This just in from Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein gives us a reasonable expectation for an average starting
player at each position. By average he’s talking about the 30 MLB players at each position who have started the most
games at each position over the past three seasons. That would make the player clearly better than average as it eliminates
all the emergency call-ups and retreads as well as most of the players given a reasonable shot, but failed. I’ll combine
leftfielders and rightfielders as we Scoresheet managers tend to ignore the difference.
Position On-Base + Slugging
Too bad DH is
not included in this study, but I can see a problem with that in how some teams do not have a regular DH, and the fact that
only one league uses a DH makes comparing it to the other positions wonky. Still, it is a unfortunate cop-out, because there
are DHs and we want to know what to expect from someone in that slot.
What Goldstein does include which is very useful, however, is a breakdown of the top 10 and the worse 10 at each position.
Seeing the differences among the top 10 shows an exponential value from firstbasemen (.987), thirdbasemen (.958) and leftfielders
(.959) among the elite hitters, while there is almost no difference among the elite of the four weakest hitting positions
centerfield, catcher, shortstop, and secondbase (in order .851-.862).
These numbers must vary strongly from semi-decade to semi-decade. We happen to be having a spate of excellent offensive
catchers and shortstops in recent years. I would be shocked if the top ten at those positions would have been comparable to
the top 10 centerfielders during the 90s, 70s, 60s, 50s, 40s, 30s, 20s, or latter 10s.
You are probably surprised the average firstbasemen are out hitting corner outfielders by .040 O+S. This is also likely
a historical aberration. The replacement hitting levels below are probably more stable relative to each position.
More significant are the ten worse regulars at each position over the three year period. This gives us an approximation
of the replacement level for a typical Scoresheet League – or rather the expected value of the guy you will likely get
stuck with if you are the last manager to pick a player at that particular position.
That is dull hitting at the offensive positions compared to having one of the 10 best players at those positions (mid
to high .900s). So, while you may worry less about having a keeper at an offensive position because it is easier to get a
decent hitter, you are deeper in the hole if you do not have an impact player there. However much your player is better than
this base level for his position, that is the impact your player will have. If two players have the same marginal impact,
I would prefer the one at a defensive position because the odds of finding a player with an equal or greater impact at an
offensive position (thirdbase, corner outfield, and especially firstbase) are much better.