Sunday, October 23, 2011

Team Fielding Hurt Tigers in 2011

Many Tigers fans, who watched the team on a regular basis this year came away with the impression that the fielding cost the team a lot of runs. While they didn't make a large number of errors, it was frustrating at times to watch a team that was slow and lacking in range.  In this post, I'll try to estimate how many runs (if any) the fielders cost the Tigers.

Fielding is difficult to measure because we don't have a simple count of opportunities to make plays.  With hitters, we've got plate appearances and at bats as opportunities and clean events such as hits and outs as results.  From there, we can easily calculate all kinds of numbers which tell us about offensive production.  In evaluating fielding, we know how many batted balls fielders turned into outs, and how many errors they made. What we don't know precisely is how many plays they should have made.

Many advances have been made in fielding evaluation over the past decade, but we still are not at a point where we can quantify fielding with the same confidence that we measure hitting.   Some of the problems which still muddy the waters are positioning of fielders, fielding zones where plays can be made by multiple fielders and potential bias (probably unintentional) by stringers recording location of batted balls. 

Despite the limitations of fielding data, there are several advanced statistics which are useful in estimating the numbers of runs fielders cost their teams.  Because there is a good deal of disagreement between measures, I typically take averages across measures instead of relying on just one measure.  It's also helpful to look at multiple years of data and to use observation

Some of the most popular measures are:
For all of the above measures, the result is the estimated number of runs that a player saved/cost his team with his fielding compared to an average player at his position.  The DRS and TZ measures can be found at Baseball-Reference.com.  UZR is housed at FanGraphs.com.

Table 1 below presents TZ and DRS and the average of the two for all MLB teams.  I did not include UZR because it excludes pitchers and catchers from the calculation.  TZ also excludes pitchers, but it does include catchers.  The Tigers had very similar results on TZ (-21) and DRS (-20).  This suggests that fielding cost the Tigers about 21 runs compared to an average fielding team.   That ranked them 26th in baseball.

The top fielding teams according to the average of these two measures were the Rays (+60 runs saved) and Angels (+54).  Since the Rays have stressed defense for the past few years, their top ranking is is not a surprise.  In fact, they have saved an estimated 46 runs per year with their fielding since 2008.

The worst defensive teams according to these measures are the Mets (-58) and Oriloes (-42)

Table 1: Fielding Runs Saved in MLB, 2011

Team
TZ
DRS
Avg
Tampa Bay
36
83
60
Los Angeles (AL)
54
53
54
Cincinnati
31
47
39
Washington
39
38
39
Texas
24
43
34
Arizona
30
29
30
Milwaukee
24
21
23
San Francisco
19
13
16
Toronto
18
14
16
Atlanta
6
24
15
Cleveland
19
11
15
San Diego
3
24
14
Houston
24
-10
7
Los Angeles (NL)
-3
4
1
Kansas City
-21
21
0
Boston
2
-4
-1
Seattle
-8
7
-1
New York (AL)
14
-17
-2
Philadelphia
26
-36
-5
St. Louis
-6
-8
-7
Chicago (AL)
4
-19
-8
Florida
-7
-10
-9
Colorado
-43
23
-10
Oakland
-30
-3
-17
Pittsburgh
-13
-24
-19
Chicago (NL)
6
-47
-21
Detroit
-21
-20
-21
Minnesota
-35
-13
-24
Baltimore
-53
-31
-42
New York (NL)
-79
-37
-58

Data from Baseball-Reference.com

Table 2 below breaks down the Tigers by position.  In this case, I added included UZR at positions where it was available.  While, there is some variation among measures, the consensus is that the Tigers were above average at shortstop (+8) and center field (+10).  Center field is no shock as most observers agree that Austin Jackson is a strong fielder.

Shortstop is probably more surprising for some, as I've seen mixed reviews from fans on Jhonny Peralta's defense. Peralta is typically viewed as a steady fielder who lacks range, a sentiment that I share.  Perhaps, he has more range than we think or maybe his sure handedness is good enough to make up for his limited range.  It's also possible that UZR (-2) got it right and he is no better than average.  This is a case where you may have to use observation to decide whether he is average or above average.

At other positions, the numbers say that the Tigers were below average at second base (-6) third base (-7) and right field (-11), three positions where they also lagged offensively.  The right field situation might be alleviated somewhat if Brennan Boesch goes there full-time, but then left field could become a problem if Delmon Young plays there all year.  The Tigers will likely try to upgrade either offensively or defensively at second and third. 

At any rate, defense hurt the Tigers this year and it's an area which they will probably address in some way during the off-season.  In a future post, well see how their pitching looks better than some think if we take poor fielding support into consideration.

 Table 2: Tigers Runs Saved by Position in 2011


Pos
TZ
DRS
UZR
AVG
C
-3
-1
---
-2
1B
-7
-4
-3
-5
2B
-3
-9
-6
-6
SS
14
-2
+12
+8
3B
-6
-8
-6
-7
LF
-2
+3
0
0
CF
+2
+23
+4
+10
RF
-16
-12
-5
-11
P
---
-10
---
-10
Total
-21
-20
-4
---

Data from Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs.com

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