Adding A Bit of Character into Analysis
For a while, most Sabermetric analysis was very cold and impersonal. Lots of column-sorting in Excel, tabbing through pages in the web browser, and querying databases. The evolution of Sabermetrics has made it simple for a casual fan, a die-hard, and your cadre of baseball writers to criticize and compare your favorite (or least favorite) players.
Somewhere along the line, having the ability to compare and contrast any players at any position in any era has, at times, left us without the perspective we once had in our prior ignorance: that baseball players are people, and as such, are fallible. I don’t level this criticism as an innocent bystander — one need only search the site for any article about Ryan Howard for evidence of my own hand in this.
Here is what sparked this criticism. (Note: This is not to pick on the article’s author, Stephen Gross, who does great work. It’s simply the best example I could find at the time of this writing; others exist.) Gross writes:
Revere is having one of the worst offensive seasons by a .300 hitter major league baseball has ever seen, as The Good Phight website has pointed out.
It used weighted on-base average, a stat that measures overall value on offense and weighs hits — singles, doubles, triples, home runs — differently. It gives a much more accurate value to hitters than typical stats such as batting average or slugging percentage.
Looking at the wOBA of the 3,127 hitters who batted at least .300 over the course of a season in major league history, Revere’s is dead last at .302. In fact, nobody really comes close. Next to last on the list is Maury Wills‘ 1967 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit .302 with a wOBA of .315.
The 26-year-old is ranked 150th out of 151 among qualifying hitters in isolated power, a sabermetrics stat measuring raw power. Only the New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter (.056) has a lower isolated power number than Revere’s .060. It doesn’t help that Revere has just one home run this year, the only one of his career.
As far as his walk rate goes, that’s not any better. Out of 151 qualified hitters, he’s dead last with a 2.4 percent rate.
That is solid analysis by Gross, one that you might find on any Sabermetrically-oriented site like FanGraphs, Beyond the Box Score, or even here. But imagine an article that pines for the day Howard cuts his strikeout rate into the teens, rather than nearly 30 percent. It goes against the very nature of the player himself, and is akin to trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip. Players this side of Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout are who they are: flawed, incomplete players.
Revere is no different. He does several things well: hit for average, avoid strikeouts, steal bases, show range in the outfield. He is poor in other areas, such as his inability to draw walks, his poor reads in center field, and his total lack of power. It’s possible Revere could eschew some poor habits in the future, but for the most part, what we see out of him is what we’re going to get. No amount of coaching or extra batting practice is going to drive Revere’s ISO into the .100’s.
This does not mean Revere is a poor player. Baseball Reference rates Revere as a 0.5 WAR player this season, while FanGraphs puts him at 1.1, due to being less harsh on his defense. Sadly, the rise of Sabermetrics and stats such as WAR — which uses 0 as a baseline for replacement level and 2 for average — have made the descriptor “average” a pejorative. Average players — and, yes, below-average players — have value and are more scarce than we tend to think.
Last season, 633 position players took at least one plate appearance in the major leagues. This includes everybody from your superstars to your 31-year-old lifetime Triple-A player getting a cup of coffee at the end of September. According to Baseball Reference, 261 (41%) of them were worth 0 WAR or less. 207 of them (33%) were worth at least one win above replacement. 168 (26.5%) were worth at least 1.5 WAR, and 137 (22%) at least 2 WAR. There are a multitude of factors explaining the unequal distribution of talent, but generally speaking, we would expect a team that uses 25 position players over the course of a full season (one less than the Phillies did in 2013) to have only five players worth at least 2 WAR and nine at replacement level or worse.
Revere is not Shane Victorino. Victorino has had six seasons of 3+ WAR (per B-R). Revere will be lucky, or will have evolved into a more complete player, if he cracks 3 WAR even once in his career. But Revere is still a player who is valuable to the Phillies and can be a great asset going forward.
Think back to the 1993 Phillies. Remember all of the fun players whose names you can recall at a moment’s notice? Many of them were of similar stature as Revere. Jim Eisenreich posted 2.5 WAR; Wes Chamberlain and Kevin Stocker 1.4; Milt Thompson 1.1; Mickey Morandini 0.3; Mariano Duncan 0.1. But as far as the team went, they had a role and they were utilized in ways that highlighted their strengths and were held out of situations that exposed their weaknesses (e.g. platoons). A team does not need a superstar, or even an average player, at every position to be successful.
This is not to say that any criticism leveled at Revere is wrong. Most of it is valid, particularly concerning his defense. But to look at his .309 average and 32 stolen bases, and wish that he had 10 more doubles and 10 more home runs and a few more walks to go along with it, is to wish that he were an entirely different ballplayer. We mustn’t banish players into the shadows when they fail to live up to our platonic ideal.