Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | April 26, 2007

Inge vs. Polanco

EDIT: 

I wrote this piece prior to the existance of this blog. In order to maintain continuity of my writing and to get as much of it into one place as possible, I added this post at a later date and time stamped it to the date and approximate time that I originally wrote it. This is the reason why it appears before the “introduction” blog entry. It is because this piece actually predates the blog. What follows below is the original entry as written whenever I wrote it.

Recently it was suggested to me that Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco is “light years ahead of Brandon Inge”, Inge being the Tigers starting third baseman.

Certainly, if one were to speak of this baseball season – Which has lasted all of 24 days and 21 games – This would be a true statement. Polanco is having a wonderful April this season…….he is hitting 360/404/442, a rate that exceeds his usual rate of high April performance (career in April: 304/366/378). Polanco again seems to be taking an acceptable number of walks (6 so far, or more than a third the amount he had in the entire 2006 season) though he remains somewhat of a slap hitter. Of course, if he were to hit .360 for the remainder of the season (a doubtful proposition) and draw walks as his current rate (something far more likely), then his lack of power can certainly be overlooked.

In addition, Polanco is yet to be charged with an error this season and has saved one run more than a replacement player in the field so far this season – Indicating that he is an above average fielder at 105 percent the amount of production of an “average fielder”. He has played very well.

By comparison, Inge has been mired in an abominable season thus far, hitting 134/213/284, good for an OPS+ of 36………or in other words, so bad, that he’s not even below average, but below HALF-average! That 36 is worse than Inge even when he was among the league’s worst hitting players earlier in his career, posting an OPS+ of 63 and 62 during the ’02 and ’03 seasons, respectively. His VORP is -5. Inge has managed to continue carrying his weight in the field, where like Polanco he has saved one run above a replacement player and is above average at the rate of 105 percent of “average”.

Therefore there is no debate. In the first 24 days and 21 games of the 2007 season, Polanco has been a better player than Inge. Much better.

Yet, in addition to the small sample size of 21 games, the question isn’t “Who has been better through the first 21 games of the season?” It is, who is the better player right now. To me, it seems that to arrive to such a conclusion, it is best to take the prior three years of performance for analysis. That ought to provide a relevant snapshot into the likelihood of performance (good or bad) for either player.

..>

Inge

2004

2005

2006

BA/OBP/SLG

287/340/453

261/330/419

253/313/463

VORP

15.0

13.3

9.4

WARP3

5.7

8.5

8.0

FRAA

6 (ca), 1 (3b)

17

21

OPS+/FRAA+

108/117 (ca), 102 (3b)

100/111

99/113

..>

..>

Polanco

2004

2005

2006

BA/OBP/SLG

298/345/441

331/383/447

295/329/364

VORP

24.7

38.8

7.9

WARP3

7.0

7.7

4.0

FRAA

17

2 (det), 2 (phi)

6

OPS+/FRAA+

101/116

119/103 (det), 108 (phi)

81/105

..>

The above listed charts are a compliation of numbers that provide a fairly accurate snapshot over the performance of both players. There is the BA/OBP/SLG column, which is the most basic look at offensive performance, and essentially shows how good each player is at (respectively) making contact for hits, getting on base to put himself in position to score, and hitting for power.

The VORP column indicates how much better – In terms of runs over the course of a season – Each player is than a AAAA (or replacement level) player of the same position. With VORP, two players can have dramatically different VORPs based on their position. A second baseman, such as Polanco, can be a lesser hitter and still have a higher VORP than a third baseman such as Inge, because third basemen tend to be better hitters than second basemen. VORP is important in determining a player’s (offensive) worth relative to other players who do the same thing.

The WARP3 column is the one that is most all-encompassing. WARP3 essentially judges how many wins each player is worth to their team in a specific year. WARP3 takes into account hitting, fielding, as well as base running. Unlike VORP, it is not positionally adjusted.

FRAA, or fielding runs above average, is a fielding statistic that indicates essentially how many runs a player saves over the course of a season with his defensive abilities.

Finally, you have OPS+ and FRAA+, which are both ratios based off of the OPS and FRAA statistics. With both OPS+ and FRAA+, the number 100 is meant to represent an average player. Therefore, the statistic is a function of how close a player is to average at its parent statistic. For example, an OPS+ of 50 would represent a player who is half as good as an average player. An OPS+ of 200 would represent a player who is TWICE as good as an average player. FRAA+ (and ERA+) works the same way..


With a proper understanding of the numbers in place, we can now attack them and come to a final answer.

Looking at the charts, two things leap out immediately. One of which I’ve understood for a very long time, and the other which was new information to me. The first thing that has become clear, is that Brandon Inge has been declining ever so slightly offensively since his career year of 2004. That was news to me. The other, is that Placido Polanco was not very good last year. That much I knew already.

Looking beyond the obvious indicators, something that becomes apparent is that Polanco has been better than Inge in all three seasons at both making contact and getting on base. In two of the three seasons Inge had a better slugging percentage, and in all three seasons Inge had better isolated power (not listed on the chart). In both ’04 and ’05 Polanco had dramatically higher VORP than Inge, indicating that he was certainly a better value player offensively, out-performing his peers at second base at an incredible rate. In ’06, Inge held the edge, but did so while posting his worst VORP of the period and only a run and a half better than Polanco’s 7.9.

Therefore it would appear on the surface that offensively, Polanco is the better player, though looking at the numbers, it certainly supports my assertion that there is not a dramatic difference. One caveat to this however, is that even though they were close to offensive equals, Polanco has been (over the balance of the 3 years) the dramatically better value player, because it is much more difficult to find a second baseman that will produce in that way than it is to find a third baseman who will.

The book is not closed on the issue, however. A quick glance at the FRAA statistic will highlight Inge’s greatest value to the Tigers and as a player on the balance – His fielding. In 2004 Inge was in transition from catcher to third baseman and played a significant amount of games at both positions. He was a dramatically above average catcher (117 FRAA+!) and slightly above average third baseman, while Polanco was equally adept at fielding second base (to the tune of an FRAA+ of 116). Of course, in ’04 Inge was a better hitter adjusted to league than Polanco (108 to 101 in terms of OPS+).

In ’05, Polanco was the dramatically better hitter, and Inge the slightly better fielder. In ’06, Inge was much better at both – In spite of the fact that he was a below average hitter overall and Polanco was an above average fielder overall.

Finally, we can take a look at WARP3 – How many wins each player contributed to his team. While Polanco contributed more in ’04, Inge contributed more in the successive seasons (although it was close in ’05), and over the span of the past three years, Inge has been worth 22.2 wins, to Polanco’s 18.7, a difference of 3-4 games, depending on whether or not you wish to engage in rounding.

This might lead someone to wonder: “You have just asserted that you have two players who are close to equal. You’ve spent a great deal of time attempting to demonstrate that both are close to equal. I’m looking at the chart, and I see two players who are close to equal. How can there be a 3-4 win difference between the two?”

The answer is simple when you really think about it, though it is something that many fans take for granted – Inge doesn’t get hurt and always plays.

This was first brought to my attention roughly 10 days ago by another dedicated Tiger fan that put this thought in my head. It is very true. Every game Inge plays…….even if he is performing with an OPS+ of 100 (the very definition of an average player) and an FRAA+ of 110 (above average fielding)………..is a game that a player with an OPS+ of 80 and FRAA+ of 95-102 is NOT playing. Everytime Inge plays, a backup isn’t playing, and that in and of itself is valuable.

Every year during the past three years Inge has played in more games than ANY year Polanco has played in the last three (Inge – 131, 160, 159 / Polanco – 126, 129, 110). This is something that WARP3 accounts for. Those extra 85 games Inge played he was contributing to Tiger victories, and Polanco was doing nothing for either the Phillies or the Tigers.

This is the main reason why Inge’s WARP3 is so much higher than Polanco’s even though they’re essentially similar – If you’re the type that thinks 3-4 wins over a period of three years is really that much higher. That essentially means that if the Tigers were forced to keep either Inge or Polanco, they’d win *one* more game each year for having Inge instead of Polanco. That’s not a very dramatic effect, although last season it would’ve been the difference between division champion and wild card.

Based on the above analysis, I believe I’ve accurately defended my point that Inge and Polanco ARE similar players. The numbers can be spun and twisted in many ways, some that could be used as ammunition that Polanco is better, some that could be used to show that Inge is better, but the very fact that the numbers can be spun to easily support either player is evidence that they’re so similar that the facts can easily be manipulated by spin and are not self-evident.

When I said aloud that “Inge and Polanco are about equal”, I was going off of the top of my head based on what I know and have read, and based off of my following of the Tigers over the past few years. I was more than 90 percent certain that I was correct, because I am rarely wrong about such things. Having now looked at the analysis, I believe that it is clear that while one player may be slightly better than another, they ARE in fact similar in value and in my opinion, Inge has been *slightly* better. Certainly neither player is light years better than the other.

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