For years, I've been fascinated by those players considered "utility guys" -- those players who add value to their teams by moving around the diamond and playing multiple positions. And while we know that being able to play multiple positions makes a player more valuable, we haven't yet found a proper methodology for measuring that value.
Nevertheless, I've made it a goal to at least quantify how many positions a player plays in a given season, using a stat I've invented called the McEwing Score (McE). It's a toy statistic, nothing more, that uses a very basic formula to give any player who played multiple positions over the course of a season a number between 20 and 101, that represents how many positions they played on the field, and which of the more "valuable" positions they played.
Calculating McEwing Score is pretty simple -- you don't need a TI-84 or even a sophisticated Excel spreadsheet. All you need is data on how many games a major-league player logged at each position on the diamond.
If a player got into a game at a given position during two or more games during the season, then they get a certain number of points added to their McE based on what position that is. The reason the two-or-more-games rule exists is because I'm trying to weed out the use of emergency players who have to fill in for an inning due to injury or something. There are a lot of freak one-inning or one-game moves that can be made, and we do our best to discount those.
Sorry, Vernon Wells.
So, which positions qualify for the McEwing Score? Catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, and center field are all treated the same way ... but right field and left field are combined in my calculations. Since the two positions are mostly interchangeable, if a player logs two games at either position, or even one game at each, they get credit for the combined RF/LF award.
At the same time, the role of pitcher gets discarded, because (1) it's deserving of it's own fun junk stat and (2) no position player ever pitches twice in the same season.*
* - Yep. I know. We'll get to it later, I promise.
How are the point values for McE chosen? I'm glad you asked! The point values for McE are based on the same scale as the one Tom Tango developed for positional adjustments. It's also the same scale used to make positional adjustments in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement. It starts with a baseline amount of nine points for the "least valuable" position, and works it's way up from there. You can check the point values in the table below:
As a result, the minimum score for a multi-position player is 20, while the maximum score is 101. Only one player in MLB history has ever scored a 101 ... Shane Halter of the Detroit Tigers, in 2000. And yes, he did pitch in a game as well.
Let's run through a quick example. During his 2013 rookie season, Evan Gattis logged time at multiple positions for the Atlanta Braves. Over the course of the year, he got into 48 games in left field, 42 games at catcher, and four games at first base. Playing left field earns him 11 points, catcher earns him 19, and first base nets him 9 points. His total McE for the season is a very respectable 39. If Gattis got into two games in right field, he would get no additional points, as that combines with his time in left. If he got into one game at shortstop (yikes!), he'd also get no additional points, as it's only one game. But that would be pretty fun to watch anyway.
Enough of how the sausage is made. Let's get to the good stuff.
The 2013 leader in McEwing Score is ... the guy in the picture at the top of the article, Alexi Amarista! You'd think I could have telegraphed things a little less. Amarista is the first player in the last three years to single-handedly top the league-leader list, with a McE of 73. For the record, 73 is kind of the gold standard for top McE in the league. In 2012, five guys had an McE of 73 or better -- Brent Lillibridge needed to log time with three teams to earn an McE of 82 -- and in 2011, three guys had an McE of 73. 73 is the second-best score of the last three years, with only Lillibridge's 82 in 2012 topping it.
Amarista, who played center field, left field, second base, third base, and shortstop enough times to qualify, didn't have a great season. He hit about 25% below league average, and both DRS and UZR weren't complimentary of his defense -- especially his time in center field, where he spent the most innings.
But Alexi can take solace in one thing: he had the most positional utility of any player in the bigs this season! Take your small wins where you can get them, Alexi. And there's another cool thing about Amarista's top season in the bigs -- the fewest games "Little Ninja" played at any of his five positions was nine (at third base). That dwarfs the numbers from previous McE leaders, who often only racked up two or three games at their fifth or sixth position. He even started at least two games at each spot.
It's clear that Amarista wasn't just used as an emergency guy -- his team relied on him in a wide variety of roles. Even if he didn't have the greatest overall season, that's pretty cool in my book.
Superstars Guys Who At Least Show Up
Number two on the McE leaderboard is none other than
sabermetric nightmare old friend Yuniesky Betancourt. Yuniesky somehow managed to play the lion's share of his games at first base for Milwaukee this season, which shows you exactly what kind of wasteland that position was for the Brew Crew. Yuni scored a 67, which had been fairly common in the two years past, but he soloed it in 2013. He, like just about anyone else who gets a 65+ score, hit five positions: all the infield positions as well as left field.
The only other big-league player to log two games or more at five positions was Don Kelly of the Tigers, who scored a McE of 65 for playing first, second, third, and all the outfield positions. The third-place Kelly had a FanGraphs WAR of 0.0 for the 2013 season, making him the "most valuable" of the top three McE scorers. Where Betancourt (-1.8 fWAR) and Amarista (-0.6 fWAR) actively hurt their squads, Kelly was a replacement-level wash.
For the record, each previous season saw at least two 73-scorers have positive fWAR ... though no one has come close to co-leader Emilio Bonifacio's 2.8 fWAR back in 2011. Generally speaking, guys who spend time at five or more positions run about replacement-level or close to it, except in exceptional circumstances. One would have to imagine the main reason is because better players find their way into regular jobs, and managers keep them there.
The Schumaker Protocol
Skip Schumaker, in a vacuum, posted a rather pedestrian 41 McE for logging time at second base, center field, and the outfield corners. But Schumaker gets special recognition for finding his way into TWO GAMES AS A PITCHER! That's right, contrary to what I said in the methodology section, sometimes a guy pitches multiple times in a season.
I'm not sure how this should affect Skip's raw McE score, but at the very least he deserves special attention and an asterisk next to his score for this season. And the fact that he changed teams this offseason makes for a nice segue into our next section ...
The Curious Case of the Cincinnati Reds
During a given year, some teams always have more McE-heavy players than others. But the Cincinnati Reds win the award for fewest guys earning McEwing Scores this year, with only five players qualifying: Cesar Izturis, Derrick Robinson, Shin-Soo Choo, Todd Frazier, and Jack Hannahan. The Reds also won the award for fewest guys with McEs last season, with four. Even stranger, no Reds player earned an McE of more than 32 (Izturis) this season ... no one played more than two positions for more than two games.
I could guess a couple of reasons why this was the case, the first being that the Reds had a relatively healthy team last season, with solid regulars at most positions. The team wasn't constructed with a bunch of guys who have a track record of playing multiple positions, either. And there could be a bit of a failure of imagination on the part of former manager Dusty Baker. It will be interesting to see how, and if, things are different next season.
Other Random Notes
- The team with the most McE qualifiers? It was a three-way tie between the Mets, Dodgers, and Rockies. Each of these teams had 13 players who qualified for McE scores. This is the fewest qualifiers a league-leading team has had in my three-year sample. The Cardinals had 17 qualifiers in 2011, and the Red Sox had 15 in 2012.
- Michael Martinez of the Phillies had scores of 73 in his past two seasons. This year he just managed a measly 58. He's still the most consistent McE guy in the business, especially after previous McE wunderkinds Brent Lillibridge and Pedro Ciriaco struggled to stay in lineups.
If you're interested in all of my McE data for the last three years, you can check out this Google Doc here.
For me, it's always to fun to see how these kinds of utility guys stack up against one and other, even if it doesn't necessarily mean much of anything. There's a lot of things worth examining when it comes to positional utility: how much value it adds, how it affects a player's offensive / defensive performance, etc. ... but for now, McEwing Score is a fun start.
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Bryan Grosnick is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @bgrosnick.