It's become a holiday tradition of sorts: the annual unveiling of McEwing Scores for the previous season. It's a little gift to myself, I suppose. Growing up, I was always fascinated with the players who could move all about the diamond -- guys like Bert Campaneris and the eponymous Joe McEwing.
We all know that being able to play multiple positions makes a guy more valuable to a team. How much? That's debatable, and not necessarily a concern when crafting my favorite junk stat: the McEwing Score. McEwing Score (or McE for short) simply takes into account how many positions a player has logged during a regular season, applies a few rules and numbers, and gives us a numerical score that encompasses a guy's positional utility. It's simple, it's stupid, and I love it.
We've run McE articles for the past three seasons: 2011, 2012, and 2013 ... but this year, not only have I run the numbers for 2014, I've also tallied up the scores for 2010, to give us a true five-year sample.
Before we get into the good* stuff, let's quickly review the methodology: the nitty-gritty** of how I craft a McEwing Score for a player.
* - Good, as always, is a relative term.
** - Multi-position players are SUPER gritty, by definition.
Calculating McEwing Score doesn't require any advanced math skills: just addition, counting, and patience. First, identify how many times a player got into a regular-season baseball game at a given position. (Baseball-Reference makes this pretty darn easy.)
First thing to note: if a player made it into a regular-season 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. I made the two-or-more games rule because sometimes teams put a guy in somewhere just to fete them, or because of a true emergency, and what we're trying to measure here is a guy's true utility. If the Yankees want to run Jorge Posada out there at second base because he's retiring, okay, cool. But that's not what the spirit of McE is about.
Next, we identify which positions qualify for the McEwing Score. Rule #2 comes into player here: 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. These positions aren't exactly interchangeable (well, if you ask Carl Crawford), but if a player logs two games at either RF or LF, or one game at each outfield corner, then they get point credit for the combined RF/LF slot.
Why aren't pitchers included? When position players pitch (or pitchers play positions), it's deserving of its own fun article and/or junk stat. We should all celebrate Tony Sipp on our own time. Also, as I stated last year, no position player ever pitches twice in the same season.*
* - Yep. I know. We'll get to it later, I promise. Same as last year.
So, how were the point values for McE chosen? I did what I normally do: I came up with something, and then improved it based on the opinions of someone smarter than me. In short, it's based on the original scale that Tom Tango developed for positional adjustments, and also commonly used in FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement calculation. There's a baseline of nine points for the least valuable position (first base, naturally), and the scale works its way up from there.
Here's a handy table!
If you play two positions, your minimum McE is 20, so good on you, Brandon Moss! The maximum score, attained only by playing at least two games at seven or more positions during a single season, is 101. This grand McEwing score has only been achieved once.
All hail Shane Halter, king of the McEwing Score! He achieved the feat (rarer than pitching a perfect game in the playoffs), for the Detroit Tigers back in 2000. And yes, he did pitch that season, because he is awesome and the Tigers were horrible.
Time for our quick example of the year. I give you a guy who played three positions
poorly in 2014: Carlos Santana. Santana got into a game at first base 94 times, played 26 games at third base, and played in 11 games as a catcher. For playing first base, Santana earns nine points, according to our table above. Third base earns him an additional 15 points, and catcher grants him another 19 points. That gives him a total McE on the season of 43 -- a pretty good score.
In a hypothetical world where Santana played one game in left field, would he get any additional points? No -- because we don't give out points for a single appearance. If he would've played in two games in left, he would gain points: those 11 points that you earn for playing either or both of right and left field,
That's it for the methodology. Time for the good stuff.
All Hail Brock Holt, 2014 McEwing Score Champion!
You already love Brock Holt, of this I'm pretty sure.* He came out of nowhere (read: Pawtucket) to play an integral role on Boston's 2014 campaign. And while that campaign was pretty terrible, Holt was not -- he showed up and filled a void wherever one became apparent. In the process, Brock managed to post pretty good numbers (.281/.331/.381, with more than four runs of added baserunning value) while spending not-insignificant time at six positions.
* - Unless you're a Yankees fan. Then you probably find him irritating, almost by definition.
I italicized six above because it's significant for me in terms of McEwing Score. Over the past three years in which I've been calculating this stat, no one has managed the "six-positions, more than once" feat while playing for only one team. And not only did Holt do it -- he posted many more than two games at all of those positions. The position (other than catcher and pitcher) where Holt played the least was first base, and he spent parts of eight games over there.
Brent Lillibridge hit the coveted 82 score in 2012, but he did so split between two squads, and Lilli never played as many games as Holt. He's the winner.
While Shane Halter may be the platonic ideal of a super-utility player, Holt gets the gold star for being the most positionally-useful guy of the past half-decade, and perhaps longer. His McEwing Score of 82 led all players, and he deserves an additional \o/ for this effort.
The Rest of the Best
2013, overall, was a down year for the upper-echelon of positional utility players. Last season, only three players earned McEwing Scores of 65 or over, indicating that they earned points at five positions. 2014, however, was a nice little turnaround. By my count, nine players (including the aforementioned Holt) played five or more positions, and all scored at least a 67 McE.
Second place was actually a five-way tie. The five are: Elian Herrera of the Milwaukee Brewers, Mike Aviles of the Cleveland Indians, Leury Garcia of the Chicago White Sox, 2011 McE co-Champ Emilio Bonifacio (who logged time both for the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves), and 2013 McE champ Alexi Amarista of the San Diego Padres. All five of these guys logged time at 2B, 3B, SS, RF/LF, and CF.
In a different year, each of these players could have swung an McE championship. (And two actually have, with previous scores of 73.) If one had to pick a tiebreaker among the five, I'd swing my vote towards Amarista, as he played in 20 or more games at four of his five positions, and played 73 games (magic number!) at the most difficult of the five: shortstop. He gets a special gold star for that effort.
Beyond those six players, the final three players with scores of 67 include Ed Lucas of the Marlins, Willie Bloomquist of the Mariners, and Ryan Flaherty of the Orioles. Bloomquist and Lucas were both awful, and Flaherty was merely not-good, so that's that. They all played all four infield positions, as well as the outfield corners.
Minimalism isn't Dead
One team this year took the crown for the least number of players to earn McEwing Scores: the Atlanta Braves. The Barves (not a typo) only had six players to log time at two or more positions twice. Two of those players only spent a partial season with the Braves (Mr. Bonifacio and Mr. Schafer). Ryan Doumit and Joey Terdoslavich played two positions (McEs of 30 and 20), while Philip Gosselin and Ramiro Pena both scored the McE of 47 that comes with playing 2B, 3B, and SS.
The Chicago White Sox only had seven players with McEs, including Leury Garcia. Other than he (73) and current Athletic Marcus Semien (47), none of those other players filled in at more than two positions. NOT FLEXIBLE.
Bonus: The Ballad of 2010
Instead of waiting an extra year to get a five-year sample of McEwing Scores, I went back and ran the numbers for the year prior to the one I started with: 2010. The '10 season was another good one for big McEwing Scores, and it featured the most recent six-position (McE 82) season with a single team before Brock Holt. Sean Rodriguez of the Tampa Bay Rays turned out an 82-point season back in 2010.
In addition, eight other players had scores of 65 or better, and played five positions. Two of those players are folks who showed up atop the leaderboards this year: Emilio Bonifacio (McE 73) and Willie Bloomquist (McE 65). This year also featured the best player to ever hit a 65 in McE: Ben Zobrist.
Let's talk about El Boni for a moment. Emilio Bonifacio, over the last five years, is probably the McE champion. He didn't have the dizzying heights of a Holt or a Sean Rodriguez, but he's managed a 73 McE in three of the past five years, despite spending time on five different teams. In 2012, he posted a disappointing 30 McE in a shortened season, and in 2013, he posted a four-position 56 over two teams. Alexi Amarista is coming on strong over the past few seasons, and could be a contender for the greatest McE player in the '10s if this keeps up as well.
So, there you have it. If you want he complete story, you can check out all the McE data over the last five years here in this Google Doc.
Does McE provide a fun way to numerize a player's overall positional utility contribution? Sure. Does it do much more than that? Not really! We're still looking to find a good way to analyze the true value of positional utility -- but McEwing Score could provide a small start, by providing a defined value describing a player's positional flexibility.
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Bryan Grosnick is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @bgrosnick.