Today, we went over the ample capabilities of Jose Reyes heading into the 2012 season. Obviously, the Marlins signed one of the best shortstops in baseball because he would be capable of contributing a lot to the team. Yet it is surprising to hear, even at this time period, people still had concerns about signing Reyes to a lucrative, long-term deal for reasons beyond simple talent. Despite all we have seen from him, we still heard one odd argument against committing so much money to Reyes: he is a leadoff hitter.
The funny thing about this is that fans and some talking heads on baseball TV productions are still thinking in archaic ways with regards to production. An example of this can be seen in a dialogue in the movie Moneyball between Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta stand-in Peter Brand. The important bit of the conversation can be heard in this part of the movie's trailer. In essence, Brand says that Beane's goal in order to replace the production of outgoing free agents Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, and Jason Isringhausen is not to replace their actual numbers, but to replace the general production in terms of runs and wins that these players produced. The goal of the team is not to find how to replace Giambi's 38 home runs and 120 RBI, but rather the nine wins that he produced in 2001 (according to FanGraphs).
What does this have to do with Reyes? It is simply a matter of bias; people of the opinion that a player like Reyes does not deserve such a hefty investment from a smaller payroll team are only seeing Reyes's steals, his speed, and his position. On the other hand, what they should be seeing are the runs and wins that Reyes brings to the table.We actually have discussed this concept earlier this offseason.
As a a result, the takeaway here is the following: if you want to measure how productive a player is (and this is generally what people mean when they ask about how "good" a player is), you need to find a measure that converts all of his offensive and defensive performances into runs, which can then be converted into wins.
Players cannot be measured and deemed worthy of a contract if they are not first evaluated the right way. If we just use the idea of a "leadoff man" and all the things that come with the leadoff role, we cannot really evaluate Reyes's skill versus that of other players. What is the value of Reyes's steals versus Prince Fielder's home runs or C.J. Wilson's strikeouts? How can we put a number on those things if we do not share a common currency?
The truth is that leadoff men have a bias against them. Fans and pundits see home runs bring players around to score, and they glorify power and the RBI in favor of a leadoff man's skills. Traditionally, your team's best hitters were not necessarily leadoff men either, as hitters of that ilk usually batted third or fourth in the lineup. As we will get into later in the season preview series, this should not necessarily be the case, and indeed leadoff men should be among the team's best hitters. Unfortunately, the role is traditionally considered an important one, but one that is of lesser importance than that of the middle-of-the-lineup hitters.
That bias carried forward when the news came out that the Marlins were very interested in bringing in Reyes with a big deal. Reyes may not draw a lot of walks, but he does see a lot of pitches and is a traditional speedy leadoff man. However, because of his leadoff skills, he was lumped along with other leadoff men and considered a second-tier player compared to elite power hitters. But in reality, Reyes is an elite player himself without having to hit home runs or drive in runs; one only has to look at his contribution in terms of runs and wins in order to see that. There is value in his position, as shortstops are incredibly hard to come by. There is value in his baserunning, more value than most speedy leadoff types. And when you tally the entire package, it turns out he is a player worthy of a big contract.
The lesson here is that a player is not the individual stats he encompasses, but rather the entire package that he brings. That entire package has to be measured in the same currency as others, in terms of wins. And when that total package is taken into account, as in the move Moneyball, you can see that Reyes is well-deserving of his contract.