Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Alex Avila, Omar Infante and Austin Jackson Rank High on Fielding Bible Awards

Fielding statistics have made progress over the past decade, but there is still a good deal of work to be done.  Newer statistics such Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating and Fielding Runs Above Average tell us more than errors and fielding percentage, but they don’t work as well as hitting stats such as On Base Percentage and Slugging Average. Questions arise because different fielding systems, which are supposed to measure the same thing (how efficiently players turn balls in play into outs), sometimes disagree substantially on individual players.

It’s clear that a fair amount of subjective input and interpretation of available data is needed to accurately evaluate fielding performance. With this in mind, John Dewan, owner of Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) and long time leader in the sabermetric community, developed an interesting approach to the evaluation of fielding performance a few years ago.  Rather than relying solely on statistics, he put together a “panel of experts” to select the best fielders at each position. He calls it the Fielding Bible Awards as he considers them a complement to the statistics in his book: The Fielding Bible.

The way the Fielding Bible Awards work is each of 10 voters ranks 10 players at each position. A player gets 10 points for a first place vote, 9 points for a second place vote, etc. Among the voters were several prominent sabermetricians including Dewan, Bill James and Rob Neyer, BIS video scouts who studied every single game of the 2012 season in great detail, former major league outfielder Doug Glanville and knowledgable fans who participated in the Tom Tango Fan Scouting Report.

You can see the final results including how each panelist voted (something you don’t see in the Gold Glove award voting) in The Bill James Handbook 2013 (If you just want to see the top player at each position, you can go to The Fielding Bible site.)

Table 1 below, shows that three Tigers finished in the top ten in the major leagues including Austin Jackson finishing fifth by receiving 49 out of 100 possible points for center fielders. Those ranked ahead of him include Mike Trout of the Angels, Michael Bourn who played for the Astros and Pirates, Twins center fielder Denard Span and Craig Gentry of the Rangers.Other Tigers in the top ten include Omar Infante (ranked 8th among second basemen) and Alex Avila (9th among catchers).
Do the Fielding Bible Awards work better than statistics? I don't know, but they are a nice complement to the available quantitative data and an interesting alternative to the Gold Glove Awards.  I believe they are a significant contribution to the ongoing quest to more accurately assess fielding performance.

Table 1: How the Detroit Tigers Ranked on Fielding Bible Awards

Position
Player
Points (100 Max)
MLB Rank
Catcher
Alex Avila
23
9
First base
Prince Fielder
0
Unranked
Second base
Omar Infante
29
8
Third base
Miguel Cabrera
0
Unranked
Shortstop
Jhonny Peralta
0
Unranked
Left field
Quintin Berry
6
16
Center field
Austin Jackson
49
5
Right field
Andy Dirks
0
Unranked
Pitcher
Justin Verlander
16
11
  Data source: The Bill James Handbook 2013

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