Friday, April 7, 2017

Who is the best backup player in Astros history?

This all started when I wondered to myself, "Is Marwin Gonzalez the best backup the Houston Astros have ever had?".

 I decided to go to the wonderful www.baseball-reference.com to find out. I started at Marwin Gonzalez and looked at his games and plate appearances. Last year was the first year he had over 500 plate appearances. A lot of that due to the fact that the Astros could not find a regular first basemen. Marwin has been with the Astros for 6 seasons and 519 games. I started to look for Astros' players with similar years and games played. I then went and looked at their WAR on Baseball Reference and compared it the number of years they played.

Top five


Cliff Johnson spent 6 seasons with the Astros and produced 5.8 WAR. He was atrocious in the field and mainly contributed as a pinch hitter. His 9 offensive WAR (oWAR) and -3.3 defensive WAR (dWAR) proves that. 

Marwin Gonzalez has 5.2 WAR in his 5+ seasons with the Astros. I was a bit surprised by that when I saw the numbers. He has a 91 OPS+ for his career. One would assume that the Astros gain from his defensive value. That is not the case. His 4 oWAR is higher than his 1.8 dWAR.  In 2014 Marwin played at every position except catcher, pitcher, and center field. Last year the only position he didn't play was catcher, pitcher, and right field.

Jake Marisnick Yes, swoon (as the Astros ladies like to call him) to this point has been a good contributor off the bench. If I was surprised by Marwin's numbers, I was blown away by Marisnick's numbers. I mean he's essentially a defensive substitute. That's exactly what he's done in four seasons with the Astros. His dWAR is at 4.9 and his oWAR is at .5 giving him a total of 5.2 WAR. 

Denny Walling should probably be below Jake based on averages. The dude played 13 seasons with the Astros and put up a 14.1 WAR. I have to take into consideration the longevity. All of his value is in his 13.4 oWAR. His dWAR is -1.8. Which is weird because the math doesn't add up. This is why people have a hard time taking WAR, seriously. 

Bill Spiers, as I recall, was a utility infield. I had to get confirmation, though. 8.2 WAR in six years is pretty good. His bat produced a lot of that value 8.5 oWAR compared to a .4 dWAR. Looking at his positions he played all over the field. In 1999 the only position he didn't play was catcher and pitcher. 

Honorable mentions 

Geoff Blum and Casey Candaele. Blum was a pure infield utility player while Candaele played a some outfield. They both spent five years in Houston. Blum accumulated a 2.5 WAR. Candaele accumulated 3.2 WAR.

Final thoughts

It's entirely possible that I missed someone. I would love to hear of other players you think could be in the top five. Maybe you think WAR is stupid (I see why). I love that two of the best are playing for the Astros in 2017. Jake might have a shot at toping Spiers in the WAR category before it's all said and done. I'd love to see Marwin stick around longer than Walling. 

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

No Matt Downs? He was pretty decent that one year

the drew said...

I really enjoyed the article! I have always been fascinated by guys that move around the diamond day to day (or inning to inning), so you mentioned some of my all-time favorite Stros, Candaele when I was a kid, Spiers when I was in high school and of course MarWin now. I had to indulge in looking up a couple more guys out of curiosity and was surprised to see 1) how low Jose Vizcaino's WAR value was in his five years in Houston at only 0.2 WAR (I guess I just remember the few clutch hits) and 2) that Eric Bruntlett's WAR was almost 2.0 over his time with the Stros - not high enough to meet the top 5 threshold but higher than I would have expected. Keep up the good work!

Bru said...

Great idea. I loved Candaele and Spiers when I was growing up. It would be interesting to see where Villar fits on this list, as he moved a lot. We remember him for his TOOTBLANs and errors, but he actually put up some value here. Bogar moved a bit too, and Art Howe played three different positions for the club, averaging 101 games per year.

B-R notes that oWAR and dWAR both carry a positional adjustment. If you were to simply add them, the positional adjustment would get counted twice in the calculation - that's why they don't sum.

"Note that oWAR + dWAR now double counts position, so adding them will not give WAR."
http://www.baseball-reference.com/about/war_explained.shtml