Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Defensive Musings

On his immensely popular (and awesome) site Baseball Musings, David Pinto has released the 2007 results for a defensive metric he concocted called "Probabilistic Model of Range", which, in short, tries to determine how many outs a fielder made on the year as opposed to the amount of outs he was supposed to make. You'd best follow that link above to get a coherent explanation of how it's devised, because you ain't gettin' one here, but trust me, it really is a neat tool.

Basically, the way it works, if this studly and very handsome center fielder named Paul Rice is expected, based on several factors picked from play-by-play data, to make 150 outs on the season, and he makes 200, he's a pretty damn good fielder, because he's made way more plays than you'd have any right to predict. If he makes only 100 out of 150 predicted outs, he'll grow a creepy mustache and call himself "Benard".

Pinto puts the difference into a ratio. If a player is over 100 (i.e. a 1:1 ratio), he's a pretty good fielder. If he's under 100, he isn't making as many outs as he "should" be making, and thus probably lacks range or just sucks in some general fashion. The metric can work for teams as well as individual players.

Let's check out the 2007 rankings for shortstops, right on the heels of the Omar Vizquel signing. Vizquel ranks tenth among all shortstops with a rating of 101.25, meaning that he was pretty good, but not too far above average. You can sort of argue that this might be Omar's reputation in a nutshell. Many statheads have argued that Vizquel, while he makes the eye-popping highlight reel plays all the time, is merely good at making the routine plays, not great. Thus, while awesome to watch, the numbers would seem to say that he's merely a pretty good shortstop as opposed to a frabulous, grabulous, zip-zoop-zabulous one.

If Vizquel really isn't as great as he seems, then it only gives more weight to the naysayers who are ripping his new contract. If you're paying for a no-hit defensive specialist who isn't that fantastic with the glove after all, then what are you getting? A black hole?

The rank is a little disappointing, I suppose, but I'm not really worried too much. Vizquel's rating is still pretty darn good, and he is fun to watch. And hey, it's not like he's Derek Jeter out there or anything (bottom of the list...yikes!). Christina Kahrl of BP defended the Vizquel signing here, essentially saying that $5 mil isn't much to pay for one or two years of solid defense that could make those quality young arms the Giants have that much better. Plus, you never know, Vizquel could bring that bat back to respectability and then no one would be bitching about the Giants bringing him back.

I guess my original opinion on the matter is the same. I'm always of the "offense first, worry about defense second" philosophy, and this signing would seem to conflict with that, but this is not going to be an albatross contract, so if he sucks it's not going to hamstring the team. I would also have loved to see the team be a little more creative in filling that shortstop gap, but there really aren't many appealing options elsewhere and Brian Sabean hasn't done anything imaginative in years. Hell, if Omar can continue to help keep Noah Lowry's horrid peripheral stats from eating him alive, who can argue?

-Also check out the ratings on Baseball Musings for third basemen and second basemen. Pinto's results show that Pedro Feliz was indeed one of the best (if not the best) as I'd talked about last week. They also show Ray Durham to be one of the worst fielders in the majors at second base, which, if accurate, probably makes poor Ray-Ray the worst everyday player in baseball in '07, except maybe for the lovably execrable Nick Punto.

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