Playing the UZR guessing game

As inspired by this post on Amazin’ Avenue, I avoided defensive statistics for 2012 until this week. I haven’t looked at Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), or Total Zone. I averted my eyes on Fangraphs, didn’t look upon WAR on Baseball-Reference. One of ya’ll mentioned David Wright’s UZR in a tweet at me in mid-May, this I believe the only slip up. But otherwise I haven’t seen any advanced defensive statistics for this season. I have no idea what anyone’s UZR is.

But I have watched the Mets, and I have tried to pay extra attention to their fielding with this experiment in mind. So here’s what I’ve got: I have my own notes about the Mets fielders below. I’ve also made a guess at how many runs each one has cost or saved the Mets defensively in 2012. Then I looked up each player’s actual defensive numbers to see how close my eyes and the numbers agree. So here we go:

Josh Thole – Thole’s not going to rate well by catcher metrics because he doesn’t have a strong arm and he racks up passed balls catching R.A. Dickey, and caught stealing and passed balls/wild pitches are the two easiest things to measure for catchers. But Thole also doesn’t make errors and his arm is now passable, and I think his game calling has improved massively. Catcher’s run average per nine-innings is a flawed statistic, but Thole’s career run average is 4.22 in a period when the Mets have allowed 4.41 runs per nine. For whatever reason or non-reason, the Mets give up fewer runs with Thole behind the plate.

  • My guess: The numbers will say Thole’s cost the Mets three runs, but he’s really average.
  • The numbers: Holy crap. Thole’s saved nine runs and leads all catchers defensively according to DRS. (There is no UZR for catchers.) Okay then.

Ike Davis – Average to above-average range, but he’s a big target, scoops up everything and he’s pretty good at catching foul popups near the stands. Scooping doesn’t work its way into the defensive metrics, so my guess is that Davis is a little underrated by the those statistics.

  • My guess: One or two runs above-average, but really three or four if you include scooping.
  • The numbers: Minus-four runs by DRS, minus-four runs by UZR. The advanced stats suggest Davis is failing to get to some balls other first basemen do. I’m not off to a hot start here.

Daniel Murphy - Well he’s definitely not good, but at least there are signs of improvement. Murphy has started to cheat and now makes throws without first finding his target on balls up the middle, which lets him compensate for being a step slower than other second basemen. He’s not awful at turning double plays and his errors have become less frequent. He’s showing enough signs of improvement and ability; I think he’s going to stick at second.

  • My guess: Seven runs below average.
  • The numbers: Minus-seven runs by DRS, minus-eight runs by UZR. Nailed it, but I’m only one-for-three so far.

Ruben Tejada - This one is harder because Tejada missed a quarter of the season. He’s okay defensively. He looks steady-if-average as a shortstop most of the time, and every so often makes an unbelievable throw or tracks down a popup he has no business catching. Ronny Cedeno looks average, ditto for Omar Quintanilla.

  • My guess: Minus-two runs for Tejada, average marks for Cedeno and Quintanilla.
  • The numbers: Tejada is plus-one and zero, Cedeno is minus-three and minus-one, and Omar Quintanilla is zero and plus-two, by DRS and UZR respectively. I’m counting this one as an agreement between my eyes and the metrics. Two for four.

David Wright – He’s been great this season and much improved from the David Wright of the last three seasons. Wright has made plays to his right – he threw out a runner from foul territory, something I’m not sure he did between 2009-11 – and his throws overall have been much more accurate and less weird-sidearm (though I think Davis at first base has something to do with that). I don’t think Wright is Gold Glove material, but he’s looked better than average this season.

  • My guess: Plus-five runs?
  • The numbers: Plus-five by DRS, but plus-one by UZR. Eh. We’ll half-count this one. Two 1/2 for five.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis – He seems to make all the mandatory plays, but I’m not sure Nieuwenhuis is running down any balls other center fielders won’t also get to. He’s got an unremarkable arm, which is fine because at least it’s not remarkably poor. He has been better in center field than I thought; he can definitely play in the Majors.

  • My guess: Probably above-average in the corners, a tick below in center field.
  • The numbers: Minus-two and plus-two, DRS and UZR, in center field, and somewhere between plus-two and minus-two on the corners. So apparently he’s just average everywhere.

Andres Torres – Torres gets there. He glides under everything, sometimes doing this floating sideways run to get balls on the track. He sometimes takes bad routes on balls over his head, but he can fly and usually makes up the ground that way. Off the top of my head, I have zero idea if Torres can throw. So we’ll guess average there too.

  • My guess: Plus-three. He gets to balls other center fielders don’t and makes more plays than he misses.
  • The numbers: Plus-one by DRS, plus-two by UZR. Oh yeah. My eyes are on a roll here.

Lucas Duda – He’s maybe the second-worst outfielder I’ve ever seen. (I think Adam Dunn is worse.) Duda’s arm is okay, but he does nothing else well defensively. And unlike Murphy, it doesn’t look like Duda is improving defensively. He can’t stay in right field defending like this without hitting 40 or 400 home runs every season.

  • My guess: I don’t know, minus-10? Just a “lol” where the number should be? This?
  • The numbers: Oh my. Minus-14 runs by both. Minus-14! Maybe five to ten outfielders will get to minus-15 in a season and Duda’s there already at the All-Star break. Unless he posts a .900 OPS the rest of the way, if the Mets are really serious about contention I’m not sure they can keep playing Duda in right field, especially against left-handed pitchers.

The Mets defense as a whole:

Davis, Tejada, Wright, Torres, and Nieuwenhuis are solid fielders, but none are outstanding. Murphy is below-average and Duda is maybe the worst everyday defensive player in baseball. I think Thole is average at catcher. But a bunch of average defenders and a couple of poor ones add up to . . . uh, math, uh . . . a below-average defensive team.

  • My guess: Minus-20 runs?
  • The numbers: Minus-23 runs by DRS, minus-25 runs by UZR, but a middle-of-the-pack .707 defensive efficiency. The Mets rate fine at getting to balls in play and turning those balls into outs. It’s just that they can’t throw or turn double-plays or really anything else, hence the poor marks in DRS and UZR. The Mets haven’t been the worst fielding team in baseball, but they’re close.

And now I go back off the UZR grid, because I intend to try this exercise again at the end of the season. May the UZRs be ever in your favor!

7 Comments

Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

7 responses to “Playing the UZR guessing game

  1. I always loved the idea for this post. I’m impressed you were able to avoid checking on defensive metrics, which might the one of the worse double-edged swords in baseball stats. Nice work.

  2. Just me but defensive Metrics are seriously flawed, same with how much WAR values defense. Duda has been bad, seriously bad, but to say that he has cost the Mets 15 runs more than an average RF, and 20-30 more than an excellent defensive RFer is hard to believe.

    • To be -25 runs over a full season doesn’t require you to butcher every play like a little leaguer. It just means an extra hit drops in around you once every three or four games.

  3. I mentioned this somewhere else the other day, but oddly Thole has turned into a defensive catcher this year. Its not just his lack of hitting, but he’s also solid in every aspect of catching except throwing out runners.

    Is there any way to separates Murphy’s numbers with and without Tejada? It seems like when Ruben went on the DL Murphy went from bad to disastrous, and now he’s back to looking more stable with Tejada back.

    Duda has been humorously bad, making me wonder if he thinks he is the DH on some nights. They will (should?) probably start playing an all RH OF against leftys, so long as they can fit that many OF’s on the roster. Hey who thought giving away Vinny Rottino would be such a bad move?

  4. Pat

    Very interesting experiment. I haven’t seen any defensive numbers this year mostly because I don’t look at them but I pretty much agree with your eye test. Thole has been decent in all aspects. This is the year a well developed organization would have brought him up. Davis hasn’t been good, he’s blown a few routine plays which will happen but his throws have been pretty bad. Murphys not going to kill a good team as long as he plays about half the innings and is out of there in the 7th with a lead. Kirk’s a corner and 3rd CFer on a good team, Duda’s a DH or possibly a part time first basemen.

  5. If anything, this sounds like a vote of confidence for UZR and DRS type stats, since they seem to be within the realm of reason when compared to your best guess (especially since you follow the team as closely as you do).

    There will always be anomalies, but it’s at least a tool to reference when analyzing someone who isn’t on your favorite team, and in my opinion, will always be better than Willy’s Randolph’s “manage by the gut” technique.

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