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November 23, 2009

Checking the Numbers

Fielding Distrust

by Eric Seidman

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The increased relevance of defensive metrics in recent years has led to a bevy of cost-cutting activity across the league, as teams are beginning to exhibit a greater understanding of the value of saving runs with the glove. Solid defense is tantamount to success, but it does not translate to deeper bank accounts like the mighty whopping stick. Even amongst some statistically savvy fans, offense garners more value than defense for reasons like the perceived irrefutability of batting data in comparison to fielding subjectivity, how the goals of fielding metrics seem to be more abstract than the what-you-see-is-what-you-get numbers on offense, and how advanced defensive statistics are still fairly new additions to the baseball vernacular. Subjectivity creates doubt, which leads to distrust and skepticism, making it difficult for some to wrap their heads around how a relatively mid-pack player Mike Cameron (4.8 WARP1) could actually have been more valuable than a masher like Jason Bay-4.4 WARP1.

The basic reason for this ranking reversal is that most of Cameron's value is tied up in his value on defense. The doubt surrounding how valuable that is, however, leads to "yeah, but…" statements issued with the intention of knocking his performance down a few pegs. Admittedly, statistics like UZR, FRAA, and Plus/Minus should not be treated as gospels, but their different, rigorous methodologies paint fairly accurate portraits of player value, and are worthy of acceptance as evidence. Changing everyone's mind on the subject will not be achieved overnight, however, so to expedite the process, it's worth exploring the reasons for doubt as well as why the data can clash with personal opinions of fielding prowess on occasion, because in the end subjective evaluations seem to comprise the leading source skepticism thrown in the way of advanced fielding metrics.

Comparative Confusion

The aforementioned statistics are not natural analogs for commonly used numbers like batting average or home runs. The outcomes are not binary, but they are much more straightforward and easy to comprehend. The defensive equivalent in this regard is fielding percentage: the play was made cleanly, or an error resulted, with no gray area in between. [Ed. note: In the official scorer's opinion.] We know that fielding percentage is practically worthless as an evaluative metric because errors are not always bad-perhaps a shortstop records an error on a ball that half the league wouldn't even reach-and due to several other factors looming large in the nuts-and-bolts foundation of what constitutes a solid fielder, that gray area matters more than anything else. Other factors interfere as well, specifically involving the exclusion of baselines.

For instance, a .280/.380/.540 slash line looks fantastic, and it will be treated as such regardless of whether or not the league average was .260/.360/.515; evidence of this phenomenon can be found in Marc Normandin's fantasy articles involving first basemen, where the replacement level for the position is so high that hitters deemed superb in a vacuum do not rate all that highly once they're evaluated within the appropriate context. Certain statistics normalize data for these situations, but not everyone measures performance from a relative standpoint. Even if they did, it is much easier to conjure up an image of an average or replacement-level hitter than to qualitatively figure out what an average fielder looks like, making difficult the task of pinning down what we even want to measure and how to structure the results.

The Victorino/Beltran Conundrum

Simply put, perception of effort is directly proportional to opinions of fielding prowess. Shane Victorino is widely regarded as a very good fielder, taking home two consecutive Gold Gloves-insert your own generic anti-Gold Glove comment here-while boasting the reputation of a high-octane speedster who covers plenty of ground. Unfortunately, these characteristics overstate what he brings to the table, especially in relation to Carlos Beltran, who covers more ground (at least before last season's injuries) but in a seemingly nonchalant fashion. If each player starts in the same position and ranges to field an equidistant fly ball, Victorino's hustle will create the illusion of a better play. If Beltran appears to have had little trouble reaching the ball, the play looks routine, and our minds tend to veer off into the wrong direction, assuming that Victorino's ball was tougher to reach. By virtue of that, he made a better play.

In actuality, Beltran can travel greater distances with less effort, but his catch appeared mundane and no different from the dozens of fly-ball outs a fan sees each and every game, becoming easily forgettable in the process. Spatial recognition issues based on the television angles presented and the areas to which attention is drawn preclude us from grasping exactly how much distance was actually traveled. When this occurs, the backup generator in our minds reverts to assuming equal talent amongst those being compared, using effort as the tiebreaker in judging the quality of a play and player.

Things should work in the opposite fashion, with a realization that Victorino needed all of that extra effort to stand a fighting chance of recording an out, whereas Beltran put little doubt in the minds of anyone as to the play's eventual result. Had Victorino made a diving catch, his actual range would be immaterial; a diving play is perceived to be great no matter what. In relation to his own abilities, the catch could be considered great, but the fact remains that he had to work harder to glove the ball. Beltran naturally reached the spot at which the ball would descend and should be lauded for having displayed such great range.

With that in mind, when Victorino does not rate as highly in a specific advanced fielding metric, it annoys fans who swear he ran his heart out, covered ground, and made fantastic plays, losing sight of the fact that he might have made certain plays look tougher than they were. This has the compound effect of making the balls he cannot reach seem unreachable for everyone else, an inaccurate extrapolation based on a faulty initial assumption.

Victorino and Beltran were merely examples here, so try not to get too caught up in the specific names and focus on the concept itself. Overall, as our perception of effort increases, so too does the perceived fielding value of the player.

Lost in Isolation

Say that a sharp one-hopper is hit down the first-base line and Mark Teixeira reacts quickly, dives to his left and snares the ball, making a great play on a hard-hit ball. From an absolute standpoint, little doubt exists that he made a play worthy of applause. Neglected at the time of the play is the realization that several other first basemen would have delivered the same result. It becomes a tough task to dispute the merits of T-Rex's play, because fielding more than anything else tends to be evaluated from an absolute and not a relative standpoint, even though the metrics bear relative results. Whether or not Derrek Lee would have yielded a similar result becomes irrelevant because Teixeira actually did make the play, preventing an extra-base hit in the process.

This particular reason for metric distrust lends itself to choice, really, in that there is nothing wrong with evaluating fielders in the absolute, crediting a play regardless of whether or not others at the position would have repeated the act. Absolute and relative measures boil down to whether the interest lies in gauging fielding talent as a whole, or rating members of a group against one another, not a straightforward exercise since fielders can have an ample talent supply while posting below average fielding marks. If Elvis Andrus, Jimmy Rollins, Yunel Escobar, Jack Wilson, and Adam Everett were the inputs to a UZR or Plus/Minus type of metric, the relative basis of comparison would peg one or two of these terrific fielders as below average, simply due to the relativity.

Reconciling the fact that a below-average fielding mark does not always equate to a below-average fielder proves difficult given that the opposite can be applied to various walks of life; it's akin to getting a 90 on a test-a very good score-but one that pales in comparison to the 96 class average. Teixeira's below-average marks this season do not necessarily mean there's a lack of ability, but likely point to some confluence of an improved relative baseline, the inherent small sample of one year, and his own performance.

The Holliday Corollary

One year of fielding data is not nearly enough off of which to base definitive conclusions given the small samples of balls in play in the various fielding bins. It should go without saying that one month or one series represents a minuscule sample, right? Then why has it become commonplace to extrapolate one or two series' worth of fielding performance out over an entire season or career? Matt Holliday made a couple of boneheaded plays during the 2007 postseason, one in particular in which a playable fly ball soared over his head. He also made the heavily criticized fielding boner in the 2009 NLDS against the Dodgers, although lighting earned a share of blame.

For those who do not follow Holliday on a regular basis, it is almost impossible to fathom that fielding systems rate his efforts positively. I mean, we saw five games over a three-year span, and he stunk in three of them, so he must be bad, right? That's very much not the case, but while this feels so obvious to some, it can be incredibly tough to avoid and can eventually evolve into a form of diagnosis bias, which rarely produces positive results and can set things back without any realization. As we will get into in a bit with a peer of his, in more ways than one Holliday's burly physique and those blunders can make it difficult for some observers to subjectively consider him a solid glove man.

My Buddy Says…

I have never seen an episode of The Wire, but seemingly everyone on the planet that has spent time watching claims it is one of the greatest television shows of all time. When the time comes to sit down and binge my way through the DVDs, it is more than likely that I will attribute positive connotations to certain aspects of the program, aspects that might not stand out in other situations, because of the expectations and the idea that so many people in agreement could not be wrong. Either that, or my subconscious will steer me in the direction of a personal vendetta in which the opposite occurs and I purposely look for reasons to hate the show. If a fielder develops a sterling reputation, human nature chimes in with a glass-half-full approach; plays he cannot reach are considered unreachable, and those he gets to, even of the most routine variety, are lauded.

This form of diagnosis bias was definitely perpetrated in the 1980s, the golden age of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, which suddenly developed the reputation of being the wellspring of top-tier defensive shortstops. Suddenly, the league was overrun with the likes of Tony Fernandez, Manny Lee, Manny Alexander, Rafael Ramirez, and Jose Offerman. Regardless of their individual fielding merits, teams became interested in players of this ilk because SPdM had been diagnosed as a great provider of defensive relief. Seriously, what are the odds that five big-league starting shortstops in the '80s and early '90s all came from the same Dominican city? Essentially, my contention here is that some of our opinions on fielders are not our opinions at all, but rather a combination of what others have publicly written or stated, and that this door swings both ways, with the mind either subconsciously buying into the idea or vehemently opposing it.

Nichols' Law

An oldie but a goodie, Nichols' Law is the shorthand for the Nichols Law of Catcher Defense, a theory proposed by Sherri Nichols on rec.sports.baseball in the early '90s. The theory goes that the defensive reputation of a catcher is inversely proportional to his offensive abilities. In other words: Paul Bako has to be a great defender because that is the only feasible reason a hitter as putrid as he could enjoy an 11-year career. The law can certainly be applied to other positions; James Loney comes to mind, since he looks like a slick fielder and has taken steps backwards in terms of offensive development. If he were more of an offensive force, discussions of his fielding would not come up as frequently. Inversely, Albert Pujols is one of the best-fielding first basemen in the game today, and yet he is seldom mentioned for this facet of his game, aside from compliments in passing. Of course, that might be partly caused by the next course in our fielding skepticism meal.

Body by Bay

Jason Bay looks like a fit and athletic guy, and he doesn't make a ton of overt mistakes in the field, leaving legions of fans puzzled after referring to any one of several advanced defensive metrics. They're left swearing that the results must be confusing Jason for director Michael Bay, though the fielding ineptitude of the latter would be excused given his threats to add in CGI explosions and Shia LaBeouf whenever a ball comes his way. Regardless, it has become fairly obvious that even when accounting for the Green Monster, Jason Bay cannot field, a hard assumption to grasp given that his below-average ability deals more with his poor range, not dropped balls. Of course, there's also the problem that he looks like he should be able to field; if he bore a resemblance to Rich Garces and played his terrible left field, nobody would blink at the suggestion that he's a bad fielder, but expectations can come from body type and perceived athletic ability. Big-yet-fit players like Holliday and Pujols generally will not get much credit, that while we automatically assume that players like Joey Gathright and Chris B. Young bring the leather.

The Halo Effect

The Halo Effect is a combination of the perceived effort and the diagnosis bias, in that players who develop reputations tend to keep those reputations well past their expiration dates. Torii Hunter will never be considered a poor fielder even when he becomes a poor fielder, because he constantly shows up on SportsCenter, plus he can still move around out there and make impressive plays, and besides, he's a great ambassador for the game, and robbed Barry Bonds of a dinger in that All-Star Game several years back. Even though the numbers suggest Hunter has been steadily declining defensively for a few seasons, polls revolving around the top defensive center fielders amongst the broader fan base will undoubtedly showcase Hunter towards the top of the list. This phenomenon can also manifest itself in forms of potential, wherein sloppy fielders with oodles of raw tools are consistently given more chances to harness their talent.

---

As you can see, there are very real and definitive reasons for why fielding metrics garner skepticism and much will require bypassing before they grow in popularity. These reasons also don't solely apply to less statistically-oriented fans, as I'll readily admit it felt odd to type the Cameron/Bay comparison at the top of this piece, even in the face of my staunch support of UZR, Plus/Minus, FRAA and various other metrics. It isn't so much that I do not trust the outputs, but rather that the tiniest bit of doubt-especially given the error bars and how there really isn't much difference between a +6 and a +10 fielder-tickles my interest bone much more than a comparison of their respective OBP/SLG rates. With the increased granularity of readily available information, defensive metrics will continue to be fine-tuned, becoming more accurate in the process, and while it will definitely take time before they garner mainstream acceptance, understanding the causes of a problem is always the first step towards its fixing.

Eric Seidman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Eric's other articles. You can contact Eric by clicking here

Related Content:  A's,  The Clash,  The Who,  Fielding,  The Process,  Comparison

25 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

cjrhgarmon

"Overall, as our perception of effort increases, so too does the perceived fielding value of the player." I think it would be useful, in any discussion of defensive metrics, to define "value." The implicit assumption in the article is that defensive value is the ability to make outs. That's obviously important, but that's not the only value a defender can contribute. The Victorino "perceived" value based on effort may bias us into thinking he has more "outs-making" value than he actually has, but his economic value may still be greater than Beltran's. Sometimes we forget that baseball is an entertainment product. If I'm the owner of the Phillies and Victorino puts more butts in the seats because of his effort (all else equal) than Beltran does with his nonchalant fielding style, Victorino's fielding has more economic value to me. It's no different than a ballet: in putting together a cast for Swan Lake, I'd rather have performers with grace and style, even if they are less technically proficient than other dancers, because it is grace and style that puts butts in the seats, not technical proficiency.

Nov 23, 2009 09:59 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

You're correct in a lot of what you wrote, but the purpose of the piece is to figure out why personal opinions can clash with fielding metrics. Putting butts in the seat is irrelevant here. Victorino appears like he should always have a great UZR because he puts in so much effort, but the effort overstates his defensive output from a technical standpoint, not one of economic value.

Nov 23, 2009 10:08 AM
 
Schere

Now we introduce marketing department bias to the equation...why can't the Mets market Beltran's silky smooth outfield play?

Nov 24, 2009 08:45 AM
rating: 0
 
Ira

I'm sorry, but dude, you are a dope.

DiMaggio was smooth and minimal effort, and people went to see him play. Willie Mays went all out, and people went to see him play. People go to watch winners, and good defense helps a team win. It doesn't matter if you're centerfielder is big like Josh Hamilton, or tiny like Joey Gathright. What matters is if your team wins. Good fielders help the team win. It isn't a beauty contest. It doesn't matter how you do it. You can field well because you get good first steps (Andruw Jones) or because you run fast, or because you go from stopped to full speed very quickly, or because you are very good at catching balls while diving.

Here's my personal issue. The value of a fielder is in how many outs they record. In some cases, where a ball cannot be caught in the air, the value of that fielder is in minimizing the number of bases the runners can take on that ball. I remember linear weights used to have a stat known as "Net Hits stolen". I always liked that, because it measured the number of hits converted into outs for a given fielder over the league average. Something like that, combined with a measure of reducing bases taken.

Nov 24, 2009 12:10 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

No one goes to the ballpark because Shane Victorino is playing centerfield. This is not an opinion, this has been researched and documented beyond argumentation.

Now, guys who don't hustle such that they get booed, maybe they chase a fan or two away. But as Bill James noted, free stuff and winning brings in the fans.

Nov 23, 2009 10:11 AM
rating: 0
 
cjrhgarmon

Then someone please explain the appeal of "Web Gems." Do they put players making great plays, but doing so in a way that seems routine, on Web Gems? No. It's a bunch of plays that are either truly spectacular or seem spectacular because they're made by less proficient players giving everything to make the play.

Or what about Manny Ramirez? He's an adventure in RF, to say the least. One minute he has the range of a wounded ox. The next minute, he's scaling the wall to rob a HR, high-fiving a fan, and THEN doubling up the runner on first. Do you think people pay to see Manny simply because of his hitting skills?

Winning is important for demand, but so is the prospect of seeing a amazing play, at least in my opinion.

Nov 23, 2009 10:28 AM
rating: 0
 
thegeneral13

I think the value of those things accrues to the media outlets, not the teams.

Nov 23, 2009 10:47 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

Oh, and Sherri Nichols stole that from Bob Uecker, if unknowingly. The Ueck observed that in his 1982 'Catcher in the Wry', and I believe stated it well before then.

Nov 23, 2009 10:14 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

Richie, that's good to know. I'll have to check his book out.

Nov 23, 2009 10:16 AM
 
ScottyB

That's not the correct definition of the halo effect. Halo effect occurs when we over-rate all aspects of a person based on one outstanbding characteristic (e.g., someone who is a great speaker may also be perceived to be smarter, more competent, etc.). This may relate to a guy like Sean casey, who was a good fielder and good teammate, but a bad hitter. His bad hitting was actually over-rated by many because they were blinded by their positive impression of his other characteristics.

Nov 23, 2009 11:02 AM
rating: 1
 
Ira

Example of that: Ivan Rodriguez as a great defensive catcher because of his ability to throw out basestealers.

Nov 24, 2009 12:12 PM
rating: 1
 
jdseal

To me, as a fan, there is value in watching a great defensive play. It's pretty rare that a home run makes me go "wow"; most home runs look pretty much the same; occasionally you might marvel at the height or the distance or something. It's fielding feats (and occasionally baserunning) that make you say "wow, what a play" and really remember it when you get home. That's what makes an exciting game to me.

On a different subject: not that fielding percentage needs any more piling on, but the thing about the stat that always burned me is that it's not really a percentage, in that there are a set number of plays you either make, or don't. Lots of errors aren't "chances" unless they become errors. An outfielder fields a single on two hops and throws it in, and he gets no stat of any type. Unless the throw is wild, then it's an error. There are lots of examples of that, plays where you can only get a bad result, but no credit for the good result. It's pretty basic math to say that is NOT a percentage.

Nov 23, 2009 11:05 AM
rating: 2
 
j11forbes

As someone who lives in Denver, I watched Matt Holliday play a lot of left field. I came away with the impression that he was definitively a below average defensive left fielder. So my impression is based on a lot more than just those five games.

Having said that, I also believe left field in Coors is one of the most difficult positions to play (the winds out there are brutal), and it's made a lot of good left fielders look foolish over that time period, so maybe that is slanting my point of view.

Nov 23, 2009 11:22 AM
rating: 0
 
Dr. Dave

Part of what makes playing the outfield in Denver so hard is that balls simply fall faster. At lower altitudes, the backspin on fly balls gives them more lift, giving fielders more time to get under them.

That said, it's just not reasonable to think you can tell how well a typical fielder is doing by watching him -- any more than you can tell how well a typical hitter is doing just by watching him without writing any numbers down. You can tell how sure-handed he seems to be, and whether his footwork is ugly, and whether he throws like a girl -- but that's not the same as "how many plays is he making, relative to what the rest of the league is doing?".

Scouts, who care a lot more about sure hands and footwork and throwing arm than they do about current level of performance, can do their jobs on pure observation. And, they do the same thing on offense -- how long is the swing, how good is the judgment, how solid is the contact, how many more inches of height should we expect, will the kid get fat, how much uppercut in the swing, how skinny are the wrists, etc. None of that is about performance, really, and that's fine -- but you'd get upset if someone based an MVP ballot on those things, ignoring outcomes.

Nov 23, 2009 11:48 AM
rating: 3
 
Dr. Dave

When looking at defense (just like offense), I think it's important to make a clear distinction between _ability_ and _performance_. None of our advance offensive metrics measure ability; they all measure performance -- what did you actually _do_? Similarly, UZR and FRAA and such all measure outcomes, not ability. None of them can say "you suck"; some of them can say "your performance sucked last year".

This is an important first step in getting past the mental barrier that says there's too much luck in defensive performance. Maybe this guy's pitchers gave up harder-hit balls; maybe he got a few bad hops; maybe his first baseman didn't pick low throws like he should; maybe the weather was bad more often. All of this is true -- but the best reply is to point out that it is true on offense, too, and ask whether the best offensive metrics are therefore suspect because they don't account for some hitters seeing better pitches than others, playing in different weather, getting different umpires, etc.

Nov 23, 2009 11:22 AM
rating: 2
 
sgturner65

I haven't watched Jason Bay play very often but I don't understand where this "lack of range" idea comes from.

He played the fourth most innings of any left fielder in the majors last year and handled the second most chances. He played seven more innings than the fifth guy (Carlos Lee) but handled 103 more chances than Carlos. Now there's a guy with a lack of range.

He handled those chances error free yet I've read that he's brutal in the outfield. I have yet to get an explanation other that UZR says he's bad. Something doesn't add up here and makes me mistrust UZR.

Nov 23, 2009 14:27 PM
rating: 0
 
Dr. Dave

The key is context. You cite the number of innings played by Bay -- that's an attempt to establish the context of his performance, so you can compare it to others. The problem is that not all innings are created equal, when it comes to fielding. A guy who plays behind a staff of left-handed ground ball pitchers will see a wildly different mix of batted balls in play than a guy who plays behind a right-handed fly ball staff.

For UZR, the context they use is "Defensive Games" (DG):
The number of outs made by an average fielder at his position given the exact distribution of balls in play for that player divided by the number of outs an average player at that position makes per game.

The key phrase there is "exact distributon of balls in play for that player". They look at where every ball hit against the Red Sox went, broken into fairly small zones, and at what fraction of balls in such a zone an average player would turn into outs. That's Bay's context of opportunity -- his "defensive plate appearances", if you like.

That's where the huge difference shows up. Bay had 174 DG, while Carlos Lee only had 115, in almost as many innings standing out there. That's a huge, huge difference in opportunities to accrue chances, and Lee did much better with the rare balls hit to left against the Astros than Bay did with the zillion balls hit to left against the Red Sox.

Nov 23, 2009 15:32 PM
rating: 3
 
sgturner65

Thanks, Dr. Dave, but I'm not convinced. How can Bay be charged with (or credited with) 174 games when he played 150 in left field? Lee played 154 games there and is only charged with 115. Huh?

Do balls hit high off the Green Monster that end up as singles or doubles count against him? Does Jacoby Elsbury's range hurt Bay's numbers? I think of people saying Skip Schumaker is weak going to his left and wonder if the incredible range of Pujols to his right affects Skip's numbers?

I compared the GB/FB and the GO/AO for the Red Sox and Astros and see that they are the same in outs but the Asros do allow less fly balls, but not by the nearly 50% difference in chances for Bay vs. Lee.

Nov 23, 2009 16:32 PM
rating: 1
 
Dr. Dave

DG aren't really related to actual games played; they are determined by number of opportunities. I'm guessing that one DG is an average number of (weighted) opportunities for a game at that position league-wide, but I don't know that. There's nothing intrinsically impossible about Boston LF getting 50% more DG per actual game than Houston LF.

Bottom line is, they didn't guess -- they looked at every batted ball, and counted. I suppose a typo is always possible, but it seems unlikely.

Unplayable balls should not count against fielders, in Fenway or anywhere else. I would be stunned if the UZR calculation somehow fails to remember this, but I don't have a direct quote I can point to that makes it clear.

I can't explain why the Astros *should* see far fewer balls hit to LF (again, weighted -- difficult balls count less than easy ones). But it's a matter of record; as Yogi said, "You could look it up."

I'm not trying to be snarky here; partly I don't know exactly how they weight the zones for various parks, and partly I don't have the raw data -- but I know The Truth Is Out There. If they're doing something dumb in accounting for balls off the Green Monster, that should be easy to check. Given how much scrutiny and criticism that work generates at FanGraphs, it seems extremely unlikely that they've missed something so obvious.

Nov 23, 2009 18:12 PM
rating: 2
 
LouisArighi

Dr. Dave, thanks for adding to the knowledge on this thread, it has been very helpful.
In terms of why the Astros might have fewer plays in LF, my understanding is that it is fairly short down the line in LF, so some flyballs that would be in-play in other parks will be HR there. Clearly, one would have to actually look at the distance of HRs to LF, and a distribution of fly balls in Houston, but that's my first thought.

Nov 24, 2009 13:11 PM
rating: 0
 
sgturner65

Louis,

I don't think it's any shorter down the left field line at the Juicebox than it is at Fenway, thus my wonderment.

Nov 24, 2009 18:06 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian Cartwright

Your referencing how many plays Bay made, but not how many he did not make as well. It's like saying that someone has 200 hits - if he had 500 at bats it's really impressive, but if he had 700 not nearly so. The problem is 'plays not made' is not always easy to determine, which leads to probabilistic models and thus variations between different models.

Nov 23, 2009 18:56 PM
rating: 0
 
marooner

At least from my perspective, the main reason I have trouble getting 100% behind the advanced defensive metrics is that they seem far more opaque than the offensive ones. I'm not great at math, so I understand that at some level the statistical methods employed will go over my head. But at least I get the general inputs for the offensive metrics. I get that when I'm told that someone has a VORP of X, I get that is boiling down how many hits, walks, homers, etc. they got relative to a benchmark. If you told me a player had a triple slash line of .200/.225/.250, I couldn't tell you their VORP, but I would know it was not so good.

On the other hand, when someone tells me that a player has an "Ultimate Zone Rating" of X, or a "Plus/Minus" of -Y, I haven't the foggiest idea what that means. I don't even have the ability to look at simple outcome ratios and see if they are in the ballpark what I would expect. You can see this in many recent articles about the Gold Gloves, which just throw out random UZR and Plus/Minus numbers (many of which don't agree with each other), without any explanation to justify why one player or another was robbed. No one would write a similar article about the MVP just citing to VORP without any discussion of the inputs into that VORP.

In my opinion, until fans are given a sense of what qualities in a player these metrics are synthesizing, it will be difficult to ask them to ignore all the biases you rightfully point out in this article.

Nov 23, 2009 15:24 PM
rating: 1
 
Dr. Dave

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/glossary/

There are links there to a primer on UZR, its history and development, and blog discussions of its strengths and weaknesses.

I'd like to think that nobody would cite VORP without knowing what goes into it, but that's just not true. (And even less true if the purpose is to dismiss it...)

Nov 23, 2009 15:37 PM
rating: 1
 
yadelman

I think that there is another problem with the fielding stats that was somewhat alluded to at the end. The fundamental play by play data upon which the stats are based, are not completely accurate. I'm referring to the data regarding the exact speed and angle at which the ball lands and the fielder's original position. I believe that BP (Clay?) made this exact point in last year’s book. It was called there "baseball's dirty secret" So until we have batter f/x data, these numbers will be suspect.

Nov 24, 2009 03:37 AM
rating: 2
 
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