3

Background:

I heard a manager refer to an employee as a "utility player" in the pre-moneyball sense. That means that the employee "[has] a wide breadth of skills and can work across many org's and disciplines", so it is quite a compliment.

Moneyball was a movie, a book, and a statistical revolution in sabermetrics. In Moneyball, they discarded the notion of a "utility player", and has much more strongly mathematically/statistically defined nomenclatures such as "slugging percentage" and "on-base percentage" (ref).

Question:

What is the post-moneyball version of a "utility player" and how is one identified?

I just think "utility" wouldn't have existed if it was 100% false; there had to be truth behind the myth. Where did that truth go in the new way of looking at things? It has to be somewhere, and if the Moneyball measures are informative, then it is likely more clearly measurable than before.

  • 3
    As far as I know, the two are not tied together. I believe definition of a utility player has remained unchanged from the "pre-moneyball" era. Players that can play 3+ positions, pinch hit, etc. are still very valuable to an organization, as they make it very easy for guys to take days off or fill in for injury without having to make roster moves. As far as I know, every organization in the MLB has at least a small handful of guys like that. That being said, I think the definition of what makes a player "impactful" or "good" was changed significantly by sabermetrics – mhodges Feb 9 '17 at 17:18
4

To a large extent, a utility player is still a utility player and is still valuable. In analytic terms, even if a player is only replacement level1 at the positions he plays, then it still carries value to the team in terms of roster flexibility.

To take a slightly more specific example, imagine two teams:

  • Team A has two backup infielders, both at replacement level, on its roster to cover 2nd and short.
  • Team B has a utility player who can cover both second and short at replacement level.

Team B can now add a second player to its roster - maybe a power hitter who can be used as a pinch hitter, maybe an extra reliever, whatever their greatest need is. This makes them a better team than team A, who can't have that extra player on their roster - or at least, are taking a bigger risk in order to do so.

As mhodges has commented, what analytics has brought to baseball is a better understanding of how to rate those utility players - previously, it was perfectly feasible for a player with a high batting average and who stole a few bases, but struck out a lot and played poor defense to stick around on a roster, but we now know that it's probably better to have someone who has a high walk rate and doesn't stink up the joint defensively.

  1. In these terms, replacement level is the performance level a team can acquire (either from its farm system, by trade or by signing an out of contract player) for the MLB minimum salary.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.