What if: Prince Fielder Were an Everyday Shortstop?

I was recently involved in an online discussion of the Prince Fielder/Ian Kinsler trade and the signing of Jhonny Peralta by the St. Louis Cardinals. Someone stated that Peralta was no more than a utility infielder who could sometimes hit. I pointed out that, over the last three seasons, Peralta was actually a top-five SS. Someone else stated that Prince, were he to play SS, would also be a top-five SS. I thought that was ridiculous, but decided I’d try to look at it as objectively as possible.

Over the last three seasons, Fielder has 111 batting runs, -18 base running runs, 61 replacement runs and -10 fielding and -37 positional runs for 107 total runs.

If we assume that his batting, base running and overall playing time would stay the same, which is probably an optimistic assumption given the likely additional strain of playing SS instead of 1B, then we only need to adjust his positional and defensive runs.

The positional adjustment is the easiest to adjust. The adjustment for 1B is -12.5 runs per 1350 innings, the adjustment for SS is +7.5 runs per 1350 innings. Fielder’s -37 positional runs represent (-37/-12.5) 3.0 defensive seasons. Three defensive seasons at SS is worth (3 * 7.5) 23 runs.

At this point Fielder at SS is worth 111 batting runs+-18 base running runs+23 positional runs+61 replacement runs. That’s 167 runs all told. That’d make him, by far, the best SS in the league. Troy Tulowitzki has 114 runs.

But we still haven’t factored in Fielder’s defense compared to the average SS. I’m not really sure that we can.

Fielder has been about six runs worse than the average 1B each season of his career. But the average SS is a much better defensive player than the average 1B.

I think it’s safe to assume that Fielder would be the worst defensive SS in baseball.

Since 2002, the UZR era, the worst season by a SS (minimum 650 innings, about half a season) is Dee Gordon’s 2012 season in which UZR says he was worth -27 runs per 1350 innings.

That’s a somewhat amusing comparison. Dee Gordon is listed at 5’11” 160 lbs. Prince is listed at 5’11” 275 lbs. Those are listed weights and I think it’s entirely possible that Prince weighs twice as much as Gordon.

I’m going to go out on a limb as say that Prince would be a worse defensive SS than Gordon. I’d go so far as to say that he would be considerably worse. But how much is considerably?

UZR can be broken down into different components.
Range runs – attempts to measure a player’s range; how many balls he does/doesn’t get to compared to average.
Error runs – attempts to measure how many runs a player saves/costs his team by avoiding/making errors
Double play runs – attempts to measure how many runs a player saves/costs his team by turning/not turning double plays.

I’m going to assume that Fielder would be the worst at all three of the above. So, what would that look like for Fielder’s overall defensive worth at SS?

It’s worth noting here that most of Gordon’s poor UZR was due to making errors, his range and double plays were bad, but not historically bad. His errors were.

The worst SS in terms of double play runs (per 1350 innings) was, go figure, 2012 Dee Gordon at -5 runs per 1350 innings. If we say that Fielder was equally as bad as Gordon, I’ve little doubt he’d be much worse than Gordon, that’d be (3*-5)-15 runs over the 3 seasons.

The worst SS in terms of range runs was, not surprisingly, 2012 Derek Jeter at -17.5 runs per 1350 innings. Anyone think that Fielder has Jeter’s range? I don’t. But if we give Fielder three seasons as poor as Jeters’ 2012 that’s (3*-17.5) -53 runs for 3 seasons.

The worst SS in terms of error runs, bet you guessed that it, was 2012 Dee Gordon at -13 runs per 1350 innings. Again, I think that Dee’s footwork and hands around 2B would be much better than Fielder’s, but if we say that Fielder was as good as Gordon then he’d be worth (3*-13) -39 runs per the three seasons.

If we add all of that up (and remembering that this is-I believe-an optimistic look at Fielder’s possible performance at SS, we get Fielder being (-15-53-39) -107 runs worse than the average SS. Quite a bit worse than Gordon’s -27 runs

Let’s add that to his other performance from above:
111 batting runs, -18 base running runs, -107 fielding runs, 23 positional runs, 61 replacement runs = 71 total runs.

71 total runs between 2011 and 2013 would have put Fielder 12th among major league SS, between Hanley Ramirez (84 runs) and Marco Scutaro (70 runs), and worth about 2.5 WAR per season.

To emphasize again, I think these are the most ridiculously optimistic assumptions that I can present with a straight face. I think it much more likely that Fielder would be a -50 (per 1350 innings) or worse SS were he to play there everyday. Not to mention the additional strain on his body that would decrease his hitting, baserunning, and ability to play every day.

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Barney Coolio
10 years ago

Haha! Awesome stuff. I remember being 24 and wondering if I could play a better shortstop than 40 year old Frank Thomas. I have practically no experience playing baseball.

Another question, Jose Molina is seen as comically slow for a baseball player. But is he slower or faster than the average 38 year old American male?

Brandon Reppert
10 years ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

It takes Molina 4.84 seconds to get to first, which translates into a 6.45 40 yard dash time.

I’d say that an in-shape 38 year old would run about a 5.5, while an out of shape (but not cosmically out of shape) guy would run it in about seven. Unfortunately we don’t have data on every American male’s 40 times (dang it retrosheet!), so that’s all the analysis we can do on this very serious topic.

Jonah Pemstein
10 years ago

Average for an 18-19 year old boy (all boys, not just athletes) is about 5.5. Making a random guess, the average man in their late 30s would probably run it at about 6.2 based on that, since they will certainly be slower. So I’d say that a 6.45 would be below average for a 38-year-old, but not significantly. But probably the average 250 pound (Jose’s weight) 38-year-old would be significantly slower than that, making Molina much faster for his age and weight. After all, he is an athlete.

Just my guess, though.

Barney Coolio
10 years ago
Reply to  Jonah Pemstein

I think that the average man slows down more than that over 20 years. That is only a 13% decrease in speed.

Not quite
10 years ago
Reply to  Jonah Pemstein

But you have to keep in mind that baseball players aren’t “physical” athletes but “skill” athletes. They suck in track (objectively physical)metrics. The few that are truly athletic include Andres Torres (ran 10.37 in the 100 in Puerto Rico, which usually wins the HS California state meet), Carl Crawford, and a few others.

You don’t have to be fast to be good at baseball. The world record holder in the 60 meter dash at that time, Herb Washington or whatever, was an exclusive pinch runner for the A’s but only stole at like a 63% rate because he had crappy instincts.

One of the really in shape, slim baseball players, Adam Everett, apparently ran 8:30 miles for 3 miles in the off season. That is painfully slow for a distance runner; olympians run their easy pace workouts at 5:20-5:30 and even good HS male runners do 7 minute miles without any strain.

People don’t realize what fast is until they go to the track. The average D1 track sprinter is world’s faster than every professional athletes minus some football players that DO have a track background.

10 years ago
Reply to  Jonah Pemstein

^To NotQuite

That is quite a hyperbole to say that the average D1 track athlete is faster than every pro athlete. You already mentioned Crawford and Torres. Also worthy of mention: Carlos Gomez, Ichiro (used to be a world-class sprinter), Billy Hamilton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, DJ Davis (in the minors), Rajai Davis, Quentin Berry, Michael Bourn, Mike Trout, Eric Young, Jarrod Dyson, Emilio Bonifacio, etc.

And lol at Adam Everett being a good example of someone who is one of the “really in shape + slim” baseball players. His speed was never considered good even by baseball standards. There are plenty of world-class “physical” athletes in baseball even if it certainly isn’t a requisite.

10 years ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

From what I understand, Molina’s perceived lethargy is a result of a lack of effort on his part, as Maddon feels that Molina’s defensive contributions, which would be wiped out if he were to suffer a baserunning injury, outweigh any additional value he might accrue by legging out a few grounders. Thus, Molina might be speedier than we give him credit for–he just doesn’t show it.
Also, interesting post.

Slorak De Perfection
10 years ago

I could see Fielder trimming down to a svelte 250 lbs on his 5-10 frame. Considering Miguel Cabrera is only a -15 defender at third with a 288 lb frame, I think Cabby would probably be a -30 defender at shortstop. Then calculate in the fact that Fielder would be 38 lbs lighter, I could see him as a -10 shortstop (if not better considering he might take his conditioning more seriously). He wouldn’t be great, but he wouldn’t be as bad as a Dee Gordon or god forbid Derek Jeter.

Brandon Reppert
10 years ago

-10 shortstop? That’s only slightly worse than Everth Cabrera. Unless this is an obvious joke, in which case *I’m* the one who’s crazy.

Not quite
10 years ago

He’s listed as 5’10”, which means that he is really 5’9″ or 5’8.5″.

10 years ago

Have you SEEN Fielder play first? He has no range, doesn’t get down on the ball, is poor at catching foul flies, digging balls out of the dirt and handling even good throws. He might be worse than Adam Dunn, who is at least tall enough to sometimes stretch and nip a runner by a half step. Not Prince. I enjoy this comparison but even the range-challenged Jeter would be so much rangier than Prince, I’m not sure ordinary math can comprehend.

10 years ago

Haha. I donno. It does depend somewhat on how many balls actually get hit to SS. At some point, you simply can’t give up too many more runs at a position because people just can’t hit it there often enough. Kind of like how if you have a totally immobile player at 3B, you still can’t manage to get automatic hits off of bunts down the line. Not sure how many runs that “worst case” condition would add up to, however.

10 years ago

Is it stupid to suggest Fielder would lose weight/gain range/flexibility playing SS on a consistent basis? He’d suck, of course, but wouldn’t it be like putting an offensive lineman in football out at wide receiver? Compared to other WRs, he’s be horrible, but just the daily activities of playing and practicing the position would make him a Fred Astaire among linemen.