Wednesday, April 27, 2005
My rationale was that Polanco and Bell made the same salary, had roughly comparable batting numbers and Polanco was a better glove, an important fact given that the Phillies had restocked with groundball pitchers in the offseason, which put defense at a premium this season. Based on the Phillies mediocre DER through their first twenty games, I assumed that an examination of Bell's Zone Rating numbers would bolster my argument that the Phillies should end the Polanco-Utley platoon and install Polanco at third.
Naturally I was wrong.
Don't get me completely wrong: Bell is having an awful year. As I write this he's hit one home run in 73 AB's with six doubles and eight RBI's. His .219 BA / .278 OBP / .342 SLG is laughably bad. In fact, Bell's '05 OBP is worse than his '03 campaign (.296) where he played some awful, awful baseball. If we were going by offense, I think Polanco is a better hitter: .352 OBP ... OK: his SLG is .298- a product of having just two extrabase hits -but he's getting on base and producing runs.
But Bell is excelling at one phase of the game: fielding. Right now Bell is third in the NL in Zone Rating for thirdbasemen, the stat from Stats, Inc that I rely upon so much to gauge a player's fielding. Bell's .865 ZR is pretty stellar stuff, just behind Scott Rolen and Chipper Jones, two pretty fine fielders. Sure, people might object to what I've said and note that Bell has four errors so far this season, but I think that Bell is playing some pretty good D at the hot corner.
I put a lot of faith in ZR because is does a good job measuring a player's total contribution to team defense.
The results made me ponder an interesting thought: what if David Bell is actually a strong defensive player? What if Bell made up for his short-comings at the plate with good glove work. As George Will argued in Men At Work, a double denied on defense is worth just as much as a double hit at the plate.
Bell's ZR stats don't help that argument: he was middle of the pack (.775). However Dave Pinto's Probalistic Model of Range (PMR) rated Bell as a strong fielder: Bell made 377 outs (projected: 355.71) in 2004. Those 21 extra outs aren't recorded in Bell's batting stats, but they represent a significant contribution to the team's fortunes.
So maybe Polanco wouldn't be the best choice for the job: Bell might be struggling at the plate, but he's a strong fielder (at least so far this year) and he's hitting with a little more power than Polanco (which is what this team needs right now). Keep Bell's glove at the hot corner. He's the best we've got.
Stewart Alsop- Posters.