Thursday, June 4, 2009

Doing the Little Things: Defense

The Twins are often lauded for the way they "do the little things" and play "small ball." One of the things that is usually grouped into those categories is good defense. You continuously hear announcers talk about how the Twins play solid, fundamental defense and hear Ron Gardenhire laud players for being able to catch the ball. The question, though, is whether the Twins actually play good defense. The numbers that most announcers probably look at, errors and fielding percentage, are pretty bad for judging defense, but I'll look at those first to see how the Twins rank in the more commonly examined defensive statistics.

Year Errors (Rank) Field % (Rank)
2009 20 (2) .990 (2)
2008 108 (23) .983 (24)
2007 95 (13) .984 (13)
2006 84 (3) .986 (3)
2005 102 (15) .984 (14)

From this data you could conclude that the Twins have generally been in top half of the league in defense, and have had some excellent defensive seasons, specifically this year and 2006. It would probably be a bit of a stretch, though, to say that the Twins have consistently been a great defensive team over the past few years. Of course, like I mentioned above, these two statistics are actually very poor measures of defense, so I'll redo the analysis using some much better defensive metrics, specifically Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which measures the number of runs above average a team or player is on defense. Here are the Twins' UZRs and MLB ranks over the past 5 years.

Year UZR/150 Rank
2009 -2.3 20
2008 -2.9 20
2007 -0.1 16
2006 +2.0 9
2005 +4.9 5

These defensive numbers clearly paint a bleaker picture than errors and fielding percent, especially over the last 3 years when the Twins have been a below average fielding team according to UZR. Despite the top-ranked defense in the AL according to errors and fielding percent, the Twins rank in the bottom half of the majors according to the much more reliable and accurate UZR rating. It's hard to judge individual players at this point in the season because the sample sizes are not that big, but it's pretty clear that Delmon Young (-26.3 UZR/150 this year, -14.9 last year) is a terrible leftfielder. Young was actually an above average rightfielder when he played that position for the Rays, mainly due to his excellent arm rating. In left field, where arm is less important because of the much shorter throw to third base, Young's has actually rated below average the past two years. This demonstrates one of the main arguments for having him play right field, but I've basically given up on that ever happening with the Twins. On the other end of the spectrum, Joe Crede and Carlos Gomez have established themselves as excellent defenders, with career UZR/150 of 9.9 and 16.6 respectively. Crede actually leads all third basemen in UZR thus far this season, saving 33.5 runs per 150 games compared to the average third basemen.

1 comment:

  1. What errors measure is only a part of a player's overall defensive ability and so using errors or fielding pct (which is just errors/chances) as an overall defensive statistic is incorrect. I agree with you on the virtue of using UZR. I hoping to see a post later in the season keeping track of their progress...


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