The Ausmus Effect

I can't remember who branded it, but there is an often observed inverse relationship between the actual offensive production and undeserved defensive reputation of batters in Major League Baseball, and it's called the Ausmus Effect in dishonor of Houston Astros catcher Brad Ausmus.

Ausmus had a few tolerable seasons at the plate early in his career but soon settled into sustained mediocrity. At the same time his defensive reputation rose, resulting in a few undeserved Gold Glove awards (given out to the best fielder at each position in both the American League and National League).

The same thing has happened to a player on my beloved Minnesota Twins. Advanced metrics like Baseball Prospectus' VORP* list Nick Punto as the worst hitter in Major League Baseball this season. As the season has gone on descriptions of solid and good defense have morphed into outstanding, unreal and unbelievable. Beat writers are suggesting he make money by selling instructional DVDs on how to play third base. The relationship probably looks something like this:

The Ausmus Effect
I've noticed a reactionary increase in the praise of Punto's defense in both the media and among Twins fans. My guess as to why it exists is that baseball writers, in the need to maintain access to players and team officials, have to be careful in how they criicize players. In trying to offset the deserved scorn that Punto has earned at the plate (and that which manager Ron Gardenire is owed for letting Punto collect 550 plate appearances this season), they lessen the blow by talking about the areas of the game in which Punto hasn't been a complete and utter failure at this season. Pointing out Punto's struggles at the plate has moved from the realm of being critical to being minimally observant. As it can't be avoided, the blow is repeatedly softened by praise for his defense. This repition builds his reputation and winds up distorting the truth.

This becomes detrimental to the team if the team then buys into the hype, which can happen, as in the case of Brad Ausmus. Hopefully the Twins don't fall victim to the same chain of cause and effect.

* Value Over Replacement Player - The number of runs a player is worth offensively over that of the kind of scrub, organizational filler that any team could call up from their minor league system as a replacement.

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