Using Players at Multiple Positions and Winning Percentage

By Robbie Knopf

With the Rays are always players at so many different positions, I thought it was worth a look to see how using players at multiple positions has translated to winning thus far in 2012 entering Sunday’s game (because the Rays and Rangers are currently still playing). I looked over each team’s roster and counted up the number of players who had seen time at more than one position, DH excluded. Here’s what I found.

Predictively, NL teams used more players at more than one position than AL teams, averaging 5.24 players who fit that criteria compared to the AL’s 4.64 mark. In terms of how that translates into wins, there was a -.11 correlation between players with appearances at more than one postion and winning percentage, meaning that teams with less versatile players tended to post lower winner percentages, but it was a weak relationship, meaning that there were tons of exceptions to that rule. In the AL, there was a .27 correlation between players playing more than one position and winning percentage, meaning that teams who played players at multiple positions tended to win more games, still with a lot of outliers although less than the NL.

The AL’s distribution of players used at multiple positions was fairly normal, slightly skewed to the left. The big outlier in the AL  in terms of players used at multiple positons and winning percentage was for the 2 teams who used 7 players at more than one position: the Texas Rangers (.762 winning percentage) and the Minnesota Twins (.250). Pretty bizarre. Taking the Twins out of the equation, the correlation jumps to a much more significant .67. 5 of the 6 AL teams who used more players at multiple positions thus far in 2012 are .500 or better. While the Twins were at the top of pyramid for versatile players while having the AL’s worse winning percentage, the Royals had the AL’s second-worst winning percentage and used the fewest players at multiple postions, 3. The most successful teams and the only grouping of teams with a record more than 1 game above .500 was the trio of teams who used 6 players at more than one position, the Rays, the Tigers, and the Red Sox.

In the NL, the distribution for players used at multiple positions was sharply skewed to the left, with 13 of the 16 values lying between 5 and 7. There wasn’t any single outlier than messed up the distribution. What was interesting was the groupings of how many players were used at multiple positions. For the teams who used 7, the Cardinals and Giants, they have gone 25-17, and for the five teams (Dodgers, Nats, Mets, Pirates, Cubs) that used 5, they went 57-47. But for the six teams that used 6 (Rockies, Diamondbacks, Brewers, Marlins, Astros, Padres), they went just 52-73, a .416 winning percentage. The rest of the NL went 115-94, a .550 winning percentage.

Do these observations mean anything? Correlation does not imply causation, but I do think something might be happening here. In the AL, versatility is more of an asset than it is in the NL, where it’s more of a routine part of the game. We say that Joe Maddon plays like an NL manager, and that gives him a little bit of an advantage in the AL. In the NL, that would not quite be the case. Although if Maddon was in the NL, we could expect to see even crazier uses of his players.