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How Much WAR Would Antonio Brown Be Worth As The Pirates’ Shortstop?

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A.B. hasn’t burned every bridge in Pittsburgh.

It looks like Antonio Brown’s time as a Pittsburgh Steeler is coming to an end. He’s fighting with teammates and running his mouth, and people have had enough. He’s an incredible talent, but it’s safe to say there are plenty of NFL teams who will not trade for him because of the drama. His NFL prospects are limited.

Meanwhile, in Florida, the Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers and catchers have begun their spring training. While there is a lot of talent on this year’s team, there is a glaring weakness at shortstop. Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman could turn out to be fine, but fans wanted the Pirates to acquire a big name to shore up the position.

I have a solution for both problems: what if Brown became the Pirates shortstop?

Brown has never played baseball at a professional, collegiate or high school level. Because of that, some may have some serious doubts about making him an everyday major league shortstop, but Brown has been proving people wrong his entire career. Give the guy a chance.

The Fansided site Believeland Ball made a simple WAR calculator several years ago, and we can use it to answer the question nobody is asking: how much WAR would Antonio Brown be worth as an everyday shortstop? That means he’ll play 150 games and get 600 PAs, for better or worse. Let’s check out the scouting report.

Running

Out of the five tools, this will be the easiest to translate to baseball. Brown ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at the combine in 2010, but he has improved since then, clocking in at 4.35 in 2016. That translates to 27.6 feet per second, which is a faster than average sprint speed!

Last year, Baseball Savant listed 17 players with a sprint speed of exactly 27.6 feet/second (including Jordy Mercer, ironically).

Courtesy of Baseball Savant

To calculate how much base running value Brown would have, I took the BsR of those 17 and found they were worth a combined 4.1 base running runs above average. Divide that by 17 and we get roughly 0.2 BsR. That sounds pretty average to me, but then again, these are experienced major leaguers.

Brown is going to have to deal with a learning curve of knowing when to tag up or take extra bases. The WAR calculator isn’t asking for BsR, just a score from 1 to 5 with one being the best. We’ll be generous and say four.

Fielding

Wow, does this guy’s arm grab headlines! Throwing balls at teammates in the locker room, throwing furniture off the roof. Everyone is raving about how this guy can throw!

We all know Brown has a soft set of hands that would probably translate well to baseball, even if he was wearing a glove. The arm is what it is, so the real question is what is his range?

His 27.6 feet/second sprint speed is above average across all players, but it’s a little slow as far as shortstops go. Fortunately, more speed at shortstop did not translate to more defensive runs saved in 2018.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant and FanGraphs.

The good news for us is the WAR calculator is not asking for anything specific, just a rating between 1-7. This is a no-brainer: he’s a seven. It’s hard to give any other score to a guy who has never tried to turn a double-play.

Hitting

Ok, we all know Brown would realistically go 0-600 if he took 600 major league at-bats. But here me out: what if he didn’t.

Last year, 1,922 batters were hit by a pitch in roughly 185,000 total PAs. Let’s assume Brown gets hit in 1% of his PAs too, so that gets him on base six times. So long, .000 OBP.

Now come walks. Over the last three years, there have been 224 times where a player has only had one plate appearance over the course of the season. These are mostly relief pitchers and emergency minor league call-ups, AKA people who did not expect to hit and probably aren’t too good at it. Of those 224, seven drew a walk. Using this as a blind sample, we can say there’s about a 3.1% chance a player will draw a walk, even if there was no real threat of them getting a hit. If A.B. can match that pace over 600 PAs, he’ll walk 19 times.

So that leaves 575 PAs to figure out. Honestly, this is the toughest part. I’m sure some of the Bucs Dugout community played high school or college ball, but if everyone here got 3 swings against a major league pitcher, maybe two or three would even get a foul tip. Simply put, there’s no way we can teach A.B. how to cover the whole zone in the next six weeks before opening day, but perhaps he can learn to swing over the heart of the plate. Let’s say if the pitch is in zone 5, he swings. Everywhere else, he just looks at it.

Last year, Pirates pitchers saw 105 pitches right down the pipe over 315 PAs. Over 600 PAs for A.B., that comes out to 200 pitches where he is going to swing. A swing leads to one of three results: a whiff, a foul or a batted ball. I’ll divide those evenly, giving him 67 batted ball events.

We can’t realistically expect Brown to drive the ball, so let’s say all 67 of these balls in play are grounders. Last year, batters had a .246 batting average and a .270 slugging percentage on ground balls. Multiply those figures by 67 and Brown has 16 hits for 18 total bases, meaning he would have a .068 OBP, a .031 slugging percentage and an OPS of an even .100.

Verdict

So we have our figures. Time to put them into the calculator.

Courtesy of Believeland Ball

On second thought, maybe Gonzalez and Newman are better options.

Our theoretical Antonio Brown shortstop would be worth -11.1 WAR in just one season. That would be by far the worst season in MLB history, and Brown would have the second worst career WAR after just one year.

But Brown is a football player, so he is used to only playing 16 regular season games per year. If we pull the plug on the experiment after 16 miserable contests, Brown’s hit would only be -1.2 WAR. Seven players were worth that or worse last season, so he would at least have some company. And hey, Brown’s -1.2 WAR in 16 games doesn’t look so bad compared to Paulo Orlando, who had -1 WAR in 25 games in 2018. After all, he’s a professional ball player.

I guess the lesson to be learned here is NFL wide receivers with no baseball experience do not make good MLB players.