Wilson, Rizzuto, and the last generation's UZR food fight

Let's bear in mind, as we're guessing the market for Jack Wilson this winter, that the Pirates (of all people) gave Jack Wilson 15% of their payroll to OPS+ 77 for them.


We fancy that modern sabermetrics has a point of difference here, against most current GM's.  Hey, we put a high value on a plus-glove CF, SS, 2B or C, especially if he looks like he'll chip in with the bat.

The truth is, baseball has valued up-the-middle gloves, with decent bats, for 100 years.   But the recent perception of defense as overlooked just proves the old rule, "If something's out of style long enough, it comes back into style" ... :- )


Why did Cleveland consider Guti a near-untouchable even though he was a 3-year veteran, still not even guaranteed a starting job?  Because plus mitts in CF-SS-2B, if they can hit a little, are precious to all 30 GM's.   It's not a question of, hey, our pencils are so sharp now that we've come realize Paul Blair and Devo White have value.   

Baseball history has tended to value the Devon Whites of the game even more than they deserve, IMHO.  Lots of glove CF's have wound up getting more PT than was justified.  Jeremy Reed, for example, just got another 128-game trial with the Mets.  

Or pick your own example.  My boyhood heroes, the Big Red Machine, had all-star bats at every position but one:  they put Cesar Geronimo in CF to run 85 OPS+'s.

The 1990's Indians put huge bats everywhere, including some clunky gloves, like Baerga's and Thome's.  But Little O was "the glue" of the franchise, running 70 OPS+ for them, "holding the defense together," and headed to the Hall of Fame (!) for his defense and career 83 OPS+ bat. 


Since at least the 1950's and the great Phil Rizzuto / Pee Wee Reese debates, sportswriters have prided themselves on appreciating defense more than the bleacher bums do.  

It's always been a way for the faithful to make a statement that they really get baseball.   The entire "Rizzuto for the HOF" campaign was that generation's Fangraphs argument.  Check Rizzuto's HOF monitors.   He's in the HOF because he was a way for sportswriters to make a statement that they appreciated baseball on a higher level than the folks in the stands do.

Even with Mantle, Yogi, and Whitey Ford laying waste the AL, you still had your sportswriters who maintained that underappreciated defense was the real key to the Yankee dynasty.  :- )

The Rizzuto-for-the-HOF debate reached levels that make today's UZR food fight look like a walk in the park.  There is nothing new under the sun.

Defense has been "cool" since the days of John McGraw.  It's every generation's hidden edge.


True, some GM's value Devo White -- and Jack Wilson, Omar Vizquel, Mike Cameron, etc -- even more than others do, because some GM's lean a bit more to defense, some lean a bit more to batters that fit their park, etc.  But all 30 of them value the guy at some significant level.


Said all that to say this:  If Jack Wilson could hit even for an 80 OPS+, then a dozen teams would give him $8-10M per year.  Not just the teams popularly famous for saber departments.

Know how I know that?  Because the Pirates, of all people, gave Jack Wilson that much money.   After 2006, when Wilson had hit for a 77 OPS+, the Pirates gave Jack Wilson $6-8M per year of a $40M payroll.

Baseball loves fancy gloves.  It always has.   The list of overpaid defenders far exceed the list of undervalued ones, we're sure.  15% of your payroll to a shortstop who hits 77 ?!

Wilson might sign here for $4-5M, but guess here is that Jack would pass on that to go get his $8M in the National League.

Which leaves us paying Wilson most of an Adam Dunn salary in the hope that -- in the tougher league -- he can bounce back to the Willie Bloomquist 270/310/350 batting line that he ran in the weaker league.

Maybe he will.  Zduriencik and Wakamatsu are better qualified to take that guess than I am.

We'll see,

Dr D


Taro's picture

It comes down to whether or not you think Jack can rebound offensively in the AL. Was this a cold streak or a sign that the gap between the NL and AL is as wide as ever?
If Jack can rebound offensively hes well worth the $10-12mil over 2 years. If not, ya. It could get ugly.

IcebreakerX's picture

My problem is more the fact that he can't seem to stay on the dang field. Jack Wilson's been hurt, hurt, hurt a lot the last few years. Out of 160 games over the last 3 years.
This isn't the case of Erik Bedard, where he can be injured for 80 games a season and still contribute in 15 of the ones he participates.
Jack Wilson actually needs to be on the field to contribute with his skill set. And injury downtime only strains the bench.

Sandy - Raleigh's picture

Chance of Jack Wilson posting an 80 OPS in 2010.
He's only turning 32, so I'm not that concerned about age, (yet).  (His interleague OPS just happens to be .754, btw).  His 30/60 eye ratio seems relatively intact, (accepting that he had a horrible and injury marred debut with Seattle). 
A plus for Seattle is that Pittsburgh's park plays similar to Safeco ... kind to lefty power, and a severe blow to righties.  Not that Wilson is a power righty -- just saying that fears about Wilson's transition to Seattle are *NOT* supported by any of the aggregate numbers for his career.  He's fared well against AL clubs, (70 points of OPS ABOVE his career OPS mark), and oddly has picked on Yankees, Tampa and Twinkies most strongly.  (Of course, his splits against individual teams are really small and all subject to sample size issues).
But, he's got 470 PAs in interleague, so that's not a horribly small sample. 
Honestly, I think Jack is due for a good season, (age 26 ... age 29 ...).  He's been spacing his monster seasons three years apart.  His career OPS is 78, so that would typically be right where I'd project just about any 32-year-old ... right on their career average, (which typically includes the low production from learning stage, as well as their peak year). 
I think he's the type of hitter who, (if healthy), might get some real benefit from working with Ichiro.  I also think the release from Pittsburgh Pergatory makes him a good bounce candidate for 2010. 
I think Matt's concern is the primary one.  His health hasn't been good the last few years.  There's another area where the club pushing him to pal around with Ichiro ... the physicality phanatic ... could reap rewards.
I'm much, much more worried about Hall, who I used to love, but am increasingly convinced has lost his eye, and it's not coming back.  He was okay with a 1/3 eye ratio.  But at 1/4 or 1/5, he's dead meat.  Unless Seattle can plug the hole in his swing, Hall is likely going to be dead weight, IMO.  Wilson should be just frustratingly serviceable.

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