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2014 MLB Capsule: Top Position Players No.11-15

Felipe Melecio uses advanced metrics to rank the top 2014 MLB position players.

Coco Crisp

We are counting down our top 20, Major League Baseball position players as we close the door on another exciting baseball season. We opened up our final rankings with a controversial declaration, naming American League Most Valuable Player, Mike Trout as the 18th best player in the Majors for the 2014 campaign. Trout finished the season as the best player in terms of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) per fangraphs.com and that had many voters awarding the young Angels’ player the MVP after shunning him in the last two years in favor of Miguel Cabrera.

Nevertheless, we don’t use WAR when coming up with Felipe’s Ultimate Baseball Advanced Rankings (or FUBAR for short). WAR is a wonderful stat that evaluates a player’s value based on league average and position and league adjustments, all in the name of finding the value of a player compared to that of a replacement level substitute. It’s a great way to gauge a player’s worth.

Conversely, FUBAR is a simple formula that takes into account the following criteria:

  • Hitting Prowess–Weighted On Base Average (or wOBA for short).
  • Plate Discipline–Walks per Strikeout ratio (BB:K). Does the hitter know how to take a walk or is he out there hacking?
  • Base Running–Per fangraphs.com, Base Running (BsR) is a stat used to gauge the value of a player’s base running.

For more details on the stats used to determine our MVP, please be sure to check out our All-Offensive Team feature for more details.

One big difference that sets FUBAR apart from WAR is that the former takes into account Plate Discipline. For FUBAR, discipline (approach at the plate or batting eye have all been used interchangeably here) is a skill that needs to be acknowledged, even in a game where strikeouts are becoming the norm in modern baseball (also, check out the band Modern Baseball). If base running gives the advantage to more athletic players, then we need to celebrate the highly skilled player as well.

For defense, we use both Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) to evaluate defensive ability. For a more detailed look at both stats, be sure to check out our All-Defensive Team recap.

And of course, nothing is weighted here; all categories are on an even scale. As we saw on our quick glance of the top 70 playersMatt Carpenter‘s plate discipline was more valuable than Yasiel Puig‘s hitting prowess in 2014. You don’t have to be an advanced physical specimen and crush the ball to be an important player in baseball. The whole point is to compare the best players of the past season, regardless of age, physical makeup, or athletic ability. With that in mind, let’s continue our countdown.

T-14th–Giancarlo Stanton
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
wOBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.403 -0.6 0.55 37 105 13 0.288

The new owner of the richest contract in professional sports, Stanton put up monster numbers and who knows how much more ridiculous his counting stats would have been had he not been lost for the season due to an eye injury. How about a rough estimate of 41 home runs and 117 RBI? That would have led both leagues.

Alas, FUBAR doesn’t acknowledge projected stats and we can only evaluate a player based on actual games played. With that said, Stanton was one of the best power–err, make that overall best–hitters in the game this past season. Along with an ever-improving approach at the plate, a result of adjusting to seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone, and it’s easy to see why Stanton was rewarded very generously by the Miami Marlins.

T-14th–Brian Dozier
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
wOBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.340 8.3 0.69 23 71 21 0.242

Do not let the low batting average turn you off, Dozier delivered on a lousy Minnesota Twins’ team. You can count on one hand the total number of 20-20 players in 2014: of 47 hitters that hit more than 20 home runs, a grand total of five also stole 20 stolen bases.

Aside from the counting stats, Dozier’s advanced stats also profile him as a legit offensive force. In terms of wOBA, Dozier finished ahead of sluggers like Brandon MossAramis Ramirez and skilled players such as Ben Zobrist and the aforementioned Matt Carpenter. In terms of BB:K, Dozier finished ahead of highly regarded regulars in this category: Albert Pujols, Buster Posey, and Dustin Pedroia.

Dozier, who will only be turning 28 years old in May, is in the middle of his prime years. It’s reasonable to think that he will continue to be a very productive, valuable player next season.

13th–Jonathan Lucroy
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
wOBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.368 -1.0 0.93 13 69 4 0.301

Our starting catcher and batting eight on our All-Offensive Team, Lucroy holds his own when being compared to other players at other positions, finishing in our overall top 15. Outside of batting average, his traditional stats won’t impress, but his advanced numbers display his real worth. A .368 wOBA had him ranked ahead of household names like Justin Upton and Hanley Ramirez, thanks in large part to a league leading 53 doubles (finishing ahead of Miguel Cabrera in that stat). Ok, so that’s one counting stat that will impress.

We have not even talked about his batting eye as can be seen by his BB:K (good enough to be in the top five in that category). Lucroy combined a patient approach with a high Contact Rate, finishing in the top 20 in that category at 88 percent, to own one of the best approaches at the plate in the game today.

12th–Juan Lagares
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
wOBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.310 0.8 0.23 4 47 13 0.281

Lagares is ranked this high solely because of his glove. The most underrated player in baseball would go on to win a Gold Glove Award and finish as our starting centerfielder in our All-Defensive Team. Lagares displayed great range and owned one of the better arms in the outfield.

At the plate, Lagares profiles as an aggressive hitter who makes adequate contact. Lagares generates plenty of ground balls which helped him finish with a high Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP–per fangraphs.com, this stat “measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit”), which raised his batting average. Plus he has enough speed to be a threat on the base paths.

11th–Coco Crisp
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
wOBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.314 2.8 1.00 9 47 19 0.246

When one thinks of Coco Crisp, the word “cereal” comes to mind. “Speed” is the other word that comes to people’s minds. Crisp finished with 15 or more stolen bases for the fifth consecutive season. Matter of fact, when playing in more than 75 games on any given season, Crisp is guaranteed to steal more than 15 bases. That would be 11 seasons of grand theft larceny.

However, Crisp is not on this list because of his base running, though BsR acknowledges his effectiveness on the base paths. Crisp was one of three qualifying hitters (146 total players) to finish with a BB:K over 1.00. A remarkable feat in today’s baseball, but Crisp had always had an advanced approach at the plate and has actually gotten better as he gains more experience in the majors.

Just how ridiculous is his plate discipline? Compared to the other 145 qualifying hitters Crisp…

  • … had the second lowest Swing Rate outside the strike zone (O-Swing%) in baseball (Carpenter finished ahead in this category),
  • … was one of 11 players to finish with an Overall Swing Rate below 40 percent,
  • … was one of 17 players to finish with a Swinging Strike Percentage below five percent,
  • … and owned a top 20 Contact Rate (87.7 percent).

Entering his age 35 season, Crisp is showing these young bucks that there is still value in having a good batting eye.

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com.

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