Tag Archives: Adam Dunn

UZR/150 and how it can off-set offense

This won’t be a terribly long post, but I just want some people to understand what UZR is and how much defense actually accounts for a player’s total production.

UZR is ultimate zone rating.  UZR/150 is UZR over a 150-game fielding sample size.

UZR/150 is not the definitive defense statistic. Frankly, there is no statistic like that and there probably won’t be until a program called Field F/X begins to chart exactly where and how a fielder caught a flyball or fielded a groundball and how far he ran to get it.

But for now, UZR/150 is the best defense statistic for citation purposes.

How it’s calculated: A man with a computer marks each time a fielder fields a ball, whether it was a flyball or a groundball.  He then marks down which zone the ball was fielded or caught, whether there was a throw on the play and if an out was made. As the year rolls on, a complete picture begins to form on just how good the player was defensively: how far he went to catch a flyball, how good he was at converting groundballs into outs, and so on.  If I’m understanding Alex Remington’s post on Big League Stew, this is how the field is divided up:

This is what UZR counts, courtesy of SABR library:

  • Outfield Arm Runs (ARM) – the amount of runs above average an outfielder saves with their arm by preventing runners to advance.
  • Double-Play Runs (DPR) – the amount of runs above average an infielder is in turning double-plays.
  • Range Runs  (RngR) – is the player an Ozzie Smith or an Adam Dunn? Do they get to more balls than average or not?
  • Error Runs (ErrR) – does the player commit less or more errors compared with a league-average player at the position?

So long story short, it accounts for pretty much any possibility that can happen when a ball is hit into play.  Your main concern is how much weight we should put into it.

The best way to use UZR is citing three-year sample sizes.  Consider that there are three big outcomes that are completely unaffected by fielding: home runs, strike outs and walks.  These account for a lot of different outs.  Then factor in that a player’s defense will only matter for a fraction of the balls hit into play and you see why a large sample size is necessary.

The other part to consider is that human error comes into play.  Though UZR is pretty advanced, a person still has to mark into a notebook where the ball was hit and to which part of the field.

There’s also an important note about first basemen and catchers: UZR does NOT take into account the other jobs a first baseman or a catcher has: catching pitches, catching throws from short stop, and other defensive acts that are specific to the position.  So UZR should be used primarily against outfielders, third basemen, shortstops, pitchers and second basemen.

Though UZR has its flaws, it’s still a valuable tool.  Citing UZR/150 in three-year sample sizes and you can see who the best fielders in baseball are. Personally, I see UZR/150 as having 20/30 vision.  You have a very good idea of what the letters are at the 20/20 level, but it’s still fuzzy. The closer you get (the bigger sample size you receive), the better.

Note that this is completely different from hitting evaluations.  A player’s offensive output is much more static and easier to weigh because he gets so many more chances.  A player will get 670 plate appearances at the plate in a year, but sometimes only 200 chances to make an out or a play at his position.  Sometimes, he may drop a ball that should have been fielded and that’ll skew his UZR.

Now maybe the best thing about UZR/150 is it puts a player’s defensive value into runs ceded or saved.  The most fascinating thing I learned over the past few years is how much defense can off-set a player’s offensive value.

Take Adam Dunn, for instance.  Dunn is the poster child for underrated offensive players: very high on-base percentage, huge slugging percentage and he takes a ton of walks.  His defense, though, is so bad it completely off-set his offensive value in 2009, and that’s with a full 159-game season. UZR/150 and a player’s offensive output measured in Runs Created (wRC) combine to make Wins Against Replacement.  His WAR was less than Rafael Furcal’s last year. Basically, Dunn costs his team so many runs in the field that he should only be a DH.

So think about that.  Though we know so much about offensive output, we’re only just now starting to get a good grasp on a player’s defensive output. When citing UZR, remember that a total sample is best.  And that it can completely off-set any player’s offensive production.

So, with that, here’s how valuable a few Dodgers were in 2009:

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Can Dodgers afford to be patient with Loney?

I’m not gonna put a pretty picture on this.  James Loney put up a sub-.400 slugging percentage last season.

To put that into perspective, there have been 216 seasons of first basemen with more than 502 plate appearances between 2000 and 2009.  The median slugging percentage is .500.  Ryan Garko, despite being such a sub-par hitter for the position, has put up a better SLG% every year of his career than Loney put up last year. Only 16 first basemen since 2000 have had a sub-.400 slugging that (min. 502 AB), Loney and Aubrey Huff were the two to do it in 2009.  Loney did it in the second-most plate appearances (651), with Darin Erstad’s horrendous .371 slugging in 663 plate appearances in 2005 beating him.

Yes, Loney was above average compared to the rest of the league last year  But he was very bad given his position.  In fact, he was the second-worst offensive 1B last year, only ahead of Huff.  Even though he had an above-average on-base percentage for the league, 14 every day starting first basemen (out of 23) had a better on-base percentage.  Even in the one thing that gives him offensive value, he’s below league average for the position.

His one saving grace, and the one reason why fans haven’t turned on him, is that he has potential. Also that the team is winning, but that’s a blanketing statement.

Meanwhile, the core of the Dodgers is getting older and more expensive and this may be their best opportunity for a serious run before the major 2012-2015 crash from the lack of prospects in the minors.

Fangraphs had a very good post about Loney.  I don’t see what other people see in Loney’s swing.  It’s very smooth, but it doesn’t look like he’s loading power.  It looks like he’s deliberately not swinging for power most times.  As the Fangraphs article points out, he’s actually very good at spraying the ball to the opposite field, but he’s not swinging for pull as much as he should be–that’s where his power is.

I always try to keep things in perspective.  Big Klu didn’t come around immediately either.  That’s how it works with prospects.  It’s up to them to reach their potential.

Ted Kluszewski, however, had one above-average power year before his age 28 season. At first base, no less.

Now I’m not saying Loney will turn into Klu. Klu is a comparable, but he didn’t have Loney’s patience and patience is associated with a lot of good things in hitting.  The problem is, if Loney’s best years are still ahead of him, or even three years ahead of him, can the Dodgers afford to wait for that?

First base is a premiere hitter’s position.  Basically you want your best power hitters with no redeeming defensive qualities in these positions, by order: LF, 1B, RF, 3B, 2B, CF, C/SS.  That’s kind of old school theory, but it’s correct. Maybe you’d rather have your worst fielder in RF because fewer balls go there (now there’s a cool study), but 1B is a great position because it doesn’t require much fielding and throwing.

The Dodgers right now are fortunate enough to have the best center fielder hitter in the game.  Take his production and put it at 1B and it’s still valuable. They also have solid to above-average hitting (compared to other players in position) from third base, second base right field, left field and catcher.

Originally I thought maybe moving Ethier to first base and signing a free agent outfielder would be the best, since Ethier is such an awful outfielder. But Manny leaving next year means there’s already going to be one hole in the outfield and there is, right now, no outfielder in the minors that’s prepared to jump to the majors.

There’s a number of decent free agents available in the 2011 free agency pool at 1B and OF: Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn, Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena, Lyle Overbay and the potentially awesome return to Los Angeles of Jayson Werth.  (There’s also the potential of the Cardinals not paying Pujols’ option, and same with the Astros and Berkman, but both ideas are laughable).

The team will also have a number of their players going through huge arbitration hearings over the next three years and will need to value their money properly.  This goes for Kemp, Kershaw, Martin, Billingsley, Broxton and Sherrill, in addition to Loney.

Assuming the core of young talent becomes expensive, a cheap alternative wherever it can be found is necessary.  So Loney, even though he’s not that great offensively, becomes remarkably valuable in dollar terms.

The OF market won’t be so strong that the Dodgers can pick up two valuable outfielders for reasonable prices. The only reasonable solution would be to sign both Crawford and Werth or maybe sign Dunn to play 1B and Crawford or Werth, with Ethier remaining in the outfield.  In that latter one, you’re giving up A LOT on defense.  And that’s assuming the bidding war for those players’ services doesn’t exceed the Dodgers’ budget.

Long story short, the drop in the level of production from

Ethier OF-Loney 1B-replacement OF
to
Ethier 1B-replacement OF-replacement OF

would be too great, and that’s made even worse if the Dodgers’ money woes continue into next year.  The Dodgers would then have to trade Loney, and they’d have to give up more than they get in that.  The only suitable replacement would have to be someone so great, he supercedes Loney and the replacement outfielder’s production–and that’s basically just Pujols.

Alternatively, every free agent 1B on the market has had serious injury issues or just isn’t that good.  The only one I would consider a bigger gain than loss over Loney would be either Carlos Pena or Adam Dunn, though those two aren’t so great to warrant replacing Loney.  (Dunn, fyi, is such a bad outfielder that he almost literally negates his offensive value).

So yeah.  Maybe Loney’s not the best offensive 1B, but he’s the Dodgers’ 1B.  Hopefully he develops into his full potential, but if he doesn’t, he’s still a valuable asset to the Dodgers.

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PECOTA is probably wrong

This can’t be right.

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA league standings projection system came out today and it’s all over the blagoblag.

The projections, which twice correctly predicted huge jumps in the standings in 2008 for the Tampa Bay Rays and 2006 for the Chicago White Sox, had a very bad year last year and another bad year might cause people to look to other projection systems or maybe ignore the process.

PECOTA uses an intriguing system.  Started by SABR legend Nate Silver, it mapped every career ever had by any player in history and then applied those career arcs to the players with similar production–like I said in an earlier post, baseball is fortunate enough to have such an enormous sample size to take from.  From there, it extracted what the likelihood of the player’s production would be–10% (bad), 50% (average for him) and 90% (way above average).  Then it takes those player predictions, combines them into a team’s total run production (and prevention on pitching and defense) and voila! You have your pythagorian win-loss record.

One reason why PECOTA had such a bad year in 2009 wasn’t because of bad luck–PECOTA projections do not account for injury, trades or other things that come into play during a season–it’s because it projected inaccurately.* Even by pythagorian record, the A’s and Angels were swapped. The Indians and the Diamondbacks just plain old stunk. Craig Calcaterra pointed out PECOTA predicted one of the most amazing seasons in history by a rookie catcher for Matt Weiters and they were pretty far off.

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