I love it when a player has the ability to move around the diamond and play any number of positions. While we can't objectively identify the value that a player brings with the ability to play many positions (yet!), there's no question that this is a way that a player can provide some additional value to his team.
But like I just mentioned, there's no easy way to identify what the value of a player's ability to play multiple positions is. What we can do, is instead of saying that a player played first, third, shortstop, etc. -- we can create a number that encapsulates how many (and which) positions they played. That was the thought process behind my invention of a new "toy" statistic.
Last year, I wrote up a series of articles about McEwing score -- which is shortened to McE, for your reference -- which is a silly way for us to turn a player's position utility into a number. Now, I like to use the term "positional utility" rather than "positional flexibility", because "flexibility" implies potential while "utility" implies usefulness, but that's what I'm referring to here.
At any rate, McE is a rating, between 20 and 101, that tells you how many positions a player played in multiple games, and is ideally computed over the course of a single season.
So you don't have to go back to the original article, here's a little bit on how McEwing score is calculated:
- If a player appears in a regular-season game at a given non-pitching defensive position twice, he gets a certain number of points.
- Right field and left field are combined in this exercise, since the positions are so similar. If you appear in one game in right, and one game in left, you get combo RF/LF points. If you appear in two games at either position, you get combo RF/LF points. But you only get the points once.
- Points are based on the same scale that Tom Tango invented for positional adjustments (and are used in FanGraphs WAR), but modified slightly.
Here's a quick table with how points are tabulated:
Pretty simple, right? All you need to do is find a player -- let's use Todd Frazier of the Reds as an example -- and look at their log of positions played in 2012. Frazier spent time during 73 games at third base (earning him 15 points), 39 games at first base (earning him nine points), and seven games in right and left field (earning him 11 points). When you add those up, he earns a total McE of 35 for 2012.
So now that we've got the methodology down, let's get to the tasty, tasty data. If you want the whole thing, you can find it in a Google Doc here.
The Leaders of the Pack
Last season, three players scored an McE of 73 to lead all of baseball: Emilio Bonifacio (Marlins), Mike McCoy (Blue Jays) and Michael Martinez (Phillies). This year, believe it or not, five players scored a 73 ... or better. Jason Donald of the Indians, Pedro Ciricao of the Red Sox, and Elian Herrera were three of them. Fine work by all three players -- as a score of 73 indicates that the player hit five positions: short, second, third, center field and one or more outfield corner. That's quite a bit of flexibility.
The fourth player to score a 73 was Michael Martinez of the Phillies ... which made him the only player to score that high in both 2011 and 2012. Pretty cool, if you ask me. He's the most consistent McE stacker in the game today.
But the highest McE in the game for 2012 goes to a super-sub who changed teams twice during the 2012 season: Brent Lillibridge. Lillibridge managed an McE of 73 ... just in his time with the Cleveland Indians. When you factor in his time with the White Sox and Red Sox, Brent gets credit for first base time as well, bringing his total score up to 82 for the season, the highest score of the past two years! He's also the only player to play two or more games at six different positions in a single season over the past two years.
Get pumped, Cubs fans! Brent Lillibridge!
The Best Player With A High McEwing Score
Martin Prado. By a ton.
You want more explanation? Well, Prado kicked it at five positions (everywhere in the infield, as well as his usual left field spot) at least twice, while also racking up this WAR triple-slash: 5.9 fWAR / 5.4 bWAR / 2.3 WARP. His McE of 67 was third-best in baseball, after the five players I already talked about above.
The Diamondbacks got the best super-utility player in the game this offseason. It's almost a shame that he's projected to get very little time anywhere other than third base.
The Team Perspective
So which teams used the most and least McE-eligible players in 2012? Well, the team that used the least number of players was the Cincinnati Reds, who only used four players who played multiple positions for multiple games. The Seattle Mariners only used five. On average, most teams used about 10, so they're pretty serious outliers.
The Red Sox used the most multi-positional players, running 15 of them out there last season. It's probably fair to chalk some of that up to the team's injury situation -- seven of those players just played an outfield corner and center field. The Rays, Astros, Brewers and Rockies all tied for second place, with 13 McE players.
While it might be fun to try and posit reasons why a team uses more or fewer multi-position players, there are probably a lot of factors that play into it: from injuries, to the skillsets on the team (if the team doesn't have a solid shortstop, perhaps they cycle through a lot of utility-infield types over the year), to a manager's tendency. Without more data, it's hard to say any one particular reason exists for the over- or under-use of super-utility players.
For what it's worth, the team with the highest average team McE score is the aforementioned Reds ... they only had four players, and Wilson Valdez had a huge McE score of 62. Cleveland ranks second, due to the presence of Brent Lillibridge and Jason Donald, and Toronto third. The lowest average? That'd be the Washington Nationals, which surprised me due to the presence of Steve Lombardozzi, but is true nonetheless. The Giants come in second-from-the-bottom (and they would have scored higher had Bruce Bochy
crazily played Aubrey Huff at second base a second time).
The Godfathers of McE
To close out this article, I'd -- once again -- like to reflect on the amazing case of Shane Halter. The highest possible McE for a player to obtain is a score of 101 -- and the only player in baseball history to do this in a single season is the unforgettable Shane Halter. During the 2000 season, Halter played in two or more games at each position -- with the exception of pitcher -- for the Detroit Tigers.
He only pitched once that year.
But instead of naming this statistic after Halter, who admittedly, I only discovered after considering this stat, I named it after "Super" Joe McEwing. McEwing is a former super-utility player for the Cardinals, Mets, Royals and Astros who never played less than six different positions during a full season in the major leagues. He wasn't very good, but his ability and willingness to move around the diamond was pretty special.
And who knows ... maybe players like McEwing, Halter, Lillibridge, and Michael Martinez have more value than we can name right now.