Monday, August 17, 2009

Getting Defensive about Offense

Believe it or not, one of biggest factors in any offensive comparison is defensive position. Let’s take two of the top contenders for the American League Most Valuable Player: Mark Teixeira and Joe Mauer.

Both have had extraordinary seasons. Teixeira has a .939 on-base plus slugging percentage, while Mauer has a 1.071 OPS. The gap between the players shrinks because Teixeira owns superior bulk, having contributed at that high offensive level in 523 plate appearances over 114 games, versus 405 plate appearances and 92 games for Mauer.

Defensive position makes a huge impact on this comparison. American League first basemen have averaged an .837 OPS this season. Teixeira tops that figure by 102 percentage points. AL catchers own a .726 OPS. Mauer exceeds the average by 345 percentage points. His production relative to position surpasses Teixeira by 243 points.

Any time a hitter posts big offensive numbers at catcher, second base, shortstop or center field, he provides immense value to his team. Why? Offense is less abundant at these defensive spots. So assuming the player fields his position adequately, his team gets superior offense where most teams get far less production.

Since team performance plays a role in MVP selections – and the Twins are a long shot to make the postseason – Mauer may not win the award. But his offensive value far exceeds Teixeira’s at the moment.

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