Friday, August 10, 2007


Pedro Feliz...the Best?!?!

Yeah, you read that right. On his blog The Soul of Baseball, Joe Posnanski has been doing a series on the best fielders at every position, based on the cumulative results of a number of defensive metrics, both old school and newfangled, and also just based on his two good eyes. His verdict on who the best fielding third baseman in the majors is? That's right, it's our old flailing friend Happy Pete. Here's a snippet of what Posnanski has to say:

>"Statistically there is absolutely and positively no doubt that Feliz is the best defensive third baseman in baseball. None. For you traditionalists, he has the best fielding percentage. For the Bill James lover in all of us, he has the highest fielding range. For those looking for a little bit of a statistical edge, he has the best zone rating. And for those, like me, who love John Dewan’s plus/minus system, Feliz is FAR AND AWAY the best in baseball."<

Holy crap. I was pretty sure that Feliz was near the top of the list, but the best? Posnanski brings up the statistical portion because, in his view, Feliz has ugly mechanics and sure as hell doesn't look like he's a Gold Glover. However, I think most Giants fans agree with me that from watching him day in, day out, it's been pretty clear for a long time that he's an exceptional fielder, and you don't need any crazily-acronymed stats to see it.

Fielding stats are notoriously hard to decipher, because, for one thing, it's difficult to distinguish how much a player's fielding ability is being impacted by his environment (think Fenway Park's Green Monster or Mays Field's massive right-center field), his pitchers, or even his teammates (like Derek Jeter's mysterious improvement when ARod partnered with him in 2004). Fielding percentage is perhaps the worst way to evaluate fielding, while range factor is better but still pretty bad (it's useless in evaluating first basemen). Other, more advanced statistics like Ultimate Zone Rating, Fielding Runs Above Average (a BP stat), John Dewan's plus/minus, and David Pinto's Probablistic Model of Range, are some of the best in terms of cutting through the smoke, but even they have their holes.

The thing is, usually all of these statistics disagree. One model will find a player to be the best at his position, while another will find that same player to be one of the worst. In this case, though, they're all spitting out the same result, and that means that something else is going on. If all of these normally combative elements suddenly join hands and verify what our eyes have been telling us, then it stands to reason that, yes, Feliz is the best fielding third baseman in the majors. Congrats, Pedro. This is the first time in the history of this blog that I've said something complimentary about you. Mark this day.

The question now is whether or not Pedro's sparkling defense is worth his hideous bat. A .294 OBP is pretty tough to take no matter how much of a genius you are with the glove. Its not like Feliz is Ozzie Smith here. It's the same old debate we had about Mike Matheny. Awful hitter, but great defensive player. We could gauge how much Matheny's bat was killing the lineup (as it turned out, he was decent in '05, his only full season with the Giants), but not how much his defense was helping. With Feliz, he's one of the worst hitters in the league, except that he's playing a position that isn't as difficult as Matheny's.

Basically this just confirms what I've been saying about Feliz all along. His super defense and his ability to smack one out of the yard should make him a pretty good spare part. Use him as a late-inning defensive replacement or as a once-in-a-while starter and you've got a useful ballplayer, like he was in 2003. As an everyday player, though, even with the D, Feliz is a miserable option. Baseball Prospectus has Feliz at a VORP of 0.0. That means he's the very definition of a guy who should be replaced.

Hopefully Brian Sabean doesn't read Joe Posnanski, because come free agent time that little snippet may be enough to make our fearless GM wet his pants and award Feliz with a multi-year deal.

-Brief Plug: I meant to plug this earlier, but it slipped my mind. Matt Johanson, co-author of the book Giants: Where Have You Gone?, has a new book coming out titled Game Of My Life, a collection of stories involving some of the most beloved past Giants players. My favorite part, though, is the chapter on Brian Dallimore, the obscure journeyman who had one shining moment in the bigs when he hit a grand slam off of Dontrelle Willis in 2004.

All information regarding the book and how to order it can be found here.

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Hey Paul,

Long time reader first time poster.

VORP doesn't take into account defense so it might not be the best stat to evaluate Pedro's overall package.

Admittedly, his hitting is atrocious but his glove is one of the best for third basemen.

WARP-1 takes into account fielding and hitting in it's score. Feliz has been worth a little over three wins this year according to WARP-1 (3.2 score) mainly due to his glove.

He's still not in the neighborhood of elite 3B in the NL such as Wright (6.8) and Cabrera (8.0) but he's been better than Garret Atkins (2.2) and close to Scott Rolen (4.0) both of would be guys that I would most likely assume would blow away Feliz.

The fact that he's even playing around 3 wins is a testament to how good his glove is. I think the big question is what you do with 3B next year. The options of the FA market just aren't good. Mike Lowell (3.6) and a bunch of other scrubs are the only options right now.

Would I fault Sabean if he brought back Feliz for another year @ 5 million if they couldn't find a young 3B in a trade?

Thats a really tough question, that I would have to think long and hard about but there are worse options than Feliz out there.

Like you, I can't believe I just complimented our favorite hacker ;)
I've always thought WARP overrated defense a little bit. In 2004, it had Neifi Perez at like a win and a half, all because of his glove. I just can't imagine how that's possible, even with his defense.

There's a guy at Fresno now named Justin Leone who is OPSing .888. He's a journeyman third baseman and certainly not an All-Star, but what are the chances he'd outperform Pedro Feliz over a full season? I'd say fairly decent.

Leone has never been given a fair shake in the majors, and might be a good guy to take a risk on next season. He might turn into a Jack Cust-like surprise. What can I say, I just really don't want Feliz back.
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