I’m currently reading the “The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2011.” I always find it fascinating to read or listen to how “others” view the Reds whether it’s national broadcasters or independent analysts. Let’s face it, we’re blinded by the love for our team and we see our Reds through, uh, “Rose” colored glasses more times than not.

What’s amazing to me is that I don’t find that much about the Reds in the book, at least not to this point. That’s not necessarily bad, and probably a tribute to Walt Jocketty and company. Typically, poor decisions are easier to dissect in national publications and the Reds have made real strides in the past few years towards re-establishing themselves as a competitive team.

What has surprised to me this point was the evaluation of the Reds’ defense. Writer and defensive analyst John Dewan gives the Reds positive marks, saying the Reds finished fifth in “defensive runs saved” in 2010 with 33. (The Cardinals are rated first at 61; with their offseason moves, I see that number decreasing significantly). I thought the Reds would rate high defensively, but according to “The Hardball Times” (THT) it’s not just for the reasons we would think.

It was the outfield, not the infield, that saved the runs, no matter who actually won the Gold Gloves. THT rates 1B and 3B as neutral (0 runs saved over the average defensive player). Second base is rated as one run saved, shortstop is -2 runs saved, and the catcher position is rated as -4 runs saved. (NL Team leaders: 1st base, Mets, 16; 2nd base, Phillies, 16; 3rd base, Nationals, 31; shortstop, Rockies, 28; catcher, tie between Rockies and Cardinals, 11).

The outfield is a different story. The star of the Reds outfield was right fielder Jay Bruce. The study gives the Reds’ right field play credit for 23 runs saved (first was Marlins with 29). Reds centerfielders saved ten runs (Astros were first with 15), and Reds leftfielders saved five (Giants led NL with 21).

Additional info: the Reds placed 19th in baseball in converting double play opportunities (38.7%), were sixth in bunt defense and second in preventing the extra base on hits to the outfield.

Many pages in this 2011 THT are devoted to defensive metrics and new fielding analysis. They’re calling it Fieldf/x, similar terminology to the Pitchf/x terms currently used for pitchers. It’s a notable difference in how baseball players will be evaluated over the next several years. Baseball sabermetrics help highlight some offensive skills that weren’t always valued in the past; BABIP (batting average on balls in play) became important, especially to pitching peripherals. The next frontier is defense and advancements are being made. I believe the timing is right, especially living in the shadow of the Steroid offensive explosion. Weaker offensive players like Paul Janish would not have been given much of a chance 10-20 years ago, but may still have a chance to carve out a good career based on flashing leather. Those who long for the “small ball” days of the 1970’s may yet get a chance to see their favorite style of play return.

Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. IMO, defensive metrics have taken two steps back, but that may be necessary to the ultimate leap forward.

    There are simply too many “new” metrics that reach contradictory, inconsistent, or facially-laughable results. Too many guys have wild year-to-year swings. Then we – without the critical eye supposedly essential to sabermetrics – just plug this garbage into overall value metrics like WAR or VORP. Garbage in, garbage out.

    The real Fieldf/x – which will use cameras and lasers and the like – will hopefully deliver the accurate defensive metrics we’ve been promised for 5+ years, but I’m not holding my breath any more.

  2. Steve, did the analysis on the Reds catcher position break down the results to specific players?

    Chris, I agree with your observation about inconsistencies between measures and the on-face questionable results. Not sure that’s two steps backwards, maybe a pause.

    Your point about how we uncritically use WAR and VORP that incorporate these stats is important. I’m guilty of that myself. I always am skeptical of taking the defensive measures too credibly, but often consider WAR measures more reliable.

    Although the WAR measure has the same problem with conflicting outcomes, too.

    All in all, we’re moving in the right direction trying to rigorously quantify these qualities.

  3. It is really important to look at all the numbers because, you’re both right, they aren’t perfect. Fangraphs, for instance had the Reds with very impressive fielding numbers around the infield.

    This is slightly tangential: but you really have to be careful about WAR with pitchers. A lot of the numbers (like FIP) that go into that are pretty fuzzy. I did a little bit of work on this that lead to an article I did about Zack Greinke on The Hardball Times (he’s not as good as everyone wants him to be). Arroyo comes out looking a lot better, for instance, if you look at him closely. He’s consistently better than the advanced metrics say he should be. Sometimes, the fancy stats do miss stuff.

    • you really have to be careful about WAR with pitchers. A lot of the numbers (like FIP) that go into that are pretty fuzzy.

      Amen. It is harder with pitchers than hitters, as much because the pitchers lack control over the result of a BIP as anything. Sort of. They do seem to control whether G/L/F, which determines the size of the damage done (higher LD and FB = higher doubles, triples, homers).

  4. @Chris Garber: Right on, Chris. I think this new technology will yield accurate results and definitively prove that Phillips is better than Utley!….for starters. It’ll essentially take away the last vestiges of opinion over fact from managers. I can’t wait to see how it rates guys on reaction time and range.
    On the flipside, if the system is as messed up as Pitch F/X has been so far, I want no part of it.

  5. Off topic, but MLB trade rumors says the Indians are listening to offers for Fausto Carmona. If they’re serious about trading him, it would have to signal their intentions to rebuild. It would be logical for them to listen to offers for Sizemore as well. Walt, get on the phone!!!

    • Off topic, but MLB trade rumors says the Indians are listening to offers for Fausto Carmona. If they’re serious about trading him, it would have to signal their intentions to rebuild. It would be logical for them to listen to offers for Sizemore as well. Walt, get on the phone!!!

      YESSSS Sultan!!!! Grady for President (of Left Field). 8)

      Provided of course he is healthy. 😉

      Go 2011 Reds! Defending NL Central Champs!

  6. @Steve: I said “two steps backward” because we are actually relying on the bad defensive metrics. Five years ago, we knew enough to ignore Fielding Pct and Gold Gloves, and basically relied on our eyeballs and crowd-sourcing.

    Now, we (at least I) assume that these modern defensive metrics are reliable, when they’re not. So rather than knowing we’re lost, we are following a faulty compass deeper into the woods.

  7. Accurate or not, these numbers just remind me of how much I love the Bruce extension!

  8. I’m currently reading that book too. I got my 2010 Championhsip season The Comeback kids in the mail today.

  9. I think you have to consider the sources like everything else we read. Dewan works with Bill James, too, and they’ve been working on this program for a long time. It doesn’t mean it’s right, and old veterans can become dinosaurs, but when in doubt, I think I’d go with the guys who have a record of success.

    Where’s Miguel Cairo…I need him to sub for me right now…

    I’ve questioned defensive stats for a long time, and some defensive stats are always going to be subjected to opinion. I’m pretty comfortable with what these analytics say. I know Gomes looks ugly in the outfield, but we all like his hustle. Could it be that he looks so bad sometimes that it overshadows what he does well?

    As for the catcher stats, they weren’t split, but we can look at pitcher ERA’s by catcher and it’s hard to look at who seemed to work best with the pitchers and defense (just check Bailey’s catcher ERAs).

    Janish didn’t score well this year from what I’ve seen in other studies after he scored so high at Baseball Prospectus last year. It will be interesting to see how they rate him.

  10. @Chris Garber: I think it is a common misconception that players are consistent on defense. They are no more consistent on defense from year to year than they are on offense as a group, and these various newer metrics are proving that. Some players, of course, are more consistent than others (offensively and defensively).

  11. @Steve Price: What Dewan’s group does at Baseball Info Solutions is tape every moment of every game and then record the start position of the fielder, the time and trajectory for the ball to get to the spot where it is either fielded or not fielded and then for a given player, get a full track record of each play made or not made from starting point of fielder to out or not out. What they discover is that some players are better than others at making certain plays (to their left, to their right, coming in, going back) certain throws, hitting cutoff, fielding bunts, what have you. All this data serves the “runs saved.” Year to year, the results are varied, just like hitting results, with some players contributing more than others on a regular basis. Some fielders make more spectacular plays and fewer routine ones–those guys get better reputations than they deserve. Other fielders make more plays period, but nothing too flashy. They have worse reputations than they deserve. It is all what the eye beholds versus the plays made or not made in metric terms. It is definitely not “garbage in, garbage out” though–it is pretty black and white over the course of an entire season or several seasons of potential plays to be made.

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