Saturday, 8 November 2014

Washington Nationals Fielding in Review 2014

Here is an update to last time's fielding numbers, one that closes the book on the 2014 Nationals fielding as monitored on this blog. ('Last time' was a l-o-o-o-n-n-g time ago, the end of July.) My source for this is Fangraphs, which includes all the main metrics that interest me except for Michael Humphreys' Defensive Regression Analysis.* From Fangraphs, I've used Mitchel Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating, my personal first choice of the 'converted-to-runs-play-by-play' metrics, and my preferred measure of RZR. RZR is Revised Zone Rating, which is like a fielding average but counts balls hit into a zone, rather than those the fielder actually reached. I have included the MLB positional averages for RZR, to help give the players' numbers some context. Note that catchers do not have a Zone Rating. Instead, I have used the runs saved by framing, supplied by

Player              UZR    Change    RZR   Change    LgAverage      DRA    Change   PFr
Lobaton (C)         n/a      --      n/a     ---         n/a        8.8     +1.8    0.2
Ramos (C)           n/a      --      n/a     ---         n/a        2.8     -2.9   -2.6
Span (CF)          -4.7     -4.3    .924    -.010       .919        8.2     +3.6    n/a
Espinosa (2B)       2.3     +2.2    .784    -.004       .787        5.0     -0.7    n/a
LaRoche (1B)       -5.0     -3.1    .793    -.007       .796      -13.2     -5.2    n/a
Harper (LF)         1.5     +2.8    .886    +.014       .881        1.1     +6.6    n/a
Desmond (SS)        0.1     +2.4    .822    +.019       .799      -10.3     +0.5    n/a
Werth (RF)         -1.6     +2.9    .931    -.002       .906      -10.0     -1.4    n/a
Rendon (3B)         4.2     +3.8    .683    -.016       .709        4.2     +1.8    n/a
Zimmerman (LF)      0.4     ---     .907    +.002       .881      - 3.0     -3.6    n/a
A. Cabrera (2B)    -2.2     ---     .758     ---        .787      - 1.5     ---     n/a 
minimum 220 innings

I have been tracking fielding in this manner for a few years now, and my only solid conclusion is that by and large outfielders tend to find their RZR level for the season quite quickly, while infielders can be more mercurial. A metric like UZR, by contrast, swings quite wildly over the course of the season at all positions. This is the fundamental problem with metrics that apply a relative standard, which is the approach adopted the most widely accepted fielding metrics. This is to say that most fielding metrics measure a player's performance against an average for the position throughout the league. I find this deeply unsatisfactory. I have been thinking about this problem, and have a solution that I'd like to test; but I make no promises about posting it here at any time.

Moving on to the actual metrics, the most important thing for Nationals fans to note, I think, is just how much Bryce Harper improved as a left-fielder over the course of the season. Nonetheless, he is not much more than an average fielder overall. The defensive star for the Nationals seems to be Anthony Rendon, if one believes UZR, but RZR paints a very different picture. What is strange is that UZR gives him a high range value. One can only throw up one's hands in despair at such a divergent picture. DRA likes Denard Span best, but UZR seems to think he was one of the worse fielders. RZR suggests he was about average. Again, we see a slight divergence between RZR and UZR on Span's ability to range the outfield. Well, at least we can all agree that Adam LaRoche was a bit of a defensive liability, surely. Nope — though UZR and DRA see him as the worst regular on the team, RZR thinks his range was a little bit below league average.

The only person on whom the different metrics reach a consensus is Asdrubal Cabrera, who was got for his bat. Just as well, too. He is seen as a subpar with the glove.

Let me conclude with a note about Jose Lobaton. He was picked up to provide some defensive help, and to be honest he did exactly that. DRA likes his fielding, and his pitch-framing, which last time I checked was -1.7, rose into positive territory. A good acquisition, Mr Rizzo!

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