Arthur: Do MLB teams undervalue defense — or just value it differently?

From SABR member Rob Arthur at FiveThirtyEight on April 18, 2017:

Absent a helpful general manager opening up his computer system — or letting you hack in, if that’s more your style — it’s tough to know what baseball teams think of different players. But one place GMs leave clues about their preferences is in free agency. Since each team can bid on every available player, and the competition to acquire the most valuable talent is fierce, the free-agent sweepstakes is baseball’s closest answer to an open market; accordingly, the cash that teams deal out tells us how much they’re willing to pay for each area of on-field expertise. And for all the strides made in evaluating defense (plus convincing clubs to buy in), my analysis of recent offseasons suggests that MLB teams still don’t value defense the same way as sabermetricians do — though it might not be because they don’t value it enough.

To estimate how much teams pay for offense relative to defense, I looked at the average annual value of every non-catcher position-player contract signed since the 2006 offseason and compared those dollar figures to players’ offensive and defensive runs above average (according to in the previous three years. I found that, from the front-office perspective, a run saved just isn’t worth as much as a run scored.

For every offensive run a player generated above average in the season before he inked a new deal, he was paid an extra $215,000. An offensive run two years back was worth $113,000, and there was even value — $93,000 per run — in stats from three years in the past. By contrast, each defensive run was worth only $84,000 one year back, with the benefit even lower in earlier years.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: April 18, 2017. Last Updated: April 18, 2017.