Andy Dirks’ Inverted Value: Trading Offense for Defense

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Andy Dirks has been slumping with the bat lately. A lot of Tigers fans are unhappy with his performance lately and want to see more from the now-injured Tuiasosopo, Garcia, and Castellanos. I get that, I understand. The offensive numbers are down. You can see it in his rate stats from last year to this season:

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He’s 100 PA shy of where he was last season (344 to 244), so the counting stats are going to be harder to compare, but something is incredibly interesting about Dirks this season. Last year, he was worth 1.6 WAR in 344 PA. This year he’s at 1.4 WAR in 244 PA. So he’s actually a little ahead of last year’s overall value despite being 100 PA behind and being a worse player across the board offensively.

Andy Dirks went from an above average hitter and below average defender last season to an elite fielder and below average hitter this season. Now, it could be a sample size issue. Certainly it could. But the change is pretty dramatic and pretty interesting in terms of where his value is coming from, so let’s just take a look with the caveat that this might not keep up.

If we take a look at this advanced defensive numbers, multiple measures line up. Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) agree that Dirks was slightly below average/right around average in 2012 and way above average in 2013.

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So Dirks’ bat is down and his defense is way up. If we look at where he is contributing runs to his team it has completely shifted (keep in mind replacement level and positional adjustments change a little year to year) from the bat to the glove (10 runs equals 1 WAR). Batting runs, fielding runs, and total runs above replacement look like this:

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Basically, the takeaway point here is that while Dirks is struggling at the plate this season, he has made up for it with huge defensive value. I’ve watched almost every inning of Tigers baseball this year and I’m comfortable with the directional change, even if you want to quibble over his precise defensive numbers. Dirks has been great on defense especially compared to most guys who play left field.

Consider this, by UZR/150 which is essentially how many runs a player saves on defense per 150 games, Andy Dirks in LF is baseball’s best qualifying defender. His UZR/150 this year is 34.9. That’s like being a 3.5 WAR player just on defense. Granted, he’ll regress a little over time, but that is an elite level to this point. He’s the best defensive player in baseball by this measure! He’s 2nd in UZR (which isn’t scaled to a full season) and 8th in DRS. (These are all broken down by position and player so guys who play many different positions are unfairly knocked down)

So while I understand that fans are concerned about Dirks’ offensive performance you have to consider his defense as part of his overall value. That’s why Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is such a useful tool. It places a run value on everything and converts those runs into wins. I don’t care how a player adds value, I care if they add value. Dirks is adding value on defense instead of at the plate, and we can’t just ignore that.

Half of a player’s job is playing defense, even if it isn’t as sexy. And Andy Dirks is playing great defense.

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4 responses

  1. […] a position that doesn’t utilize a glove, he wasn’t adding value on defense in the way Andy Dirks has done during his own offensive […]

  2. Dude, are you sure you watch the games or just evaluate statistics?

    1. “I’ve watched almost every inning of Tigers baseball this year and I’m comfortable with the directional change, even if you want to quibble over his precise defensive numbers. Dirks has been great on defense especially compared to most guys who play left field.”

      Dirks has been very good in left field this year – certainly at least when I wrote this two months ago.

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