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Another Year … another set of crummy Gold Glove picks

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I guess we should just pencil in Molina's name every year until he retires. Photo via wikipedia

I guess we should just pencil in Molina’s name every year until he retires. Photo via wikipedia

The winners of the 2018 Gold Gloves were announced on 11/4/18 … and once again, there’s a slew of poor selections among the winners when you look at the league leaders of defensive metrics.

Here’s the 2018 Gold Glove Winners:

PosAL GG WinnerNL GG Winner
CSalvador PerezYadier Molina
1BMatt OlsonAntony Rizzo/Freddie Freeman
2BIan KinslerDJ LeMahieu
SSAndrelton SimmonsNick Ahmed
3BMatt ChapmanNolan Arenado
LFAlex GordonCorey Dickerson
CFJackie Bradley Jr.Ender Inciarte
RFMookie BettsNick Markakis
PDallas KeuchelZack Greinke

Of these 18 winners, I’ve got problems with at least 5 of them.

  • Yadier Molina: wins his 9th Gold Glove, yet he was not the NL leader by any C statistical measure, nor was he the Fielding Bible catcher selection for 2018.   Wilson Contreras was the NL leader in Fangraphs total defense stat and in Baseball-Reference’s Total Zone, while Jeff Mathis was the NL leader in DRS and FRAA.  Molina actually posted a NEGATIVE DRS, and was ranked 11th in the NL among catchers with more than 500 innings (i.e. basically full time catchers).   He posted the DRS figure as the Nationals’ Matt Wieters, who nobody in the majors is claiming to be a fine defensive catcher.  This was clearly a “reputation selection” for a guy who yes at one time was inarguably the best defensive catcher in the sport, but who just played his age 35 year and has no business winning a Gold Glove over other more deserving candidates.
  • DJ LeMahieu wins his third Gold Glove, yet was flatly outshined by the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong, who nearly swept the defensive metrics.  Wong was the NL leader in Fangraphs total defense, UZR/150, and DRS, LeMahieu was the league leader in FRAA and Baseball Reference’s total Zone, which honestly are the two weakest defensive metrics.  It isn’t that LeMahieu isn’t good: he was 2nd to Wong in the three categories Wong led … but the award should go to the winner.  Wong was the Fielding Bible award winner for good reason.
  • Jackie Bradley, Jr: wins his first Gold Glove, but was selected over an obvious candidate.  Kevin Kiermaier may have only played 88 games this year, but in those 88 games he put up league-leading numbers in DRS. UZR/150 and Fangraphs total defense; imagine what he would have done in a full season.  In fact, this seems to be the one thing working against Kiermaier (the 2016 Gold Glove winner): he missed out in both 2017 and 2018 thanks to not qualifying for the batting title (an odd statement for a fielding award).  Bradley Jr. showed great range (he was near the league leaders in UZR) but actually had negative DRS.   In the end, Bradley
  • was probably the deserving choice of players who didn’t miss half the season, so my nits are slight here.
  • Ender Inciarte: wins his 3rd GG, and this might also be a “reputation award” because the NL had at least two more deserving candidates.  Lorenzo Cain was the Fielding Bible award winner, and led the NL in Fangraphs total Defense and DRS.  Harrison Bader led the league in UZR/150 and FRAA.  Inciarte was second to Cain across the board among qualified CFs … so why wasn’t he the winner?
  • Nick Markakis wins his third GG … in somewhat of a “down year” for NL right fielders.  Its hard to say who the deserving winner here was: Yasiel Puig led qualified (and all) RFs in DRS, Jason Heyward led in the two iffy stats FRAA and B-R’s total zone.  Markakis posted just barely positive figures for both DRS and UZR/150, and there’s only 6 “qualified” RFs on the list … so I guess Markakis isn’t the worst possible choice.  Bryce Harper, coincidentally, had an abhorrent year defensively.  Which is really weird, because last year he posted BETTER numbers across the board than those that just won Markakis a Gold Glove.  It almost makes you wonder if Harper wasn’t nursing yet another hidden injury all year.  Or maybe he was just 100% disgruntled and not trying (he certainly hit like it)  But I digress.

Here’s a series of tables showing the league leaders by various other fielding measures:

PosFielding Bible Winner
CJeff Mathis
1BMatt Olson
2BKolten Wong
SSAndrelton Simmons
3BMatt Chapman
LFAlex Gordon
CFLorenzo Cain
RFMookie Betts
PZack Greinke
UtilJavier Baez

The Fielding Bible awards are a part stat, part committee-led selection process spearheaded by Bill James (yes the same Bill James who said that all players were replaceable. Great take for an employee of a MLB ball-club).  And the Gold Glove awards managed to miss fully 1/3rd of the FB awardees this year.

PosAL Fangraphs Stat Avg (Def)NL Fangraphs Stat Avg (Def)
CSalvador PerezWilson Contreras
1BMatt OlsonFreddie Freeman
2BIan KinslerKolton Wong
SSAndrelton SimmonsPaul deJong
3BMatt ChapmanNolan Arenado
LFAlex GordonKyle Schwarber
CFKevin KiermaierLorenzo Cain
RFMookie BettsIsaac Galloway
Pn/an/a

This table is the Fangraphs Defense Runs Above Average stat, a combination of DRS and UZR that attempts to get the best of both worlds of the individual defense stats.  DEF aligned the best with the GG Winners, matching up 56% of the time.

PosAL UZR/150NL UZR/150
Cn/an/a
1BMatt OlsonBrandon Belt
2BJoey WendleKolton Wong
SSAndrelton SimmonsMiguel Rojas
3BMatt ChapmanJohan Camargo
LFAlex GordonKyle Schwarber
CFKevin KiermaierHarrison Bader
RFMookie BettsChristian Yelich
Pn/an/a

This table is the UZR/150 leaders.  UZR is a range factor stat,normalized to 150 games to take out small sample sizes, and I’ve limited the leaders to those who played at least 500 innings this year at the position in question.  Its not a counting stat so it can be skewed if a fleet-of-foot player makes a ton of flashy plays.  Interestingly, UZR/150 did a great job predicting the AL gold glove winners … but did not align with a SINGLE NL winner.  I also found it fascinating that the NL leader for left fielders was none other than Kyle Schwarber who has been frequently denigrated for his lack of defensive prowness.  Well, stats don’t lie; maybe its time to re-think the Chicago slugger’s contributions.

PosAL DRSNL DRS
CMike ZuninoJeff Mathis
1BMatt OlsonBrandon Belt
2BIan KinslerKolton Wong
SSAndrelton SimmonsNick Ahmed
3BMatt ChapmanTravis Shaw
LFAlex GordonAdam Duvall
CFKevin KiermaierLorenzo Cain
RFMookie BettsYasiel Puig
PZack GreinkeLuis Severino

This table shows league leaders in DRS; Defensive Runs Saved.  Its a counting stat, so the more innings you play the more you can accumulate.  And, its a contextually driven stat, which can result in some random skewing.  For example; lets say you reach over the fence and catch a potential home run with the bases loaded; this results in 4 DRS.  But all you did was make one fly ball catch of slight but not exceedingly extensive difficulty.  This leads to some wild variations in DRS for some players.  For example; Mike Trout (widely considered to be a fantastic CFer) has posted these full season DRS figures in his career: 21, -11, -12, 5, 6, -6 and 8 in 2018.  So, who is Mike Trout the center fielder?  Is he the guy who posted a 21 DRS in 2012 (an amazingly good figure), or the guy who posted consecutive seasons of -11 and -12 the next two years (pretty bad), or the guy who posted an 8 DRS in 2018 (good enough for 5th among qualified CFers, but just 12th in baseball among all CFers for the year and behind our own Michael A. Taylor, who put up 10 DRS in part time duty).  I dunno.  This is why you look at multiple defensive stats.

PosAL FRAANL FRAA
CMax StassiJeff Mathis
1BAlbert PujolsAnthony Rizzo
2BRougned OdorDJ LeMahieu
SSMarcus SemienBrandon Crawford
3BMatt ChapmanJustin Turner
LFJustin UptonCorey Dickerson
CFLeonys MartinHarrison Bader
RFAaron JudgeJason Heyward
PMarcus StromanClayton Richardson

This table shows the Baseball Prospectus Fielding Runs Above Average, which tries to roll all the metrics and defensive contextualization into one stat.  This stat routinely does the worst job predicting Gold Gloves; this year it matched up with just 4 of the 18 GG winners.

PosAL Total Zone rTOTNL Total Zone rTOT
CSalvador PerezWillson Contreras
1BMatt OlsonBrandon Belt
2BJoey WendleDJ LeMahieu
SSCarlos CorreaNick Ahmed
3BMatt ChapmanNolan Arenado
LFAndrew BenintendiCorey Dickerson
CFJackie Bradley Jr.Starling Marte
RFMookie BettsJason Heyward
Pn/an/a

The last table here shows Baseball-Reference.com’s attempt at a defensive stat; one called Total Zone.  They’re really hard to find on their main page, but they’re there.  This stat tries to create a “runs above average” based on plays made combining the output of several other defensive rate stats.  But something seems amiss with this stat: the three AL outfielder leaders for the FRAA defensive metric ALL played in Boston.   Andrew Benintendi, Bradley and Betts swept the lead.  Is there something weird about Fenway that lead FRAA to get skewed results or is this a coincidence?  Might be a coincidence since Bradley and Betts are both league-best calibre defensive players, but its also worth noting that two of the three FRAA leaders in the NL outfield play in Pittsburgh.   FRAA also wildly overrates Catcher defense; most of the guys in the top 20 are catchers.


I know defensive stats are not perfect.  Which makes WAR figures imperfect as well.  But they’re the best we have, and looking across all of them gives the best viewpoint into ranking and evaluating defenders.  I just wish the people voting on these awards did the same.

 

Obligatory Post on the 2017 Hall of Fame class

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"Throw another circle change so you can blow out your elbow!" Photo via zimbio

“Throw another circle change so you can blow out your elbow!” Photo via zimbio

The ballot for the 2017 Hall of Fame class came out in early November 2016, and had 34 names on it.  Baseball-reference has a very  nice page summarizing all the candidates and their career stats.  Since Ballots are due by 12/31, and since this is the beginning of the obligatory holier-than-thou arguments about HoFame balloting, I give you my own holier-than-thou take on it.

Important/Vital link for 2017 Hall of Fame vote tracking: Ryan Thibodaux‘s online tracker of all HoF votes, which is showing some very different trends in 2017 for long-time ballot candidates.  You may have already seen some analysis of the early voting, from Bill James to Buster Olney.  The big shock so far is just how much support both of the major PED-tainted candidates (Bonds and Clemens) have gained since last year.  Some (most?) attribute this to the veteran’s electing of Bud Selig, who presided over the Steroid era and did little to stop it.  The thinking probably goes, “well if Selig is in, he’s just as culpable as the players, so i’m now voting for Bonds/Clemens).

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a (ridiculous) limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Ivan RodriguezManny Ramirez (and with Pudge, the first “Nationals” connected player to make it!)
  • Less emphatic Yes for Vladimir Guerrero
  • Slight pause to consider Jorge Posada
  • No on everyone else.

Returning Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds
  • More tepid Yes on Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Trevor Hoffman
  • Pass on Lee Smith, Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa

Discussions on my opinions from a hypocritical litmus test stand point:

  • Why support Hoffman but not Smith and Wagner?   Probably a fair question and probably not supported by stats when you compare all three guys together.  But that’s why its the “Hall of Fame” and not the “Hall of WAR” or the “Hall of Stats.”  Hoffman was more famous than these other relievers.  I always viewed Smith as a good-but-not-great reliever who compiled stats, and I viewed Wagner as an electric and under-rated closer without near the career accomplishments of Hoffman.
  • Why support McGriff/Guerrero but not Walker?  You can make the argument that Walker’s numbers were a product of Colorado … and you can make the alternative argument too.  I think for me the fact that Walker couldn’t reach even 400 homers while playing in the launching pad in Denver is an indictment of his career.  Walker was a fine hitter … but he never inspired the league wide “fear” that Guerrero and McGriff did.  He’s in the “Hall of Good” but not the “Hall of Fame” for me.  Also it is worth noting that McGriff finished his career with 493 homers, but missed months out of the 1994 season at his peak.  Had he eclipsed 500 homers … i think we’re having a different conversation about him.  These artificial numbers (300, 3000, 500) are pretty important to voters.  Guerrero himself was for a time absolutely “the best player in the game,” a title that I don’t think Walker can come close to claimin.
  • Why support Bonds and Ramirez but not Sosa?   Something about Sosa’s career just screams “artificial.”  He went from being a 35-home run hitter to a 66-home run hitter overnight, he has PED suspisions and a corked bat on his resume, and his skills disappeared as soon as testing became the norm.

So that gives me 6 “Yes” votes and another 6 less emphatic  “yes” votes.  So i’d have to cull two candidates to fit onto a 10-person ballot.  I’d cut Schilling just on principle for the ridiculousness of his statements lately, and Hoffman on general anti-closer principles.  So my hypothetical ballot is:

  • Rodriguez, Ramirez, Guerrero, Bagwell, Raines, Clemens, Bonds, Martinez, Mussina, McGriff

My prediction on who actually gets elected?  Well, of course the PED issue comes into play.  So three or four of my “Yesses” are going to struggle to get votes.  So i’m guessing that the likes of Pudge and Manny don’t get 1st ballot votes, and Clemens/Bonds will continues to struggle.   But based on there being three candidates that got pretty close last year, i’m going to guess that its a 3-man roster for 2017: Raines, Bagwell and Hoffman.  And that’s a fine class.   The tracker is showing Raines, Bagwell and Rodriguez well in the 75% range, with Bonds, Clemens, Hoffman and Guerrero in the 70-75% range.  Which means that they’ll likely fall short in the end, since the non-public ballots are usually more parsimonious and more narrative-driven.  Hoffman has enough of a narrative to perhaps maintain his 75% range though, so i’m putting him in first ballot (whether or not you think he deserves it).

One great change coming to HoFame balloting; no more secret ballots.  Every idiot who has a ballot and turns in something nonsensical will now have to answer for his vote in the court of public opinion.  Which I think is a great thing; no more sanctimonious votes preventing deserving players from getting their due.

So, who you got in the Hall this time?

 

Gold Glove Awards versus Defensive Metrics Review for 2015

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Andrelton Simmons was completely hosed in the GG awards in 2015. Photo via espn.go.com

Andrelton Simmons was completely hosed in the GG awards in 2015. Photo via espn.go.com

Third year running for this post, looking at the announced winners of the Gold Gloves for 2015 and comparing them to the Fielding Bible winners for 2015 and the leaders of various defensive metrics available to us.  For a glossary of the metrics, see the end of the post.

Here’s 2014’s post and 2013’s post as well.

Here’s a Google XLS link to all of this data in one sheet.  Also available in the Links section to the right.

First off, here’s the announced winners of the 2015 Gold Glove awards (bold is a repeat winner from last year, red is a questionable selection)

Pos AL GG Winner NL GG Winner
C Salvator Perez, KC Yadier Molina, Stl
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, Ari
2B Jose Altuve, Hou Dee Gordon, Mia
SS Alcides Escobar, KC Brandon Crawford, SF
3B Manny Machado, Bal Nolan Arenado, Col
LF Yoenis Cespedes, Det/NYM Starling Marte, Pit
CF Kevin Kiermaier, TB A.J. Pollack, Ari
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA Jason Heyward, Stl
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU Zack Greinke, LAD

There are a couple of other “repeat” winners in here (as in guys who have won awards previously, just not in 2014), namely Manny Machado and Paul Goldschmidt.

So, why are we calling Jose Altuve, Alcides Escobar, Yadier Molina and (especially) Brandon Crawford questionable selections?   Read on.  We’ll pass some judgement at the end.


Here’s the Fielding Bible winners for 2015: (bolded are repeat winners, green throughout are also GG winners)

Pos Fielding Bible Winner
C Buster Posey, SF
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Ari (2nd award)
2B Ian Kinsler, Det
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL (repeat, unanimous)
3B Nolan Arenado, Col
LF Starling Marte, Pit
CF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (unanimous)
RF Jason Heyward, Stl (repeat, Unanimous)
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU (repeat)
Util Ender Inciarte, KC

So, Andrelton Simmons is a unanimous choice of a blue-ribbon panel yet doesn’t win the Gold Glove?  Likewise, Kinsler and Posey are selected but neither got the Gold Glove.  Simmons is probably the biggest mistake in the Gold Glove awards, but lets dig into the stats to see what happened.


Now lets start in with the defensive metrics.  First: UZR/150.

Pos AL UZR/150 NL UZR/150
C n/a n/a
1B Mitch Moreland, Tex (6.4) Brandon Belt, SF (10.7)
2B Ian Kinsler, Det (6.7) Dee Gordon, Mia (6.0)
SS J.J. Hardy, Bal (10.1) Adeiny Hechavarria, Mia (17.7)
3B Adrian Beltre, Tex (13.0) Matt Duffy, SF (12.7)
LF Yoenis Cespedes (22.2) Starling Marte, Pit (12.1)
CF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (42) A.J. Pollack, Ari (14)
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA (12.1) Jason Heyward, Stl (22.3)
P n/a n/a

We see some consistency here with the players named in the Gold Gloves and/or the Fielding Bible awards.   7 of the 14 leaders here also won Gold Gloves, and 4 of the 10 leaders here won Fielding Bible awards.  You’re going to see the same outfield names over and over; that’s how dominant this selection of outfielders were this year.  Ian Kinsler represents one of the bigger snubs in the Gold Glove awards, as we’re about to see.


Here’s Defensive Runs Saved

Pos AL DRS NL DRS
C
1B Adam Lind, Mil (5) Paul Goldschmidt, Ari (18)
2B Ian Kinsler, Det (19) Dee Gordon, Mia (13)
SS Didi Gregorius (5) Andrelton Simmons, ATL (25)
3B Adrian Beltre, Tex (18) Nolan Arenado, Col (18)
LF Yoenis Cespedes (15) Starling Marte, Pit (24)
CF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (40.7) Billy Hamilton, Cin (18.8)
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA (6) Jason Heyward, Stl (22)
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU (13) Zack Greinke, LAD (9)

These are definitely closer to the Gold Gloves.   10 of the 16 league leaders here also won GGs.  A note here; the Kiermaier DRS figure is apparently the highest ever recorded by a fielder in a single season.  Simmons’ 25 DRS dwarfed the field, as does his overall DRS figure over the last three years, more evidence that the GG award to Crawford was poor.


Here’s FRAA:

Pos AL FRAA NL FRAA
C Francisco Cervelli, NYY (11.7) Yasmani Grandal (20.9)
1B Mark Canha, Oak (5.8) Paul Goldschmidt, Ari (13.0)
2B Roughned Odor, Tex (5.0) Danny Espinosa (10.7)
SS Elvis Andrus, Tex (10.3) Jean Segura (10.3)
3B Manny Machado, Bal (20.3) Nolan Arenado, Col (20.6)
LF Kevin Pillar, Tor (14.3) Yoenis Cespedes (5.2)
CF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (24.6) Ender Inciarte, Ari (5.9)
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA (9.5) Jason Heyward, Stl (11.4)
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU (10.4) Jake Arrieta, Chc (7.4)

Just 8 of the 18 leaders in this stat also won Gold Gloves, and the presence especially of the Nats’ own Danny Espinosa really calls this stat into question.  How is Espinosa, a part time player, the league leader here in a year where there were several other good 2nd basemen?


Lastly, Total Zone

Pos AL Total Zone Total Fielding NL Total Zone Total Fielding
C James McCann, Cle (11) Wilson Ramos, Was (11)
1B Mike Napoli (10) Adrian Gonzalez, LAD (16)
2B Jose Altuve, Hou (13) Neil Walker, Pit (7)
SS Francisco Lindor, Cle (14) Brandon Crawford, SF (19)
3B Evan Longoria, TB (14) Jake Lamb, Ari (10)
LF Yoenis Cespedes, Det (11) Christian Yelich, Mia (12)
CF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (24) A.J. Pollack, Ari (20)
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA (17) Ichiro Suzuki, Mia (14)
P

Its easy to see w here some of the finalists came from in the GG awards, since this is the only list that GG finalist Wilson Ramos appears on.  Its also the only place where GG winners Altuve and Crawford appear.  Just 6 of these 18 leaders also won GGs, meaning its the least accurate predictor of GG winners.  And one of the leaders in practically every other category (Heyward) is supplanted by the 40-yr old Suzuki in these stats.  Makes you wonder.

Conclusion:

It seems to me that the “statistical”component of the Gold Gloves is using the wrong stats (FRAA and/or TZ), and that it should be using DRS and UZR/150.  Even so, as noted elsewhere, the Gold Gloves are doing a much, much better job selecting the award winners on a whole, and the days of awarding them to the likes of Derek Jeter or Rafael Palmeiro seem long gone.


Glossary of these various stats and awards

  • Gold Gloves: awarded annually (presented by Rawlings) and are a combination of Manager/Coach voting and a “statistical component.”  This component is provided by SABR and is now 25% of the voting.  I cannot find details on what comprises this statistical component, but based on the finalists announced I strongly believe it is related to the Total Zone fielding measurements.
  • Fielding Bible Awards: Bill James-driven website that uses a committee of national writers to select the winners.  The site is here and you can read about their methodology and panel members.
  • UZR: Ultimate Zone Rating, defined well here at fangraphs, attempts to be a comprehensive measure of how many batted balls are turned to outs for a particular fielder, then adjusted by errors, arm and other factors.  UZR/150 standardizes the counting stat UZR to an average across 150 games to allow apples-to-apples comparisons of players who play different numbers of games in a season.
  • DRS; Defensive Runs Saved, defined well here at Fangraphs, focuses more on pure “runs saved” from all possible defensive plays that involve a fielder.  It seems to measure more things that UZR and sometimes disagrees with UZR.
  • FRAA: Fielding Runs Above Average, defined here at Baseball Prospectus.  A measure that attempts to remove the bias present in zone-based data and also tries to factor in the tendencies of the pitcher on the mound (ground-ball guy, fly-ball guy, etc).
  • Total Zone: defined here at Baseball-reference.com.  A different “total defense” measurement incorporating all the various defensive data available, including catcher data, zone fielding, errors, arm, etc.

Gold Glove Awards versus Defensive Metrics Review for 2014

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Alex Gordon was one of the best defensive players in baseball, by any measure in 2014.  photo 365rundown.com

Alex Gordon was one of the best defensive players in baseball, by any measure in 2014. photo 365rundown.com

Last year, I created a little spreadsheet upon the announcement of the Gold Glove winners, to see how they compared to various defensive metric leaders (2013 xls link here).  And I threw in the “Fielding Bible” award winners, since that has now taken over as the “accepted” list of the year’s best defensive players, thanks to the Gold Gloves continuing to pick inexplicable players (this  year’s repeat “I cannot believe he won” player again being Adam Jones).  But, as we’ve seen, the Gold Gloves are getting better, and the days of picking someone like a statue-esque Derek Jeter and/or a nearly permanent DH in Rafael Palmeiro seem to now be over.

So, now that we’ve announced the 2014 Gold Glove winners, lets also look at the league leaders in various defensive metrics.

This data is in the following spreadsheet for 2014 on Google Docs.

First, your 2014 Gold Glove winners: bold are also Fielding Bible winners, and red are the most egregiously bad selections.

Pos AL GG Winner NL GG Winner
C Salvator Perez, CLE Yadier Molina, STL
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Adrian Gonzalez, LAD
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS DJ LeMahieu, COL
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Kyle Seager, SEA Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Christian Yelich, MIA
CF Adam Jones, BAL Juan Lagares, NYM
RF Nick Markakis, BAL Jason Heyward, ATL
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU Zack Greinke, LAD

As with last year, the league still remains obsessed with Adam Jones despite his possessing negative defensive rankings across the board.  Kyle Seager wasn’t “bad” but wasn’t nearly as deserving as Josh Donaldson.  The only other real “bad” selection was Molina, not because he’s not a great defensive catcher (he is), but because he missed a ton of time and there were better options in the NL this year (namely, Jonathan Lucroy).  Otherwise every Gold Glove winner listed here was deserving.

Repeat Gold Glove winners from last  year: Molina, Hosmer, Pedroia, Hardy, Simmons, Arenado, Gordon, and Jones.  So, 8 of 18.

Here’s the 2014 Fielding Bible Awards, which (if you’re not aware) is a Bill James-driven website that uses a committee of national writers to select the winners (the site is here and you can read about their methodology).  Bolded are also GG winners:

Pos 2014 Fielding Bible Winner
C Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
1B Adrian Gonzalez, LAD
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS (repeat)
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL (repeat)
3B Josh Donaldson, OAK
LF Alex Gordon, KC (repeat)
CF Juan Lagares, NYM
RF Jason Heyward, ATL
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU
Util Lorenzo Cain, KC

They selected Lucroy over Molina, and Donaldson over Seager.  They’ve also added a 10th position for “Utility,” to recognize the excellent work of Lorenzo Cain playing multiple outfield positions.

Now, here’s the league leaders by various defensive stats.  The links to get any of these leaderboards are in the Google xls.  First: UZR/150.

Pos AL UZR/150 NL UZR/150
C
1B Albert Pujols, LAA (9.3) Anthony Rizzo, CHC (8.2)
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS (20.4) DJ LeMahieu, COL (11.0)
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL (15.4) Andrelton Simmons, ATL (18.4)
3B Josh Donaldson, OAK (13.3) Todd Frazier, CIN (8.9)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (22.6) Christian Yelich, MIA (14.1)
CF Jackie Bradley JR, BOS (22.6) Juan Lagares, NYM (25.3)
RF Nori Aoki, KC (7.7) Jason Heyward, ATL (20.5)
P

I like UZR as a measure and use it often. UZR/150 somewhat standardizes the scores across a 150-game average to represent the figure for a full-season for apples-to-apples comparisons.  A good number of these leaders also earned Gold Gloves and/or Fielding Bible awards.  Josh Donaldson was the clear AL 3B leader.  Otherwise there’s a lot of similarities to the lists we’ve already seen.  I was surprised as heck to see Albert Pujols on this leader board.

For a quick point of reference to the above scores, the BEST UZR/150 of any Nationals player this year was Anthony Rendon‘s uZR/150 of 4.6 while playing 3B.  Span and LaRoche (our two GG finalists) both scored *negative* UZR/150 scores … perhaps an indictment of their nominations in general as being based on reputation and not actual on-field performance this year.

Next: DRS; Defensive Runs Saved.  Some like this stat a lot; I struggle with it because single plays (like an outfielder reaching over the wall to take away a homer) result in huge swings in the numbers on plays that aren’t necessarily the hardest to make.

Pos AL DRS NL DRS
C
1B Chris Davis, BAL (8) Adrian Gonzalez, LAD (12)
2B Ian Kinsler, DET (20) DJ LeMahieu, COL (16)
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL (10) Andrelton Simmons, ATL (28)
3B Josh Donaldson, OAK (20) Nolan Arenado, COL (16)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (27) Christian Yelich, MIA (13)
CF Leonys Martin, TEX (15) Juan Lagares, NYM (28)
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA (2) Jason Heyward, ATL (32)
P

Dustin Pedroia had one of the highest UZR/150 ratings in the league … but he was not the top-rated 2nd baseman in the AL.   We have our third different AL center fielder in three lists.  Otherwise this is a pretty good list.

Next: FRAA: Fielding Runs Above Average, a Baseball Prospectus measure that attempts to remove the bias present in zone-based data and also tries to factor in the tendencies of the pitcher on the mound (ground-ball guy, fly-ball guy,

Pos AL FRAA NL FRAA
C
1B Steve Pearce, BAL (7.7) Adrian Gonzalez, LAD (11.4)
2B Jason Kipnis, CLE (9.5) Chase Utley, PHI (6.9)
SS Alexei Ramierez, CWS (8.1) Jean Segura, MIL (23.6)
3B Kyle Seager, SEA (20.5) Nolan Arenado, COL (14.3)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (12.2) Khris Davis, MIL (6.6)
CF Jacoby Ellsbury, NYY (12.0) Ender Inciarte, ARI (11.0)
RF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (8.3) Jason Heyward, ATL (26.4)
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU (6.7) Tyson Ross, SD (3.7)

Interestingly, Jean Segura shines highly here (the supposed “best defensive player in the league” Andrelton Simmons only scored a 10.0 in FRAA).   And this stat really favors the play of some random players: I had no idea who Kevin Kiermaier or Ender Inciarte were before doing this post, nor did I know what position they played.

Adam Jones scored a -8.1 FRAA; ranking him 1187th out of 1212 players for 2014.  I’m not kidding.  That’s how bad a selection for the Gold Glove Jones was.

Last stat: Baseball Reference’s Total Zone Fielding

Pos AL Total Zone Total Fielding NL Total Zone Total Fielding
C Salvator Perez, CLE (12) Wilson Ramos, WAS (8)
1B Steve Pearce, BAL (13) Justin Morneau, COL (11)
2B Jonathan Schoop, BAL (16) Anthony Rendon, WAS (12)
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL (14) Jordy Mercer, PIT (21)
3B Kyle Seager, SEA (23) Chase Headley, SD/NYY (18)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (25) Khris Davis, MIL (13)
CF Lorenzo Cain, KC (18) Billy Hamilton, CIN (14)
RF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (12) Jason Heyward, ATL (30)
P

Check it out: our own Wilson Ramos is on this list as the “leader” for the NL.  Which, no offense to Ramos, makes you question at least the catcher rankings for this stat.  Rendon also factors in for his partial season at 2B.  But overall, this seems like the least reliable defensive stat.

As mentioned above, both our GG finalists (LaRoche and Span) seem to have been nominated on reputation only; neither of them appeared near the top on any of these statistical measures (unlike last year, when Span at least was a leader in Total Zone)

Did I miss any good defensive metrics?  Do you have one you like more or less than these?  I know there’s other stats out there; I can update this analysis with more of them.


So, how did the Gold Gloves do this year in selecting the most deserving winners?  Pretty good.  Alex Gordon was the AL leader for left fielders in every stat.  I think they picked the two correct short stops.  Catchers are difficult to measure.  They absolutely screwed up the AL Center fielder (though to be fair; there were four statistical measures presented and four different AL center field leaders.  Excellent defensive players who jump around (Lorenzo Cain, Ben Zobrist) make the awards somewhat challenging in some cases.

Repost: Why didn’t Carlos Gomez get more NL MVP support??

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Why didn't Carlos Gomez getting the same attention for MVP that Mike Trout gets?  Photo Denis Poroy/Getty Images via zimbio.com

Why didn’t Carlos Gomez getting the same attention for MVP that Mike Trout gets? Photo Denis Poroy/Getty Images via zimbio.com

[Editor’s Note: I posted this initially on October 29th, 2013, and didn’t get a SINGLE comment.  Maybe it got lost in the World Series hoopla; maybe all the readers of this blog were taking a post-season Nats break.  I’m reposting this and changing all the cases to past tense in the wake of 11/14/13’s MVP voting.  I’d like to get some discussion here; if you are an ardent Mike Trout supporter and use WAR as part of your argument, i’d like to hear your thoughts on this post].

The title of this post says it all.  It is a simple question.

Brewers break-out star Carlos Gomez led the NL in bWAR in 2013.  Gomez played for a non-playoff team.  He augmented his 24-homer/.506 slugging bat with speed on the basepaths (40 SBs) and plus defense in center (he was just named to Bill James Fielding Bible Team as the best defensive Center Fielder in the game and won a Gold Glove).  Yet Gomez lost out on the MVP award, which went to Andrew McCutchen, a player who trailed him in the bWAR standings but who played for a playoff team.

Sounds an awful lot like the Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera comparison, doesn’t it?

Gomez didn’t just lose out; he wasn’t even named a FINALIST for the NL MVP, meaning he wasn’t even in the top 3 candidates in the NL.  In fact, Gomez came in NINTH!  He wasn’t even close to winning despite leading the league in one version of WAR.

Why did nobody talk about Carlos Gomez for the NL MVP?  In fact, in the litany of post-season award prediction pieces I read, he was never really even mentioned.  You heard about McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw and Paul Goldschmidt as the top 3 NL candidates, then you heard about guys from the other playoff teams (Yadier Molina or Matt Carpenter from St. Louis, Joey Votto from Cincinnati, or Freddie Freeman from Atlanta).  Where’s Gomez on this list?

If you are a critic of the Miguel Cabrera pick and maintain that Mike Trout deserves the MVP in the AL and use “WAR” as a basis for your argument … then are you similarly arguing that Gomez should have won in the NL MVP right now?

I think the entire Trout-Cabrera argument is tired; I’m tired of hearing it and I’m sure people are tired of talking about it.  The critics of those who support Cabrera for MVP like to talk about the “narrative” of the MVP, how the award criteria definition on the ballots seems to imply that the winner “should” come from a playoff team.  But I’m of the opinion that those who blindly live by the WAR stat and support Trout but do NOT similarly demand support of Gomez are falling victim to their own “narrative” as well.  And that narrative is continued obstinance to a cause without looking up to see what else fits their world-view.

Ask yourself; if you think Trout is the AL MVP (this year or last year) … then what’s your argument that Gomez is NOT the NL MVP this year?  Where’s all the narrative-driven arguments about how “you shouldn’t lose the MVP because your teammates were bad” or that “the MVP doesn’t have to come from a playoff team.”  Because if you make those arguments in favor of Trout and not in favor of Gomez, then you’re a “narrative hypocrite” just like someone who says the reverse and supports Cabrera and McCutchen BECAUSE they played on playoff teams.

Gold Glove Awards review with Advanced Metrics

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Andrelton Simmons put up what most consider the best defensive season of 2013.  Photo via espn.go.com

Andrelton Simmons put up what most consider the best defensive season of 2013. Photo via espn.go.com

The recent years have been a rise in all sorts of statistical analysis in the game of baseball (as we all know), and one of the more important areas of research has been the measurement and tracking of defensive metrics.  The data we have at our disposal is not yet infallible, but the data has opened our eyes to the real impact that some major leaguers have on the defensive side of the ball.

We’re all quite familiar with the WAR-based arguments that have completely consumed last year’s AL MVP award voting as an example of modern statistics helping to shape the selection of a traditional award winner.  However, up until 2013, the Gold Gloves remained an award that was given out without practically any consideration given to any advanced metric, and the awards have been embarassed in recent years with some amazingly inept selections.  The two most laughable selections of recent memory were Rafael Palemeiro in 1999 (given a Gold Glove for his play at 1B despite the fact that he only played 28 games in the field that  year) and Derek Jeter in 2010 (a year in which he posted a -5.1 UZR/150, was dead last among all 59 AL shortstops in Total Zone Total Fielding and had the selection was openly mocked by the normally staid Baseball-Reference.com website).   Even the more defensible gold gloves over the past few years have been considered “wrong” by the stat-crowd, to the point where a number of national writers openly mock the awards and go out of their way to “ignore” th em.

This concerns me as a fan, and as someone who is keenly interested in the Hall of Fame merits of players.  I absolutely believe that when it comes time to judge players on the whole of their careers, that individual awards such as the Gold Gloves, MVP and Cy Young awards matter.  I want these awards to be relevant and properly awarded.

Two things have happened lately that give me hope:

  1. Bill James and a varied panel of baseball writers, statisticians in the field and former players now vote on The Fielding Bible awards each year.  The 2013 Fielding Bible awards are not league specific; they recognize the best in the majors at each position each year.
  2. The Gold Glove award committee for the first time in 2013 has incorporated a statistical element to the traditional surveying of players and coaches to choose the award winners.

(All winners/leaders listed below are on one common Google XLS here.  Listed are the winners of the GGs, Fielding Bibles, and then the leaders in each league by position of these Defensive stats: UZR/150, DRS, FRAA, and Total Zone.  I haven’t gone into the various definitions and pros/cons of these stats; I have a planned off-season defensive statistical overview post where I’ll go into greater detail).

First off, if you believe that the Fielding Bible panel has picked the best possible awardees, then you’ll be happy to note that every Fielding Bible award winner also received a Gold Glove this year.  Here’s the Fielding Bible winners by position for 2013:

Pos Fielding Bible Winner
C Yadier Molina, STL
1B Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL
LF Alex Gordon, KC
CF Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Gerardo Parra, ARI
P R.A. Dickey, TOR

Now, here’s the Gold Glove winners, with the Fielding Bible award winners bolded:

Pos AL GG Winner NL GG Winner
C Salvador Perez, KC Yadier Molina, STL
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Carlos Gonzalez, COL
CF Adam Jones, BAL Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Adam Wainwright, STL

As you’ll see below by looking at the various defensive metrics out there, most of the Gold Glove winners were merited.  In fact, there only seems to be one egregiously bad selection here (which we’ll get to below).  Nearly every other winner was at the top of one or more of the advanced metrics available by position for his league:

UZR/150 leaders per league (again, with Fielding Bible winners bolded):

Pos AL UZR/150 NL UZR/150
C
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B Ben Zobrist, TBR Darwin Barney, CHC
SS Yunel Escobar, TBR Andrelton Simmons ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Juan Uribe, LAD
LF David Murphy, TEX Starling Marte, PIT
CF Colby Rasmus, TOR A.J. Pollack, ARI
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P

Defensive Runs Saved leaders per league:

Pos AL DRS NL DRS
C Salvador Perez, KC Wellington Castillo, CHC
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Darwin Barney, CHC
SS Pedro Florimon, MIN Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Starling Marte, PIT
CF Leonys Martin, TEX Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P

FRAA Leaders per league:

Pos AL FRAA NL FRAA
C
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Ian Kinsler, TEX Donovan Solano, MIA
SS Nick Franklin, SEA Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Andy Dirks, DET Carl Crawford, LAD
CF Alejandro De Aza, CWS Brandon Barnes, HOU
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Hunter Pence, SF
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Andrew Cashner, SD

And lastly here’s the Total Zone Total Fielding leaders:

Pos AL Total Zone Total Fielding NL Total Zone Total Fielding
C Matt Wieters, BAL Yadier Molina, STL
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS Jayson Nix, NYY Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Juan Uribe, LAD
LF Alex Gordon, KC Chris Heisey, CIN
CF Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS Denard Span, WAS
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Norichika Aoki, MIL
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Patrick Corbin, ARI

So, after looking at all these leaders, lets talk a bit about the Gold Gloves and ask ourselves whether they did a good job representing the best defenders this year.  Position by position:

CatcherSalvator Perez is as good an AL pick as any; the only other AL catcher in the mix is Matt Weiters.  On the NL side, Jadier Molina has earned his reputation and backs it up on the metrics side.  His only challenger being the little known Wellington Castillo from Chicago.

1st Base: Hosmer and Goldschmidt seem as good of picks as any; only Mike Napoli and Anthony Rizzo seemed close in either league.  Napoli may have been a better pick than Hosmer on the weight of the evidence.

2nd Base: There’s several decent candidates who were not honored, but I don’t think anyone is arguing vehimently against either Pedroia or Phillips as the winners.  Darwin Barney may be the most egreiged candidate.

Shortstop: the amazing Andrelton Simmons led every possible statistical category; there was no chance he was losing.   J. J. Hardy‘s selection wasn’t bad per se, but as you can see from the above tables four different AL shortstops led each of the four statistical measures.  None of them was Hardy though, making you wonder if his gold glove was slightly on reputation.

3rd Base: One day Manny Machado will move back to short (maybe) and challenge Simmons for the title of “Best Shortstop in the Game.”  But for now he has to settle for easily being the best defensive 3B in the game.  As with Simmons, Machado led every possible defensive measure at his position.  On the NL side, the choice of Nolan Arenado was a sound one, with only Juan Uribe really challenging him.  Thankfully the award didn’t go to someone like David Wright or our own Ryan Zimmerman based on reputation.

Left FieldAlex Gordon was a sound choice; the NL choice of Carlos Gonzalez may have been a disservice to one Starling Marte.  However, picking individual positions for the OF is somewhat tough, especially for the corners.  Fangraphs lists RF winner Gerardo Parra as a left-fielder for some reason.

Center FieldCarlos Gomez is a great pick (and is one of the reasons I posted my “Why no MVP support for Gomez” post in this space, which by the way, got almost no reaction from the readership…).   Adam Jones was nearly dead last in some of these range metrics and unfortunately has gotten this award via reputation (and his arm; still one of the best) as opposed to performance.   Jones is clearly the “Derek Jeter” of 2013, and the voters really erred badly on his selection.   Its hard for me to say who I would have preferred; Jacoby Ellsbury is the biggest name among the four guys who led the four different defensive numbers, but Ellsbury’s arm is weak (nearly last of any CF in the league) and a better candidate would have been Leonys Martin.

Right FieldGerardo Parra and Shane Victorino are the leading candidates for their leagues and both selections are warranted.  I know that Hunter Pence led the NL in FRAA, but his arm is awful (one of the worst of any RF in the league), so that has to count against him.   In fact, Victorino was as good as or better than Parra in most of these metrics (with the exception of Arm; Parra has one of the better arms in the league).  I’m guessing its arm strength that tipped the Fielding Bible balance to Parra.

Conclusion: I think the Gold Gloves did a pretty good job in 2013 of identifying the best overall defenders at each position.  With one significant exception (Adam Jones).  I think its time the sportswriters who have been purposely ignoring the awards come back into the fold.

 

Why isn’t Carlos Gomez getting MVP consideration?

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Why isn't Carlos Gomez getting the same attention for MVP that Mike Trout is getting?  Photo Denis Poroy/Getty Images via zimbio.com

Why isn’t Carlos Gomez getting the same attention for MVP that Mike Trout is getting? Photo Denis Poroy/Getty Images via zimbio.com

Simple question.

Brewers break-out star Carlos Gomez led the NL in bWAR.  Gomez played for a non-playoff team and augments his 24-homer/.506 slugging bat with speed on the basepaths (40 SBs this year) and plus defense in center (he was just named to Bill James Fielding Bible Team as the best defensive Center Fielder in the game).  Yet Gomez will likely lose out on the MVP voting to Andrew McCutchen, a player who trails him in the bWAR standings but who played for a playoff team.

Sounds an awful lot like the Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera comparison, doesn’t it?

Why is nobody talking about Carlos Gomez for the NL MVP?  In fact, in the litany of post-season award review columns not only do I not see his name prominently mentioned, I’m not seeing it even mentioned in the list of top 5-6 candidates.  You hear about McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw and Paul Goldschmidt as the likely top 3 NL candidates, then you hear about guys from the other playoff teams (Yadier Molina or Matt Carpenter from St. Louis, Joey Votto from Cincinnati, or Freddie Freeman from Atlanta).  Where’s Gomez on this list?

If you are a critic of the Miguel Cabrera pick and maintain that Mike Trout deserves the MVP in the AL and use “WAR” as a basis for your argument … then are you similarly arguing that Gomez should win in the NL right now?

I think the entire Trout-Cabrera argument is tired; i’m tired of hearing it and I’m sure people are tired of talking about it.  The critics of those who support Cabrera for MVP like to talk about the “narrative” of the MVP, how the award criteria definition on the ballots seems to imply that the winner “should” come from a playoff team.  But I’m of the opinion that those who blindly live by the WAR stat and support Trout but do NOT similarly demand support of Gomez are falling victim to their own “narrative” as well.

Ask yourself; if you think Trout is the AL MVP (this year or last year) … then what’s your argument that Gomez is NOT the NL MVP this year?

Ask Boswell 6/17/13 Edition

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Anthony Rendon - What a draft day steal.  Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via chron.com

He’s continued to hit in the pros like he used to in college.  Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via chron.com

The Nats continue to struggle offensively.  They’re generally only above the Mets and the Marlins in key offensive categories, two teams that have basically given up for 2013.  They’re hitting worse than the Astros, a team that also had given up on 2013 before it started and whose payroll is 1/6th of ours.   Our best hitter Bryce Harper languishes on the D/L, but the team has (finally) made some adjustments and shed some of the underperforming players on its roster and rookie Anthony Rendon has been living up to his expectations.

So, what is Tom Boswell‘s weekly chat is going to be about?   Here’s his 6/17/13 version.  As it turned out many of the questions were about the US Open, and a few about Hockey and Football.  But lots about baseball.  As always I answer here before reading Boswell’s response and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Is Davey Johnson the problem with the Nats in 2013?

A: Despite some complaints about his Starting Pitcher and bullpen usage earlier this year, Davey Johnson isn’t the reason this team is losing.  Not with a team whose offense ranks 28th in the league in all the basic run-creating categories (Runs, Batting Average, OBP, and OPS+).   Changing the manager won’t help; all you can do is change the personnel.  And the Nats have done what they can; sending Tyler Moore and Danny Espinosa to the minors, calling up Rendon (slash line as of 6/16/13: .361/.426/.525; yeah that’s pretty darn good), giving Chris Marrero some at-bats.  The obvious: they need Harper back, they need the bench to start producing like it did in 2012, and they need Wilson Ramos to come back and spell the quietly falling-apart Kurt Suzuki (he’s now hitting just .215 with little power).  Boswell agrees; its the offense.

Q: Did Johnson screw up by not loading the bases in the Friday loss?

A: Situation: 2nd and 3rd with none out; do you load the bases?  I’d normally say that it depends on the matchups; a fly ball beats you anyway, so you’re looking for a pitching matchup that you can either get a punch out or a ground ball.  Well, they got their groundball; it just wasn’t enough to get the guy at the plate, who broke on contact and was fast.  A bases-loaded situation there means Suzuki doesn’t have to make the tag, just get the force out.  I guess Johnson could have loaded the bases.  Boswell points out the similarities to this and the NLCS Game 5 situation with Pete Kozma but doesn’t give an answer.

Q: Is Rick Eckstein culpable for the Nats Offensive woes?

A: Boswell answered an identical question on 5/28/13.   I’ll say the same thing again: I just don’t see how a hitting coach is responsible for players who suddenly hit 200 OPS points below their career averages as we’re seeing with a huge percentage of this team.  Rick Eckstein isn’t in the batter’s box; these guys are.  Boswell agrees, saying it isn’t Eckstein who is waving at balls a foot outside.

Q: Are the Nats just mentally fragile?

A: Possibly.  I think the weight of expectations is causing them to press.  But you have some veteran guys in that clubhouse (Jayson WerthAdam LaRoche especially) who should be leading the team and helping to manage this.  Maybe these guys just aren’t “Captain” material?  Notice too that the two most senior guys on the pitching staff (Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano) aren’t exactly the best role models either; Haren is struggling too much to command any respect, and Soriano doesn’t appear to be a big clubhouse influence (and I privately wonder if there isn’t lingering animosity towards Soriano’s signing from the rest of the bullpen, which seems relatively close in age and experience).  Boswell notes that the team leaders need to step up.

Q: Why is Dan Haren pitching again?

A: Asked and Answered here four days ago.  Boswell didn’t really answer.

Q: Should we eliminate pitcher Wins and Losses?

A: Well, if you’re a sabrematrician we should.  A pitcher can give up one hit in 5 innings (as Stephen Strasburg did on sunday) and take the loss, while a pitcher can give up 5 runs in 5 and get a win if his offense bails him out.  That in a nutshell is the issue most people have with the Win and Loss statistics.   I saw a stat on billy-ball.com today that Chad Billingsley took the loss in an 8-inning one-hit outing in 2011 (the run was un-earned to boot).  That’s pretty unlucky.  Bill James said recently that he continues to use W/L records simply because they’ve been the default way to express stats for pitchers for 100 years.  I now view them sort of as throw-away stats written ahead of the meaningful measurements for pitchers, things like Fip and xFip, perhaps Siera.  I like ERA+ and K/9 as good short-hand measurements too, but realize that every one of these stats has flaws.  The pitcher “Win” used to mean a lot more than it does now; when a guy went 9 innings every day instead of going 5 2/3 and having a bullpen close out more than a third of the game it becomes harder and harder to equate one with with another.  Boswell agrees.

Q: How much of Rendon’s hitting is a reflection of his talent, and how much of it is a product of teams not having a book on him yet? Certainly he’s not a .350 hitter, but is he a .300-.310 hitter?

A: Great question.  I think its part column A and part column B.  For one, he’s an exceptional hitter.  He wasn’t College Player of the Year as a sophomore at Rice by accident.  He should have been a 1-1 pick had it not been for lingering issues that dropped him into the Nats lap in 2011.  And in his short sample size so far in 2013 we’re seeing his great approach; fast hands, ability to use the whole field, opposite field power.  Now, a new hitter hasn’t had “the book” written on him (that’s what advance scouts do) so yes, we’ll expect to see teams identify weaknesses in Rendon’s swing and start pitching him accordingly.  The great players then adjust to the adjustments.  In the ESPN documentary Bryce Begins there was a very telling quote from Braves pitcher Kris Medlen, who commented that Harper had “already made the adjustment” to the way the Braves were pitching him from one series to the next.  The film then showed Harper fanning at a pitch to strike out .. and then clobbering the same pitch in a subsequent game.  That’s what pro hitters do to stay good, and that’s what Rendon is going to have to eventually do to keep his lofty average.  Boswell raves about his stat lines all the way up the minors.

A forkball after my own heart

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Robert Coello throws a very “old school” pitch. Photo wiki/flickr via james_in_to account.

Thanks to Rob Neyer for this article, posted 5/16/13 (and subsequently Jeff Passan in this 5/28/13 article and this Ted Berg USAToday article on 5/29/13) about Robert Coello, a journeyman hurler currently with the Los Angeles Angels who throws what one executive calls a “Knuckle-Forkball” but what in reality is an “Original Forkball.”  Not a “Split Fingered Fastball” mind you, but a true-on Forkball.  Neyer then goes into some research he did with Bill James on the pitch and has a pretty interesting history on this very rare pitch.

Neyer’s post has video of the pitch as it comes out of his hand (as does the Usatoday article) and indeed the ball knuckles and dives like a knuckler.  He only threw one forkball in his 5/15/13 outing but has thrown more than a few since and is getting some national media notice.

Here’s Pitch F/X data for Coello’s 5/15/13 outing.  They classified this pitch as a “FS,” pitch f/x lingo for “Fastball-Split” or a splitter.  He threw it at 79.5mph.  Since then, he’s thrown (I guess) 11 more Forkballs (now classified in Pitch F/X as a “FO”) at an average of 79.2mph.  By way of comparison, R.A. Dickey‘s average knuckleball velocity in 2013 has been 75.3mph.  And Dickey’s knuckleball is considered so effective because he throws it with such pace (Tim Wakefield only threw his 65-66mph for the last few years of his career).  Imagine if Coello can command this pitch and throw it consistently and frequently; he’d have a chance of combining a Dickey-esque fast knuckleball with his 91mph fastball.  That could be quite a combination.

So, why is this guy so interesting to me?  Because in my own abbreviated amateur baseball pitching career, I threw the same pitch!  Somehow over the years screwing around while warming up as a middle infielder I discovered this pitch; you jam the baseball between your index and middle fingers and then throw the ball such that it “pops” out of your hand (it will even make a popping noise, not unlike a soft snapping fingers noise) and begins knuckling towards its target.  It definitely is not a diving/sinking split fingered fastball motion; it knuckles in.  You can throw it with some pace; you throw it with the same motion and intensity as a fastball, except that it gets hung up in the webbing of your fingers and knuckles out.  It is relatively easy to control, especially if you throw over the top and just “aim” the ball at the middle of the plate.  I used it as a 3rd pitch but one outing in particular it was moving so much that my catcher called nothing but forkballs.

I always called it a forkball, but figured it knuckled instead of diving down like a typical split-fingered fastball because I wasn’t throwing it at the pace of a professional pitcher.  Now as it turns out, it looks like I was just throwing a “throw back” pitch rarely seen in the professional ranks.  Cool.

This world needs more Forkball pitchers!

Post-post update: Fangraphs Eno Sarris had a great article on him 9/23/13, showing multiple gifs of the pitch, as well as noting that Coello now has a top-30 wFB pitch thanks to the uniqueness of the forkball.

Written by Todd Boss

May 31st, 2013 at 7:01 am

Stats Overview Part II: Hitting stats on the rise: wRC, wOBA, etc

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Trout's BABIP was very high in 2012; what does this mean for 2013? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

(Part 2 in a series: Part 1 talked about Whats Wrong with Old School Baseball Stats).

More and more in modern baseball writing, you see relatively new statistical creations thrown into articles in order to prove or disprove an opinion, and more and more you almost need a glossary to properly read these articles and properly understand what the author is attempting to say.  I always want to understand that which I read, and at the same time I want to make sure I stay current and up-to-date on the stats out there, so I decided to do a little research (and pen my own post while I was at it) into some of these newer stats that are being used.

I’ll write about each stat, give links to its calculation, write about how it may be used, then put in some rules of thumb by which to consider the stat.

Pretty much every stat here is defined and available at either Baseball-reference.com or fangraphs.com.  BaseballProspectus.com also has some more obscure stats discussed further below.  I’ve always thought that B-R’s interface was so much easier to navigate that I tend to search there first, but a more complete set of stats is at fangraphs.

1. BABIP.  Batting Average on Balls in Play.  Most people know this one, but it is an important stat to consider in conjunction with other stats (especially the older Batting Average and Earned Run Average).   The calculation, as it is seen at Wikipedia, measures basically how many balls put into play (removing from consideration home runs) turned into hits.  Interestingly it penalizes the hitter for hitting sacrifice flies (not sure why).  This stat is kept for both individual hitters and for pitchers.

How is BABIP used? The measurement is essentially used as a checkpoint for fluky seasons.  If a pitcher has a very high ERA but also has a very high BABIP, one can explain that he’s been unlucky and his talent level lays somewhere below his posted performance on the year.  Ironically, the two leaders of Pitcher BABIP in 2012 were both on the Tigers; Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer had BABIPs of .344 and .333 respectively; this delta is probably going to lead to both of these guys having better ERAs in 2013.  If a hitter has a decent hitting season but also has a high BABIP, one usually says that the hitter was “lucky” and is due to regress (Mike Trout in 2012 had a Babip of .383.  That’s really high, probably unsustainably high, and he probably regresses statistically in 2013).

MLB Average/Rule of thumb: .290-.300 depending on the year.

When BABIP is high: a hitter is considered to be “lucky,” and future regression of more batted balls being turned into outs is expected.

When BABIP is low, a hitter is considered to be “unlucky,” and future improvement of more hits on batted balls is expected.

Caveats using BABIP: there are many arguments about whether some pitchers “baseline BABIP” should be modified based on their talent or capabilites.  For example, Mariano Rivera‘s career BABIP is .262 while R.A. Dickey‘s BABIP since he turned into a Mets knuckleballing starter is around .275.  Rivera’s lower baseline is probably attributed to his amazing cutter and his pure skill, while Dickey’s is most likely due to the fluctuations of hitting his knuckleball.  Meanwhile, some hitters maintain higher than average career BABIPs (two extreme examples that immediately come to mind are Ichiro Suzuki and Nyjer Morgan, with career BABIPs of .347 and .336 respectively.  Why so high?  Because both are skilled at bunting (or at least hitting choppy grounders) for base hits, artificially inflating their baseline BABIP.

2. ISO; Isolated Power.  As posted on Wiki, Isolated power can be simply calculated by subtracting a hitter’s batting average from the slugging percentage, or as it is more eloquently defined at FanGraphs, ISO is essentially a measure of how many extra base hits a batter hits per at-bat.  Slugging tells you how many bases per at bat a hitter obtains, but ISO strips out singles to isolate a player’s capability of hitting doubles, triples and homers.  Here’s a couple of decent examples from 2012; our own Bryce Harper hits a ton of extra base hits; he’s posted a .206 ISO for the 2012 season.  Meanwhile we know that the aforementioned Nyjer Morgan is not a very powerful hitter and ISO shows it; he’s at .069 for the 2012 season.  The league leaders for ISO reads like a list of MLB’s best sluggers.  Giancarlo Stanton would have led the league in ISO had he qualified; he posted a fantastic .318 ISO in 2012.

How is it used? ISO is used to measure how good a hitter is at getting extra-base hits.

MLB Average/Rule of thumb (from Fangraphs page) .145 is considered an “average” MLB ISO figure.  .200 is pretty good, .100 is poor.

Caveats using ISO: as with many sabremetric-tinged stats, small sample sizes greatly skew the figures.  Fangraphs says 550 ABs is needed before really drawing any judgements.

3. wOBA; Weighted On Base Average.  Created by Tom Tango, wOBA is a relatively newer statistic that attempts to improve upon the traditional batting statistics we use (Batting Average, Slugging and On Base Percentage) by measuring cumulative “weighted” hits that a batter may achieve.  It is based on the premise that the three traditional stats just mentioned all treat hitting events relatively the same.  Is a single equal to a double?  No, but in Batting Average it is.  Is a double worth half as much as a home-run?  No, but in the Slugging Percentage it is.  Each hitting event is weighted and added together, with increases/decreases for stolen bases/caught stealing thrown in, to arrive at a measurement that attempts to better quantify pure hitting.

How is it used?  wOBA attempts to be set to the same scale as the league wide OBP, which seems to hover around .315-.320 year to year.

MLB Average/Rule of thumb (from Fangraphs page) .320 is a good “league average” number.  .370 is great, .300 is poor.

Caveats using wOBA: There are several to keep in mind; the weights change  year to year, in order to normalize the stat across generations.  It is NOT normalized to park factors, so hitters in places like Boston and Colorado will have artificially inflated wOBAs to their true value.  Lastly, there’s zero context given to the game situation when measuring hits (i.e. was there a guy on third with one out?  Was it a close game in the 9th?)  I think particular situation is nearly impossible to measure in any stat, but it is important.

4. RC/wRC: Runs Created and Weighted Runs Created.  Runs Created is a stat that Bill James invented in one of his earlier Baseball Abstracts (1985) in order to try to measure simply how many runs an individual player contributed to the team in a given season.  It was improved upon vastly in 2002 to be much more detailed and accurate; the original version over-emphasized some factors of hitting.  It is a complicated statistic (see its wiki page for the formula).  The aforementioned Tom Tango improved upon the basic RC by creating the Weighted version of the statistic based on his own Weighted OBA statistic (which he believed more closely measures the proper “value” of each hitting event).

How is it used?  Individually, RC and wRC need to be understood in context of an entire season.  It isn’t until we get to wRC+ (see below) that a side-by-side comparison is capable.  Its like saying “Player X has 105 hits.”  If that’s through 75 games, that’s pretty good; if that’s for an entire season, well that’s pretty poor.

MLB Average/Rule of thumb (from Fangraphs page) RC and wRC both have roughly the same scales.  60 is average, 100 is great, 50 is poor for a full season.

Caveats using RC and wRC: They are basically full season counting numbers.  In 2012, Trout started in the minors, so his RC and wRC totals are less than his MVP competition Miguel Cabrera.

5. wRC+/wRAA: Weighted Runs Created Plus/Weighted Runs Above Average

wRAA and especially wRC+ are touted by fangraphs.com as being very good “single number” statistics to properly measure a player’s hitting ability.  I often use OPS+ as a singular number to measure a hitter; fangraphs specifically calls out this number and recommends using wRC+.

How is it used?  Both numbers basically measure the same thing.  wRC+ is a bit easier to explain; 100 is the league baseline, and points above or below the average are expressed as “percentage points above or below the league average.”  So, a person with a 120 wRC+ is considered to be 20% better at creating runs than the average major leaguer.  Cabrera and Trout ironically tied for the MLB lead for 2012 in wRC+, each posting a 166 wRC+.  Meanwhile wRAA (per fangraphs.com) “measures the number of offensive runs a player contributes to their team compared to the average player” and is scaled to zero.  wRAA is essentially a direct calculation from wOBA, so if you’re using one you can likely ignore the other.

MLB Average/Rule of thumb (from Fangraphs page) for wRC+: 100 is average while for wRAA zero (0) is average.  20-25 percentage points above is great, while 15-20 percentage points below is bad.

Caveats for using: Unlike wOBA, wRC+ is park- and league-adjusted, indeed making it an excellent single number by which to measure players.  Otherwise the caveats for these weighted averages are all about the same; they seem to be based on an weighting of hits that you may or may not agree with.


What have I learned from looking into these hitting stats?  I need to keep BABIP in mind.  I like ISO but I don’t see it gaining real credence over slugging percentage.  And I should probably start using wRC+ more than OPS+.

Part 3 coming up on Pitching advanced stats.