Mains: Crazy splits on the defensive spectrum

From SABR member Rob Mains at Baseball Prospectus on May 30, 2018:

I assume you’re all aware of the Defensive Spectrum. It’s a Bill James creation, illustrating the difficulty of playing the positions on the field. Going from left to right, easiest to hardest, it’s DH-1B-LF-RF-3B-CF-2B-SS-C.

That makes sense. DHs don’t have to field at all. They’re followed by the “Four Cs”—corner outfielders and corner infielders—and finally the up-the-middle “skill” positions. And as you move left to right, the positions evolve from bat-oriented to glove-oriented. Accordingly, offensive performance falls off.

In some years, this works almost perfectly. I’m going to use True Average (TAv), our comprehensive measure of batting performance throughout this article. TAv is park- and season-adjusted, and it’s scaled to an average value of .260. In the American League in 2002, positional TAvs were, in descending order, 1B-DH-RF-LF-CF-3B-SS-2B-C. Back in 1983, it was LF-DH-1B-3B-RF-CF-2B-SS-C. In 1993, the DH-less National League got the order exactly right: 1B-LF-RF-3B-CF-2B-SS-C. The order was “perfect” in the National League in 2004, 2008, and 2010 as well.

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Originally published: May 30, 2018. Last Updated: May 30, 2018.