Friend of the blog Mike Rogers, from Fire Jim Leyland, has updated my Hardball Times fielding spreadsheet through the end of 2008. Rather than go back and monkey with mine, I’ll just use his, which he’s loaded into google docs.
Best/worst teams, ranked in runs above/below average:
1. Phillies: +61.2
2. Cardinals: 60.4
3. Braves: 59.1
4. Astros: 58.8
5. Mets: 45.7
11. Padres: 28.7
26: Rangers: -34.3
27. Orioles: -60
28. Yanks: -81.4
29. Twins: 91.4
30. Royals: -95.6
Some Padres, in order of runs saved:
Venable, CF: +16.3!
Giles, RF: 13.6
Headley, LF: 8.8
Iguchi, 2b: 5.8
Greene, SS: 3.1
Gerut, CF: -3.1
Kouzmanoff, 3b: -3.7
Hairston, CF: -4.7
Gonzalez, 1b: -12.4
Venable only played 238 innings, but he was second among all center fielders, without adjusting for playing time. That’s unreal, but of course, beware of the sample size … there are large error bars there. But let’s take a look at just how good he was. On balls in his zone, he made 53 of 54 plays, according to BIS. That’s 98% — league average in CF is 92%. Venable was +3.4 plays on balls in zone. Venable made 31 plays on out of zone balls. 31 divided by 54 equals 57%, and league average was just 28%. He was +16 plays on OOZ balls.
Now, that’s a tremendous performance, but we surely need to temper our expectations. Why? Well, basically, we should almost always temper our expectations when we’re looking at an extreme performance, either good or bad. Also, we’re talking about a tiny amount of data here, especially when we’re talking fielding stats – it takes a good couple of years of fielding data to get a good read on a player, not a small fraction of a year. Still, it’s a great performance and it at least gives us an idea of what we might be able to expect from Venable in the field. For a more realistic expectation, we could look at Rally’s projections, which have him at +4 in center and +10 in a corner. Those are based on BIS and STATS ZR and have a (heavy, for Venable anyway) regression to the mean component. Venable will be an interesting player to watch next year.
FWIW, Dewan’s plus/minus had Venable at +7 plays last year.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Gonzalez rates pretty poorly, at -12.4 runs. He was -9 plays in zone and 6.6 out of zone. Only Giambi, Morneau, and Mike Jacobs performed worse, according to this stat. Gonzalez’s fielding has never really been rated highly by the metrics, but usually it isn’t this low. Rally’s projection has him at a more reasonable +2.
With regards to some of the gold glove debate, it clearly looks like Gonzalez should not have won it. Though, like I said earlier, I don’t think it was a *terrible* selection (see Rally’s projection of +2, which is at least decent). in the NL, Pujols was +25.5 and Berkman was +21.1.
Nate McLouth was -23.7 in center. There were plenty of good choices (like Venable ; ) like Carlos Beltran (+17.3), Bourn (+14.2), Young (+10.4), etc. Somehow McLouth got it, apparently because he makes a lot of great plays. John Dewan has more on him, if you’re interested.
Another controversial one was AL shortstop, where voters appeased statheads by not choosing Derek Jeter, but, well, quickly lost any good will by picking Young. He actually wasn’t that bad at -3.9 runs, but there were probably more deserving candidates (Aviles, Scutaro, Pena, Aybar). It wasn’t a very good year defensively for AL shortstops. I think the best argument against Young is that he’s been pretty bad year after year. If you could evaluate fielding perfectly in one season, past performance wouldn’t be an issue for something like the gold glove. We’d only want to know about that season’s performance. But, fielding analysis isn’t nearly that good, so there’s a decent chance that Young was actually worse than -3 or 4 this year. Who knows. I don’t really care about the gold gloves, but the debate is sometimes interesting (and, trust me, there is plenty of debate).