The term “utility” or “super-utility player” has become as much a part of baseball jargon as “Web Gem”, “Tommy John” or my personal favorite “Eephus”. Utility simply refers to players with the ability to suit-up at numerous positions, on any given day. Once used as a slight on a player’s ability to be an everyday big leaguer, “utility players” have never had it better.
MLB front-offices have begun to recognize the value of players who can play multiple positions. With starting pitchers pitching fewer innings than ever, many MLB organizations have opted to carry an extra relief pitcher on their 25 & 40-Man Rosters. With this is mind, one can begin to appreciate just how much of a luxury the super-utility player is to an organization. Much like a Swiss Army knife, having a player that can play defensively all around the diamond, can eliminate the need to carry an extra position player on the active roster (or a screwdriver and bottle opener).
In the age of specialization in baseball, one might even argue that being a super-utility player is much more beneficial to the player himself. Advanced analytics, scouting reports and technological advances such as Statcast mean that while there is more information than ever available to MLB organizations, it has become nearly impossible for a player to hide his weaknesses. Platooning, or rotating between more than one player at the same position, has become far more common in today’s MLB; and the more positions a player can handle, the harder it becomes for a Manager to justify taking the player off of the field.
While these trends will no doubt affect the way in which MLB organizations choose to scout, develop and value individual players; the fact remains, the super-utility is here to stay. In this multi-part series we will take a look at the best super-utility players through three months of the 2016 MLB season:
Chicago Cubs // Born: January 4, 1992 in Las Vegas, NV (Age 24.174)
OPS: .887 // OPS+: 136 // BA: .268 // HR: 18 // oWAR: 2.6 // dWAR: 0.3
Games Appeared at Position: 3B (45), LF (39), RF (7), 1B (5), CF (1), SS (1)
No longer is the term “utility player” applied to veteran journeymen, whose only shot to make a big league roster is by playing all over the diamond. Kris Bryant, one of the most exciting young sluggers in the game, also earns the term “utility player” as evidenced by his positional versatility so far this season for the surging Cubs. Bryant has logged 320.1 innings at third base, a total of 284.1 in the outfield (229.1 of which were in left field) and has started three games providing 26.1 innings at first base.
At the plate, Bryant’s statistics speak to why he was so highly touted throughout his years in the minor leagues. The #2 overall pick of the 2013 MLB Draft, Bryant has gone on to live up to the astronomical hype with 18 homers and an OPS+ of 136 in only 71 games this season. Although there is certainly a discussion to be had whether Bryant will stay at third base or become solely a corner outfielder in the future, in the near-term Bryant’s ability to suit up at both positions has been an asset to the Cubs.
Sources & Footnotes
¹ 2016 Statistics are compiled and aggregated, as of June 26th
OPS: Sum of a player’s on-base percentage (“OBP”) and slugging percentage (“SLG”)
OPS+: Normalizes a player’s OPS by adjusting for variables (such as the size of ball parks and the league). 100 OPS+ is league average, while 101 OPS+ represents a player one percentage point above the league average.
oWAR: Offensive Wins Above Replacement
dWAR: Defensive Wins Above Replacement