Monday, September 22, 2003

As Promised, Todd Walker

If you're a Red Sox fan, most of your anger, say 70%, is currently directed to the bullpen. The rotation is always cause for some concern once you get past Pedro (who should be winning the Cy Young Award every year. The award is supposed to go the the best pitcher. He's the best pitcher.), and maybe takes another 20%. There's always Grady. He's good for 5%. And then there's that last 5% of rage where we all go in our own separate directions. For me, that last 5% is spent on Todd Walker.

If Todd Walker had a nickname from Chris Berman, it would be Todd "plays second base like he's leaning on a" Walker. In the 30 years I've watched the Red Sox trot out mediocre second basemen, I've never seen anyone who plays the position the way I imagine Homer Simpson would, standing like a drunken statue, blinking blankly as grounders bounce on by. In a day and age when On Base Percentage rules, I can't understand playing a man who's glove is consistently giving the other team extra baserunners, especially when the Sox score a zillion runs anyway.

At least, this is the way it seems to me. The question is, can it be proven? Are defensive stats worth a damn? Would they prove that Todd Walker is a horrible defender? And if they don't, is it a problem with the stats, or one of those tricks that our eyes play on us?

I'm not a big believer in fielding percentages, so I started off with range factors, which are putouts and assists times 9 divided by the number of innings. Here's the bottom five qualifed second basemen in the AL. I only chose AL second basemen because my opinion of Walker is largely formed by watching him in comparison to other AL secondbasemen.

Alfonso Soriano 4.79
Todd Walker 4.76
Marlon Anderson 4.58
Bret Boone 4.58
Luis Rivas 4.29

That's not horrible for Walker, except that errors aren't included in this stat at all. Bret Boone has made only 5 errors at second all season, one-third of Walker's total of 15. Surely that has to count for something.

So I thought I'd find the bottom 5 second basemen for Range Factor minus Error Factor, where Error Factor means the number of errors times 9 per inning. But you know what? The rate of errors per inning is so low for all players that it doesn't change the group much, only moving Boone past Anderson.

I looked at zone ratings for players, and the bottom three, from best to worst, are Soriano, Walker, and Rivas. I decided to finally check fielding percentages, and the bottom four, best to worst, are Rivas, Walker, Soriano, and Anderson.

Alright, Walker's one of the worst second basemen defensively in the AL, but not historically awful. And fielding certainly isn't everything. Walker's bat counts for something. But Soriano is clearly the best hitter of the "Bad Defenders", and Anderson is having a season not far from Walker's offensively, with much more speed. Also, remember that this is the Red Sox. Wouldn't the Sox have been much better off this year with Brandon Phillips, who has been terrible offensively but is a great second baseman? Did the Sox really need Walker's bat that bad?

The only second baseman that would clearly be worse for the Sox than Todd Walker is Luis Rivas, who gets routinely trashed at Aaron's site (over on the right). But that doesn't make me feel any better.

I have nightmares of Todd Walker recreating the role of Bill Buckner. I hope I'm wrong.

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