Single-year outfield defense might be an intractable problem.
Remember a few weeks ago when Alex Gordon was leading the American League in WAR? No one questions that Gordon is having a(nother) really good season and should rightly get some down-ballot MVP votes, but the best player in the American League? People quickly noticed that a good chunk of Gordon’s WAR came from his defensive ratings, where, at the time, he was picking up roughly two wins worth of value in left field. Gordon’s regarded as a good left fielder, but “good left fielder” is also the “great personality” of fielding aficionados.
Should WAR(P) systems adjust their defensive measures? Okay. Now, which direction?
We heard the first blows in the nascent MVP debate of 2014 unfold just last week. At the time, Alex Gordon led all players in fWAR (by a narrow margin), largely on the basis of his extraordinary defense in left field (15 fielding runs above average, fifth highest in MLB). In response, Jeff Passan wrote that the idea of Alex Gordon as the best player in baseball was absurd.
Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. To some of the doubters of sabermetrics, Gordon’s triumph on the leaderboards was yet more proof of the uselessness of WAR(P). To others, arguments against Gordon may have seemed ill-formed.
A shift-happy Baltimore squad unveils a new approach against the Athletics' switch-hitting leadoff hitter.
At the end of May, I introduced the idea that some teams were going from playing nearly straightaway to using a full overshift once they got two strikes on certain pull-heavy, bunt-threat lefties. The idea was that teams would probably prefer to implement a full overshift earlier in the count, but were hindered by the hitter’s ability to bunt for a base hit. This was inspired by the Orioles using a two-strike overshift numerous times against Michael Bourn, and the Pirates doing it a couple of times against both Denard Span and Danny Espinosa.
How have the Rays outfielder's opponents shifted against him with the bunt in mind?
At the end of May, I introduced the idea that some teams were going from playing nearly straightaway to using a full overshift once the count went to two strikes against certain pull-heavy lefties whom they deemed threats to bunt. The idea was that teams would probably prefer to implement a full overshift earlier in the count, but were hindered by the hitter’s ability to bunt for a base hit. This was inspired by the Orioles using a two-strike overshift numerous times against Michael Bourn, and the Pirates doing it a couple of times against both Denard Span and Danny Espinosa.
Given the roster of talented baseball researchers and essayists here at BP, most of whom pen 1,500-word theses on this inefficiency or that, there would seem to be an opportunity for some counter-programming—something more bite-sized and consumable. A piece to balance out the menu, to diversify our portfolio.
The best and worst receptions, with glorious GIFs and graphs.
At the end of April, I brought back my weekly catcher framing series from 2013 in a new, monthly form (and came back for more after May). I mentioned this then, but as a refresher, here's where you can find catcher receiving stats at Baseball Prospectus:
Framing leaders, best and worst receptions, and a bunch of glorious GIFs.
Earlier this year, I brought back my weekly catcher framing series from 2013 in a new, monthly form. I mentioned this then, but as a refresher, here's where you can find receiving stats at Baseball Prospectus:
Last month, we started a thing: Trying to identify, and then appreciate, the single best defensive game any player had that month. Partly an excuse to make sweet moving pictures, mostly an attempt to put excellent short-burst defense in perspective, so that we can intuit the value of a great defensive game just as easily as we can process Chris Davis’ 4-for-5 with three home runs. To do that we had to turn these defensive plays into something like numbers, and to do that we turned to Inside Edge, provider of defensive data to major-league clubs, media outlets, and elsewhere. Inside Edge rates each defensive opportunity thusly:
At one position, the A's are still Moneyballing like it's 1999.
For the most part, pitch receiving operates on a level that’s easy to overlook. Over thousands of pitches, certain catchers establish an edge, and those edges add up in a way we can’t see without looking at a leaderboard. Every now and then, though, framing on a small scale comes to the fore, usually when it leads to a larger event. Brett Lawrie, let’s say, strikes out looking out a pitch that appears to be outside, hurls his batting helmet at the home plate umpire, and gets ejected from the game. Our first impulse, like Lawrie’s, is to blame the umpire who blew the call. After reviewing the video, though, we realize that the real culprit was Jose Molina, in the catcher’s box, with the catcher’s glove. The ump was a red herring, a patsy, or maybe an unwitting accomplice.