway.

    When all statistical measures suggest that there is no clear leader among the 5 players, isn’t that one of those times when it is acceptable to consider some of those qualitative evaluations of a player? That is, if you’re showing that the players are all likely to be roughly similar in terms of batting and fielding, then why not go with the guy who
    a) played all last year with this team,
    b) seems to be well-liked/respected by his teammates and coaches
    c) brings intensity and a good work ethic to the field (a purported issue with Castillo, no?)

    I totally understand why people hate the grit vs. stats arguments, and that’s not what I’m trying to say here. Just saying, if all the metrics suggest the players are roughly even, then why not use the intangibles as a tiebreaker?

  23. Cutter

    March 29, 2011 06:22 PM

    Valdez did what was asked of him. He played strong defense and was adequately offensively.

    Consider this: Two All-Star caliber players missed a lot of time last season. Valdez was the primary replacement for them, and they still won the most games in the NL.

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