Defensive Shortcomings

12 Feb

Hi Folks!  mini_tb here.

I was thinking the other day about the Tigers potentially signing Johnny Damon and finally putting an end to the nobody wants Johnny Damon sweepstakes.  If they do manage to sign him, can you imagine the atrocious outfield defense of this potential trio?

  • 35 year old Carlos Guillen in LF (Arm -1.1, UZR/150 -12.7 in 2009)
  • 36 year old Johnny Damon in CF (Arm -4.2, UZR/150 -12.1 in 2009)
  • 36 year old Magglio Ordonez in RF (Arm 0.0, UZR/150 -5.4 in 2009)

I should note that all stats are from fangraphs.com.  Here are some brief definitions:

  • Arm – Outfield Arm Runs Above Average.  0 is average.  Negative is below average.
  • UZR/150 – UZR Runs Above Average per 150 Defensive Games.  0 is average.  Negative is below average.

That particular outfield alignment is looking pretty non-threatening to the Tigers’ AL Central foes.  To be honest, we most likely won’t see all that much of it because Guillen should get plenty of at bats at DH, and the Tigers also have 26 year old Clete Thomas, 29 year old Ryan Rayburn, and recently acquired 23 year old rookie Austin Jackson as better defensive options.  With Thomas, you get excellent defense and most likely somewhere around league average offense.  Ryan Raburn should also be a regular in that Tigers’ outfield.  His defensive stats are all over the place, so it’s hard to say how he will pan out – likely pretty average defensively with solid offense.

But…

As Pee Wee Herman once said, “Everyone I know has a big but”.

Here is the Twins’ OF based on their 2009 stats:

  • 25 year old Delmon Young in LF (Arm -4.4, UZR/150 -25.6 in 2009)
  • 26 year old Denard Span in CF (Arm -2.0, UZR/150 -7.4 in 2009)
  • 31 year old Michael Cuddyer in RF (Arm -0.8, UZR/150 -22.1 in 2009)

It’s a sad state of affairs when that geriatric (in baseball years) Tigers’ outfield defense may have the ability to show up the Twins’ defense in a large way.  However, there is still hope.

First of all, defense is hard to measure statistically, so defensive stats cannot be trusted as 100% accurate.  With that being said, the stats aren’t lying when they point out both Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer as bad defensive outfielders.  Exactly how bad they are is certainly open to debate.

Delmon Young could be in a position to be a bit better defensively with improved physical fitness and no baseball colored roof to lose balls in.  That also may just be wishful thinking.

Cuddyer’s already on the wrong side of 30, so he likely is what he is.

Span’s center field experience at the major league level is fairly minimal, so we’re dealing with a small sample size that could improve (or deteriorate).

The Twins obviously have Jason Kubel as a backup outfielder.  I think all we need to say about Kubel’s defense is that it should fit in just fine with Cuddyer and Young.

I know this has been stated by other Twins’ bloggers already since the Carlos Gomez trade, but the Twins’ OF defense has a chance to be really, really bad.  We can hope for some modest improvement from Delmon Young, and we can hope for significant improvement from Span once his small sample size becomes a larger sample size.  Outfield defense that is considered bad or worse does not bode well for a flyball heavy pitching staff that pitches to contact.

But who needs defense when you have this good of an offense, right?

Go Twins!!

Everyone have a safe weekend, and don’t get snowed on too much.

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29 Responses to “Defensive Shortcomings”

  1. Marc February 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    For a fly-ball pitching staff this could be really, really bad news.

  2. TT February 12, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    “First of all, defense is hard to measure statistically, so defensive stats cannot be trusted as 100% accurate.”

    You can leave off “as 100% accurate”. Its not clear that they measure anything, much less accurately.

    Whatever their other defensive deficiencies, does anyone really believe Cuddyer and Young have below average arms? Why would you pay attention to statistical analysis from people who claim they do?

    Oh – that right. Its a number. It must be objective.

  3. mike wants wins February 12, 2010 at 5:24 pm #

    Or, you could trust people that have no stake in a team, that watch every play of every game, chart those plays, and then analyze the data.

    Or, you can post snarky comments about people that spend their time doing that, for free, and giving us some other thing to think about than the 100 or so games we watch in a year….

    Great post Seth, thanks.

    • 8th inning guy February 16, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

      f.y.i. actually STATS tracks uzr and they dont do it for free. It only tracks the total number of outs in a fielders “area of responsibility”. It’s a flawed statistical matrix in particular for corner outfielders who play with centerfielders who can cover ground. It does not factor arm strength. Seth and his community of twins bloggers place way more credence into it than most.

  4. TT February 12, 2010 at 6:06 pm #

    “Or, you could trust people that have no stake in a team, that watch every play of every game, chart those plays, and then analyze the data.”

    Is there some reason you would trust them? We don’t trust the conclusions of individual scientists who spend their entire careers doing research until others have duplicated the research.

    More to the point, we don’t trust scientists at all when they make ludicrous claims their data can’t support. And the claim that someone can tell how many runs a player prevented with their throwing arm is ludicrous on its face.

  5. mini_tb February 12, 2010 at 7:08 pm #

    Tactful or not, I agree with TT for the most part. I think the usefulness of defensive stats is fairly limited. They can help paint a picture, and that’s about it. Even that can be debatable sometimes. As far as zone rating goes, those numbers are at least suggesting Cuddyer and Young are pretty terrible outfielders, and, well, there’s really no way to candy coat it because they are pretty terrible. The arm thing I maybe could have left out. Sorry if that offended.

  6. TT February 12, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    mini_tb –

    My understanding from the FanGraph site is that ARM is integrated into UZR:

    “UZR (ultimate zone rating): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined.”

    So UZR does not actually claim to measure “range”. It combines different calculations it claims represent the “number of runs above or below average a fielder is”.

  7. RandyC February 13, 2010 at 12:39 am #

    The Twins are planning on signing another outfielder, right? Like, someone who can play all three outfield spots for when Span gets dizzy again. Maybe a nice right-hander like Rocco Baldelli?

  8. Anon February 13, 2010 at 3:07 pm #

    Re: RandyC

    I like Baldeli a lot, too, but can he play every day if pressed into action? If he’s brought in as the 5th outfielder, that means Punto gets tasked with a lot of work in center field should any length injury befall Span (don’t worry, I just knocked on wood).

    Re: TT

    I think Young has a fairly soft arm.

  9. mike wants wins February 13, 2010 at 6:30 pm #

    I trust them in terms of directional accuracy, more than some random person that watches one team’s games, never charts plays, and relies on the memory (and suffers the vagaries thereof), yes, yes I do.

    It’s not about precision, maybe that is your issue. It’s about relative ability to field, and I don’t know why I wouldn’t trust someone that charts every play, over my eye that might watch 100 games in a year, and never records anything in writing.

    In any event, I think it would be hard to argue the point that they are both bad to terrible fielders.

  10. Jack Steal February 15, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    The Twins have always relied on pitching and defense to win in the A.L. Central except for 2010. Going into this season we have a bunch of #3 pitchers and no clear ace of the staff. We all hope Liriano will take a step forward but that is risky and wishful thinking. Liriano will have a tremendous amount of pressure on him to succeed and how he responds might be the difference in what type of season we end up having as a team. As far as the outfield defense is concerned it is pathetic to think that we made all those moves to improve the roster but refuse to get a great glove to backup Young/Span/Cuddyer. We have turned into the Chicago White Sox of 2000 and the Sox have turned into us. My money is on the White Sox to win the divison because they have stronger pitching and defense. Pitching and defense wins championships.

  11. TT February 15, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    “don’t know why I wouldn’t trust someone that charts every play”

    They do? Where are the charts? Can you compare them to the games you do watch? How do they determine whether an “average” outfielder would have held the runner? Just think about the number of subjective judgments involved in that calculus. Then think about extrapolating from that to how many runs were prevented. That is the number you have from ARM. I don’t think it has any credibility at all.

    Of course you can make the argument that accuracy doesn’t matter if that relative value is correct. Its just not clear to me that by the time they are done with their calculations the number they create really reflects the underlying data, even if that data is 100% accurate. Which itself is unlikely.

    The other thing to remember is that you are talking about very small data sets when you consider how many plays the quality of an outfielder’s arm would really be part of the equation. Given that, the numbers should be bouncing all over the place from year to year. That does not seem to be the case.

    “I think it would be hard to argue the point that they are both bad to terrible fielders.”

    Actually, it wouldn’t. I think Twins fans are spoiled.

    “I think Young has a fairly soft arm.”

    That certainly is not what the scouting reports on him say.

    • Andrew February 15, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

      I think the reason we do not see these charts is because

      1. That is a ton of charts to keep track of, especially when you think of day-to-day data.
      2. They may be so complex to understand that it is far simpler for the guys keeping track of these things to not release them to the public, but rather do all the calculations on their own and release their findings to the public.

      Granted, I would prefer if we could see these calculations done, so we could better understand why these things like ARM can be taken seriously. A good example personally is WAR: I cannot find a perfect explanation of how to calculate it. I have bookmarked a link to Dave Cameron’s 14 posts on WAR, but he leaves out some critical details.

      As for the complaints about the ARM ratings, I feel that it’s a matter of potential/ability vs. results. There’s no doubt that Delmon Young has a strong throwing arm, but there is a possibility that he does not use it wisely, thus the poor ARM rating. Or, in spite of his arm strength, baserunners still try to take an extra base on him, and they are successful enough to make his rating appear to be poor.

      Even if you do not agree with what I just said, here’s a similar example. Say Player X is regarded as being a speedy runner, he easily could steal 20+ bases per year. However, he’s never eclipsed 10, whether it’s due to poor jumps, poor timing of attempted steals, etc. Like I said above, it’s a case of potential vs. results. X has the ability to steal many bases, but his results show that for some reason, he doesn’t.

      • TT February 16, 2010 at 1:11 pm #

        “I cannot find a perfect explanation of how to calculate it. ”

        That is true of virtually all of these calculations. And the result is essentially “trust me, I know what I am doing.” What’s worse, is that when you start asking questions it often becomes apparent they don’t. Even Bill James has admitted some of his analysis was just plain wrong. As I recall, he admitted that year-to-year volatility didn’t mean what he had assumed it meant. He seems to have thought that if a number varied a lot from season to season it must be “luck”, not skill.

  12. Jim H February 15, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    I see people using and then defending UZR all the time in the blogsphere. Most of the defense of UZR basically comes down to “it is better than nothing”. Unfortunately, that is not true. By stating that Cuddyer is 25 runs a season worse than the average RF it stating something very concrete about Cuddyer that can’t possibly be verified and worse, is likely untrue.

    In order for Cuddyer to be that bad in comparsion to an “average” RF, an average RF would have to be able to make at least 50 and probably more like 70 or 80 more plays on balls hit to rf than Cuddyer did. Do you really think there was a play every other game that an average RF would have made that Cuddyer didn’t?

    One of the big problems with UZR is that it doesn’t take into account positioning. Thus if you are playing say Jim Thome to pull the ball and he hits a line drive straght to the middle of the rf’s zone, it will likely be uncatchable but shown as very catchable according to UZR. What I am saying is that a lot of incorrect data is inputted into UZR. Maybe this evens out over the course of the season, but how would you know?

    Make a list of all the regular RF’s in the AL. Then put Cuddyer about where you think he compares to others. It will likely be as accurate or more accurate than UZR.

    • sploorp February 16, 2010 at 1:48 am #

      And all your comparisons were to league average players. How many games supposedly separate Cuddy from the elite defensive outfielders.

      I watched parts of at least three quarters of the Twins games last season. While it did get pretty ugly on Damon’s side of the field at times, I do not remember many runs scoring off Cuddy or Splan’s glove.

      Also, with the outfield settled and the team playing away from the Teflon roof, I just can’t see how the outfield defense doesn’t improve. Especially left and center.

  13. paul February 15, 2010 at 10:40 pm #

    First of all, I’m not a stat freak but it’s pretty hard to defend Young or Kubel in the outfield. That’s why they are in left or the easiest position to play of the three. On the other hand, where’s all this negativity on Cuddyer coming from. In my view he’s a pretty strong fielder with an excellent arm who really knew how to play the dome. Spahn could be really good. Was Gomez a better fielder? No doubt, but you expect your centerfielder to bring a stick to the plate and Spahn does that. Again, he could be really good.

    • GBG February 16, 2010 at 9:32 am #

      If Warren Spahn is brining any kind of stick anywhere these days, I’ll be really impressed!!

      Denard Span, on the other hand…

  14. M C February 16, 2010 at 10:23 am #

    Haven’t researched it but do those stats account for the times a guy doesn’t even attempt to score or take the extra base? If not they’re worthless.

  15. 8th inning guy February 16, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    orlando hudson won his 4th gold glove in 2009. According to baseballsolutions.com, aka bill james, he had one of the worse uzr’s projections for 2010 2b.

  16. sploorp February 16, 2010 at 8:53 pm #

    We’ve been looking at only sub par defensive stats and rankings. I would be curiuos to see what league average and elite defensive stats look like in comparison.

    I could be wrong, but it seems to me that even the so called “elete” outfield gloves didn’t rank too far above average last year.

    • sploorp February 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm #

      In other words, the gap between our outfielders and the better outfields might not be as great as we think it is.

      • sploorp February 16, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

        I know 0 equals average. What I was refering to was how many full time outfielders are actually putting up above average defensive stats?

      • Steven Ellingson February 17, 2010 at 1:17 am #

        Here are the leaders for last season. Note that these aren’t position-adjusted. so even though Carl Crawford is 4th on the list, he isn’t as valuable defensively as Jack Wilson, who’s being compared against shortstops instead of left fielders.

        http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=fld&lg=all&qual=y&type=0&season=2009&month=0

  17. sploorp February 16, 2010 at 9:01 pm #

    But wait …

    At this point, Cuddy probably is what he is (not much chance for improvement there), but there is no reason to think that Span and/or Young won’t improve.

  18. scot February 16, 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    Especially Span. He was bounced all around the outfield last season and this season he will be our starting CF. I seem him improving alot. Young also has room for inprovement but not nearly as much as Span. Cuddy will be Cuddy.

  19. Steven Ellingson February 17, 2010 at 1:42 am #

    About the UZR thing…

    #1 We can argue all we want about the validity of UZR. But there is one thing that the anti-stat people and mgl (the creator of UZR agree upon: single season numbers don’t mean much. Using a single season UZR is akin to using a 200 at bat sample to say how good a hitter is. If you are going to use a defensive metric, you should get the largest sample you can. Career UZR, or a good UZR projection would both be much better.

    That being said, even large samples of UZR should just be seen as a data point. A scouts analysis of the fielder would be a good second data point. TotalZone, Dewan’s +/-, and other defensive metrics can also be looked at. The fan’s scouting report (http://www.tangotiger.net/scout/) is a also something to look at. The more information you can gather, the better your estimation of defensive talent you will get.

    As far as TT’s claim that UZR is useless, well that’s an opinion. There is no way to prove either way if the metric is a good estimator of defensive performance or not. The best thing to do is read all that you can about it, and decide for yourself how much stock to put in it. If you read the methodology, and think it’s sound, then you can give it a large weight: maybe 33% scouting reports, 33% UZR, and 33% your own observations. If you think it seems a little fishy, maybe give it less weight. If you think it’s complete bull, well, then just ignore it.

    Some things to keep in mind:

    UZR for a player correlates will from year to year. This basically means that if a player gets a high UZR one year, he is likely to get a high UZR next year. There are always examples to the contrary, but that is no different than a player hitting .320 one year and .280 the next. It happens all the time.

    UZR correlates will with other defensive metrics. This is what you’d expect, as their methodologies are similar. It is still good to know that different algorithms using different data (some use BIS data, others Stats, Inc. I honestly don’t know which use which) end up with similar conclusions.

    UZR correlates well with scouting reports and fans perceptions. Players who are well known to be very good at defense (Carlos Gomez, Joe Crede) end up with high UZRs, and people known to be bad defenders (Delmon Young, Micheal Cuddyer) end up with low UZRs. All this really tells us is that the metric has some basis in reality.

    Anyway, I know this is getting long, but I do think it’s important that people know as much about these things as they can so they can make their own decisions. As much as I disagree with the tone of TT’s posts, he does bring up some good points. UZR absolutely should not be taken as fact. It is an estimator of defensive performance, and shouldn’t be thought of as any more than that. I am about as big of a numbers guy as you will find, and I would say that hands down, a good scout (note: GOOD scout) will be a better evaluator of defensive performance than a defensive metric. The problem is, that we don’t always have access to good scouting reports on each player. We are left with our own observations, and the opinions of sports writers.

    Like I said, I think the most important thing is to get as much information as possible, and then decide how much importance to place in various sources. My personal opinion is, that while UZR certainly has its flaws, so do our eyes, and so do the eyes of people paid to write about sports. We might see Delmon Young play 150 games next year, but the problem is, we don’t see all the other left fielders play 150 games. Because of this, it’s impossible to objectively compare him with the rest of the league. Sportswriters are generally not trained talent evaluators either. UZR may be a rough tool, but it is an objective tool. It can be a useful point of reference, but only when used correctly.

  20. TT February 17, 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    “There is no way to prove either way if the metric is a good estimator of defensive performance or not.”

    UZR is not a metric – it doesn’t measure anything tangible. It is a calculation based on assumptions which are undocumented, we can’t test the calculations, evaluate the logic or review the actual data.

    “UZR correlates well with scouting reports and fans perceptions.”

    No, it doesn’t. There are plenty of scouting reports on Cuddyer and Young that mention their arms as one of their strengths. UZR says that they cost the Twins runs. More accurately, there is a whole group of fans whose perceptions are based on UZR.

    “UZR correlates will with other defensive metrics.”

    Again – which “metrics” are those? UZR claims to measure how many runs a player’s defense saves or costs his team. It certainly does not correlate well with any actual objective measure of performance.

    “UZR for a player correlates will from year to year.”
    “Using a single season UZR is akin to using a 200 at bat sample to say how good a hitter is.”

    Let me suggest this is exactly right. UZR should not correlate well from year to year if it really reflects an underlying evaluation of a players defensive performance. Pure chance should introduce major fluctuations. Which means it is the other factors in the calculation that are creating the illusion of stability.

    The misuse of probabilities and averages by Tango Tiger are legendary. They amount to applying the probability that the average hitter will hit a home run when he comes to the plate to the chances Nick Punto will hit a home run off Johan Santana. I would not be surprised if UZR uses similar logic.

  21. TT February 17, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    “Sportswriters are generally not trained talent evaluators either.”

    Nor is it their job. Their job is to amuse readers. Its much easier to for them to rely on stats like UZR. The alternative is to find people who are trained talent evaluators who are willing to talk and to report their observations. That is a lot more work than checking out Fangraphs. So many sports writers now don’t bother. Their readers prefer “objective” stats anyway.

    “UZR may be a rough tool, but it is an objective tool.”

    I think this is misleading. It is NOT an objective measure of how many runs a player’s defense saves or allows. Its just a number. And it is doubtful it even accurately reflects the differences in the underlying data. And that data is itself suspect, based on subjective judgments by unskilled observers.

    In fact, I would suspect the “runs allowed” metric is mostly used because differences in the underlying data don’t actually tell you very much. Without massaging, the numbers would be all over the place.

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