Walkoff Woodward

Concerning Detroit Baseball
February 1, 2013

The Andy Dirks, slash, Brennan Boesch Conundrum

Andy Dirks BB CardI’m pretty sure that it’s widely assumed Andy Dirks is going to win the left field job this spring, even though it’s been said that it’ll be a battle between him, Brennan Boesch (and even, to some extent, Quintin Berry). Oh why god why. Anyway, Boesch’s 2012 was a miserable experience  for everyone involved, and Andy Dirks’ was 600 times better, which explains why most think Dirks will win out, in the end. But…we all know what assuming things makes you look like.

First, here’s some Leyland:

I think you’re going to see Boesch and Dirks competing. I think that’s great. Brennan Boesch has done some pretty good things. Andy Dirks has done some pretty good things. So as this team stands right now, let’s compete.

Leyland just stopping short of saying he thinks Dirks is a weenie when he was asked about Dirks playing every day:

I think you’d be pushing it to say that you could play him every day right now. I mean, I could, but you might get better results playing him most of the time. If him and Boesch compete for that spot in left field, who knows? Let’s open up the competition.

Look at Andy Dirks’ eyes. Those eyes tell you all you need to know. Competition? Wear and tear? Pgheauw!

I can see those quotes being interpreted in a couple different ways.

The first would be that Leyland is flat out saying that he doesn’t think Dirks will be healthy enough to play 162 games and he’s using that for justification to platoon a left handed bat (Dirks) with another left handed bat (Boesch). That doesn’t really make sense, especially knowing that Leyland loves his R/L splits. If there were going to be a platoon situation with Dirks it would be with Avisail Garcia, a right handed bat who flourished after he arrived in the big leagues last September. But Garcia probably isn’t ready, despite his SSS last September and October. So, he’s not talking about platooning, he’s talking about an outright competition.

The second would be that Leyland is simply working his mouth up and down, without food in it at the behest of fans and media, something he does extremely well. He may have every intention of starting Dirks every single game but he wants to give Brennan Boesch a little leg up.

ZiPS thinks that the second interpretation is probably more accurate.

Current 2013 Projections:

Andy Dirks, 486 PA, 1.5 WAR

Brennan Boesch, 537 PA, 0.3 WAR

Quintin Berry, 493 PA, 0.3 WAR

Avisail Garcia, 602 PA, -0.6 WAR

One interesting name to note, one who is not being considered for the LF job, and probably should be regardless of age, is Nick Castellanos:

Nick Castellanos, 632 PA, 0.9 WAR


Dirks had never been considered a big time prospect, and until he reached Triple A in the last month of the 2010 season, he hadn’t rocked anyone’s socks off in the minors. He was a 24 year old in Double A posting a .767 OPS after posting a .698 OPS between High A and Double A in 2009.

But in 93 plate appearances in Triple A he had 15 extra base hits. 2011 arrived and he OPS’d .891 through 172 at bats and the Tigers then brought him up. Subsequently, he posted a .703 OPS in the bigs that season, and in 2012 he only had 344 plate appearances but had a lovely .857 OPS.

The same kind of experience happened for Brennan Boesch. Never a serious prospect, he found himself 24 years old in 2009, finally in Double A ball. Erie was, and still is, a friendly place for offensive minded folk, and Boesch took that and ran with it. He posted an .828 OPS over 571 plate appearances, then was promoted to Triple A to start the 2010 season. Barely a month in, an OPS sitting at 1.075 after 66 plate appeances, the Tigers promoted him and he’s wallowed away in the big league ever since, posting a ..736 OPS 0.6 WAR in 2010, a .799 OPS 2.3 WAR in 2011, and a .659 OPS -1.4 WAR in 2012.

Based on simple OPS, which is on base plus slugging, we see that, for the most part, Dirks and Boesch are pretty similar players, with Dirks enjoying the highest single season OPS albeit in far fewer plate appearances.

But let’s pause for a minute and think about a few things.

OPS is nice because it measures power and the ability to get on base in a fairly simple format. But it’s also clumsy math. How does, for example, a 1.000 OPS correlate to actual ability?

As Lee Panas says:

The problem with OPS is that OBP contributes about 80% more to run scoring than slugging average (SLG).  Since OBP and SLG carry equal weight in the OPS formula, this means that OPS undervalues OBP relative to SLG.  Since wOBA weights events more appropriately, it is a better reflection of a player’s total batting contribution.  OPS is a decent measure of a player’s overall batting performance and we don’t need to abandon it entirely, but wOBA is a better alternative when we want to be more precise.

If you need to know what wOBA is, here is Tango’s definition. Remember, wOBA is scaled to OBP so .333 is basically average, anything above is excellent, anything below, well, you know.

For this exercise we’ll look at StatCorner, a site I’ve come to like since they stick to Tango’s formula and I actually understand how they scale park factors. In regards to park factors, the numbers are adjusted based on the players home park, if it was friendly to hitters it lowers the wOBA* a bit, and if it were friendly to pitchers it helped. For both Dirks and Boesch, Comerica Park slightly favors pitchers but has been sliding to the neutral bar these last few years. The result, their park adjustments are very, very minimal. The easiest way to see how this works is look at Boesch’s 2009 season which was played in Eerie. His .828 OPS looks impressive but wOBA* exposes that number as inflates. Basically, an .828 OPS meant he was league average. Then look at Dirks’ 2010 season which was also in Double A. His OPS was .767 but because wOBA* doesn’t undervalue the ability to get on base his wOBA* is higher than Boesch’s, which kind of indicates that his skill set is a bit better. But that’s also not accurate since we’re dealing with such a minimal sample size.

Andy Dirks, PA, wOBA* (*adjusted to home park/league)

2010, 431, .357 (AA)

2011, 172, .381 (AAA)

2011, 235, .312 (MLB)

2012, 344, .371 (MLB)

Brennan Boesch, wOBA* (*Adjusted to home park)

2009, 571, .339 (AA)

2010, 66, .465 (AAA)

2010, 510, .330 (MLB)

2011, 472, .358 (MLB)

2012, 503, .295 (MLB)

There are two ways you can weigh these numbers. You can look at it based on one season, the 2012 season, and in doing so you’d be able to suggest that there’s no competition. Dirks was obviously the better player.

But the second way is the more logical approach given what we know about sample sizes and the fact that a players true ability takes roughly 2000 plate appearances to reveal itself. If you look at the whole set of numbers, you would be apt to give Boesch the benefit of the doubt, pass his 2012 off as a brief stint in Dante’s Inferno, and suggest that he could have a bounce back season in 2013. In fact, I want to say that/ I’m going to say that. If he doesn’t have a season where he puts up a 1.5-2 WAR it’s going to be because he didn’t get enough at bats and wasn’t given enough opportunity – not – because of piss poor play. Of course, Boesch could have reach his peak in 2011. There are many occasions where we just can’t, don’t or won’t know. All I know is he’s still a player who’s baseball ability is not fully set in stone. It’s getting there, taking shape, but it’s just not sunk in all the way.

So, we know there is an argument for both players, but the truth of the matter is that there really isn’t a clear favorite to win the job. If one of these guys hit right handed the solution would be staring us all right in the face, but that’s not the reality. Luckily, both can handle a bat, for the most part, against left handed pitching, so we won’t be asking another type of question if and when one of these two does win the job.

Based on stats we know that Dirks and Boesch are similarly skilled players and that we cannot assume Dirks will have a better season than Boesch this year simply because you could have said the exact same thing for Boesch over Dirks going into the 2012 season. There’s simply not enough of a sample size for either one of these players.

Therefore we know that a position battle this spring is completely justifiable and should be welcomed, embraced.

And we also know that when it’s all said and done, maybe neither one can handle the job full time.

  • http://twitter.com/Detroit4lyfeRob Detroit4lyfe

    Great post, but I think Boesch deserves a bit more credit for his rise to the majors. While he has “wallowed away” for most of his big league career, he has stayed up here because of the ridiculous first 2-3 months he had in the majors in 2010. He’s as streaky a hitter as they come; only problem is that he’s usually on the cold end of that spectrum.

    And his defense is terrible.

    • Tigercub33

      Good point, Dirks is below average (perhaps right AT average at points) defensively. Boesch…not so much. He makes Dirks look significant above average in the field.

      • http://www.walkoffwoodward.com/ Josh Worn

        Rob: good point on Boesch, though I think that his summer in 2011 stayed his cause as well. I don’t have his month by month ranking but I seem to remember a stretch where he almost his .400 with power that season.

        And as for defense, as I said above about Young, I don’t think they’re going to put much stock in either one defensively. I do expect some heavy left shifting for Jackson and Hunter

  • http://www.facebook.com/arron.sexton Arron Sexton

    Very good article analyzing both offensively. I agree that they should be given equal or nearly equal weight in the competition this spring but what about defense? Boesch did not look comfortable in right field at all. If our plan is to strike everyone out or have them hit the ball in the outfield to get people out I’d rather have Dirks out there.

    • http://www.walkoffwoodward.com/ Josh Worn

      Dirks is capable but I don’t see him being all that much better than Boesch out there. Remember, this team willingly fielded Delmon Young in left field multiple times last season. Its going to be up to their offensive performances in regards to getting more playing time.

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