First – a quick recap of how this works… Many systems look at range factors – meaning the number of plays made by a fielder every nine innings. I look at the number of plays made for every 800 balls in play. The reasons for this include the fact that some teams are loaded with high strikeout pitchers, so the fielders get less action on some teams. I also make modifications for the groundball/flyball tendencies of the teams, and try to take into consideration the number of innings pitched by lefties – as this may affect the number of plays made by the first or third baseman (see Sandoval, Pedro – 3B).
Then, once I know how many plays someone makes, I can then see how many extra (or fewer) plays someone makes, convert those plays into hits (and eventually runs saved). I can do that for double plays and errors, too. The player who saves the most runs at his position wins the award.
I make one modification for first baseman – I remove assists made by other infielders so they get more credit for the plays they make on balls fielded by them and not balls fielded by others.
Originally, this method was used to make defensive ratings for a game – so using 800 balls in play also meant that I could calculate how many points in batting average a fielder may add or take away from a hitter. So, if you see a player with a range of, say, 10.0, that means that the fielder makes ten plays more than the average fielder at his position and effectively reduces the batting average of a hitter by ten points.
I don’t do this for pitchers by position – they play far too few innings, so the award is given to the team.
Catchers are done differently… They are effectively done at the team level (though we can note who was the primary catcher) and catching teams are scored in seven different ways: Team ERA, Team Winning Percentage, Fielding PCT (not counting Ks), Error Rates, Mistake Rates, Mobililty (assists not tied to stolen bases), and Opposition Base Stealing Rates. You get one point for being above average, and lose a point for being below average. It is theoretically possible to get a perfect score of seven, which happens a lot for a certain catcher in St. Louis.
Let’s get on with it…
26.1 Ike Davis, NYM (10.2 Range, 1222.1 innings)
24.5 Gaby Sanchez, MIA+PIT (15.0 Range, 697.1 innings)
23.3 Adam LaRoche, WAS (7.8 Range, 1323.1 innings)
I had no idea Ike Davis was this good, but he made a lot of plays, as did Adam LaRoche. LaRoche has the better reputation. Last year, Davis was brutal in about 225 innings, which is why you can’t really take any fielder TOO seriously – at least statistically speaking – until you have seen about 2000 innings in the field. This was the second straight time that Sanchez finished second, so last year’s thinking that his 2011 season may have been a fluke isn’t true. He’s pretty solid. If only he could find his bat…
-29.8 Allen Craig, STL (-18.8 Range, 773.2 innings)
-22.8 Anthony Rizzo, CHC (-16.2 Range, 730.2 innings)
-21.8 Bryan LeHair, CHC (-22.6 Range, 474.1 innings)
For what it’s worth, the third string first baseman in Chicago, Jeff Baker, also scored poorly. Some of that is having a REALLY good keystone combination who turn a lot of double plays which would affect their ranking a bit. I don’t think Rizzo will be this bad next year… Allen Craig can hit, but he needs a late inning defensive replacement.
25.7 Darwin Barney, CHC (9.6 Range, 1270.1 innings)
22.2 Dan Uggla, ATL (8.7 Range, 1348.1 innings)
17.2 Freddy Galvis, PHI (19.3 Range, 416 innings)
Barney is awesome – you have to watch him and Starlin Castro play together… That’s an impressive middle infield. The rest of the team, however, is brutal. Dan Uggla had an outlier season – he’s usually around league average. I don’t expect that to happen again. Freddy Galvis is crazy quick, but he can’t hit enough to hold that position. Neil Walker of Pittsburgh just missed this list…
-25.3 Rickie Weeks, MIL (-9.6 Range, 1344.3 innings)
-15.9 Emmanuel Burriss, SF (-32.4 Range, 269.1 innings)
-15.0 Daniel Murphy, NYM (-5.5 Range, 1127.2 innings)
Weeks has had leg injuries and they apparently cut into his range… Hopefully he can bounce back to where he was a couple of years ago. Burriss didn’t really play a lot, but when he did either (a) the ball never seemed to come his way, or (b) he stands still a lot. I don’t believe he is really that bad…
25.2 Pablo Sandoval, SF (15.2 Range, 842 innings)
18.9 Placido Polanco, PHI (11.3 Range, 664.2 innings)
15.5 Adam Kennedy, LAD (33.4 Range, 225 innings)
*14.4 Ryan Zimmerman, WAS (5.5 Range, 1280.1 innings)
There are a couple of teams that had larger amounts of innings thrown by left handers, which skewed the ratings of a couple of players – starting with the top two names on this list. Throw in the fact that neither player made it to 1000 innings, Ryan Zimmerman would have won my award. By the way – the ball found Adam Kennedy. He’s a good fielder, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not really 33 plays per 800 better than average.If had kept that rate for as many inning as, say, Ryan Zimmerman had played you’re talking about 70 or more extra assists, and 25 extra putouts…
-18.9 Hanley Ramirez, MIA+LAD (-11.0 Range, 860.1 innings)
-15.6 Chris Nelson, COL (-9.8 Range, 647.1 innings)
-15.1 Greg Dobbs, MIA (-19.0 Range, 262.1 innings)
The optimists in Florida (and last year I was one) hoped that Ramirez would battle the position to a draw – but that didn’t happen. And he wasn’t hitting the way he had in the past. So he had to go. Somebody had better figure out if he can play center or left. So Hanley left and the Marlins tried Greg Dobbs, who isn’t very good either (and he’s not as bad as those stats suggest). Polanco gets his turn in 2013…
37.4 Brandon Crawford, SF (19.1 Range, 1101 innings)
31.6 Starlin Castro, CHC (14.5 Range, 1402.2 innings)
16.4 Andrelton Simmons, ATL (18.9 Range, 426 innings)
Simmons and Paul Janish played comparable numbers of innings and had comparable range numbers… Brandon Crawford was a very pleasant surprise for the Giants, proving to be a dependable and able glove man. Now, some of this was due to the higher numbers of innings pitched by lefties, and some of this is due to his youthful range. I don’t see him doing this two years in a row, but you never know. Starlin Castro continues to get better. It’s sad that such a wonderful combination such as Castro and Barney is stuck on such a horrible team.
-22.6 Jose Reyes, MIA (-8.7 Range, 1410.2 innings)
-21.5 Ian Desmond, WAS (-10.9 Range, 1139.1 innings)
-15.1 Willie Bloomquist, ARZ (-16.8 Range, 528.1 innings)
I have said for some time now that Reyes and Jimmy Rollins (who was fourth on the bad list…) are overrated and have been consistently overrated for years. The Marlins would have been better served to have put Hanley in left, put Reyes at third, and put Emilio Bonifacio at short. Bonifacio has better range and is great on the double play. Reyes has a flashy arm and a bigger contract. Ramirez is too bulky and if you watch him play you notice how he doesn’t just let loose with his arm but he kind of guides his throws. They are not shortstops anymore.
The best left fielders play less than 500 innings. There’s no way you can give a gold glove to Austin Kearns who just happened to play his 142 innings when a right handed hitter pulled a fly ball his way. Shane Victorino played left for the Dodgers – he was legitimately good there, saving the Dodgers about 11.5 runs.
Looking at the guys who play left field a LOT, you have:
8.7 Alfonso Soriano, CHC (2.5 Range, 1183 innings)
5.5 Ryan Braun, MIL (2.4 Range, 1318 innings)
4.4 Melky “the Cheater” Cabrera (2.4 Range, 898 innings)
By the way, tons of people get innings at this position – more than any position other than pitcher…
-20.1 J.D. Martinez, HOU (-10.4 Range, 833 innings)
-18.5 Matt Holiday, STL (-6.3 Range, 1312.2 innings)
-17.8 Carlos Gonzalez, COL (-6.4 Range, 1127.2 innings)
J.D. can’t be that bad – or else he took his hitting slump out to the field with him. Holliday continues to get slower. Gonzalez should be a much better fielder than this, but few guys look good in Colorado…
16.3 Angel Pagan, SF (6.0 Range, 1279.1 innings)
14.5 Jon Jay, STL (6.0 Range, 993.1 innings)
9.3 Kirk Nieuwenhuis (13.6 Range, 372 innings)
The third best regular was Michael Bourn… Pagan had his best year – not sure if he can repeat this level, but he is really, really good (and stayed healthy). Jon Jay had a great season as well… You know who had a remarkably good season in center? Bryce Harper. Harper’s range was the equal of both Pagan and Jay – he just played 700 innings.
-22.9 Dexter Fowler, COL (-9.0 Range, 1026 innings)
-13.5 Matt Kemp, LAD (-7.5 Range, 911 innings)
-13.3 Drew Stubbs, CIN (-5.2 Range, 1107.1 innings)
You can see the problems that Colorado had with these last three positions – Fowler, Gonzalez, and Chris Nelson. I’d love to know how much of this is the park – it’s a huge outfield and has more holes than anywhere else. Matt Kemp’s body defied him in 2012. We’ll see if he can come back. Stubbs was sent to Cleveland, so don’t expect him to erase the ghosts of great Indian center fielders gone by…
26.1 Jason Heyward, ATL (8.9 Range, 1337.2 innings)
15.9 Justin Upton, ARZ (5.6 Range, 1280.2 innings)
15.1 Jayson Werth, WAS (10.7 Range, 608.2 innings)
Heyward had a great season and, like Upton, is just entering his prime. I wonder which one gets to play in left next year. I’d move Upton there and tell him it’s time to break out and play like Hank Aaron. Werth has been a great right fielder for years. By the way, #6 on the list is that kid Harper again… If he had played a whole year in center or right, he makes one of the two lists and MIGHT have won the award in center field…
-17.2 Andre Ethier, LAD (-6.6 Range, 1256.1 innings)
-16.7 Carlos Beltran, STL (-6.9 Range, 1126.2 innings)
-16.2 Hunter Pence, PHI+SF (-5.5 Range, 1408.2 innings)
Ethier and Kemp didn’t help the pitching staffs, did they? Beltran’s knees are now problematic, and Hunter Pence occasionally looks awkward out there – but he tries hard.
Yadier Molina, STL
Carlos Ruiz, PHI
A.J. Ellis, LAD
Molina and the Cardinal catchers were above average in every category, capped by throwing out 35 of 73 base runners. Ruiz and Ellis were above average in six of the seven categories and dead even in the seventh. Ruiz gets props for working with the great Phillie rotation, while Ellis probably doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves for the Dodgers success last year. Ellis and Ruiz had comparable stats against base runners, but Ruiz had the better back up in Erik Kratz. I saw him – big dude, strong arm, looks like a take charge type.
The worst catching was either Chicago or San Diego, both of whom scored at -5. Both teams had losing records, staffs that couldn’t keep the ball away from hitters, and tended to be mistake prone. The worst teams against the run were Pittsburgh and Washington…
The Marlins pitchers made more plays per 800 balls in play and were the only team with significantly more double plays started than errors committed (21 – 8). The average team was about 12 – 14. As such, I give the award (if I have to pick a player) to Mark Buehrle.