Once again, I return to you with my favorite of all pet stats: the McEwing Score. Named for utility man and current coach Joe McEwing, the McEwing Score (McE) is how I measure a player's positional utility: the ability to play multiple positions on the baseball diamond, and his team's willingness to use a player in those spots.
McE is (1) not particularly useful, (2) not particularly complex, and (3) kind of fun. It's like the CW TV series The Flash of baseball statistics. And it's now packing six full seasons worth of data! Think of McEwing Score as a one-stop shop to rank each player's versatility on a simple number scale.
Calculating a player's McEwing Score doesn't require much math: counting and adding, and that's it. First, I identify how many times a player got into a regular-season baseball game at each position. (Thank you, Baseball-Reference.)
The real first step is noting when a ballplayer made it into a regular-season game at a given position during two or more games during the season. If so, then they get a certain number of points added to their McE based on what position that is. The Rule of Two exists because of those instances where teams put a guy in at a position as a one-off just to fete them or due to a true emergency. Since we're trying to measure real utility, we simply remove those occasions. It's fun when the Mets want to play David Wright at shortstop or when Vernon Wells plays all over the field. But that's not what the spirit of McE is about.
From here, we identify the positions that qualify for McEwing Score. Most of them are treated identically, but right field and left field are combined in my calculations. These positions aren't exactly interchangeable — you could make a compelling argument that right field is a more demanding defensive challenge — 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. (This happens a LOT.)
Then, there are the pitchers. Why don't I include them? Well, when position players pitch (or pitchers play positions), it's deserving of its own fun article and/or junk stat. Let's keep this strictly to utility players ... unless something extra-fun happens with pitching. (Plus, how often does a position player pitch twice in a season, right?)
As mentioned before, McE is all about counting and adding. I chose the McE point values 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!
Now, if you play two positions, your minimum McE is 20, so good on you, Mark Canha! The maximum score — which requires a player to log at least two games each at seven or more positions during a single season — is 101. This is the Ultimate McEwing Score, and has been achieved just once in baseball history, by the immortal Shane Halter back in 2000. You are more likely to see a 20-strikeout game than to see this happen in baseball.
It's example time!
Meet Kris Bryant. You may not have heard of him. Kris Bryant played five positions in 2015: third base, left field, right field, center field, and first base. Now, Bryant played third base during 144 games, which earns him +15 points for playing multiple games at the hot corner. Bryant also got into eight games in left field, and seven in right. Since right field and left field get combined for our purposes, he draws another +11 points — but he doesn't get that point total twice. Seven games in center field earns him another +15 points. But, given that he only got into one game at first base, Bryant gets no points for that position ... remember, it's two games or bust. That leaves KB with a total McE of 41 — which is a relatively high score.
Methodology done! On to the data.
It's such an exciting thing, to announce the most McEwing-ish player for the year. Last year, it was Red Sox wunderkind Brock Holt. This year ... it's Red Sox All-Star Brock Holt! Holt did something that's new to my six-year sample of McE scores: He repeated a score of 82! Only two other players had achieved a single-season 82 in the five previous seasons (Sean Rodriguez and Brent Lillibridge), and Holt now has done it in both of his seasons. In addition, Holt has again shown remarkable numbers at each position. A score of 82 means that he spent time at every field position aside from catcher and pitcher, and Holt spent eight or more games at five of those spots.
Rather surprisingly ... Holt was not even the only player to score an 82 this season. That's right, we have another (Red) winner: Kristopher Negron of the Cincinnati Reds! Negron didn't spend nearly the time at any of the given positions as Holt did (with the exception of center field), but he's certainly deserving of a spot as co-leader in McE score for this most recent campaign.
The Golden Age
So, having two scores of 82 is a rarity based on my previous sample ... and it turns out 2015 was a banner year for McEwing Scores across the board. Over this past season, 15 different players posted a McEwing Score of 67 or better and played five or more positions on multiple occasions. If this seems like a lot to you, it is. In 2014, only eight players hit that mark. In 2013, only two did, plus Don Kelly, who scored a 65. I'm still only working with a small sample here, but 2015 saw many more of these players than any of the other seasons I've examined as of yet.
In addition, the top part of the McE leaderboards read like a veritable "who's who" of the utility elite from the past several years. Four players earned an McE of 73 — a number that is among the highest in many seasons, and includes all positions excepting catcher and first base — one of them being Alexi Amarista of the San Diego Padres. Amarista was the league leader in McE back in 2013, and in each season since then has turned in a score of 73. He's been remarkably consistent over the last few seasons. Another former league leader, Sean Rodriguez, posted a score of 67 and returned to McEwing glory. And, of course, McE spiritual grandfather Willie Bloomquist posted a 67 for the second consecutive season, proving that you can teach an old dog the same trick, as long as that trick isn't how to hit very well.
Three teams had two players with scores of 67 or better: the Mariners (Bloomquist and Brad Miller), the Reds (Negron and Ivan De Jesus), and the Astros (Jonathan Villar and Marwin Gonzalez). And a grand total of 308 ballplayers earned any McEwing score of 20 or more, indicating time at two positions.
Two teams tied for the fewest McE-eligible players, and they both played in the AL Central: the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals. The Royals were especially McE-minimalist ... that team only employed six players to earn McE scores, and only two of them had scores which included three positions (Christian Colon - 47 and Ben Zobrist - 41), meaning all the rest were two-position players. They were the "least utility" team in baseball this year. Meanwhile the Chicago Cubs had the most McE-eligible players with 14.
Oh! Guys pitched too! Adam Rosales of the Texas Rangers earned a McEwing Score of 39 (good, but not great), but he earns a definite asterisk for also "qualifying" as a pitcher ... he got into two games as a hurler! Way to go, Rosie! In addition, some of the best McE earners for the season entered a game as a pitcher, so Alexi Amarista (McE 73), Brendan Ryan (McE 67), and Jake Elmore (McE 67) all get extra credit for being awesome.
So, there you have it. If you want he complete story, you can check out all the McE data over the last six years here in this Google Doc.
McEwing Score is fun ... it allows us to measure a player's utility using a simple number. I'm still considering trying to build an additional metric from this that takes into account defensive skill and time spent at a given position, so if you have any ideas, feel free to drop them in the comments.
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Bryan Grosnick is the Lead Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a contributor at Baseball Prospectus - Boston. He could probably handle a few innings at third base and each of the outfield positions, but his arm is a liability.