At this point in the offseason, it has become abundantly clear that the Jays don’t plan to change much at second base. As Gideon wrote early last week, the Jays have a few options for the position, including last year’s second base hopeful Maicer Izturis as well as Ryan Goins. Though it seems fairly clear that at this point the team believes that Goins is the best of their internal options at the position. There seems to be a consensus that Goins’ projected offensive production is largely up in the air, however, this uncertainty is justified by his supposed “Gold Glove calibre” defence.
From the outside, all we really have to go on in terms of evaluating Goins defensively is his short stint in the majors, where he indeed did post impressive defensive numbers. In total, he played 262 and a third innings at second base in 2013, posting 12 Defensive Runs Saved, which was tied for second most among all second basemen. As well, Goins’ 12 DRS is the second highest Defensive Runs Saved total posted by a middle infielder in a season with less than 500 innings at the position. The only middle infielder to eclipse him in the DRS era (since 2003) is Gold Glove and Fielding Bible Award winning shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
All of that is, encouraging, right? In theory it’d be fairly hard to fluke your way into a season that impressive. Even given the many flaws of advanced defensive metrics, we generally recognize the outlying performances as having some significance. In the DRS era, Goins’ 2013 season represented the highest single season per game DRS rate of any 2B with at least 200 innings at the position. Though at the same time, Goins’ 2013 season represented the highest single season per game DRS rate of any 2B with at least 200 innings at the position. What I’m saying is the stat can be interpreted in multiple ways, in that Goins’ being an outlier can be seen both positively and somewhat negatively.
Thus far, in the Jays’ organization’s public comments they’re showing off the defensive performance as a great positive. In general, it seems Jays fans have bought into that mindset. While it’s nice to think that maybe there is potential for some great defensive trait at second base, it glosses over any potential analysis on the subject.
What we do know is that the only means by which we have any sense of defensive evaluation for Goins are through the rather wondrous defensive numbers as well as comments made by the Jays’ Front Office. In terms of the numbers based evaluation, that 12 DRS may not be as sustainable as it seems. Generally, when we look at advanced defensive metrics we know to take them with a grain of salt as to not get overly excited or disappointed based on a potentially flawed valuation. However, what we don’t generally do is look at some of the components of these metrics as they aren’t necessarily as accessible as one would like.
With that said, in looking at Goins’ defensive metrics I found a large portion of his defensive value to be rooted in making plays in the zone in which second basemen are expected to make plays. In fact he was quite good at that in 2013, having the second highest RZR, which measures the percentage of plays that a player made out of the total number of balls in his zone (Plays/BIZ), among second basemen with at least 200 innings. Having seen that statistic, I decided to take a look at a number of Goins’ defensive clips. Perhaps it was partially confirmation bias, but it definitely appeared that Goins’ wasn’t getting the greatest of jumps on balls and was instead relying on clean execution on balls that he did get too. In other words he lacked a lot of range. To me, what that indicates is that there will be room for fluctuation in defensive valuation going forward.
Even now, getting back to an earlier point, it’s hard to get a great evaluation of Ryan Goins. When asked about Goins, one NL scout said, “His glove is fine and [he] can pass for an everyday role, but the bat will kill [the Blue Jays] and they will have to find another option before mid to late May.” When asked how he defined ‘fine’, he didn’t specify, but generally fine is taken to mean an average grade, 50 to 60 on the 20 to 80 scale; definitely not the plus defense that Goins’ advanced metrics indicate. While it’s not overly pessimistic, what that scout had to say is surely different from the “Gold Glove calibre” defensive valuation that Anthopoulos has publicly placed on Ryan Goins.
Although, even if we are to assume that Goins will be one of the leagues’ top defenders there is no indication that he’ll be able to be hit enough to be an average player overall; as the NL scout had indicated. He’d never been a particularly great hitter in the minors, having only posted a high of a .336 wOBA in the upper minors, nor has he ever projected to be any better in the majors. At his projectionable peak in 2009, he only ranked at No. 24 on Baseball America’s Blue Jays Top 30 Prospects List in the BA handbook. That was also the only time he ranked in a top 30 in his minor league career.
What all of this comes down to is that Ryan Goins is not an adequate option at second base. Though, of course, you probably already knew that, but he doesn’t even seem to possess any particularly wonderful defensive skills to dream on. After having looked at Goins extensively, I’m not even sure he’d be good enough to make the bench on most teams. In many ways it really does seem like his defensive run last year was a lucky blip in his overall career. Given that, the starting second base job should go to Maicer Izturis. In thought it’s nice to dream on Goins and see what he can do in the majors, but in a year where this team is supposed to be contending, dreaming on a player with the upside of a utility-man is not something that the Jays can afford. On the other hand, Maicer Izturis is already a fine utility-man and in short stints has shown he can be even more than that. Maybe in the end things will work out and Ryan Goins will magically learn to be a major league hitter…or maybe we’ll just be whining about second base throughout this year once again. Probably the latter.