Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Nationals' Fielding Weekly #1

In two earlier posts, I outlined the sorry state of fielding by the Nationals. Some of the problems in holding a lead are related to the difficulty the fielders have in preventing hits and their propensity to make errors. Although media attention has focused on the infield, the real problems appear to lay in the outfield. The infield is hovering close enough to the league average to make it tolerable. (An exception could be made for Cristian Guzman, who is poor; anyone for shortstop practice?)

It might be a good idea, since this blog is turning gradually into a Nationals' blog, to look at this more systematically, rather than just when some mediot starts yapping. In that spirit, I'm going to start monitoring fielding on hopefully a weekly basis, in order to spot any trends. There are two measures at the moment that are easily available and make use of play-by-play data. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), published at Fangraphs, and Revised Zone Rating (RZR), which can be found at the Hardball Times. For this exercise, I'm going to make use of both UZR and UZR/150. (The latter is an extrapolation of existing data for 150 games.) UZR/150 is good for getting a sense of 'true talent'.

So, here's the ratings for all players who have played at least 40 innings on defence at a given position. They are ranked in order of innings at position.

Player UZR UZR/150 RZR
Zimmerman (3b) 8.0 19.9 .771
Johnson (1b) -5.4 -12.2 .731
Guzman (ss) -5.0 -12.6 .741
Hernandez (2b) 0.4 1.5 .856
Kearns (rf) 0.0 - 5.9 .879
Dunn (lf) -4.6 -16.5 .769
Willingham (lf) 0.0 1.5 .880
Dukes (cf) -4.4 -19.2 .911
Dunn (rf) -6.3 -33.8 .756
Harris (cf) -7.7 -42.9 .894
Belliard (2b) 2.0 13.0 .904
Gonzalez (ss) -1.1 -11.9 .722
Dukes (rf) 0.8 3.7 .900
Maxwell (cf) 1.9 35.9 .833
Dunn (1b) -1.9 -47.6 .600
Milledge (cf) -0.4 - 8.4 .727
Harris (2b) -1.7 -36.9 .733

Why 40 innings? Because I wanted to demonstrate that trading Johnson and moving Dunn to first-base is arguably not a good idea. (Dunn has played 44 innings at first.) Johnson is enough of a handicap at first. Why make it worse?

It's harder to make sense of RZR unless you know what the league average is at each position. Maxwell's relatively low RZR yet excellent UZR reflects his ability to get to balls out of his zone. The same also applies to Gonzalez at shortstop.

As far as fielding goes, this is the lineup I'd want to see based on current personnel in the system:

1b Johnson
2b Hernandez
3b Zimmerman
ss Gonzalez with a groundball pitcher, otherwise Guzman
lf Dunn
cf Maxwell
rf Dukes

As you can see, the odd-men-out here are Willingham and Kearns. If either can play some first, that would be a big help because it would then make more sense to move Johnson in a trade. Kearns is probably worthless on the market given his current problems hitting. Putting a bat like that at first isn't really worthwhile, either. He's a fifth outfielder as things stand. Willingham might have some value, but I don't know if it's all that much. Could he play first? His bat won't give away quite as much as Kearns's would.

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