The Elements of Cubs Fielding, Part 1

Will and I have lately been examing the very same things that made me love advanced baseball statistics: player evaluations! Or, better yet, player re-valuations. Will was looking through the UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) statistics for several current Cubs defensive starters, and we came across these nifty observations that non-sabermetrics statistics miss (I'm looking at you, Joe Morgan): 

Will observed: "I remember when callers would call in to WGN and whine about Soriano and protest that Lou move him to 2B, but after looking at [his] 2B [UZR], he's absolutely HORRENDOUS! In LF he's much better. Not only that but he's only had one bad year (2009) in LF where his defensive numbers make me want to vomit."

Alfonso Soriano absolutely flies like a gazelle and throws a frozen rope (his ARM runs above average are at 22 with only four years in LF); however, he's slightly below average (and below average in the MLB can mean you're on the bench) with his error rate. In other words, he's does everything better than most can do, except he has boneheaded plays too often (the same problem he had with 2B, which is a more pivotal position with a higher quantity of error possibilities). But guess which stat the average broadcaster/fan/MLB manager looks at? His error rate, thereby ignoring the fact that he's actually been overall productive in left. 

Will went on to say: "Derek Jeter. You know I used to think Jeter was an all-around stud defensively but the UZR numbers proved me wrong. Going back to 2002, he's below average (with some horrendous years in 05/07)."

Yuck. He's absolutely got no range whatsoever. Every ball he can reach, it's almost a guaranteed out, but he can reach about as many as I can when I try to put my hands through my TV set. BUT: He makes very few errors and looks fundamentally sound when he fields. THEREFORE: Announcers and managers drool over this guy, who's cost his team something like 33 runs during his career -- that's big for one man (of course, his bat adds a metric ton too). My first act as his manager? Move him to second. 

Will: "The reason I bring [Jeter] up is because of Ryan Theriot.  Looking at the UZR numbers, he's actually not that bad...maybe even slightly better than average.  Good year defensively last year.  He actually had a better year than Jimmy Rollins (check his stats too).  I would say Theriot is our second best defensive player behind Fukudome (at least Kosuke in RF)."

Theriot's an above average fielder (not the greatest), but oddly enough he's the best on our team. Throw in his steady bat, patient eye, and speed on the basepaths: hey! you've an excellent player on your hands. Can you believe he has a reputation among fans and announcers for being a bad fielder? The funny thing is: Jeter, who has no range, doesn't have nearly as many opportunities to catch an error as somebody like Theriot, who can reach a LOT more balls in play because of his range. 

Up Next: Kosuke Fukudome, Aramis Ramirez, and Derrek Lee!

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  1. Problems I see with Theriot at SS.

    He doesn't charge grounders, he waits back on everything that's hit to him and then he has to fire the ball as hard as he can to 1st base to get the runner.

    His arm isn't strong enough to throw runners out when he's running to his right into the hole.

    His lateral range left and right is limited. He rarely makes plays up the middle and in the hole.

    I love Theriot; I was one of the few in 2005 screaming at Dusty to start him. His minor league stats suggest the Cubs screwed him by not getting him up sooner to the Bigs. The whole switch hitter thing cost him 2 years stuck at AAA. If the Cubs learned one thing this past season, I hope it’s the realization that Theriot should never hit lead off again, EVER!

    He's a 2 hole hitter or an 8 hole hitter. He becomes far more aggressive leading off and no longer draws walks as a result. Which explains the horrible drop off he had this season in regards to obp and his bad BB/K ratio when compared to ‘07 and ‘08...