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Sunday Rockpile: Why Brad Hawpe is a better fit for the Rockies than you may think, Part 1

So today, I'm very busy with real life stuff and sort of running desperately late, so no links other than to Troy Renck's article at the DP, talking about how the Rockies are navigating past the obstacles presented this Spring. Instead, I'll just put up a post I've been working on regarding Brad Hawpe, that's still in a nascent stage, so I'll just call it part one.

I've been kind of troubled by my affinity for Brad Hawpe this winter, and no, Mrs. Hawpe, it's not that kind of affinity. Anyway, why I'm troubled is because I really don't believe he's as bad for the team as some very intelligent people make him out to be, and whenever that sort of disconnect takes place, it causes me to question my own stance. Today, I'm going to try and reconcile why I feel that some of Hawpe's value to the Rockies may be missed (note: in part two, I'll try and figure out how to actually put it in numbers, rather than theory). Let's first review the two basic facts that we know about Brad Hawpe:

  1. He is a liability defensively, likely a very large one relative to replacement level.
  2. He is a credit on offense, again a pretty large gap between him and your standard bench (not Seth Smith) level.

The sum total of these two facts lead sabrmetricians to the conclusion that on a completely average team, Brad Hawpe is a slightly below average player. No, actually that's not true, it seems to lead most of them to the conclusion that on any team, Brad Hawpe is a below average player. And that highlighted word is important, because I believe this is where people are generally missing something important. 

Let me show this with a geometric proof, so you can see where my logic's coming from:


  • The object of baseball consists of two distinct phases, scoring as many runs as possible while on offense, and preventing as many runs as possible on defense.
  • There are hierarchies of player importance in both run scoring and run prevention. For run scoring, the top and heart of the lineup are most important as they get the most plate appearances and also the most plate appearances with high percentage scoring chances. In run prevention, the pitcher carries by far the most importance.
  • Right field, because of the relative scarcity of play opportunities, is close to the bottom of the defensive hierarchy, but (depending on the individual player) usually near the top of the offensive side of the equation.


Is everybody with me so far? This is where it will get a little more tricky:


Picture an imaginary scenario where a pitcher has a 27 strikeout perfect game. He (with probably a little credit to the catcher, but I'm not going to get into that here) has taken complete responsibility for his team's run prevention for that game. There is zero need for the other seven fielders. The same would be true on the opposite end for a pitcher who came in and gave up six straight upper deck home runs without recording an out before being lifted. Six runs score and he has infinite ERA for the appearance, but again, no need for fielders, good or bad, to achieve this result. Still on that bad side of the spectrum but a little more winnable would be a pitcher (Charlie Brown?) who gives up 12 straight line drives to the outfield before being lifted. Depending on the effectiveness and luck in placement of your outfielders, your team might scrap together a few outs from that performance.

Therefore, the basic gist of a corresponding law would be:


  • As pitchers decrease in effectiveness, defensive performance from the other eight members of the team becomes more important.

of course, if this is true, then the inverse would also have to be true:

  • As pitchers increase in effectiveness, defensive performance from the other eight members of the team becomes less important.

This isn't new ground, it's stuff that DIPS derived pitcher evaluations (such as FIP or xERA) use for hurlers, but the properties don't seem to be often carried over to a team's fielders. What I'm saying is that a player like Brad Hawpe, who has a high offensive value but is low on the defensive scale, would have far greater value on the Rockies (a team with a very low team FIP) than he would on the Brewers. In effect, because his defensive liability is going to be limited by the effectiveness of Rockies pitching, his offensive capability becomes that much more significant. In fact, the Rockies, as MLB's most effective pitching team in 2009 by overall win value, could have been the perfect NL team for a Brad Hawpe.

How this works in a real game setting is simple, the hits that Brad Hawpe allows through his poor defense are far less likely to drive in runs or come around to score because Rockies pitchers will allow fewer preceding or subsequent baserunners than other teams. Ideally, of course, you would want a player that's both an offensive and defensive threat, like that punk Justin Upton, but given a scarcity of supply of true two-way players, teams have to make decisions based on relative value to their clubs and the relative value of an offense first player like Hawpe will be much higher compared to other players of similar cumulative value for a pitching strong team like the Rockies, while the relative value of a defensive specialist would be much higher for a team with a weak pitching staff. 

Here, let me illustrate with the real world comparison of two NL West right fielders in 2009, the Giants Randy Winn and the Rockies Hawpe, with their value in runs over replacement according to FanGraphs:

  • Randy Winn: -13.4 batting, +16.5 fielding; 1.7 WAR
  • Brad Hawpe: +21.5 batting, -21.3 fielding; 1.3 WAR

According to FanGraphs' WAR, both of these high quality pitching teams would have been better off with Winn. What I'm suggesting is that because of their pitching staffs, both clubs would be better off with Brad Hawpe. In effect, Winn doesn't save as many runs as is suggested by his UZR because Tim Lincecum and company wouldn't allow them to score anyway, and Brad Hawpe doesn't allow as many runs as suggested because Ubaldo Jimenez and friends have his back. As that defensive gap between the two players narrows, the offensive gap, which will remain static, becomes more critical. Anecdotally, this example bears out at the team level given the standings last season. The Giants had a strong defense but weak offense to go along with their strong pitching but weren't able to overcome the Rockies for the wild card, despite the Rockies considerably weaker defensive squad.  

The same could be applied to Manny Ramirez with the Dodgers last couple of seasons, he is likely quite a bit more valuable to them than indicated by a neutral WAR, and it's why this article that says the Nationals are silly for wanting to extend Adam Dunn is true (the Nationals have a terrible pitching staff, defense is more important) but why some Royals fans making a fuss over possibly acquiring Hawpe might not have their heads on straight given that pitching is a strength and offense a notable weakness for their club.

This theory would suggest that boy genius Theo Epstein might not have been getting the biggest bang for his buck in targeting defensive specialists like Mike Cameron this past winter (the Red Sox had the second most valuable pitchers in the majors last year), and why Omar Minaya's still an idiot (the Mets aren't a very good pitching team on the whole) for acquiring Jason Bay. Both teams would be getting more relative value from the other player.

This of course doesn't get into the presence of one Seth Smith, yet, which is a different can of worms altogether. Look for more of that in part two.