Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bill James Handbook 2007: Fielding Info

Just got my copy of this book. It is not even close to the old Bill James annuals but it is still certainly a good book to get every year, for the new stats and updated stats. If you like to swim in numbers, this is a good book to get. And he provides a different set of stats to look at and get some sort of perspective on the situation.

I will be revisiting certain parts of the book as the need and mood see fit, but I thought I would start with this particular subject, one, partly because the book starts there, and two, it concerns some of our position players.


Fielding stats, as I have written before, is still in the 19th century (and I'm just quoting from another source, because I agree). This year's handbook has a couple of sections on this topic and so I thought I would share the highlights for Giants fans. The sections are written by John Dewan, who publishes the book, appropriately enough, The Fielding Bible, and presents a variety of interesting info.

Fielding Bible Awards

This is suppose to be their version of the Gold Glove awards, except that they use "experts" to rate the players and they look at the MLB, not just each league. I put experts in parens because, while I would agree that they are more expert than the sports writers who vote on the players each year, and thus this would be a more valid, assessment, some of the voters seem, to me, to be no better than baseball writers, so that negates at least partially their claim of superiority over baseball writers.

I'm only being tough because they took the stance of selecting experts and stating that as a plus over the baseball writers. However, I would agree that probably their vote, because of the selection bias and the transparency of the process, is better than the Gold Glove awards. And that's why I'm presenting some of the 2006 results here, as it pertains to the Giants (or near-Giants, as the case may be).

The voting was 10 voters, voting for the 10 best players from 1st to 10th, with points given in reverse order, 10 points for a 1st, 9 points for 2nd, down to 1 point for 10th. Thus a unanimous vote would give 100 points to the player.

1B: Unsurprisingly, no Giants in Top 10. Only Giant to show was Shea Hillenbrand, with 4 points.

2B: Unsurprisingly, Durham did not get any votes.

3B: Feliz got 44 points (winner had 78) and finished 7th in the voting.

SS: Unsurprisingly, Vizquel was second (to a surprising Adam Everett; I never knew, though now I recall how well he got Assists and Putouts in my fantasy league) by a wide margin (98 to 61, Everett was 1st in 8 of 10 voters).

LF: Unsurprisingly, Bonds did not get any votes. Dave Roberts was ranked 3rd with 62 points (Crawford first with 87), he was a clear 3rd with 4th coming in at 53. Alfonso Soriano was 6th with 39 points.

CF: Finley actually got one vote, a 10th place vote that got him 1 point. Gary Matthews was 4th with 46 points and Juan Pierre was 6th with 35 points.

RF: Randy Winn, surprisingly to most Giants fans, finished 4th with 47 points (Ichiro was first with 95 points).

C: Amazingly, Eliezer Alfonzo got 1 point. Benjie Molina got 3 points (his brother got 90 points to finish 2nd to, who else, I-Rod, who, by the way, was not an unanimous choice, though close).

P: No Giants pitcher got a vote

In summary, the only Giants, either 2006 or 2007 versions, deemed to be good defensive players, period, are Feliz, Vizquel, and Winn.

Plus/Minus Leaders

The Plus/Minus System was developed at Baseball Info Solutions, which is owned by John Dewan. A player gets a "plus" if he makes a play that at least one other player at his position missed during the season and he gets a "minus" if he misses a play that at least one player made. Each play is looked at individually, and a score is given for each play. Sum up all the plays for each player at his position and you get his total plus/minus for the season.

Getting a score near zero means the player is average. Looking at the top 10 for each position, in general +10 or above are generally good to very good, for some positions, +5 is good, for any particular season.

For 2006:

1B: Shea Hillenbrand was 10th with a +5 and was not that far from tying for 4th place which only took a +7 and Pujols got 1st with +19. So Hillenbrand is a better 1B than most give him credit for, even the experts voting for the Fielding Bible Award, for he got to 5 more balls that other 1B did not get to and ranked 10th. But that is one problem I found with this stat, it gave me no magnitude of this, 5 out of 100 is one good thing, 5 out of a 1000 is not that big a deal - I would guess it would be closer to the latter than the former. But still, it is interesting.

2B: No Durham here. Top was, amazingly, Jose Valentin with +22, and he wasn't even a regular 2B for the Mets, if memory serves. 10th was Brian Roberts with +8.

3B: Pedro Feliz was a close 2nd with +25, with Bradon Inge 1st with +27 and Adrian Beltre 3rd with +23 and Joe Crede with +22. Then a steep drop to each lower position until 10th, David Bell with +8. Again, Feliz showed his defense to be top notch again here, perhaps he's as good as the Giants have made him out to be in comments to the press, though, again, not so good to make up for his lack of offense.

SS: Surprisingly, no Vizquel here. He of dazzling plays did not get to balls that other SS did not get to often enough to rank here. Adam Everett was the leader by far with +43, with Clint Barmes 2nd with +27, then falling to Rafael Furcal and David Eckstein with +7 in a tie for 9th.

LF: Again, no Bonds, but Dave Roberts was 1st with +16. Of course, he'll be playing CF for the Giants, but I think this shows that he is still a pretty good defensively OF, though obviously CF is much harder than LF.

CF: No Giants here, Corey Patterson was far and away the leader with +34, just ahead of Andruw Jones with +30 and Juan Pierre with +25. What I'm amazed by is that infielders, I would think, get a lot more balls to field than OF, but then Patterson was the highest for any position except for Everett.

RF: Randy Winn was 1st here with +22, where 10th place had +5. And that is despite only playing 89 games in RF in 2006.

For 2004-2006, I'm just covering Giants (the old joke about the easier to count):

3B: Pedro Feliz ranked 3rd despite not playing 3B for the most part during those 3 years, maybe 1.5 seasons worth, and yet he had a +54, tied for 3rd with David Bell, behind Adrian Beltre and Scott Rolen. Eric Chavez is considered to be a very good fielder (I think he has a gold glove already) and only had a +33.

LF: Moises Alou was 9th with a +4.

Range Factor

Lastly, a more common defensive stat has been Range Factor, which measures how many balls the player handles per 9 inning game. Obviously, if you have a strikeout and/or flyball staff, that would reduce the range for your infielders and if you are a groundball pitcher, then your OF would suffer. But still an interesting piece of the puzzle towards trying to understand how good defensively a player is, as there are no definitive stats out yet.

2B: Durham was 20th of 29 regulars. Frandsen at his rate would have been last, but only 19 starts.

3B: Feliz was 10th of 30 regulars. Unsurprisingly, Hillenbrand would have been last but had only 22 starts at third.

SS: Vizquel was 23rd of 30 regulars. Aurilia would have been 6th but only 25 starts, Frandsen 20th but only 2 starts.

LF: Bonds was 13th of 28 regulars. Roberts was 4th and Linden would have been 3rd but only 7 starts and 40 games.

CF: Only Finley qualified as a regular. Roberts would have been 2nd but had only 13 starts and Winn would have been 4th, but only had 57 starts.

RF: Winn was 1st of 27 regulars. Linden would have been 26th but only had 4 starts.

Giant Thoughts

From these data points, clearly, Feliz and Winn are much better defensive players than people have given them credit for. They are not only good, but can be around the best at their positions in the majors. But is that good enough to make up for their offense, or lack thereof?

Pedro Feliz

Feliz, even at his best (which was an OPS of .790 in the 2003-2004 season), would still rank in the lowest third of the NL in OPS for 3B in 2006. Is his defense that much better to make up for that? Maybe, but probably not. But he is clearly a superior fielding 3B, creating about 25 more outs per season than the average 3B over the past 2 seasons or so.

If he can hit 790 OPS and field like that, taking out 25 outs from his AB would result in an OPS in the 820 range, which would put him in the middle of the pack in the NL. Don't know if it makes sense to do that to his hitting, as I am not sure if an out hitting is the equivalent of an out fielding, but I thought it would be interesting to see what happens. If they are equivalent, he would not be that bad a 3B for the money if he can hit 790 OPS and field at such a high rate.

The problem is that he has been batting in the low 700 OPS the two last seasons where he played pretty much full time. Perhaps Bochy will be able to rest him more often than Felipe because he will have Aurilia as a relatively equivalent replacement at 3B, with Sweeney taking over at 1B for Aurilia, or even giving Frandsen a shot at 3B every once in a while when it is a lefty starting pitcher. Feliz was actually a pretty decent 3B the first half of the 2006 season, hitting .274/.306/.486/.792 pre-All Star with 15 HR in 350 AB, or 23 AB/HR.

But the key is whether he can keep it up for a whole season and that is why most fans, me included, were not happy about his re-signing. He says that he is working on an off-season conditioning program to help with his stamina while also working on his batting selectivity. I will believe it when I see it, he had his big chance in 2006 to start at 3B undisturbed, and he flubbed it up offensively.

I think he just lucked out, the Giants had no choice but to take him back for 2007, because even with Aurilia on board to start at 3B, then who do we start at 1B, SweeNiekro again? We saw how that worked last season, when Sabean was forced to trade for Hillenbrand. So the Giants had to re-sign Feliz, they had too many holes to fill and could not take the risk that they could not obtain a better hitting 1B, like a Sexson or Burrell, so they compromised and got Feliz.

If they bat him 8th, though, he would actually be a plus hitter because most 8th place hitters cannot hit in the .700 range or above. Even if he hits like he did in 2005-2006, he would still be a top hitter in the 8th position. In addition, he would still be average if he hit in the 7th position. And Bochy has made it clear in interviews that Feliz will be hitting in the bottom of the order, at least to start with.

Side thought: Hillenbrand is still unsigned and I can see the Giants signing him for less than Sean Casey money when all is said and done, just before Spring Training, basically "prove that I'm worth more" salary that Kenny Lofton and Reggie Sanders had to do a few seasons back with the Pirates. While he is not a huge upgrade over Aurilia, I do consider him an upgrade, and if the Giants can get him cheap enough, that would strengthen the club.

Randy Winn

Winn I have been thinking that people have been giving short shrift to and the fielding stats seem to support my position even further. He is a lifetime .765 OPS hitter and a .785 hitter since he became a regular in 2002 and if you just look at his stats without 2006, .802 OPS, so I don't think that 2006 is a representative year for him. He actually hit OK at AT&T in 2006, .285/.347/.424/.770, but it was the road that killed him: .237/.300/.367/.667. In particular, it was the NL West that was hard on him, he couldn't hit in Colorado, LA or San Diego. He also had problems in D.C. and Oakland.

An .802 OPS puts Winn right in the middle of the pack for RF, and .765 to .785 would put him just slightly behind. So whereas Feliz would need to bat at his high OPS for his career for his superior defense to be adequate, Winn just needs to hit about where he hit before for his career to be adequate overall, considering offense and defense.

And that seems fairly likely. It was not like he was hitting poorly all season long. He hit very decently from April to June, with above .800 OPS in two of the three months. Even at the All-Star Break, he was still hitting .270/.343/.427/.770.

But then something happened, drastically, and he only hit .249/.296/.349/.645 for the rest of the season, and he was particularly affected in July and August, with OPS of .599 and .637, respectively, before recovering some in September with a .703 OPS. Historically, for his career, even with the poor 2006, he gets better in the second half - .744 OPS pre-All Star and .790 OPS post-All Star - so his second half decline was clearly caused by something unusual, like perhaps that knee injury he suffered in May, maybe he reinjured it mid-year and it screwed up his hitting and power.

Furthermore, he ranked first in the majors in RF for Plus/Minus despite playing only 89 games there and was first in Range Factor. Perhaps he will be that much ahead of the pack in 2007 playing more of the season there instead of just 89 games there. Roberts will probably be platooned in CF so Winn will probably get the starts vs. LHP in CF and start around 120-130 games in RF. So he could be a premium defensive RF while providing OK offense, and that seems like a pretty good trade off to me.

Other Players

Don't have a lot of time, but someone else I thought I should point out is Dave Roberts. Unlike some people's opinion, he appears to be a good defensive OF, whether LF or CF, from the data above. Offensively, he has hit .285/.358/.409/.767 since playing in pitcher's park Petco and that marks the improvement in his batting line since leaving the D-gers and joining Boston, as his OPS has been in the high 700's since leaving the D-gers. Playing in Petco greatly affected him in 2005 but not so much in 2006 - apparently the park dimension changes helped out lefty homers greatly, though that didn't work for Roberts, as he only got 1 HR in 2006 vs. 5 in 2005. There was a slight increase in the lefty batting average, but only 2% increase.

If he can continue to hit .285/.358/.409/.767, that would have placed him 6th in 2006. In addition, the OPS of .358 would put him at 3rd. So leadoff looks to continue to be a strength with Roberts at the top of the order and his speed and accuracy - he didn't get caught much last season - will jazz up the top of the lineup in a way that hasn't really been seen since Brett Butler used to stir things up for us. That plus his defense makes him a good acquisition for the Giants, if old, though technically younger than Finley, who got the most games in CF last season for the Giants.

1 comment:

  1. Little did we know that Randy Winn's defense would be such a nice addition when we supported his signing.

    Happy Holidays.




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