I Look At Fielding Statistics In My Spare Time

2009 August 2

There are a bunch of different fielding metrics that are thrown around nowadays — UZR, Plus/Minus, Range Factor — and sometimes they don’t exactly agree, but for the most part they come together to form a credible overall view of how well a player fields his position, especially over the course of a few years. Most of time, I just go straight to Fangraphs (which utilizes UZR), but they don’t have UZR data prior to 2002. Baseball-Reference, on the other hand, has Total Fielding Runs Above Avg going back much further. The only catch is that I don’t quite know their methodology for this stat, and their glossary doesn’t exactly shed any light on it, either. But I’m going to go ahead and mention some of these numbers anyway.

Ok, let’s start with the career Rtot/yr (Total Fielding Runs Above Avg per 1250 innings) numbers for guys that everyone knows was a totally awesome fielder.

Ozzie Smith +13.1

Brooks Robinson +14.0

Willie Mays +9.3

Keith Hernandez +8.3

Roberto Clemente +12.0

Ivan Rodriguez +9.7

Roberto Alomar -1.8

Wait, what? Roberto Alomar was BELOW AVERAGE? But he has ten Gold Gloves! This stat has to be wrong! No, I don’t think so. I think the perception of Alomar is similar to that of Derek Jeter, only Alomar was basically an average fielder, instead of absolutely terrible. So take an average sure-handed fielder who really flares it up as much as Alomar, what with the jumping and diving in the outfield for balls almost behind first base, add it to the fact that he was also a good hitter, and you have yourself a ten Gold Glove winner. Even Jeter has three Gold Gloves, and every fielding metric created puts him below average, with most putting him at the bottom of the heap. By the way, Jeter’s career Rtot/yr is -8.2. Check it out yourself.

I don’t believe the following blew my mind as much as the Alomar revelation, since he has always been known as an incredible center fielder, but I really was not prepared for Andruw Jones’s numbers. I probably should have (or have, and don’t remember) looked at his numbers on Fangraphs before, but holy living fuck. I hate him with a passion, not only because he was a Brave, but because of his fucking smirk — yet I cannot deny that he is, or was, quite possibly the greatest center fielder of all-time. Yes, maybe even better than Willie Mays. The career numbers: +18.4 on BR, +22.4 on Fangraphs. That’s just inhuman. And that number for Fangraphs does not account for his first few years, where he was even younger, faster, and better. Ken Griffey Jr. totally fucking pales in comparison (-0.6 career, hurt by the last decade).

If you want to maybe delve further into fielding stats, I’d recommend checking out The Fielding Bible, which includes some Plus/Minus leaderboards from the past few years, where you can see more evidence of Jeter suckage and Jones domination. I very highly recommend reading the “Jeter vs. Everett” excerpt, which can be summed up in this paragraph:

In one way of looking at it, it makes intuitive sense that Derek Jeter could be the worst defensive shortstop of all time. Unusual weaknesses in sports can only survive in the presence of unusual strengths. I don’t know who was the worst free throw shooter in NBA history—but I’ll guarantee you, whoever he was, he could play. If he couldn’t play, he wouldn’t have been given a chance to miss all those free throws. If a player is simply bad, he is quickly driven out of the game. To be the worst defensive shortstop ever, the player would have to have unusual strengths in other areas, which Jeter certainly has. It would help if he were surrounded by teammates who also have unusual strengths, which Jeter certainly is. The worst defensive shortstop in baseball history would have to be someone like Jeter who is unusually good at other aspects of the game.

Yankee fans — feel free to flame me in the comments.

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  • Anonymous

    very insightful – thanks

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joseph-Jones/831763256 Joseph Jones

    Can’t escape the fact Jeter is terrible going to his left. Not just bad. Terrible. He never had tremendous range to begin with and as he has aged it hasn’t gotten any better.

    And you really cannot escape the fact that defensive metrics place far more weight on range than any previous attempt to quantify defense had done.

    So this isn’t surprising in the least bit.

    He is very reliable with what he gets to, his baseball intellect allows him to make sure he is in a good spot but you damn sure shouldn’t expect him to cover large swaths of the field.

    All his offensive abilities, “intangibles” & all around hustle have indeed allowed him to not only survive in the league but to flourish.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joseph-Jones/831763256 Joseph Jones

    +18 for Andruw Jones on BR, never looked at Fangraphs FYI