Friday, January 19, 2007

MLB Preview – AL West Team Fielding

Continuing with the aggregated projections, today we’ll look at the fielding ability of each team’s starting eight. Player fielding prediction, despite recent advancements, is still more an art than science. For some current attempts at quantifying defense, see:

The Fans Scouting Report

Zone Rating converted to a run value
John Dewan’s Fielding Bible
Baseball Prospectus Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA)

By looking at combinations of these metrics, some research of my own, and a dollop of scouting opinion/insight, we should be able to discern the level of defensive performance of teams around the league. Team fielding will be measured as a number of runs above or below average, with positive numbers indicative of better team fielding. To give you an intuitive feel for the numbers, an individual who is 5 runs above average per year is good defensively (say 1 standard deviation above average), and 10 runs represents excellence (2 SDs, or about 2.5% of the MLB population). At a team level, 1 SD is more like 12-15 runs, and it is rare to see extremes beyond +/-30 runs unless driven by an extreme catcher rating (see more on catchers below).

As a first pass, PECOTA projects a FRAA value for every player at his primary position. By aggregating the statistics as in the earlier hitting projections (and assigning a -5 run per year rating to any player not playing their primary position), the projected AL defenses are:

PECOTA Projections
Anaheim Angels: 15 RPY
Oakland Athletics: 7 RPY
Texas Rangers: 4 RPY
Seattle Mariners: -3 RPY

The benefit of using the PECOTA projections is that they are just sitting here. The downside is that FRAA is not based on play-by-play data, instead trying to infer defensive ability from putouts, etc. The results are sometimes a little screwy. It also seems to me that PECOTA projections for catchers are especially wacky, since a catcher’s measurable defensive contribution is largely in controlling the running game. If I remove the catcher’s contribution from above, I get:

PECOTA Projections, No Catchers
Anaheim Angels: 6 RPY
Oakland Athletics: 5 RPY
Texas Rangers: -5 RPY
Seattle Mariners: -5 RPY

As you can see, removing the catcher changes the rankings considerably. PECOTA projects Mike Napoli as +8 RPY defensively, which would put him solidly in the upper quartile of catchers. It seems to me that PECOTA is relying too much on translated minor league statistics to make the projection. Based on his good (but limited) MLB fielding performance thus far, I would say he is more like +2 runs (with a big uncertainty).

The next iteration is to incorporate some other information. We’ll use three sources: Chone Smith’s Zone Rating Projections, my own catcher projections based solely on expected CS%, and Tangotiger’s Fan Scouting Report.


PlayerPosZRrunsFan Score
Casey Kotchman1B258
Howie Kendrick2BN/A52 (at 1B)
Orlando CabreraSS067
Chone Figgins3B-256
Juan RiveraLF060
Garrett AndersonLF-339
Gary Matthews Jr.CF-179
Vladimir GuerreroRF-346
Mike NapoliC149

Looking at the rankings above and combining them with the PECOTA projections shows that there is really only disagreement on Howie Kendrick and Gary Matthews Jr. In the case of Matthews, PECOTA and Zone Rating agree that he is a slightly below average defender in CF. Additionally, the Fan Score prior to this year was significantly less positive than in 2006, leading me to believe that the fan score is being artificially raised by the amazing over-the-wall grab made in 2006. Howie Kendrick is difficult to decipher. His FRAA over the past years is excellent, leading PECOTA to project +14 runs per year. However, his Zone Rating at first base last year was quite average, and he was not considered a top defensive prospect in the minors. Combine that with the low fan score this year, and I am inclined to rate Kendrick fairly low, say +2. Incorporating all publicly available info, the consensus would be something like:

Angels Consensus Rankings

Casey Kotchman1B3
Howie Kendrick2B0
Orlando CabreraSS0
Chone Figgins3B-2
Juan RiveraLF0
Gary Matthews Jr.CF-1
Vladimir GuerreroRF-3
Mike NapoliC2


PlayerPosZRrunsFan Score
Nick Swisher1B-256 (as LF)
Mark Ellis2B1174
Bobby CrosbySS969
Eric Chavez3B785
Bobby KieltyLF239
Mark KotsayCF-682
Milton BradleyRF469
Jason KendallC-258

There are big discrepancies with Mark Ellis, Bobby Crosby and Mark Kotsay. Ellis seems to be an error with PECOTA, as stats, scouts, fans, and even FRAA prior to this year agree that Ellis is quite good defensively. PECOTA may be seeing a decline in performance at age 30. Splitting the difference between PECOTA (+3) and Zone Rating seems reasonable. Bobby Crosby’s PECOTA (-3) seems to be out of line with his previous performance and perception as a plus defender, but his weighted ZR is giving too much credit for 2004 and 2005 when he was legitimately excellent. Once again, a midrange guess seems reasonable. The numbers all agree on Kotsay, who may be getting by on reputation (or perhaps there is a trend and CFs all get rated highly in the Fan Report). The consensus:

A's Consensus Rankings

Nick Swisher1B0
Mark Ellis2B6
Bobby CrosbySS4
Eric Chavez3B7
Bobby KieltyLF0
Mark KotsayCF-4
Milton BradleyRF3
Jason KendallC0

PlayerPosZRrunsFan Score
Mark Teixeira1B375
Ian Kinsler2B-360
Michael YoungSS-366
Hank Blalock3B-461
Brad WilkersonLF236
Kenny LoftonCF-330
Frank CatalanottoRF-642
Gerald LairdC668

Reasonable agreement across the board. The final configuration of the Rangers outfield is still undecided. Catalanotto may be used largely at DH, leaving the RF duties to Nelson Cruz (good defensively), or Sammy Sosa (not so much). The consensus:

Ranger's Consensus Rankings

Mark Teixeira1B5
Ian Kinsler2B-3
Michael YoungSS-1
Hank Blalock3B-1
Brad WilkersonLF0
Kenny LoftonCF-3
Frank CatalanottoRF-4
Gerald LairdC8

PlayerPosZRrunsFan Score
Richie Sexson1B-637
Jose Lopez2B256
Yuniesky BetancourtSS-782
Adrian Beltre3B1078
Raul IbanezLF236
Ichiro SuzukiCF-891 (as RF)
Jose GuillenRF3N/A
Kenji JohjimaC249

Lots of areas of discrepancy here. PECOTA grades Sexson as positive defensively, but this doesn’t match with fan perception or the PBP data. The consensus is Sexson = BAD. Jose Lopez, by contrast, grades out badly by PECOTA. Last year’s Zone Rating and Fan Report say average-ish. PECOTA strikes out again. Betancourt is somewhat of an enigma: the fans love his defense, the PBP metrics hate it, and PECOTA says average. Mike Emeigh at Baseball Think Factory has suggested that young defenders often have a difficult first year when transitioning to the majors, but subsequently recover. Betancourt was very well regarded in the minors, and the numbers support that. I would hedge the bets and say Betancourt will be average next year, but his upside is extremely good. Finally we consider Ichiro! The numbers say he has been lackluster in RF the past few years, and thus predict a very bad performance when moving to the more demanding role of CF. However, the scouting reports on Ichiro are universally positive, and I have seen comments saying that his positioning in RF is unique, leading to strange numbers. This is one instance in which I would ignore the numbers. Ichiro will be an average CF, and may end up above average. The consensus:

Mariner's Consensus Rankings

Richie Sexson1B-5
Jose Lopez2B0
Yuniesky BetancourtSS0
Adrian Beltre3B8
Raul IbanezLF-1
Ichiro SuzukiCF0
Jose GuillenRF1
Kenji JohjimaC0
TOTAL+3(with TUP)

The final scorecard, then is one good fielding team (Oakland), 2 average teams (Seattle and Anaheim), and one bad fielding team with a good catcher (Texas).

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