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Does a unique defensive profile give Mauricio Dubón an unquantifiable boost in value?

Unquantifiable value: It’s a thing.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Measuring a player’s worth can be a tricky thing. Even with the troves of data available to the public, there are still cases where it’s difficult to assess how truly valuable a player is.

Mauricio Dubón may be one of those cases.

On the surface, it may seem fairly cut and dry. Dubón has a 0.2 fWAR in 222 plate appearances this year, and owns a .213/.259/.307 (60 wRC+) line with 4 home runs. Peripheral metrics indicate the 28-year-old utilityman is slightly underperforming, but for the most part, his output at the plate is poor.

Though he frequently puts the ball in play (9.9 K%) and fares decently against left-handed pitching (career 110 wRC+), Dubón is rather limited with the bat. This is known. What’s also known — and is ostensibly the reason why the Astros traded for Dubón in May — is that the Honduran native is uniquely capable in the field.

In 2022, Dubón is the only player in baseball to have made at least 15 appearances at each of the three up-the-middle positions. He’s appeared 46 times in center field, 18 at shortstop and 16 at second base. It’s made him a real asset from a roster standpoint — especially because he’s a quality defender at all three spots, based on both the eye test and metrics such as OAA and DRS.

Covering three premium positions on the diamond is one thing, it’s another to do so in more than just passable fashion. This ability is why Dubón has carved out a notable role on the American League’s best team, his anemic offensive production notwithstanding.

It’s another instance of where the Astros, one of the most forward-thinking, analytically-savvy organizations in the league, place value in a player that doesn’t appear to be a meaningful contributor from an analytics perspective, specifically that of WAR. While it’s widely considered to be a legitimate metric when it comes to measuring a player’s total value, WAR is not the end-all be-all. A gray area that consists of things like intangibles and versatility (coupled with roster flexibility) is something that cannot be measured precisely.

Exhibit A of that sentiment is Martín Maldonado, who has a 0.1 fWAR since 2021, and has never been at risk of losing his starting job.

If there is one player in baseball who makes a truly unquantifiable impact on his team, it’s Maldonado. Without comparing Dubón to Maldonado, a case could be made that Dubón’s value to the roster is similar to that of the effect that Maldonado has on a game from behind the dish. It’s not tangible nor abstract, but something in between.

Baseball is continually evolving, and front offices are typically the driving force behind it. Along with a few others, the Astros’ FO has been at the sport’s forefront for several years now. Though the leadership was overhauled in 2020 in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, the philosophical principals of the prior administration largely remain.

Players like Dubón and Maldonado aren’t going to be the building blocks of a club, but — to varying degrees — they’re important role players. In this era of quantified evaluation, identifying the Dubóns and the Maldonados of the game seems to be a goal of sorts for the Astros. There’s bucking the trend, and then there’s bucking the trend you helped revolutionize.

As Brad Pitt said in 2011’s ‘Moneyball’: Adapt or die.