Stats & Info: Baseball Info Solutions

Jose Reyes' replacement is defensive whiz

December, 5, 2011
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Rick Osentoski/US PresswireJose Reyes is passing the torch to a new shortstop with impressive defensive skills, Ruben Tejada.

Jose Reyes’ departure from the New York Mets clears the way for a potential defensive standout in 2012.

Newest Mets everyday shortstop Ruben Tejada doesn’t hit or run like Reyes, but his defensive work rates higher statistically in one notable area.

Baseball Info Solutions and Fangraphs.com chart every play in every game, which allows the calculation of an advanced defensive metric, Out of Zone plays.

A fielder gets credit for an Out of Zone play when he gets an out on a ball fielded in a spot in which fewer than 50 percent of players at his position recorded an out within that 365-day period.

In other words, a shortstop would get credit for an out of zone play on a ball fielded deep in the shortstop/third base hole, or on a ball that required ranging directly up the middle to make the play.

In 353 innings at shortstop, Tejada was credited with 24 Out of Zone plays. That’s a significant number.

Tejada’s rate of one Out of Zone play for every 14.7 innings played ranked best among all major league shortstops that played at least 350 innings at the position last season.

Additionally, Tejada’s play at the position passes the eye test.

In addition to plotting the location of every batted ball, Baseball Info Solutions tags plays into 80 different subcategories of Good Fielding Plays (GFPs) and Defensive Misplays & Errors (DM&E).

Think of Good Fielding Plays as the sorts of plays you would see on Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems segment. Most are awarded for “the recording of an unlikely out” based on the judgment of the company’s video scout (a group of ex-amateur players) watching the game.

Tejada has 30 Good Fielding Plays in his 353 innings at shortstop last season (they came on 28 different plays—two plays resulted in his being awarded two Good Fielding Plays).

Examples of Tejada's best work included his diving catch against Clay Hensley in shallow centerfield on July 18, his ranging up the middle to snag a grounder and throw out Corey Hart on August 19, and his running catch of Chase Utley’s popup that ended with Tejada crashing into the Citizens Bank Park tarpaulin.

That’s a rate of one GFP credited for about every dozen innings played. That would put him on pace for more than 100 over a full season, a number that easily would have led major league shortstops last season.

Tejada had 12 Good Fielding Plays on ground ball outs (the kind most likely to earn Web Gem billing). Pro-rate that to 1,300 innings (approximately 144 games) and Tejada would be on pace to record 44 such plays in a season.

Last year’s leaders among shortstops in Good Fielding Plays on ground ball outs were Alex Gonzalez (Braves) and Brendan Ryan (Mariners). Each finished the season with 34 such plays.

Tejada had three Web Gems at shortstop last season. He’ll be looking to unseat Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who led the majors with 13, as Web Gem champ.

Metrics shed light on Jeter, Gold Gloves

November, 9, 2010
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Derek Jeter
Jeter

Below is a look at some notable winners from the 2010 Rawlings American League Gold Glove voting. While analysis of fielding remains behind similar evaluations of pitching and hitting, there can be no disputing that some of the voting results and advanced fielding metrics are at odds.

Perhaps the most interesting result was that, whether you look at Baseball Info Solutions plus-minus or Fangraphs.com’s Ultimate Zone Rating, not a single player who ranked first in his respective position finished first in the Gold Glove voting. That’s not to say that several high-quality performers weren’t recognized, but that the elite defenders at each position by advanced metrics were shut out across the board.

SS Derek Jeter

The yearly debate continues. The New York Yankees Derek Jeter received his fifth career Gold Glove award this season, and, according to Baseball Info Solutions, it’s nearly indefensible. According BIS, Jeter’s plus-minus was -13 in 2010, the second worst among all shortstops. In the same vein, Jeter had 33 defensive misplays, second most among AL shortstops to the Los Angeles Angels Erick Aybar. By another metric, UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 defensive games), Jeter also failed to hold up, coming in as the third-worst at the position, ahead of only Kansas City Royals Yuniesky Betancourt and the Tampa Bay Rays Jason Bartlett.

What’s equally interesting is that Jeter ranked first among shortstops in fielding percentage at .989 (among those with at least 500 innings), thanks to only six errors. This suggests that the voters are looking at only one aspect of fielding (errors), while ignoring equally important aspects such as range. As the advanced metrics suggest, it’s not Jeter’s ability to field balls he gets to that’s the issue, but rather his ability to get to balls in general.

OF Carl Crawford and 3B Evan Longoria

The two winners from the Tampa Bay Rays represent arguably the strongest choices in the AL. Crawford has long been one of the best left fielders in the game and was rewarded in 2010. He ranked second among all AL left fielders in plus-minus at +12, while also ranking second among outfielders in UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 defensive games). Longoria also holds up well under these metrics, ranking third among AL third basemen in plus-minus at +13, first in Good Fielding Plays with 60 and, in terms of spectacular plays, ranked first among third basemen in Web Gems points this season.

OF Franklin Gutierrez
Franklin Gutierrez

Gutierrez


Gutierrez’s selection is noteworthy because it arguably comes a year too late. Gutierrez was the most dynamic defender in baseball last season according to UZR/150, leading all of baseball with a +28.9 mark. In 2010, however, that fell back to +6.8, still quite good but just seventh overall among outfielders. Gutierrez and Seattle Mariners teammate Ichiro Suzuki (also a winner) tied for the MLB lead with three home run-saving catches, while Gutierrez also had the most Web Gem points among AL outfielders. So while Gutierrez was not the best outfielder this season, or even one of the top three, the voters probably took a year to catch up to his fielding excellence.

BIS: Ranking the worst outfielders

June, 24, 2010
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Rewind to the first week of the season, when the San Diego Padres visited their NL West rivals the Colorado Rockies. With nobody out and Padres shortstop David Eckstein on first in the top of the 14th inning, Adrian Gonzalez hit a fly ball to deep right field.

Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe, who is not known for his defense, couldn't get to the ball in time and failed to cut it off before it trickled to the wall. Knowing that Eckstein represented the potential winning run, Hawpe came up gunning for home but overthrew the first cutoff man (Melvin Mora). The ball bounced twice before reaching Todd Helton, but it was too late to nab Eckstein, whose run made the difference in the game.

Doug Glanville writes Thursday about outfield defensive fundamentals, drawing on his own experiences from high school through his nine-year big league career. The University of Pennsylvania alumnus emphasized hitting the cutoff man and getting the ball in quickly to prevent runners from advancing extra bases. These fundamental defensive plays go unnoticed by most fans but are often just as important as the offensive highlights, Glanville says.

Unnoticed no longer. Baseball Info Solutions tracks these sorts of unheralded defensive plays as part of our defensive misplays (DM) and good fielding plays (GFP) records. We track 54 types of defensive misplays, and 28 different good fielding plays. For example, BIS marks missing the cutoff man as “DM 47” or taking a bad route to a fly ball as “DM 26,” both examples that Glanville cites.

On the flip side, there are things a fielder does that we don’t always expect, and we record those, too. For example, when an outfielder cuts a ball off in the gap and thus prevents runners from advancing extra bases, he gets a “GFP 22.” Using this data, we can accurately determine the best fielders in baseball.

Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer is the 2010 leader in GFPs that prevent extra bases. He has cut the ball off or gotten it back in quickly to hold the runners at their bases seven times this season. Angels right fielder Bobby Abreu is the anti-Cuddyer, with a league-leading five defensive misplays on extra-base attempts.

As you might expect, youngsters are particularly prone to mental errors. Sophomore Colby Rasmus leads all outfielders with seven defensive misplays on throws. In fact, every outfielder with at least six throwing DMs is under age 30. We’ll expect each of these players to make fewer mistakes with more experience and coaching, as Glanville did as his career progressed.

We don’t have to rely solely on GFPs and DMs to tell us who’s doing all the little things right. Adam Jones, whom Glanville mentions as an example of a fielder who takes good angles to cut balls off in the gap, has thrown out three runners in extra-base situations already this season. Additionally, runners have taken the extra base just 41 percent of the time off Jones (21-for-51), tying him with B.J. Upton as the lowest rate among regular center fielders this season.

Marlins left fielder Chris Coghlan has thrown out six extra-base seekers, tops in the league so far. BIS estimates that he’s saved five runs defensively with his throwing arm so far this season, also the best in baseball. Although he’s having a hard time reproducing his rookie of the year season offensively, Coghlan is finding a way, albeit with less fanfare, to help his team on the other side of the ball.

Ben Jedlovec is a research analyst for Baseball Info Solutions.

BIS: The deterioration of defense

June, 21, 2010
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Defense was all the rage during the 2009-10 off-season, and from Mark Buehrle’s Opening Day between-the-legs flip to Austin Jackson’s perfect-game-saving sprint after a warning-track fly ball, we haven’t been disappointed.

But as the season wears on, legs get tired and the sun shines brighter, so logic would dictate that defense would suffer as the dog days drag on. But does it? Let's find out.

On average, 73.9 percent of ground balls are converted to outs; in other words, the league has batted .261 on ground balls. Let’s take a look at the percentage of ground balls that are converted for outs over the past several seasons:



As you can see, the worst ground ball out ratio in April (.745) is still much higher than the best out ratio in September (.737). Here are the results by month:

April: .749
May: .743
June: .744
July: .740
August: .739
September: .734

The average season finishes the season about 1.5 percentage points lower than it started. Though 1.5 percent might not seem like much, there are roughly 10,000 ground balls in a full month, roughly a 150-play difference between April and September.
Looking at the day-by-day graph with a three-day moving average, the trend remains clear. While the graph tops the 75 percent mark in the first few weeks of the season, it dips below the 73 percent mark for most of the last two.



We know that the length of the season is taking a toll on fielders (at least on ground balls), and so do long stretches without off days. Again applying a three-day moving average, we can see the gradual decline beginning after a week of consecutive games without a day off. The effect is small, but existent.



As we approach the dog days of summer, keep an eye on which managers juggle their lineups to give their regular starters plenty of rest. Though the effect is seemingly small, playoff berths have been decided by much less!

Ben Jedlovec is a researcher for Baseball Info Solutions.

Are sons of players more sound on D?

June, 10, 2010
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With a one-run lead in the tenth inning of Sunday’s game, San Diego center fielder Tony Gwynn Jr. threw out Placido Polanco attempting to advance from first to third on a Chase Utley single to center.

The play was a picture-perfect example for Little Leaguers: Gwynn lined his body up before reaching the ball, fielded the ball cleanly in front of his left leg, and in one motion transfered the ball and made a perfect throw to Chase Headley at third.

Gwynn Jr., of course, is probably most famous for being the son of the Hall of Fame Padres outfielder with the same name. That play was so fundamentally sound that it made us wonder:

Does good fielding run in baseball families? Do the sons of former major leaguers make more good plays than expected? Let’s take a closer look.

The play in Philadelphia wasn’t an isolated incident. Gwynn Jr. has 11 “Good Fielding Plays” without a single “Defensive Misplay” or error in 2010. What does that mean?

Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays, a system originally developed by Bill James in The Fielding Bible and The Fielding Bible – Volume II, are recorded by the video scouts at Baseball Info Solutions. A Defensive Misplay (DM) is generally any non-error on which the fielder surrenders a base advance or the opportunity to make an out when a better play or different play might have gotten the out or prevented the advancement.

Examples include taking a bad route to a fly ball, the classic I’ve-got-it-You-take-it pop fly that drops between two fielders, misplaying a ball off the wall, or juggling a relay throw. We often group Defensive Misplays with Errors (and call them DMEs) to get a more complete picture of defensive mistakes.

On the other hand, a Good Fielding Play (GFP) is when a fielder records an out or prevents an advancement when we wouldn’t ordinarily expect it. For example, scooping a poor throw, reaching into the stands for a pop out, and robbed home runs are all GFPs.

I looked at 50 second-generation major leaguers who have played since 2004 (including Derrek Lee, whose father played in Japan) and compared their Good Fielding Play/Defensive Misplay totals to that which would have been expected from the average major leaguer.

Lee leads all second-generation players with 27 more good plays and 38 fewer misplays than the average first baseman would have had in that span.

Gwynn Jr. is off to a good start. He has 13 more good plays and eight fewer misplays than expected in his career. He rates third, just behind wall-climber Gary Matthews Jr., whose best defensive days seem to be behind him. He was let go by the Mets last week.

We’ve only been tracking since 2004, else Ken Griffey Jr. surely would have ranked higher than fourth-best among major league sons.

But to answer the question: Overall, second-generation players made four percent more good fielding plays than an average player. But keep in mind, they also made five percent more misplays. Apparently, inherited good habits come with the bad ones.

TMI Power Poll: Top 10 third basemen

May, 27, 2010
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This week in the TMI Power Poll, the topic was the best third basemen in the game today. There was a bit of a youth movement at the hot corner as four members of the top 10 have fewer than four years of service in the big leagues. Meanwhile, a former three-time MVP is not in the top spot.

Evan Longoria, the face of a young Rays team that has the best record in baseball, took the top spot. He has developed into a complete player. According to Baseball Tonight Researcher Mark Simon, Longoria is 3rd in the MLB with .738 offensive winning percentage. On the defensive side, Longoria's 17.0 UZR tied for the lead among all 3B over last two seasons (with Ryan Zimmerman).


Others receiving votes: Brandon Inge, Chipper Jones, Jose Bautista, Placido Polanco, Chase Headley, Jorge Cantu, Casey Blake, Alberto Callaspo, Nick Punto

BIS: Taking BABIP one step further

May, 25, 2010
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You've probably seen stories on other websites citing Livan Hernandez as one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball in 2010, and Cole Hamels one of the unluckiest.

A look at their BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) would tell you that they've probably been helped (Hernandez), and hurt (Hamels) by their defense this season. But looking solely at BABIP doesn't tell us that for sure.

But now our group has found a way to offer more concrete proof of how much a pitcher is being helped/hurt by his defense.

Here's how:

In our book, The Fielding Bible – Volume II we spent a lot of time trying to separate defense from the legendary “pitching and defense” that wins ball games. We took individual defensive performances and broke them down to provide accurate defensive assessments.

What I soon realized was that by isolating defensive performance we also managed to come up with the roots of a system to evaluate pitchers independent of their defensive environment.

Sometimes the defense makes a nice play and helps out the pitcher. Other times, it falls between two miscommunicating fielders for a hit.

Often, the fielder is standing in just the right spot at the right time. None of this is under the pitcher’s control, but he gets credit for it regardless of the outcome.

If life were fair, these anomalies would even out over the course of a season.

Based on the characteristics of each ball in play (location, trajectory, etc.), I calculated the approximate chance that the average defense converted the ball in play to an out.

I added up this probability for every ball in play over each game and over the full 2010 season to arrive at an expected number of hits allowed given the distribution of balls in play.

Without boring you with the details and adjustments I made (for now), I’ll present a list of the “luckiest” and “unluckiest” pitchers this season (please note that our BABIP calculation may differ from others due to differing treatment of bunts)

The 3 Luckiest
1- Livan Hernandez
Hits Allowed: 40
Expected Hits: 55

Conclusion: Hernandez has allowed 15 fewer hits than expected. Had he allowed 15 more hits, his BABIP would have risen from .183 to .267

2- Doug Fister

Hits Allowed: 40
Expected Hits: 52

Conclusion: Had Fister yielded 12 more hits, his BABIP would jump from .225 to .294

3- David Price
Hits Allowed: 45
Expected Hits: 55

Conclusion: Had Price allowed 10 more hits, his BABIP would rise from .241 to .300.

Hernandez, he of the 19 strikeouts against 18 walks in 55 innings pitched, rates as the most fortunate pitcher in baseball. Based on the locations and trajectories of Livan’s balls in play, we’d expect 15 extra hits to have fallen in. But instead, those plays became outs.

One rule of thumb is to expect every pitcher’s Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) should move toward the league average (around .300) as the season progresses.

In each of the three cases, we find their Expected BABIP to be closer to the league average than their current BABIP.

The 3 Unuckiest

1- Brad Bergesen
Hits Allowed: 60
Expected Hits: 48

Conclusion: The Orioles have played poor defense behind Bergesen. An average defense would have turned 12 more outs on the balls he allowed into play, cutting his BABIP from .327 to .251.

2- Doug Davis
Hits allowed: 48
Expected Hits: 39

Conclusion: Had the Diamondbacks performance behind Davis matched that of an average defense, his BABIP would drop from .400 to a more reasonable .320.

3- Cole Hamels

Hits Allowed: 60
Expected Hits: 51

Conclusion: Hamels is bound to catch a break at some point. His BABIP of .316 would be 55 points lower if the normally-good Phillies defense had performed well for him.

In theory, utilizing hit locations and trajectories will lead us to better pitching evaluations. The next step is to refine the technique and evaluate its predictive power on historical data, and hopefully we'll get the chance to follow that up with further study in the future.

BIS: Defensive support in perfect games

May, 10, 2010
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Behind every perfect-game pitcher is a good defense, and Dallas Braden’s perfect game on Sunday was no different. Kevin Kouzmanoff made a few nice plays in support of his pitcher, including one foul catch that led him right into the third base dugout. Similarly, Mark Buehrle can thank DeWayne Wise for turning in the top Web Gem of 2009, robbing a Gabe Kapler home run to preserve the perfect game in the ninth last July 23.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could take an objective look at the defense played in each of these two games? Fortunately, we have the Plus/Minus system to do just that. (I took you inside the Plus/Minus and Runs Saved systems on this blog last week, if you want a refresher.)

In his perfect game, Mark Buehrle struck out six batters, and induced 11 ground balls, four fly balls, four fliners, and two line drives. Based on the Plus/Minus system, the White Sox defense totaled +4.3 plus/minus points on the day. In other words, with average defensive play we’d expect an average of 4.3 of these 21 balls in play to fall in for hits. The White Sox were a below average defense last year (totaling -9 Runs Saved), but for whatever reason they stepped it up that day.

Braden is one of the more extreme fly ball pitchers in baseball and relied on his outfielders again on Sunday, retiring six on fly balls, six on fliners, and two on line drives in addition to six via the strikeout and seven on grounders. Fortunately, the A’s defense didn’t have to work too hard to support Braden. When we add up the Plus/Minus for the A’s defense during the game, we find they only needed to contribute +1.8 plays above average to preserve the perfecto. Braden succeeded in inducing lazy fly balls right at his outfielders and high pop-ups on the infield. There was no single play that had a plus/minus value greater than 0.50, while there were three such plays in the Buehrle game (including Wise’s catch in the ninth).

Of course, Kouzmanoff’s foul catch late in the game was replayed on highlight reels all night long. Though we don’t rate fly balls in the Plus/Minus system, we know that Braden was somewhat fortunate to be playing in Oakland this weekend. The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is notorious for the amount of foul territory in play, and Kouzmanoff needed every inch of it to reach the Carlos Pena pop-up in the eighth. If that foul ball falls into the stands, the at bat would have been prolonged and Pena would have had another shot to break up the perfect game.

So, hats off to Dallas Braden, not only for throwing the 19th perfect game in history but also for making it relatively easy on the defense behind him.

BIS: Baseball Info Solutions' fielding systems

May, 4, 2010
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Let’s take a look inside Baseball Info Solutions and the innovative Plus/Minus, Runs Saved, and Good Play/Misplay data that are being featured across ESPN this season.

Here’s an example from April 10 of this season. With one out in bottom of the ninth, two-time Fielding Bible Award winner Franklin Gutierrez chased an Elvis Andrus fly ball back into the deepest crevice of right-center field and made a leaping catch to rob a game-tying home run.

At the BIS office, our rigorously-trained video scouts were busy recording several detailed pieces of information into our scoring software. First, we recorded the ball’s location. Gutierrez caught the ball 383 feet from home plate, along Vector 161 (the angle 26 degrees off the right field line). Secondly, we track the ball’s flight trajectory and score it as either a bunt, ground ball, line drive, “fliner liner”, “fliner fly”, or fly ball. (A “fliner” is a ball between a line drive and a fly ball. A “fliner liner” is a fliner with a lower trajectory; a “fliner fly” is closer to being a fly ball.) The Andrus ball was a fliner fly. We also score each batted ball’s velocity as “hard”, “medium”, or “soft”. This particular play was a hard-hit fliner fly, as the ball was hit well enough that it almost left the park.

After recording each ball’s landing point and trajectory, we flag plays that fall into one of our “Good Fielding Play” or “Defensive Misplay” categories. The Good Plays/Misplays system, originally developed by Bill James, classifies 81 different categories of plays. For instance, a low throw scooped out of the dirt is flagged as a GFP 7 (“Handles Difficult Throw”). Back to Franklin Gutierrez - the Andrus hit was headed over the wall if he hadn’t made the catch, so we award a GFP 23 (“Robs Home Run”).

The Plus/Minus system looks at the ball’s location, velocity, and trajectory to determine the difficulty of the play. Of hard fliners (we group both fliner types together in the Plus/Minus system) to that location on the field in the past year, only 17% were caught. Confirming what our eyes told us, most fielders wouldn’t have made that play. We give him 1 - 0.17 = 0.83 plus/minus points, or “plays”. Additionally, all of the hard fliners hit to that location (at least those that stayed in the park) went for doubles when they weren’t caught, so we multiply his score by two (0.83 * 2 = 1.66). This is what we call “Enhanced Plus/Minus”, which we use to account for the play’s extra-base impact.

In The Fielding Bible – Volume II, we converted the Enhanced Plus/Minus scores to “Runs Saved”. For center fielders, every 1 Enhanced Plus/Minus point (or “base”, if you prefer to think of Plus/Minus in terms of “bases saved”) translates to 0.56 Runs Saved. Gutierrez’s catch results in 0.93 Runs Saved (1.66 * 0.56).

Of course, the play’s impact was arguably greater than that - he robbed a game-tying home run, after all - but that’s why we have the Good Plays/Misplays system to record more information about the play. By combining an entire season's worth of Runs Saved (which evaluates seven other aspects of defense as well) and Good Plays/Misplays, we get the most complete assessment of each player’s defensive abilities.

BIS: Why swap Figgins and Lopez?

April, 29, 2010
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The Mariners front office threw their fans for a loop on the first team workout of the spring when second baseman Jose Lopez trotted out to third base while newly-acquired third baseman Chone Figgins positioned himself at second. As Dave Cameron noted on this blog, “More and more, teams are realizing that if you can play a quality third base, you probably have the skills to transition to second, and vice versa.” But if it doesn’t matter who’s playing where, why bother?

Fast forward to the first week of the season: Rajai Davis hit a sharp ground ball off Doug Fister that sped toward the 3B/SS hole. Lopez, playing in on the grass with the chance of a bunt from the speedy Davis, dove to his left but missed the ball by inches. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I’d bet that Adrian Beltre or Chone Figgins would have come up with that ball, and Lopez just cost them a base hit.” Before I could finish the thought, shortstop Jack Wilson flew into the picture, backhanded the ball, set his feet and launched a rocket to first, just in time to get Davis. Wilson bailed out Lopez, Fister, and the Mariners on a play that Figgins might have made (had he been playing third).

Sure, it’s just one play, but this example illustrates that playing two good fielders on the left side of the infield could cause some overlap, effectively making the total less than the sum of the parts. On some ground balls, both the third baseman and the shortstop could make the play, but only one needs to.

I created a model of the Mariners’ infield using each player’s 2009 performance. I’ll spare you the long explanation for now (I’m running over my word count as it is), but I projected the distribution of ground balls allowed by Mariner pitching in 2009 onto their projected infield before and after the swap. Since I didn’t have a model for Lopez and Figgins at their new positions, I used average third basemen (Melvin Mora, Kevin Kouzmanoff) and above-average second basemen (Dustin Pedroia, Chase Utley, Aaron Hill) as proxies at their respective positions.

For example, let’s compare the Mora/Wilson/Pedroia/Casey Kotchman infield to Figgins/Wilson/Lopez/Kotchman. Adding up the full season of plays, the drop-off at third was significant, but Jack Wilson reached most of the grounders anyway. In fact, Mora (Lopez’s proxy at third base) covers an estimated 58 fewer plays than Figgins, but Wilson’s elite defense makes up 45 of those from shortstop! Add in the 18-play increase from Lopez to Pedroia (Figgins' proxy) at second base, and it’s a net gain of five plays for the team. Using similar infield proxies at third and second, the Mariners’ improvement ranges from zero to 15 plays per season as a result of the swap. Even though it’s not a huge improvement, every run could make a difference in the competitive AL West.

Regardless of the reasons, the (very) early returns on the position swap are positive: Figgins has saved one run at second according to Baseball Info Solutions, while Jose Lopez has accumulated eight Runs Saved, leading all third basemen. So far, so good in Seattle.

Turning two: the best double-play infields

April, 13, 2010
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From veteran managers all the way down to high school coaches, everyone loves a good double-play combination. It’s one of the few artistic expressions left in the game that doesn’t actually hurt your team (see: “Bunt, The Sacrifice”). Even in the “Moneyball Era”, we’re dazzled by the nice glove flip/barehanded pivot play when one shows up on Web Gems. The days of Trammel/Whitaker and even Alomar/Vizquel are past, so who are the contemporary wizards of the double play?

At Baseball Info Solutions, we record several pieces of information on each play. For each batted ball we record a hit location, type (grounder, line drive, etc.), and velocity (hard, medium, soft). Using this information, we can determine the difficulty of individual plays. For instance, we can look at all hard groundballs hit in double play situations at the angle 27 degrees off the first base line (roughly at the second baseman in double play depth). We find that 68% of the time the infield turned a double play, only one out was recorded 15% of the time, and there was no out on the play 17% of the time.

I did this for each potential double play groundball and found the number of double plays above what we would expect the average team to turn given the same ground balls. Here are the top and bottom five teams:
The Angels infield of Aybar-to-Kendrick/Izturis-to-Morales topped all last season (not quite as poetic as Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, is it? Just give it time...). Let’s expand to include fielder’s choice plays where only one out is recorded; after all, one out is better than none (but worse than two):
It’s interesting to note that several of the bottom teams sustained injuries to key middle infielders (Mets, Athletics, Rays) while the teams at the top had more stable keystone combos.

Who was the top double-play team dating back to 2002? The immortal 2007 Kansas City Royals, at 40 outs more than expected. How about the worst? The 2005 Royals, at -42. How can a team go from so bad to so good?

Two words: Mark Grudzielanek.

The Royals were below average from 2002-05, jumped to +16, +40, and +10 during the three seasons Grudzielanek covered second base, then dropped back to -38 last year. Who knew?!?

With or without… Brendan Ryan

April, 5, 2010
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In the Bill James Gold Mine 2010, this note appears in the Cardinals section:

“Starting 95 games at shortstop for the Cardinals, Brendan Ryan was 25 plays above average as a defensive shortstop – that is, he was +25 in John Dewan’s Plus/Minus System. In those 95 games, the Cardinals went 58-37 and allowed 3.43 runs per game. When someone else started at shortstop for the Cardinals they went 33-34 and allowed 4.68 runs per game.”

While largely coincidental, there’s some truth behind the numbers. Taking into account his range and his performance on double plays, Brendan Ryan totaled 20 Runs Saved last season while other Cardinal shortstops cost the team 6 runs (-6 Runs Saved). It’s apparent that with Brendan Ryan on the field, the Cardinals were a better defensive team than without him.

These stats should be taken with a grain of salt. When a team’s regular starter starts 154 out of 162 games, you can’t rely on the eight other starts to tell you anything meaningful. Applying that disclaimer, however, we can look back at 2009 to see which players were most crucial to their team’s defense, coincidentally or not. With apologies to both Paul David Hewson and fellow TMI Blog contributor Tom Tango, here are the With or Without You defensive leaders of 2009 (minimum 1/3 of team’s games started):

You can see why the Yankee faithful might believe Mark Teixeira dramatically improved the team’s defense- in the twelve games without Teixeira in the starting lineup, the Yankees allowed nearly 1.5 more runs per game.

Projecting 2010's total runs leaders

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
3:15
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With Opening Day right around the corner, every baseball fan has a common set of questions on their mind: Which team will win the AL East? How good will Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg be? Who are the favorites for AL and NL MVP?

In The Fielding Bible – Volume II, we introduced Total Runs as a measure of a player’s overall value as a hitter and fielder. To measure a player’s projected offensive contributions, we use the Bill James Projections Update released on March 1. We add in Baseball Info Solutions’ projection of Runs Saved, which measures eight different components of defensive performance. Lastly, we include a positional adjustment based on the difficulty level of each position and the number of innings we project each to play. (For example, Joe Mauer plays the most difficult position on the field but also takes off days as the team’s designated hitter, so he doesn’t receive the full 42-run Positional Adjustment for catchers).

In no surprise, we project Albert Pujols to be the most valuable player in baseball in 2010, with 194 Projected Total Runs. Chase Utley’s excellent defense at a premium position (2B) will make him one of the top commodities in baseball again in 2010.

Over in the American League, we’re projecting Evan Longoria to reach an elite level this year, pushing past 2009 MVP Joe Mauer as the top player in the junior circuit. His Silver Slugger bat and Gold Glove defense at third base will make him an MVP contender in 2010 and beyond.

Stat Week: Defensive Storylines To Watch

March, 24, 2010
3/24/10
12:00
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With a widely-increased focus on defense this offseason, let’s take a look at the most compelling defensive subplots heading into the 2010 season:

1. Can Seattle top 2009?

It's widely believed, by those who study the numbers, that the Seattle Mariners are the best defensive team in baseball, but by how much? At Baseball Info Solutions, we’ve estimated Defensive Runs Saved (as introduced in The Fielding Bible – Volume II) for the 2010 season.

A player’s Runs Saved value indicates how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position, combining eight different aspects of defense. A player near zero Runs Saved is about average; a positive number of runs saved indicates above-average defense, below-average fielders post negative Runs Saved totals.

We took each player’s defensive performance over the past three years and prorated their performance based on the number of innings each is projected to play this year. Our projections expect Seattle to nearly match their 110 Runs Saved from 2009 and to dwarf the second-best Phillies, 2008’s best defensive team.


As Dave Cameron mentioned in a post earlier this month, the Mariners are experimenting with a Chone Figgins/Jose Lopez position swap. While Figgins rates highly at third and Lopez is roughly average at second, the Mariners coaching staff will have to assess whether the shift is a net positive for the team.

2. How much has Boston improved?

The Boston Red Sox have gotten a lot of attention this offseason for signing Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro, and Mike Cameron while moving incumbent centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to left field and letting free agent Jason Bay sign elsewhere. We’re projecting their defense to improve 87 runs over last year’s total of -52 runs saved, largely as a result of their offseason transactions.

3. Which Mariner will be the most valuable defender in 2010?

Franklin Gutierrez led baseball with 32 Runs Saved in center field in 2009, though new Mariners teammates Chone Figgins (31 Runs Saved) and Jack Wilson (27 Runs Saved) finished close behind. We project Gutierrez to hold his crown, but Wilson and 2008 champion Chase Utley should give him a run for his money.

4. Are the Astros this year’s version of the Mariners?

With the out-of-position Miguel Tejada at short and the combination of two “Jeffs” (Geoff Blum and Jeff Keppinger) at third, the Astros’ left-side was porous in 2009. Free agent signee Pedro Feliz and highly-reputed rookie Tommy Manzella will join Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence on a much-improved Houston defense.

Even assuming the unproven Manzella is merely an average defensive shortstop, we project the Astros to improve 39 Runs Saved this season- almost four full wins due to defensive upgrades.

5. Will Albert Pujols win his fifth consecutive Fielding Bible Award?

The Fielding Bible Awards are voted on by a panel of 10 experts in the industry, including Bill James, John Dewan, and ESPN.com's Rob Neyer. Each November 1st, we announce the results of the balloting and declare the single best major league defender at each position. Since the inaugural Fielding Bible Awards in 2006, Albert Pujols has been voted the best first baseman every single year. Is there anything this guy can’t do?

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