Can the Jays “Afford” Ryan Goins’ Lack of Offense?
H/T Keith Allison – Flickr for featured image
A common sentiment among Blue Jays fans right now is that due to Ryan Goins’ defensive prowess, the Jays can “afford” to insert him into the lineup despite his lack of offensive production. In fact, some fans are even clamoring that Goins earned the starting second base job while Devon Travis was injured, and that it is unfair that he should lose the job now.
First of all, conceptually, I believe the idea is flawed; a run saved is equal to a run scored, not worth any less or any more. Baseball is a zero-sum game. In total, Ryan Goins has been worth -0.3 fWAR in 165 games played for Toronto over the course of his career. He has contributed 13.4 runs from defense, and cost the team 33.2 runs on offense. In all, Ryan Goins’ defense has not been enough to make up for his offense.
Article over. Done. See you next time! Not actually, though; there’s a lot more to it than that. While I do not believe Ryan Goins is a major league player in general, I also object to the idea that teams should be willing to put mediocre bats in their lineup due solely to their defense.
Roughly a year ago, Jesse Wolfersberger wrote a fantastic article for The Hardball Times about The Exponential Nature of Offense. Wolfersberger posits the following:
The exponential nature of offense means a good hitter in a good lineup is worth more than that same hitter in a bad lineup. On a good offense, that hitter is more likely to come to the plate with more runners on, more likely to get driven in once he’s on base. And, the lineup turns over more often, meaning he gets more plate appearances. Not only is he more valuable to a good lineup, but he’s even more valuable to a better one – the effect builds on itself.
The Blue Jays obviously have a good lineup. Featuring some of the best hitters in baseball, the Blue Jays sit tied atop the league with the Dodgers with a 115 wRC+. So if Wolfersberger is to be believed, that means not only can we not “afford” to lose Travis’ bat, we benefit more from his bat than any other team in the league.
So just how much do the Blue Jays benefit from having Travis’ bat in the lineup over Goins’? Well, to start off, let’s look at Breaking Blue’s data for Devon Travis and Ryan Goins’ expected wOBA. Travis is expected to have a .322 wOBA, whereas Ryan Goins is expected to have a .278 wOBA. That’s a difference of .044 points, or 0.0345 runs/PA as calculated by the wRAA formula; assuming 4 PA per game, this is .138 runs per game.
So, Devon Travis produces more runs per game on offense than Ryan Goins. Duh. But not only does Devon Travis produce more runs per game on offense than Ryan Goins, he also produces more plate appearances for his team. Per plate appearance this season, the Blue Jays have produced .144 runs (rounded). .144*(4*.044) Comes out to .0253 extra runs per game. Per 150 games played, that is an extra 3.8 runs, which comes out to an extra 0.4 wins coming purely from offense being exponential. That extra half win may not seem significant at first blush, but consider this: if the Blue Jays are within a half game of the playoffs in September, will it seem significant then?
However, this article is left incomplete. A topic I will not investigate in this article, but I wish to in a future article, is the exact opposite: the diminishing returns of defense. For example, I will use the Tampa Bay Rays. Asdrubal Cabrera has posted a UZR of 5.6 runs so far this year at shortstop, and Evan Longoria a mark of 4.4 runs at third base. Since they play on the same side of the infield, I believe it would be worthwhile to study if one of them is taking chances from another, not unlike the way several elite relievers can take chances from each other.
Keep a lookout for that article.