Carleton: Is there a pinch-fielding penalty?

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on June 18, 2013:

I have a fascination with super-utility players, the guys who can play anywhere on the diamond. Players like Tony Phillips, Ben Zobrist, or even Denny Hocking. They’re so handy to have around because a manager can fill out a lineup with a little more flexibility and know that he has someone to fill whatever hole is left. He’s a wild card that gives a general manager more choices when putting together a roster. He’s the type of player who adds a little extra value that the box score— and WARP—don’t really capture.

In 2000, BP alumnus (and full disclosure, a man with whom I have worked) Keith Woolner asked a series of questions that he titled “Baseball’s Hilbert Problems.” At the time, it was a compendium of questions that he felt would drive the field in the century to come. At no. 6 on his list, he asked the question of how we might actually value this sort of positional flexibility. Reading through the rest of Woolner’s questions, we’ve actually made quite a bit of progress in the first eighth of this century on several of them. But not this one.

I’d propose that one reason that sabermetrics hasn’t progressed in this particular area is that while we’ve gotten good at describing various pieces of a player’s performance that provide value, we’ve only ever looked at the player himself. When a player hits a home run, we credit his account. But what do we do when some other factor about the player allows his team to do something positive more often?

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Originally published: June 18, 2013. Last Updated: June 18, 2013.