The Other Fifteen

Eighty-five percent of the f---in' world is working. The other fifteen come out here.


The defensive prism

One of the things that seems to escape people about Bill James in particular, and "sabermetricians" in general, is that it's not necessarily about the numbers, but about what the numbers mean - the numbers are a tool, not the objective.

So what's the objective? To come up with the Truth - the truth about baseball. Honest-to-God objective truth. To do that, we need to use statistics - but those are just some of our tools. Better, clearing thinking doesn't necessarily need to be expressed in numbers to have power.

One concept of James that wasn't necessarily a statistic - but very much a part of sabermetric thinking - was the defensive spectrum. Simply put, some positions are harder to play than others. And players tend to move in one direction along the spectrum much more frequently than they do the other.

So it occurred to me the other day while doing the dishes that, as there are seven positions on the defensive spectrum, there are seven colors on the "traditional" spectrum. (Separating Indigo and Violet is cheating, but whatever.) So I color-coded the positions, and sorted them in the graph you see below according to runs saved. I used Sean Smith's Combined Zone Rating for reasons I can't really articulate. My defensive spectrum is backward - I have shortstops all the way on the left and first basemen all the way on the right. (Or I would, if there weren't some third basemen and left fielders determined to make it over there.) And I promoted center fielders to second on the spectrum, at the expense of second basemen.

These aren't the raw numbers - I gave everyone a positional adjustment, same as I use for calculating WAR. Same positional adjustments, actually. And I narrowed it down to 250 players, because of limitations in Excel and the roundabout way that I made the chart. I simply selected the players with the most balls in zone. And here it is:

defensive_prism

Is this meaningful? Useful? I have no earthly idea. The Zone Rating data I used is hardly the best defensive metric out there, although it may have been the best I had available in a convenient spreadsheet form for all of 2007. (PMR doesn't come in a convenient spreadsheet, and full 2007 UZR is not yet available.)

And all the usual caveats apply. There are things that Zone Rating doesn't capture to defense - throwing ability for outfielders, the double play for infielders, receiving skills for first basemen. And there are specific elements to fielding certain positions that the defensive spectrum doesn't capture - arm strength for right fielders versus left or center fielders, for example. Or handedness: left handers are generally kept from playing short, second or third - all of them premium defensive positions.

But I find it fun to look at, at least. Consider this to be me thinking aloud.

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6 Responses to “The defensive prism”

  1. # Blogger Samael2681

    Is this a hint to the Cards to play Pujols at SS to maximize value for him? I hope the Cards management sees this.  

  2. # Blogger Colin Wyers

    I'm pretty certain that the only reason Pujols became a first baseman was because Rolen was such an absurdly good fielder. His defense is... I don't want to say underrated, but certainly overshadowed by what he does on offense. I don't know about shortstop, but certainly he's capable of handling a tougher defensive position.

    And I'm pretty sure the Cardinals know this (they had MGL in their employ for a number of years; he developed the UZR fielding system and is about 80 times more knowlegable about this stuff than I am). The reason they keep Pujols at first is probably his health; he's already prone to so many minor injuries that keeping him at first is probably the only way they can be confident of having him for a full season.

    Can you just imagine Pujols as a shortstop, though? It would be amazing to think that the two greatest shortstops of our time are stuck at the infield corners. That's definately true with A-Rod, at least.  

  3. # Anonymous Maddog

    Colin, you do know that you can easily take Pinto's PMR's (he did them all by position for 2007) and query the table into an excel file, right? You can find them all here.

    It wouldn't take but a couple minutes to get all that data into an excel file.  

  4. # Anonymous Vince

    "So it occurred to me the other day while doing the dishes"

    You shouldn't be wasting your time on shit like that. You need to order one of those Filipino mail order brides to do that. Thats about all they are good for anyway.


    As a former 2nd baseman, I take exception to you moving center fielders ahead of 2nd basemen on the spectrum. And since I disagree with one sentence in your article, I fucking hate you, your fucking article and your fucking hick stathead site.

    But seriously, why you hating on the 2 baggers??  

  5. # Anonymous Maddog

    I tend to agree with Vince if simply because 2nd basemen get almost twice as many chances as CF do.  

  6. # Blogger Wild Bill

    Where can I find a reference for all the codes?  

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