Friday, August 12, 2011

Still Confused By Fielding Stats

Wins Above Replacement or WAR is a pleasant taste on the palate from a batting perspective because it is understandable. Jose Bautista walks more, has a higher slugging percentage and strikes out less than Curtis Granderson. As such, when we are fed those statistics, the dominance of Bautista over Granderson in WAR makes solid sense. Base running is pretty easy to swallow too, though there are inherent questions such as what happens when a base runner doesn't take the extra base because the game is lopsided. But fielding metrics, an integral part of WAR, still taste bitter when rolled around the tongue.

Let's make it perfectly clear before moving forward that this writer doesn't know anything about how these numbers are compiled. Before this post gets roasted on some heady site about being the stupidest thing ever, this writer fully admits to his total lack of inherent knowledge on these things. The point of this post is that it's one thing to tell us novices what we should believe. When it comes to the fielding aspect of these statistics, tell us why we should believe them.

Okay, here's the crux of the question: The Fan understands why Bautista is having a better offensive year than Granderson. But how is he having a better defensive season? If you were to pick an outfield on the playground and offense was not the main picking criteria, which outfielder would you want out there? Okay, we must grant the obvious question that both men play different positions. And the positional aspect is played out in the computation of WAR with different values being assessed to each position. Granderson gets positive points for playing a more important position.

But all this Fan can see is that when you look at Fangraphs' Leaderboard,  you see a -1.0 next to Bautista for fielding and -8.0 next to Granderson. If you look at Granderson's page on Fangraphs, you see that there have been 237 plays in Granderson's "zone."'s page for Granderson says he's had 269 chances. The difference might be that B-R doesn't mention plays out of his zone and Fangraphs does separately. But this Fan doesn't know if that's the difference from the two sites. All this Fan knows is that both sites give Granderson -8 runs below average for his body of work this season.

Bautista, on the other hand--who has a few games at third base to muck things up a bit--has had 170 chances in the outfield or roughly 2.27 chances per game out there compared to Granderson's 2.40 chances per game. Both have made three outfield errors and Bautista has two more assists (8 to 6). But here is where it gets confusing. Granderson (according to Fangraphs) has made 52 plays out of his zone in 112 games this year compared to 55 plays out of his zone last year in 134 games. And yet, he is supposedly having a much worse year in the field this year than last. Huh? Jose Bautista has made 41 plays out of his zone in the outfield and 6 at third base but he has a better fielding rating.

And this is a dumb question probably but this Fan has asked it before and hasn't gotten an answer. And how can you learn anything if you don't ask questions, right? But say that the Fangraphs stats say that Granderson has had 237 balls in his zone and he's made 210 plays. That comes to .886 for his Revised Zone Rating, a figure lower than last year. According to that same site, Brett Gardner has made an incredible 91 plays outside of his zone as the left fielder. How many of those plays happened in Granderson's zone? Does that count against Granderson? Even if an out was made? Please, someone, let this Fan know the answer.

What this Fan does get is that according to the Fans Scouting Report, Gardner has much better instincts than Granderson and an off the chart first step. But if an out is made because Gardner gets there quicker and catches the ball in Granderson's zone, does that count negatively against Granderson?

The sheer ignorance of this writer is probably showing. A layman shouldn't be trying to write a doctoral thesis. But there is no crime in simply trying to understand. It's simple and easy to understand that Bautista is having a better offensive season than Granderson. It's easy to understand that Granderson is having a better year on the basepaths. But the fielding thing continues to boggle the mind. Give this Fan three Grandersons in the outfield over three Bautistas. But from what the numbers say, Bautista is having a better fielding season. It's darned confusing.

1 comment:

Charles Simone said...

Unfortunately, I don't know the answers to your questions, but I think they're good ones. You ask good questions because, while you don't necessarily know how the statistics are calculated, you have an inherent understanding of what they're trying to measure...because you're a knowledgeable baseball guy, not a layman, or an idiot (as you referred to yourself in a prior post).

I know you don't need me to tell you that, but I'm just saying.

I think the Bautista-Granderson comparison comes down to the fact that it's just misleading that the positional adjustment is added to each player's value as a hitter.

But, "What happens to Player A's rating when Player B catches a ball in Player A's zone?" is an excellent question, and is one worth asking someone in the know.