Pitching and defense carried the Angels last season and will aid them again in 2012, though a couple new bats might make the difference in the division.
The most famous play of Peter Bourjos’s major-league career to date comes in the bottom of the fourth inning in the Bronx on August 10, 2011, with the Yankees already out to a 5-0 lead. Bourjos is set up in center and just a few steps towards right when New York infielder Eduardo Nuñez is late on a 3-2 fastball and lines it into the right field gap. Both Bourjos and Hunter break for the ball; it’s closer to Hunter, and he dives…inches short. Less than inches short. He’s so close to catching it that it almost looks like he tips it with his glove, but the ball continues on its course untouched.
Good thing, too, because as Hunter extends in mid-air to make a highlight-reel-worthy play on the ball, Bourjos comes streaking out of nowhere behind him and gloves the ball knee-high on the run, stops, plants, and delivers the ball back towards second, where the Angels almost double up a disbelieving Russell Martin. In the three, maybe four seconds between Nuñez making contact with the outside fastball and Bourjos retiring him, the Angels center fielder crossed from medium-deep center to make a play in front of the scoreboard in right and remained on his feet while doing so, allowing him to try for the double play. The putout makes highlight reels across the country; after all, it has a spectacular dive, an out, and a near-collision in the outfield. It’s not really important which of the outfielders was responsible for what.
The new JAWS runs up against players from the Steroid Era to determine their Hall worthiness.
As with comedy, timing is everything in baseball. "Hitting is timing," Hall of Famer Warren Spahn said famously, finishing the thought with the complementary observation, "Pitching is upsetting timing." A good chunk of both the game's traditional and advanced statistics, the ones that we spurn and those that we celebrate, owe plenty to being the right man in the right place at the right time—wins, saves, and RBI from the former camp, leverage, run expectancy, and win expectancy from the latter. ERA owes everything to the sequence of events. For better or worse, MVP votes are won and lost on the timing of a player's productivity, or at least the perception of it that comes with being labeled "clutch." Timing is a major part of how we measure the game, so it should matter when we look over the course of a player's career in evaluating his fitness for the Hall of Fame.
A trip through our new 1950-and-up leaderboard, including a close look at our new-formula fielding runs.
Our collection of BP-flavored single-season WARP scores currently goes back to 1950. Now that we’ve added fielding runs to the sortable choices, you can easily see the combination of offense and defense that made the top players during this period so valuable, and in some cases dragged them down from even higher perches. Herein we traipse quickly through the 20 best players of the Truman-Eisenhower years and onward.
The fielding runs featured here are the product of our new revised formula developed by Colin Wyers. As Colin says, “The difficult part of any defensive metric is estimating the batted-ball distribution among fielders. Old FRAA used season-level data about things like pitcher handedness to figure out the distribution on a seasonal level, and prorated it out to individual fielders. Now, FRAA uses play-by-play data, which allows us to use more variables (like whether or not a fielder has to hold on a runner) and to assign responsibility to each fielder based on the games he actually played in.”
This version of FRAA avoids the pitfall of subjectivity inherent in zone-based ratings. “In contrast to other popular metrics, FRAA does not use any stringer-recorded observational data,” Colin explains. “Serious discrepancies have been noted between data providers, and research has shown that in larger samples use of that sort of batted-ball data introduces severe distortions in the metrics that impede accuracy. Without evidence that the batted-ball data has redeeming value in the short term, it seems imprudent to use that sort of data in our evaluation of player defense.”
When looking for an infielder or outfielder, what do scouts look for in terms of body, skills, and glove work?
It’s not easy to evaluate defensive tools, especially at the amateur ranks or the lower levels of professional baseball. Good defense is a product of sound fundamentals established through instruction [read: proper instruction], raw physical ability, and refinement through repetition. It takes time to put the total defensive package together, assuming a competent package is even possible. This is what I want to do: I want to look at each position, break down the specific physical attributes that are necessary to excel at each position, and look at the process of projecting those attributes. In part two (you knew that was coming), I want focus on catchers and game-calling, something that I think is one of the most misunderstood and undervalued aspects of the game.
First Base: First base is, first and foremost, an offensive position. The modern game suggests if the bat is above average, the value provided by the glove is gravy. While I agree with the offensive weight attached to the position, I’m of the belief that good defense at first base is more than just gravy, and trust me, I love gravy.
A look at the first basemen on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.
Having kicked off this year's JAWS series with the starting pitchers, today we turn our attention to the first basemen, a slate which includes the ballot's best newcomer as well as its most controversial first-timer, and a few holdovers who aren't going anywhere for entirely different reasons.
A look at the rather thin soup that is the first basemen and third basemen on the free-agent market.
The winter of 2011-12 may have such elite free agents as first basemen Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Adrian Gonzalez, but this offseason is much less exciting when it comes to corner infielders. That is great news for the few standouts of the free-agent class at the corners, as they will get paid what they deserve and probably a lot more due to there being more demand than supply. The others are average performers or utility players.
The Washington Senators' history of first basemen makes one wonder if Lyle Overbay might have been an original Nat in a previous incarnation.
Lyle Overbay has never had an at-bat in the postseason. Some would say that this is not a coincidence, that a team operating with a de-powered first baseman is working under a handicap compared to those teams that carry hulking sluggers at the gateway. Yet, you can win a championship with Overbay. The Washington Senators did it three times.
Reviewing the qualifications of Tram and Larkin, Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile, and Edgar Martinez.
Having kicked off this year's JAWS series and addressed the Hall of Fame candidates on the right side of the infield on Monday, we can now turn our attention to the left side today. It's a pretty fair crop, to say the least.
The cases to make for the best on the ballot at first and second base.
The BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot has been out for a few weeks, and by now just about everybody who's got an opinion on the subject of which candidates are worthy of election has beaten the Christmas rush by weighing in on Rock, Hawk, Rik Aalbert, and friends. While the cabal which sent Jim Rice to Cooperstown last year might like to believe that I've told my spreadsheet to shut up, the reality-deadlines for this year's annual impeding my progress-is much more mundane. There's still time to beat the Christmas rush, however, so away we go.
Checking out who's in the pool at first, second, third, and short.
There are currently 170 free agents. John Grabow was the 171st, but that was before signing with the Cubs right after the list became official. Over the next couple of days, I'll cover every single one of the 170, with the infielders coming first. Players are listed by position, and ranked within their position subjectively by how good a value I think each can be as a free agent.
A post-conference conversation with the man behind the indispensable pair of volumes of The Fielding Bible.
It might be a stretch to say that "defense" is John Dewan's middle name, but then again it easily could be. The author of the highly acclaimed The Fielding Bible has delivered an even more impressive second volume, making Dewan the industry's most influential voice when it comes to defensive metrics. A co-owner of Baseball Info Solutions, Dewan moderated the Baseball Analytics panel at last weekend's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference. Afterwards, he sat down with Baseball Prospectus to talk about why Carlos Gomez is a better defensive outfielder than Nate McLouth, why shortstops love Justin Morneau, and what it means to be a Molina.