When ranking defensive players, I have long used a modified system that I once built so that I could assign defensive ratings to players for the board game Superstar Baseball. The issue at hand was how to rank fielders when (a) fielding stats are affected by things like balls in play, and (b) can you get it to a system that more or less tells you how that player affects the batting average of the hitter. That’s what a gamer is looking to replicate.
Well – I figured that out. But what made it valuable to me was when I figured out how to convert plays not made (essentially hits added) into runs using a table of values in Total Baseball. I don’t know if you remember that encyclopedia, but Pete Palmer had calculated the value of each hit into runs.
Here’s how I do it.
1) Get the number of balls in play for the team.
2) Figure out the number of plays made by a player for every 800 balls in play. Why 800? Because for every 1000 at bats, there will likely be about 200 strikeouts or homers – so by using 800, one additional play made by a fielder is essentially removing one point of batting average to a hitter. Also, let’s face it, a fielder is going to have more chances if his team is loaded with sinker slider guys who get the ball in play, than a big strikeout guy. So, to get things to a common number of balls in play is a fairer way to evaluate each position.
3) Once I have the number of hits removed (or added) based on that Range/800 factor, compare that number to a run value for hits allowed based on the position. For outfielders, it’s a combination of singles, doubles, or triples (for center and right fielders). For corner infielders, it’s singles and doubles. For middle infielders, it’s all singles. I have a different system for catchers, and since pitchers don’t play many innings, I tend to look at it from the team perspective – but it works.
4) I make minor modifications for things like double plays, as well as putouts made by outfielders as that shows the groundball/flyball tendency of a staff. And, for first basemen, I remove infielder assists from his putouts total.
5) Finally, I wind up with two numbers – a “range per 800” value, and a runs saved (or allowed) value.
Here’s the National League Position Gold Gloves and Brick Gloves. The first number listed is his range per 800 plays above or below average for the position, and the second number is runs saved (or allowed).
7.48 22.42 Jayson Werth (PHI)
6.38 11.67 Randy Winn (SF)
22.27 13.17 Kosuke Fukudome (CHI) ***263 innings
Werth made more plays in RF than Shane Victorino made in CF… Fukudome played 1/5th the innings that Werth did, but at that pace would have had 395 putouts – which would be solid for a centerfielder… Does anyone other than me think that Randy Winn is an underrated defensive wizard?
-10.07 -28.14 Brad Hawpe (COL) – third straight year
– 9.66 -22.00 Corey Hart (MIL)
Hawpe hasn’t been close to average since 2006. In 540 innings, Matt Diaz was brutal in RF with a -14.38 range factor, costing his team 17.56 runs.
12.26 19.26 Tony Gwynn (SD)
4.96 17.77 Matt Kemp (LAD)
6.06 10.80 Willy Taveras (CIN)
14.35 12.62 Nyjer Morgan (WAS)
Morgan was good, but not that good in the few innings he played in Pittsburgh and didn’t have enough innings to qualify, but in WASH he was amazing out there… However, he was lights out in LF in Pittsburgh, and I might have given him award for the combined effort.
-9.15 -25.58 Shane Victorino (PHI)
-6.45 -13.86 Andrew McCutchen (PIT)
Maybe Victorino deferred to Werth on anything hit to right… The NET result is slightly below average between the two of them. McCutcheon is learning the league and will probably get better – but he’s not a natural at this point.
10.25 13.88 Nyjer Morgan (PIT)
4.67 7.53 Seth Smith (COL)
Not many to choose from, really. Most of the good ones didn’t play many innings here. One odd note – Fernando Tatis was a ball magnet in the 179 innings he played in left field – which is why I tend to ignore guys until they play 500 or 1000 innings. Tatis caught 56 flies in just about 20 games in the field, which at that pace works out to 375 putouts in 140 games. The most anybody had in left field was Ryan Braun, who made 304 plays out there.
-11.39 -32.31 Carlos Lee (HOU)
-12.33 -15.36 Matt Holiday (STL)
-11.09 -13.76 Chris Duncan (STL)
Lee looked bigger and slower when I watched him and the stats bear this out. And, I pity the poor St. Louis pitchers…
13.05 23.58 Brendan Ryan (STL)
17.54 23.16 Paul Janish (CIN)
11.97 13.74 Everth Cabrera (SD)
None of these guys played 1000 innings, but they all played 590 or more innings very well. The best to clear 1000 innings was Chicago’s Ryan Theriot (2.59 range, 8.45 runs saved).
-12.31 -26.07 Jimmy Rollins (PHI)
-13.71 -12.02 Alberto Gonzalez (WAS)
– 2.52 -10.16 Cristian Guzman (WAS)
Didn’t they award the Gold Glove to Rollins? Did anyone notice that he made hardly any plays out there? Miguel Tejada had two more putouts and 86 more assists in roughly the same number of innings. Yunel Escobar played 150+ fewer innings and had 20 more assists. The only regular to make fewer plays per nine was the immobile Edgar Renteria. let’s say that there is some bias in the ground ball distribution – if you add Rollins and Utley together, it’s still a negative. If you add Rollins and Feliz together, it’s still a negative. Rollins had a lousy year – has been overrated for a few years now, and should stop being considered as a good fielder.
10.37 30.30 Andy LaRoche (PIT)
7.56 25.18 Pedro Feliz (PHI)
8.36 25.14 Casey Blake (LAD)
A couple of guys having very good years – I never thought Blake was that good and Feliz was better than ever (cutting off grounders to short?). Did you know that LaRoche was that good either? The usual suspects of previous seasons (Zimmerman, Wright) were off. Zimmerman was still good, but Wright was below average last year.
-13.66 -20.97 Geoff Blum (HOU)
-11.20 -18.78 Ian Stewart (COL)
– 6.07 -18.11 Chipper Jones (ATL)
Not that Colorado is going to miss Garrett Atkins anymore, but Stewart wasn’t that good a fielder. By the way, if the Marlins are thinking about moving Jorge Cantu back to third, his performance would give me pause (-18.48 / -14.66 runs saved).
6.64 18.22 Chase Utley (PHI)
6.17 15.29 Kaz Matsui (HOU)
5.59 13.53 Brandon Phillips (CIN)
Honorable mention to Jeff Baker in just 369 innings for Chicago…
-13.66 -24.76 Skip Schumaker (STL)
– 5.61 -15.30 Dan Uggla (FLA)
The Pirates tried Delwyn Young at second base and it was a bad idea, too. LaRussa won despite this – and a lot of other holes in the defense. I watch Dan Uggla a lot, he’s always struck me as a bit stiff but effective. Makes more good plays than bad, occasionally surprisingly good plays. This suggests that the stiffness is winning, though.
16.18 46.78 Albert Pujols (STL)
23.10 39.99 Jorge Cantu (FLA)
11.45 31.05 Adrian Gonzalez (SD)
There is such a gap between the most athletic and least athletic players at this position, so the best and worst fielders are further from the average than anywhere else. Pujols is ALWAYS at the top of this list. He plays further off the bag, makes a lot of throws all over the field – a truly amazing first baseman. Gonzalez is the same thing. Cantu is the surprise – I watched him and never would have guessed it. The issue, of course, is that he had three below average fielders at the other spots – so he must have caught a lot of liners and popups to give him a stronger putout total. While Cantu is reasonably mobile, I didn’t see this coming.
-10.74 -31.01 Prince Fielder (MIL)
– 8.07 -16.69 Derrek Lee (CHI)
-17.34 -23.12 Adam Dunn (WAS)
-27.01 -14.14 Nick Johnson (FLA)
I always thought that Fielder was rather graceful for such a big dude – but that size is now too big. Derrek Lee is usually on the other list – but he played a very nicked up season – problems with his neck and back – and this affected his range. Adam Dunn thinks that the only job of a first baseman is to catch throws…
Nick Johnson, however, isn’t usually this bad (he wasn’t very good in Washington, either). However, the Marlins had essentially the same infield up the middle regardless of the first baseman. Cantu had nearly as many putouts as innings played (850 innings, 829 putouts, plus 38 assists). Johnson played 260 innings, made only 192 putouts, but had a few more assists (24). If you extrapolate his numbers to 850 innings, that’s just 626 putouts – nearly 200 fewer than what Cantu had. So, you can see why their rankings are so different.