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February 21, 2008
Flashing Leather Down on the Farm
"It is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives."
Earlier this week, both the sabermetric community and the topic of defense received a little mainstream press when Shane Jensen of the University of Pennsylvania discussed his Spatial Aggregate Fielding Evaluation system (SAFE) at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston. No doubt Yankees fans and some members of the mainstream media were once again offended, as The Captain's weaknesses were displayed. But seriously, when every fielding system in the free world comes to the same conclusion, one would think it would at least question the belief that Derek Jeter is a superior defender despite the cachet that comes with winning multiple Gold Gloves. Have no fear, though. As Bacon reminds us, come this April (March, actually!), rest assured that as soon as Jeter makes one of those jump throws from the hole at short, any lingering doubt caused by this week's press will melt away.
As discussed previously in this space, Jensen's system is but one of several built on detailed play-by-play data that includes fine-grained data on all balls put into play and their locations. SAFE happens to use data from Baseball Info Solutions (BIS), while other similar systems use data from STATS, Inc. Regular readers will also know that in recent weeks we've been discussing a fielding system based on play-by-play data that omits the detailed location data which I've dubbed Simple Fielding Runs, or SFR for short. While SFR is inherently not as accurate as SAFE or the metrics in that family, it does have the advantage of being able to be run on datasets that are necessarily not as complete. One of those datasets is the minor league data we receive here at Baseball Prospectus, and so in a previous column I ran the numbers for minor league infielders and provided the data in a spreadsheet. Today we'll complete that effort by running the numbers for minor league outfielders.
Leader Boards and More Leader Boards
Before we get to the numbers for the minor league outfielders, a couple of explanations are in order. First, the algorithm used to calculate outfield SFR for minor leaguers is identical to the one used for major leaguers. In other words, each outfielder is compared to all other outfielders at every park and position at which he played in 2007, taking into account the context of batter handedness and hit type. The difference, however, is that for the minor leagues I'm working with three years of data (2005-2007), so the park effects that are built into the system rely on just three years of data, whereas for major leaguers I've used five years (2003-2007). Obviously, when you're building a system such as this, based on probabilities and not on observation, the larger samples you have to compare to, the better off you'll be.
The result is that generally speaking the major league numbers will be better, both because of the greater number of years and games with which to make a comparison, and because minor league seasons are shorter, and therefore random variation will play a larger role. That is especially the case when fielders are moved between leagues and positions during the season, as is often the case in the minor leagues. Second, the system bases its comparisons for parks on league and team affiliations, so if a team renovated its park or even changed parks in the last three years, I'm not picking it up in this exercise. I simply do not have the information handy at this point in order to be more precise.
As an aside, I'd like to offer one other interesting (at least to me) tidbit of research I conducted this week. If you'll recall, the correlation with UZR for right fielders was pretty low (0.24), primarily because of a few outliers like Brian Giles and Juan Encarnacion, while the overall correlation for all outfielders who fielded 500 or more balls from 2003-2006 was 0.65. In order to see whether adding some additional context would help, I re-ran the numbers, and this time also included pitcher-handedness, which UZR includes. The results, while a tad better, weren't exactly inspiring, as the correlation for right fielders went up to 0.26, left fielders to 0.77, and center fielders to 0.78, for an overall correlation of 0.66. As an example of the magnitude of the differences for individual players under this new approach, Carlos Beltran and Vladimir Guerrero lost the most runs (4.3), dropping from 40.0 to 35.6 and 13.7 to 9.4 runs, respectively. The totals for Giles and Encarnacion hardly moved, though, so that mystery remains. As a result of doing that bit of work, the minor league numbers discussed below do not take into account this latest wrinkle.
Moving on, let's now step through the leader boards in outfield SFR by level. To start off, let's take a look at the rookie leagues, including the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer leagues, as well as the Arizona Fall League.
Table 1: Rookie League Leaders in SFR for 2007 Player Pos League Team Balls SFR Rate Rather Trujillo Center DSL DWX 408 33.6 53.5 Herman Armas Left VSL VAS 190 22.1 75.5 Samuel Vasquez Center DSL DRD 395 19.9 32.7 Raddy Sierra Center DSL DAN 354 17.7 32.6 Dom Duggan Center AZL GIA 197 12.7 41.7 ------------------------------------------------------------------- Delvi Cid Center DSL DIN 437 -16.4 -24.4 Hilton Richardson Center AZL ROY 195 -17.1 -57.1 Nestor Castillo Center DSL DML 324 -19.3 -38.7
You'll notice that in addition to the league and team, we include the number of balls fielded, as well as the SFR and the rate per 650 balls fielded. Obviously, in short seasons like those in the Dominican or Venezuelan Summer Leagues or the Arizona Fall League, 650 fielded balls is out of the question, as the schedules are typically between 50 and 80 games in length. However, the rate is scaled to a major league season so that we can make comparisons across leagues.
Be that as it may, our leader by a wide margin is 18-year-old Rather Trujillo, who played center field for the White Sox' affiliated team, and rated at an astounding +34 runs. That's certainly good news for him, since he hit .196/.340/.238 without a home run in 65 games. On the bottom of the heap we have 17-year-old Nestor Castillo on the Marlins' team, who committed five errors in 54 games in the center, and seemingly showed poor range.
Now let's move up a level to the short-season York-Penn (NYP) and Northwest (NWN) leagues.
Table 2: Leaders in SFR for 2007 Player Pos League Team Balls SFR Rate Roberto Marquez Right NYP BAT 150 14.2 61.4 Adam White Center NYP MVS 256 10.8 27.4 Ty Wright Left NWN BOI 142 9.1 41.8 Marcus Davis Left NYP STC 153 8.6 36.5 Kody Kaiser Right NYP ONE 100 8.4 54.8 ------------------------------------------------------------------- C. Fernandez-Oliva Left NYP LOW 261 -12.3 -30.5 Emeel Salem Center NYP HVR 238 -12.4 -33.9 Dominic Brown Right NYP WPT 173 -12.7 -47.7
Roberto (also known as Mateo) Marquez is a 22-year-old right fielder in the Cardinals system, and put up that +14 SFR to take the title at his level despite playing in just 41 games in the outfield. He also looks to be anoter "good field-no hit" type, as he hit .191/.270/.301 while striking out 49 times in 136 at-bats. Behind Marquez we find Adam White of the Indians, who did better with the bat (.260/.362/.361) and did not commit an error in 56 games. Of note here as well is Pirates five-tool prospect Marcus Davis, who finished fourth at +8.6 runs. On the flip side we find 6'5" Phillies prospect Dominic Brown, whom Kevin Goldstein ranked ninth recently in their organization, and who Baseball America puts at number six. Reportedly, Brown is athletic and an above-average defender despite his size. Unfortunately SFR didn't like him in right field with Williamsport--he did commit 6 errors in 44 games--nor did it find his work in center (-3 in fielding 125 balls) anything to brag about. He also has a strong arm, and we did find that he rated at +3 runs when totaled across both positions.
Let's move now to full-season Low-A, populated with the Midwest (MDW) and Sally Leagues (SAL):
Table 3: Low-A Leaders in SFR for 2007 Player Pos League Team Balls SFR Rate Gorkys Hernandez Center MDW WMI 526 25.1 31.1 Ryan Royster Left SAL CLM 389 17.0 28.4 Chris Heisey Left MDW DAY 326 15.1 30.1 Daniel Perales Left MDW SOU 436 14.2 21.2 Stantrel Smith Left MDW CED 225 14.0 40.4 ------------------------------------------------------------------- Travis Snider Right MDW LNS 413 -22.1 -34.8 Jason Place Center SAL CAP 592 -22.5 -24.7 Trayvon Robinson Center MDW SWM 521 -24.5 -30.5
At the top of the list is the new number five prospect of the Braves, Gorkys Hernandez, who was acquired in the Edgar Renteria deal earlier this offseason. The 19-year-old put up an impressive season in the Midwest League, and some readers will remember that he also took second place in our minor league baserunning metrics in 2007. Behind Hernandez we find the Rays' number 11 prospect, Ryan Royster, who had a breakthrough-type season in earning the organization's Minor League Player of the Year Award after struggling in short-season ball the previous three seasons. Not known for his defense, when looking at his SFR components he did very well in fly balls (+27) but very poorly in line drives (-12), which could be an indication that there is a data problem. Dodgers farmhand Trayvon Robinson brings up the rear at this level with his -24.5 SFR in 108 games in center. Robinson committed 12 errors and, when combined with a -2.6 for his throwing arm, rated as the worst defender at any single outfield position in the minor leagues in 2007. Robinson edged out Red Sox prospect Jason Place, who came out at -22.5 in his first full season at Greenville.
Onward and upward, as we now look at the High-A leaderboard of the California (CLF), Florida State (FSL), and Carolina Leagues (CRL):
Table 4: High-A Leaders in SFR for 2007 Player Pos League Team Balls SFR Rate Zachary Daeges Left CLF LNC 287 17.9 40.6 Gregory Golson Center FSL CLR 431 17.5 26.5 Cole Garner Left CLF MOD 303 17.3 37.0 Lorenzo Cain Right FSL BRE 333 16.8 32.8 James Rapoport Center FSL PBC 445 14.8 21.6 ------------------------------------------------------------------- Sean Henry Left FSL SLU 330 -15.1 -29.8 B.J. Szymanski Center FSL SAR 328 -17.3 -34.2 Ovandy Suero Center FSL LAK 267 -19.3 -46.9
Another Red Sox outfielder, Zach Daeges, edges out Golson for first-place honors at +17.9 runs. Daeges had an outstanding year with the bat (.330/.423/.579) with hitter-friendly Lancaster but isn't noted for his defense, so it will be interesting to see if his numbers going forward can even approach his 2007 performance. Golson, on the other hand, has been noted for his defense, and Baseball America ranks him as the best outfield defender and arm in the Phillies' organization. It also ranks him seventh overall (he just misses Goldstein's list) despite a 49/2 strikeout to walk ratio after his promotion to Double-A. In the Eastern League he rated at +1 in center, and overall his throwing arm was at +2.5 across both stops. By all accounts Brewers prospect Lorenzo Cain is a good defender with a strong arm, and SFR agrees, clocking him at +17, and also with a +4.4 in throwing. Basestealer extraordinaire Ovandy Suero in the Tigers organization did pretty well in EqBRR in 2007, racking up almost +6 runs on the strength of 104 EqSBR opportunities. However, on defense SFR had him at -19.3, runs helped along by his 10 errors in 54 games in center field.
Finally, its time for the first rung of the upper levels with Double-A and the Eastern (EAS), Southern (SOU), and Texas leagues (TXS):
Table 5: Double-A Leaders in SFR for 2007 Player Pos League Team Balls SFR Rate Shaun Cumberland Right SOU MON 377 27.9 48.2 Christopher Frey Center TXS TUL 530 21.8 26.7 Andrew McCutchen Center EAS ALT 549 16.4 19.5 Jorge Cortes Left SOU TEN 322 12.8 25.8 Dante Brinkley Left SOU CMC 191 12.6 42.8 ------------------------------------------------------------------- Thomas Collaro Right SOU BIR 392 -16.9 -28.0 Ryan Patterson Left EAS NHM 172 -17.0 -64.3 Xavier Paul Center SOU JAX 428 -22.4 -34.0
Former Rays prospect Shaun Cumberland--acquired in a trade by the Reds at the deadline last season--takes the top spot in right field for his work at Montgomery prior to the deal, but after the trade in 23 games in right field for Chattanooga he was at -1.8. Ranking third we find the top prospect of the Pirates' organizatioin, Andrew McCutchen, who Baseball America also rates as the organization's top defensive outfielder. His arm, however, did not get a good rating, coming in at -4.2 runs. Bringing up the rear is 22-year-old Dodgers farmhand Xavier Paul; according to Baseball America, he profiles best in right field. SFR apparently agrees, and supports the idea with his +1.9 runs garnered by his throwing while in center field.
Lastly, let's take a look at the Pacific Coast (PCL) and International Leagues (INT):
Table 6: Triple-A Leaders in SFR for 2007 Player Pos League Team Balls SFR Rate Eric Reed Center PCL ALB 426 25.1 38.2 Jason Pridie Center INT DUB 271 18.3 43.8 Jeff Salazar Center PCL TUC 488 17.0 22.7 Freddy Guzman Center PCL ORH 545 15.9 18.9 Jonathan Van Every Center INT BUF 235 15.7 43.4 ------------------------------------------------------------------- Alex Sanchez Center INT CHR 128 -12.0 -61.1 Choo Freeman Center PCL LVG 523 -13.3 -16.5 Victor Diaz Left PCL ORH 93 -13.9 -97.3
Another player who rated well in EqBRR, the Marlins' Eric Reed, takes the Triple-A title in center field. In the second spot at +18.3 runs we find new Twin Jason Pridie, who is rated as the organization's best defensive outfielder, skills he'll use to compete for the open position on the parent club this spring. The Diamondbacks' Jeff Salazar continued to play solid defense in 2007, while Freddy Guzman, dealt from the Rangers to the Tigers during the Winter Meetings, is a good defender in addition to being a burner on the bases, evidenced by his placing third in EqBRR at Triple-A behind Wayne Lydon and Reed. It's also interesting here to see Red Sox outfielder Jonathan Van Every show up on this list. He was the subject of a recent interview by our own David Laurila, where Van Every noted, "I'm an extremely above-average defender who is capable of playing all three outfield positions. I would think that would be my main strength." SFR agrees with that self-assessment. Rangers corner outfielder Victor Diaz finds himself at the bottom of the pile at -13.9 for his 27 games of work in left field for Oklahoma City; in right field he came out at +0.5 in 16 games. While I doubt that Diaz is much of a defender, as mentioned at the beginning of this column, results like this from small samples should be taken with a large helping of salt.
Piggy-backing off of that last point, as you can probably tell, the totals for some players in Tables 1 through 6 seem incongruent with their scouting reports, as well as their performance at other positions. In an effort to increase the sample size, let's take a look at the top and bottom ten outfielders across all levels of the minors and aggregated across positions for players who fielded 400 or more balls in 2007.
Table 7: Minor League Leaders in Outfield SFR for 2007 Player Balls SFR Rather Trujillo 409 33.4 Jason Pridie 593 32.5 Jonathan Van Every 403 28.8 Shaun Cumberland 518 28.4 Gorkys Hernandez 526 25.1 Eric Reed 426 25.1 Gregory Thomson 452 23.3 Christopher Frey 530 21.8 Jeff Salazar 551 21.3 Travis Becktel 481 20.9 ------------------------------------- Carlos Fernandez-Oliva 443 -18.9 Adam Boeve 461 -19.4 Drew Macias 538 -20.3 Ryan Patterson 487 -21.5 Xavier Paul 446 -21.6 Travis Snider 413 -22.1 Jason Place 592 -22.5 Joseph Dickerson 447 -22.9 Trayvon Robinson 521 -24.5 Thomas Collaro 495 -24.7
Scouting and Stats
While Table 7 is a nice list and confirms that SFR is able to track players we think of as good defenders (Pridie, Van Every, Hernandez, Reed, Salazar), it would also be nice to do a direct comparison with an independent source. Fortunately, as mentioned previously Baseball America publishes a "Best Defensive Outfielder" and "Best Defensive Infielder" for each organization in their Baseball America Prospect Handbook . We can use those ratings to produce the following table, sorted by organization:
Table 8: Top Defensive Outfielders by Organization for 2007 Player Team Balls SFR Rate Gerardo Parra ARI 540 11.8 14.2 Jordan Schafer ATL 585 -4.0 -4.4 Matthew Angle BAL 279 4.7 11.0 Jacoby Ellsbury BOS 461 9.8 13.8 Ryan Sweeney CHA 476 16.6 22.7 Sam Fuld CHN 448 5.4 7.8 Drew Stubbs CIN 548 13.4 15.9 Brad Snyder CLE 330 -3.8 -7.4 Dexter Fowler COL 285 12.5 28.5 Matthew Joyce DET 438 -1.3 -2.0 Cameron Maybin FLA 421 -15.4 -23.8 Yordany Ramirez HOU 561 18.1 20.9 Jose Duarte KCA 577 7.8 8.8 Peter Bourjos LAA 268 12.0 29.2 Darren Ford MIL 513 7.6 9.6 Jason Pridie MIN 593 32.5 35.7 Austin Jackson NYA 524 14.9 18.5 Carlos Gomez NYN 218 -0.7 -2.0 Javier Herrera OAK 292 -2.0 -4.4 Gregory Golson PHI 597 19.1 20.8 Andrew McCutchen PIT 609 18.0 19.2 Drew Macias SDN 538 -20.3 -24.5 Michael Saunders SEA 525 12.4 15.4 Antoan Richardson SFN 409 -1.3 -2.0 Colby Rasmus STL 535 9.1 11.1 Fernando Perez TBA 485 9.3 12.5 Julio Borbon TEX 26 3.4 86.1 Eric Eiland TOR 240 -4.5 -12.3 Rogearvin Bernadina WAS 535 -8.4 -10.3
As you scan Table 8, you'll notice that 20 of the 30 players produced positive SFR numbers in 2007, and 25 of 30 had values greater than -4.0 runs. Pridie takes the top spot in terms of rate (not counting Julio Borbon, who fielded just 26 balls), followed by the Angels' Peter Bourjos and the Rockies' Dexter Fowler. The three outliers here are Drew Macias of San Diego, Cameron Maybin of the Marlins, and the Nats' Rogearvin Bernadina at -8.4.
Macias split time at Double-A and Triple-A, and in the process played all three outfield positions. He didn't commit many errors (just two all season) but did rate below zero in four of the five position/league combinations in which he played. His arm, however, rated at +6 runs overall. Maybin fared poorly across all hit types in his 70 games in center field while at Lakeland, and Bernadina scored negatively at both Harrisburg in the Eastern League (-5.8) and Columbus after being promoted to Triple-A (-2.8).
Following the same procedure, we can also look at the top rated defensive infielders for each organization:
Table 9: Minor League Leaders in Infield SFR for 2007 Player Team Balls SFR Rate Emilio Bonifacio ARI 572 -1.0 -0.9 Van Pope ATL 383 4.9 6.4 Luis Hernandez BAL 422 11.9 14.1 Argenis Diaz BOS 461 14.2 15.4 Robert Valido CHA 583 13.3 11.4 Joshua Lansford CHN 269 8.5 15.9 Zachary Cozart CIN 209 3.3 7.9 Adam Davis CLE 475 19.5 20.6 Hector Gomez COL 560 2.9 2.6 Dan Worth DET 247 8.5 17.2 Matt Dominguez FLA 36 2.1 29.9 Thomas Manzella HOU 490 3.5 3.6 Chris McConnell KCA 536 16.1 15.0 Andrew Romine LAA 259 7.8 15.0 Chin-lung Hu LAN 506 11.7 11.5 Alcides Escobar MIL 564 0.7 0.7 Deibinson Romero MIN 192 14.2 37.0 Alberto Gonzalez NYA 535 11.2 10.4 Jose Coronado NYN 366 0.3 0.5 Gregorio Petit OAK 581 5.1 4.4 Freddy Galvis PHI 160 10.3 32.4 Brian Friday PIT 193 3.7 9.5 Jesus Lopez SDN 584 9.9 8.4 Juan Diaz SEA 373 6.8 9.1 Brian Bocock SFN 612 13.6 11.1 Peter Kozma STL 187 -0.6 -1.6 Reid Brignac TBA 562 5.0 4.4 Elvis Andrus TEX 581 8.4 7.2 Luis Sanchez TOR 369 12.8 17.3 Ian Desmond WAS 626 -6.4 -5.1
Here we can see the more accurate nature of SFR's infield algorithm at work, as 27 of the 30 players end up with positive assessments by SFR. At the top of the list in terms of rate is Twins third base prospect Deibinson Romero, followed by 17-year-old Phillies' shortstop prospect Freddy Galvis, who has a great glove but didn't hit a lick in the New York-Penn league, and whose season was done after he separated his non-throwing shoulder in July. The only real anomaly on this list is Ian Desmond, who played shortstop for Potomac in the Carolina League. Desmond also did very poorly in EqBRR at -7.1 runs, and he certainly wasn't helping matters by committing 32 errors in 127 games.
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