Monday, March 23, 2009

Giants Outfield Defense is Good

I just received The Fielding Bible Volume II by John Dewan, and thought I would cover the Giants defense in the outfield - the infield is not as easily doable since most of the players are not covered in the book.

Giants Outfield Defense

Fred Lewis

Fred Lewis has been criticized for a variety of things he has done wrong in the outfield defensively.  However, he was one of the top players in the MLB in 2008.  He had 5 runs saved, where #1 Carl Crawford had 13 and #35 Delmon Young had -11;  18 of the 35 had 0 or was negative, among those who qualified for the rankings.  He was tied for 10th in the majors, so he was actually pretty good, overall, when all is said and done.  And he was only 2 runs saved away from a tie for 5th.  In total, he was 12 runs better than Barry Bonds was in 2007, or a little more than one win better, defensively.

Where Lewis excelled was with his throwing arm.  He saved 3 runs with his arm, tied for 8th in the majors.  He saved 2 runs in his Plus/Minus, where he was tied for 13th in the majors.    He had 33 runners take extra bases out of 88 opponents who had an opportunity to advance, or 37.5% advanced on him, where the MLB average was 35.9%, so he was slightly bad there.  He had 3 kills on the basepaths, tied for 13th in the majors.  He was a +6 on shallow balls, +1 on medium depth balls, and -4 on deep balls.  That is a problem of positioning better to catch those deep balls, which he should be able to improve on over time as he learns the hitters.

They wrote:  
  • Lewis is a gifted athlete who has good speed, a good first step, and a playable arm.  But having tools doesn't make you a good player, and Lewis definitely has room for improvement.  This is not to say that he is a liability in the outfield, because he makes more than his fair share of impressive catches.  To be a better outfielder, though, he'll need to cut down on his mistakes.  Far too often, he allows balls to bounce off his glove or eat him up after falling safely for a hit.
  • Given his athletic ability, he simply doesn't come close to catching as many calls as he should.  His best skill currently is his ability to create outs with his arm.  He doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, but he plays it up by getting rid of the ball quickly and accurately.  He also is prepared to throw on every play, preventing runners from advancing by throwing the ball to the correct base.   Lewis has above-average talent for a left fielder.  If he puts that talent to better use, he could be a superb defender.
Aaron Rowand

Aaron Rowand has been even more criticized for a variety of things he has done wrong in the outfield defensively, even more than Lewis.  However, he was one of the roughly average players in the MLB in 2008, as he had 1 run saved, where #1 Carlos Beltran had 21 and #35 Nate McLough had -19;  17 of the 35 had 0 or was negative, among those who were in the rankings. 

He was 18th in the majors in runs saved, so he was basically average, overall, when all is said and done.  He was poor on his plus/minus, ranking 21st there, but was among the best with his arm, saving 5 runs, which ranked him 9th overall.   But he was among the worse in misplays and errors.  In 2008, the average CF allowed extra bases on 54.1% of the opportunities that runners had to advance, and only 49.3% did against Rowand.  He also had 4 kills, tied for 7th in the majors.  But he did poorly on deeper hit balls, registering a 0 for Shallow, -3 for Medium, and -4 for Deep hit balls.

They wrote:
  • When watching Rowand play, you get the feeling that he doesn't quite know his limits.  He is still adept at reading the ball off the bat and taking great routes to the ball, using his above-average range, but at times he just doesn't put it together.  While his ability to track down balls and make the highlight-reel catch won him a Gold Glove in the postage stamp yard in Philadelphia, he has more area to cover in a weaker defensive outfield in San Francisco.  This caused Rowand to take more bad angles and come up short more often.  
  • He also consistently throws balls to the wrong base or throws inaccurately to a base, which allows baserunners to advance.  Rowand still is a good center fielder, but he needs to rein it in to better exploit his ability.

Randy Winn

Randy Winn has been one of the best RF position players defensively.  He was one of the best players in the MLB in 2008, as he had 12 runs saved, where #1 Franklin Gutierrez had 22 and #35 Brad Hawpe had -22 and he was tied for 6th;  14 of the 35 had 0 or was negative, among those who were in the rankings. 

He was 6th in the majors in 2008, and was tied for 6th in 2007.  He was also ranked in the CF list for 2006, and was 7th there.  He was very good on his plus/minus, ranking 3rd, and was OK with his arm, saving 3 runs, which ranked him 15th.  He was able to keep runners from advancing on him, only 44.8% advanced on him, where the average RF allowed 47.0%, but only had one kill.  He was equally good on Shallow, Medium, and Deep balls, +6, +5, and +5, respectively.    And he was ranked #2 in their Universal Fielding Percentage Leaderboard for centerfielders (that was his main position until recently).  

They wrote:
  • Winn has been one of the more consistent right fielders in baseball, finishing in the top five in the Plus/Minus System for the last three seasons.  He does not have elite range, but he can still run, gets good jumps, and takes good routes to flyballs.  Winn is comfortable going straight back on flyballs, and he is tremendous reading line drives off the bat, often making sliding catches that normally would drop in for base hits.
  • Winn's only weakness is that his arm strength is below average for a right fielder, but he charges balls well and is very accurate with his throws, thus limiting the extra bases runners would normally take.  Winn also rarely makes mistakes, further cementing his value as a defensive asset in the field, despite his age.
Giants Thoughts

According to one of the leading researchers on defensive metrics, the Giants outfield is above average, or good:  
  • Lewis "has above-average talent for a left fielder" and his defensive stats put him among the leaders, in the Top 10.   Not great but clearly above average, but with rough edges that he needs to smooth out.  
  • Rowand "is still a good center fielder" but needs to be more aware of his limits in order to be a better CF in the spacious SF center field.   Thus, despite misplaying numerous balls, he's still a good defensive player, but need to improve to earn the rep he had in Philly.
  • Winn "has been one of the more consistent right fielders in baseball, finishing in the top five in the Plus/Minus System for the last three seasons," and because he rarely makes mistakes in the field, "further cementing his value as a defensive asset..."  A player consistently in the top five for three years is among the elite in defensive play for his position.  
Looking over all the centerfielders, one reason Rowand's misplays probably seem excessive is that he has more of them than almost any other center fielders.  He had 38 misplays and errors in 2008, with only a couple of other CF with more.  However, one thing people don't account for is that he gets to a lot more balls with his range than most outfielders.  With the number of touches he gets, the average player makes 30 misplays and errrors.  38 is still large, but at least is in the ballpark compared to the average.

Only 8 players had enough touches to be in range of his average misplay and errors figure of 30 and I will include the few players who were up there in misplays and errors average as well:
  • Carlos Beltran (30 average; made only 23)
  • Shane Victorino (24 average; made 29)
  • Carlos Gomez (31 average; made 40)
  • Wily Taveras (20 average; made 27)
  • Chris Young (30 average; made 34)
  • BJ Upton (28 average; made 41!)
  • Aaron Rowand (30 average; made 38)
  • Grady Sizemore (28 average; made only 24)
  • Torii Hunter (27 average; made only 19!)
  • Rick Ankiel (16 average; made 26!)
  • Lastings Milledge (25 average; made 39!)
  • Nate McLouth (29 average; made 25)
So while not good, at least in this aspect, he is not alone either, as there are a number of players who would rank up there with him had they had as many touches as he did in 2008.


  1. Right field at AT&T is the most difficult in the NL by far. Yet Randy Winn plays that field flawlessly and elegantly. As Dorothy Hamill once said of jumps in skating, the job of the athlete is to make the difficult look effortless. That's what fans from other teams don't get when they dismiss Winn's abilities based on stats. When you see it, you know how good he really is.

  2. This is grading on a curve.
    If Rowand is "average" then defense in general has slipped quite a bit in major league baseball, same goes for Lewis' being a "top MLB player for 2008"

  3. Scoff if you want, but they have people viewing each and every play made and objectively grading everything.

    The point is that ugly defense, as long as it is effective defense, is what is being graded. You can fly around the field like a chicken with its head chopped off, but as long as you get to the ball and make an out, that's what shows up in the scorecard.

    Same with a dying quail that falls in for a hit, it's a line drive for all anyone who didn't see it knows.

  4. It may be a point of semantics, but I think I'd take some exception to your conflation of "average" and "good." I'd say a major leaguer playing average defense is like a university student getting a C. It may be average, but it ain't good.

  5. Standard sabermetric analysts say that average in the majors is actually above average.

    Even beyond that, the definition of average here is just by metrics, meaning that the firm has determined what would be a good way to measure defense, and by that measure, which is what I reported on, our outfield was average to top 5 (out of 35 listed, people at bottom not listed), and 2 of 3 were above average, and the other one was average.

    And all they measure is how the outfielder fielded the ball, they don't cover how ugly it looks while getting it done, all they care about is defensive effectiveness, not efficiency, if you will.

    So I understand your point about average, but in respect to defensive metrics, two of our OF is above average and one is basically average, making our OF overall above average by their metrics.

  6. I think the statistics say that one is above average, one is about average, and the other is below average. What hurts the overall defense is that the one that is below average is playing the position (CF) that needs the best defender to man it. Therefore, as a whole, the outfield is average, at Roger says, average is the mean, it's not good.

  7. To think of it in another way, if from a sabremetric standpoint you fielded a team that was exactly major league average in any given year -- every batter posted a 100 OPS+ (as a general example, although I realize much more sophisticated measures now exist), ever pitcher was league average and every fielder was league averae -- how many wins would such a team be expected to create. Would they be fielding a playoff caliber team (which seems a reasonable definition of "good" IMO).

  8. If everything was average, you'd expect the team to be 81-81...a .500 team, no?

  9. Are we talking about a team or are we talking about the outfield's defensive capabilities?

    I'm talking about the outfield's defensive capabilities. And when you view that, based on the statistics provided in the post, the outfield is above average.

    And as I noted in my post regarding Rowand, he is average, not below average, because he is one run above average for runs saved. Generally, saving a run from being scored is a good thing. :^P

    And I've been saying all along that the Giants are about .500 as a team, but any team can be great defensively and still end up below .500 and a team can be average defensively and win the division, defense is only part of the equation if you are going beyond what I was writing about and talking more about the team itself.

  10. The whole knock on “Skates” Lewis’ glove kind of cracks me up. He is definitely not smooth out there (though he was much better last year then I dreamed he would be after ’07) yet he is well above average for current Left Fielders. Then across the diamond there is Mr. Smooth and Automatic in Winn but he does not create extra drama or towering homers so people po-po him as well.

    It does not change the fact they are both very good with a glove and that the outfielders, as a group, only need to defend a little better to start being a weapon that alters the way other teams play. Just a few less 90 feet surrendered and a middle of the pack infield “D” and teams will not care that much if the Giants only have 3 runs going into the 7th. The will care they are not 1 run up with 9 outs to fix that. Even if the score is tied they will know in their bones that can’t screw up and allow a run. Funny how that tends to change how a lot of squad plays.

  11. We know you posted that Rowand is average. However, we aren't buying, because the statistics don;t back it up and two, because we see him play day in and day out and know it's not true. Just because yo stated it, doesn't make it so.

    You stated that he's average in runs saved, but with an 18th ranking that means he's below average. Average would be the 16th ranking. He had a 21 ranking in the plus/minus, which is also below average. He is amongst the worst in misplay & errors. The only things you pointed to that were above average were percentage of opportunities for runners to advance (which I have a hard time believing watching him continually throw to the wrong base or off line) and that he had a 7 ranking in kills. The sum of that does not add up to average in my book. And it's not jsut because the stats say so, it's more because we see him play all the time and we know what his shortcomings are. By your own admission you say "that he leaves a lot to be desired...a lot..." Wwe know that to be true.

  12. >> However, one thing people don't account for is that he gets to a lot more balls with his range than most outfielders.

    Actually, Rowands range was really bad last season for full-time CF's. Rownad's range (or lack of) cost him -10.5 runs last season by bUZR. Only Curtis Granderson (-10.8 runs by range) and Nate McClouth (-15.9 runs by range) had worse range in CF.

    He was just really bad in range last season and I'm surprised to see you make that comment. Even if you don't believe in defense metrics, just watching Rowand try to get to balls last season was hard. He came up short most of the time.

  13. I think I made a mistake thinking people knew about this system. Here are some pertinent facts.

    The question that they are trying to answer with the Plus/Minus System is: How many plays did this player make above or below those an average player at his position would make? And that's the key thing, this system is all relative to an average player. And the average player has a 0 score.

    Rowand, for all his warts people have been pointing out, has a +1 runs save, meaning he made enough extra plays above the average CF to save one run above that average CF. So for all the plays people have seen him make mistakes on and so forth, his play was such that, overall, he got to more plays than the average CF. It may be ugly to people, but by this system he is at least positive, though minorly so. Hence my pointing out that he is average by this system.

    Thank you Chris for pointing out UZR. I should have been more clear with what I meant here with this post: The Giants OF defense is above average according to the Dewan Plus/Minus System.

    I think I've been clear previously, but I'll point it out here again: Defensive stats are in the 19th Century as compared to the offensive stats. It's getting better but there is nothing that is considered THE solution yet, not that I can tell. UZR and Plus/Minus is the leading ones today.

    But while I like UZR because it is available for free on Fangraphs, I don't have a great idea exactly how that works. Plus/Minus System is extremely clear: the field is segmented into zones, and for every zone where a player fields a ball that another player didn't get to, he gets plus credit for making that play, the other player gets a minus credit. Sum them all up and those that have a positive are above average and those that have a negative (like Jeff Kent) are below average.

    So by the Plus/Minus System, the Giants OF is good: one is average, one is good, one is great, I would call that good overall.

  14. The Giants OF is above-average by bUZR, too. I was just saying that Rowand doesn't (or at least he didn't last season) have good range.

    UZR isn't mysteriously at all, really. It's not hard to find some of MGL's original work and methodology. I think it's even on FanGraphs.

    I like plus/minus, but even less now that I've been reading some of its weighting problems. UZR is free and easy to browse.

  15. So is MLB outfield defense in 2008 better, worse or equal to say, 1985 or 1975?
    If not the same then it is graded on a curve like I mentioned above.--->A below average outfielder in 1975 could be average, or above average in 2008, playing exactly the same.



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