Wednesday, November 27, 2013

David Lough is a Poor Royals' Version of Manny Machado...For Now

This could turn out to be a rambling post. The impetus for writing this one was just through exploration of FanGraphs’ leaderboards rather than through something structured and well-conceived. David Lough became relevant for the Royals in 2013 after Jeff Francoeur was shown the door (thankfully). Lough showed an ability to play all 3 outfield positions with slightly below average offense. In order to show that David Lough might be underrated, I will compare him to Manny Machado. 

Machado has accrued 7.5 fWAR over 912 plate appearances and was one of the most valuable players in 2013 by fWAR. Most of his value is in his defense; he was often featured in highlight reels, and the defensive numbers so far back up the reputation. However, Machado for his career has also had about league average offense. His career triple slash is .279/.309/.435; what he lacks in on-base skills he makes up for in power. The defensive numbers love him enough to propel his value far above the average major leaguer. 

Lough, on the other hand, has only 400 plate appearances so far in his career. It’s not a large sample size, so his true talent may be different than what he has displayed so far. His career triple slash is .278/.308/.396. Lough and Machado have very similar strikeout rates and walk rates, but Machado has more power (.156 ISO vs .118 ISO*), while Lough is a slightly better baserunner. Most of Lough’s value is tied to his defense, as well. 

 FanGraphs, in their WAR calculation, introduces a positional adjustment to reflect the difficulty of playing each position. That positional adjustment rewards Machado for playing third base and punishes Lough for playing most of his innings in RF. Therefore, the difference between the two players in fWAR can be attributed to playing time, power, and a positional adjustment. If the defensive numbers are adjusted for playing time, and the positional adjustment is ignored, the two players are very similar. David Lough is basically Manny Machado with less power. Where Machado accrued 6.2 fWAR in 2013, Lough accrued 2.4 in less playing time. If Lough had played the whole season at the same talent level, he would have been closer to 4-5 fWAR, which is about the value James Shields produced in 2013.

Of course, next season the defensive numbers could change and rate Lough as a terrible fielder. Defensive numbers are fickle. Next season, maybe pitchers find his weaknesses and his offense declines. For now, Lough is an acceptable right fielder for 2014. 

*ISO is the difference between slugging percentage and batting average. A higher ISO means more power. 

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