The discovery that, before Byrnes' eighth-inning homer, the best OPS on the 2006 Arizona Diamondbacks belonged to Luis Gonzalez shook me to my very core. I lay there in bed, unable to sleep - though that might have been an overdose of orange teriyaki pork. Was Gonzo really the best player on the team? Had we been maligning the performance of our beloved veteran presence for no good reason? Should we look at re-signing him for 2007?
Seeking reassurance, I decided to look a little deeper. The most obvious thing to take into account is that he plays left-field, a relatively easy position that is expected to provide a lot of offense. As a quick-and-dirty test, I compared the OPS of the regular players at each position for Arizona, to the NL average for the position. 100 would mean that they are producing at exactly the NL average - more than that = better, lower than that = worse. Here are the dozen D'backs with 100 or more plate-appearances this season:
|OPS Index for Arizona|
[And just in case you're wondering, Carlos Quentin would be a 125, but it's still too early to tell, and I'd definitely say his at-bats are too small a sample-size to use] The result is most soothing. Luis is, basically, performing almost exactly like you would expect an average left-fielder in the National League to perform this year. The full line expected is .281/.362/.485; Gonzo is .284/.371/.480.
For "counting stats" (HR, RBI, BB and K), we need to do a bit more, because Gonzo has not played every inning of every game. However, if Joe Average in left-field played 91.8% of the time [like Gonzo - 967.1 innings vs. 86 for everyone else], he'd be expected to have 18 homers, 62 RBI, 80 K's and 49 walks so far. Gonzalez has 13 homers, 58 RBI, 38 K's and 55 walks: a few less HR (the difference is made up for in doubles) and a lot less strikeouts, but otherwise, pretty close to what you'd expect.
The other obvious factor to take into account is salary. If you look at the other LF, Luis slots in towards the bottom of the well-paid players: he's between Frank Catalanotto ($2.7m) and Carl Crawford ($2.6m). Obviously, aspects other than pure hitting come into play, but unlike Crawford, Gonzo has no speed, and his defense this year doesn't merit much additional credit either. To borrow a phrase: league average is great when you're paying league minimum for it, but sucks when you're paying $10m.
The chart also shows that, slump or not, Byrnes and Estrada are still among the most productive Diamondbacks, for their positions. This does tie in with general wisdom, that any production you can get from positions "up the middle", catcher, 2B, SS and CF, is a bonus. Hudson, too, is now producing better with the bat than most hitters for his position, and in the apparent absence of any better alternatives (I'm not sold on Callaspo, who looks set for the 2007 Easley role, though could be an upgrade there), I'm leaning towards keeping him around for next season.
And, of course, there's Stephen Drew: his performance thus far would be impressive at any position, but for a shortstop would be the best in baseball. While I doubt he can maintain the ferocious pace, there's currently no way a post-rehab Counsell will replace Drew in the everyday line-up. It certainly gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling as far as 2007 and beyond are concerned, and his meteoric rise would certainly explain why Upton was shifted from the position so rapidly.
On the down side, this shows the problems we are having with our corner infielders, neither Jackson nor Tracy producing at the level expected for their position. I'm inclined to cut Conor a lot more slack than Chad, being significantly younger: this is his first year as an everyday player. However, Tracy, who should be coming into his prime at age 26, appears to be regressing considerably. But I'll look into that in more depth in another article.