I visit a website called "Baseball Reference" every day. It's a database of statistics for … oh, you've heard of it. Good, good. Well, they have a regular site and a mobile site, but the way I like to use it is by mixing it with baking soda and a little water and smoking it. It gets the job done a lot quicker.
So on one of my every-five-minute swings by the site, I noticed something on the front page.
We're all thinking about Brett Lawrie because he acted like Tuco from Breaking Bad in front of a few thousand people and some cameras. But he's one of the most valuable players in baseball according to Baseball Reference, to which I said, "Wow! I had no idea Brett Lawrie is hitting so well!" So, off to Lawrie's page!
Huh. Well, that's okay, I suppose. Especially for a 22-year-old. But maybe I made a mistake.
Well, I'll be. Maybe I was looking at ...
Nope, nope. Had it right all along. So Brett Lawrie is having something of a mediocre offensive season, but according to Baseball Reference's calculation of Wins Above Replacement, he's still one of the most valuable players in the league because of his defense. Using Defensive Runs Saved, here are the most valuable defenders in baseball this year as of Wednesday:
Only Hardy and Rodriguez, shortstops, are even close. And they aren't that close. Here's the list of third basemen:
These are in terms of runs saved. I'm not the stats guy around here, so I'll refer you to the best description of Defensive Runs Saved I've read. From also-not-a-stats-guy Joe Posnanski, by way of FanGraphs:
... the numbers determine (using film study and computer comparisons) how many more or fewer successful plays a defensive player will make than league average. For instance, if a shortstop makes a play that only 24% of shortstops make, he will get .76 of a point (1 full point minus .24). If a shortstop BLOWS a play that 82% of shortstops make, then you subtract .82 of a point. And at the end, you add it all up and get a plus/minus."
Highly technical. Elements of subjectivity. But certainly one of the most respected defensive stats freely available. And Lawrie is absolutely dominating.
Here's where I have to put the Surgeon General's Warning about sample size. Stupid bureaucratic red tape. The reports on his defense weren't always universally positive. From The Fielding Bible III:
Before his major league promotion, scouts doubted he would stick long-term at second or third, predicting an eventual move to the outfield or first base. Of course as soon as Lawrie reached Toronto, he turned into a defensive highlight reel.
It's early. Lawrie's played 336 innings in the field. That's not a huge sample. But last year in 380 innings, he saved 14 runs, which is still a superlative mark. And that bit up there about the defensive-highlight reel? Oh, man ...
Those last two are from the same play, but that was play was worth the double-angle treatment.
It's early, yes. But the early returns are telling us that Brett Lawrie doesn't have to hit a whole lot to be an extremely valuable player. Now remember that Lawrie is supposed to develop into a fantastic middle-of-the-order force. The baseball world is abuzz about Bryce Harper because he's young and good. But the baseball world is abuzz about Brett Lawrie because he has a crazy temper. We should probably be talking about both of them in the same conversation for the same things.
There's a decent chance that Lawrie can be one of the more valuable third basemen in baseball when he has a .325 OBP and isn't slugging over .400. Imagine what he'll look like when he's hitting.