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Thread: Do we really consider defense?

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    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Do we really consider defense?

    As the end of year award balloting heats up, it's become increasingly clear to me that the lack of a standard method of defensive valuation is really skewing our notion of value.

    Ryan Braun has been a monster at the plate... and disastrous in the field. You can virtually take your pick of stats and he's the worst 3B in baseball defensively.

    Prince Fielder is destroying the ball and yet is one of the worst 1B in baseball.

    So, as people go about evaluating players, how they account for this? Do they come up with some basic offensive value and some defensive value, add the two together, and then see where people stand? I would suggest they do not.

    Rather, I think that most people look at the offensive numbers, decide where everybody stands, and then move people up or down a little bit based on a qualitative estimation of defensive ability. A little extra credit here, a tie-breaker there. In doing so, I think people are severely discounting the effect of defense.

    (Big props to Justin Inaz and his superb Reds blog: http://jinaz-reds.blogspot.com)

    I won't go through the whole exercise, because Justin did so well, but here's the most blatant example, using THTs +/- Runs metric. (yes, no defensive metric is perfect, and occasionally they even disagree -- this is one I've found to be extremely consistent with scouting and other accepted metrics and is logically sound)

    NL MVP Race:
    3B Wright: +27.6 runs
    1B Fielder: -9.0 runs
    2B Utley: +20.5 runs
    SS Rolllins: -2.4 runs
    SS Ramirez: -22.2 runns
    RF Holliday: +8.2 runs

    Now, even if we were to assume that these guys were equal offensively (which they are not) and have generated 90 runs each with their bats, look at the effect of defense. There's a net 50 run swing between Wright and H-Ram. It's not even close. Wright gets a 30% boost to his value, whereas Ramirez cuts his by 25%. Wright becomes arguably the best player in baseball and Hanley goes from the 2nd most productive player in baseball, to just pretty good. Crazy huh?

    Look at the NL ROY:
    3B Braun: -30.6
    SS Tulowitski: +27.9
    CF Pence: +4.7

    If you take a wholistic view of offense and defensive truly added together on the same scale, Bruan loses half his value. Now, if Braun had hit .270/.350/.475, 18 HR with decent defense, would anybody be talking about him as ROY? By Justin's methodology, Braun becomes just marginally more productive than fellow rookie Kevin Kouzmanoff, who is on nobody's radar. Add in some park factors and he might even be worse.

    I know the defensive metric debate continues and by no means do I think we have "the" answer. However, I think we should be careful about giving defense it's due. Not having a perfect metric is no reason for not trying to incorporate defense in to our valuation process in some quantitative fashion.

    At the risk of starting another "Dunn thread", if Dunner hit just .250/.340/.475 and played a solid LF, would you still want to build the team around him? Some guys who are like that? Ryan Church and Hideki Matsui. Raul Ibanez fits the offensive profile. Using THTs +/- runs, Eric Byrnes was worth 40 runs more than Dunn defensively this year. Even taking away his 50 SB, he might have been more valuable. I think we have a tendency to give lip service to defense, without really considering it's impact. We talk up Dunn's .900+ OPS, but don't think of how much his defense drags that down in terms of overall value.

    By no means am I'm saying give me a team of John McDonalds and Doug Mientkiewiczs. However, let's honestly ask ourselves, how much of our run prevention problem is really a function of pitching, and how many runs are we giving away by fielding sub-par defenders? It might be more than you think.
    Last edited by RedsManRick; 09-28-2007 at 11:28 AM.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

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  3. #2
    So Long Uncle Joe BoydsOfSummer's Avatar
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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    Wow, is Hanley Ramirez really that bad? I haven't seen him play enough to notice, but that surprises me.
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    The Boss dougdirt's Avatar
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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    I have gone through Justins defensive stuff, and while I have an untrained eye, it seems to be fairly accurate to me. I know of some others who simply think its insane to suggest what his numbers actually suggest. I had an argument of Curtis Granderson versus Grady Sizemore and who was more valuable. I quoted Justins numbers and Granderson is a +32.2 runs defender, while Sizemore is -19.9, which is a difference in over 50 runs on defensive value. Is the gap truly that big? I don't know, but even if we cut that number in half, its pretty much making a HUGE difference in the value of a player.

    As far as Hanley Ramirez on defense, only Ramirez and Jeter are worse than -19 runs at shortstop in baseball.

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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    Quote Originally Posted by RedsManRick View Post
    As the end of year award balloting heats up, it's become increasingly clear to me that the lack of a standard method of defensive valuation is really skewing our notion of value.

    Ryan Braun has been a monster at the plate... and disastrous in the field. You can virtually take your pick of stats and he's the worst 3B in baseball defensively.

    Prince Fielder is destroying the ball and yet is one of the worst 1B in baseball.

    So, as people go about evaluating players, how they account for this? Do they come up with some basic offensive value and some defensive value, add the two together, and then see where people stand? I would suggest they do not.

    Rather, I think that most people look at the offensive numbers, decide where everybody stands, and then move people up or down a little bit based on a qualitative estimation. In doing so, I think people are severely discounting the effect of defense. Let's take that extreme case of defense.

    (Big Props to Justin Inaz and his superb Reds blog: http://jinaz-reds.blogspot.com)

    I won't go through the whole exercise, because Justin did so well, but here's the most blatant example, using THTs +/- Runs metric. (yes, no defensive metric is perfect, and occasionally they even disagree -- this in one I've found to be extremely consistent with scouting and other accepted metrics)

    NL MVP Race:
    3B Wright: +27.6 runs
    1B Fielder: -9.0 runs
    2B Utley: +20.5 runs
    SS Rolllins: -2.4 runs
    SS Ramirez: -22.2
    RF Holliday: +8.2 runs

    Now, even if we were to assume that these guys were equal offensively (which they are not) and have generated 90 runs each with their bats, look at the effect of defense. There's a net 50 run swing between Wright and H-Ram. It's not even close. Wright gets a 30% boost to his value, whereas Ramirez cuts his by 25. Wright becomes arguably the best player in baseball and Hanley becomes mediocre. Crazy huh?

    Look at the NL ROY:
    3B Braun: -30.6
    SS Tulowitski: +27.9
    CF Pence: +4.7

    If you take a wholistic view of offense and defensive truly added together on the same scale, Bruan loses half his value. Now, if Braun had hit .270/.350/.475, 18 HR with decent defense, would anybody be talking about him as ROY?

    I know the defensive metric debate continues and by no means do I think we have "the" answer. However, I think we should be careful about giving defense it's due. Not having a perfect metric is no reason for not trying to incorporate defense in to our valuation process in some quantitative fashion.

    At the risk of starting another "Dunn thread", if Dunner hit just .250/.340/.475 and played a solid LF, would you still want to build the team around him? Some guys who are like that? Ryan Church and Hideki Matsui. Raul Ibanez fits the offensive profile. Using THTs +/- runs, Eric Byrnes was worth 40 runs more than Dunn defensively this year. Even taking away his 50 SB, he might have been more valuable. I think we have a tendency to give lip service to defense, without really considering it's impact. We talk up Dunn's .900+ OPS, but don't think of how much his defense drags that down in terms of overall value.

    By no means am I'm saying give me a team of John McDonalds and Doug Mientkiewiczs. However, let's honestly ask ourselves, how much of our run prevention problem is really a function of pitching, and how many runs are we giving away by fielding sub-par defenders? It might be more than you think.
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    Rally Onion! Chip R's Avatar
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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    The better you do offensively, the more your defense is overlooked and vice versa.
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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    Quote Originally Posted by Chip R View Post
    The better you do offensively, the more your defense is overlooked and vice versa.
    Right, but I think what RMR is trying to say is that it shouldn't be that way. Despite how good some players are offensively at their position (Derek Jeter for example), their defense negates so much of it that its incredible and makes the player almost barely above replacement level.

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    Rally Onion! Chip R's Avatar
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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    Quote Originally Posted by dougdirt View Post
    Right, but I think what RMR is trying to say is that it shouldn't be that way. Despite how good some players are offensively at their position (Derek Jeter for example), their defense negates so much of it that its incredible and makes the player almost barely above replacement level.

    I agree but that's the way it is. Dunn's a perfect example. I'm not sure if his defense is any better than it was last year but he's hitting for a higher average and striking out less so people are not talking as negatively about his defense as they did last year or earlier in the season.
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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    But Dunn's defense has improved; in fact it's the best it's been in several seasons... .976 with six errors. He actually isn't as bad as he's made out to be, while others are made out to be better than they actually are.
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    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    Quote Originally Posted by dougdirt View Post
    Right, but I think what RMR is trying to say is that it shouldn't be that way. Despite how good some players are offensively at their position (Derek Jeter for example), their defense negates so much of it that its incredible and makes the player almost barely above replacement level.
    Quote Originally Posted by Chip R View Post
    I agree but that's the way it is. Dunn's a perfect example. I'm not sure if his defense is any better than it was last year but he's hitting for a higher average and striking out less so people are not talking as negatively about his defense as they did last year or earlier in the season.
    The thing is, you are both right. We'll take that league average offensive player, and rightly recognize that his poor defense basically turns him in to a replacement level contributor. However, when it comes to the star level players, we often don't go through the same calculus. We aren't' willing to take that step that says Derek Jeter was actually about as productive as Alex Gonzalez in 2007...

    The problem is one of both reality (failure of teams to act on this) and perception, as evidenced in award balloting and discussion.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

  11. #10
    Charlie Brown All-Star IslandRed's Avatar
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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    Quote Originally Posted by dougdirt View Post
    I have gone through Justins defensive stuff, and while I have an untrained eye, it seems to be fairly accurate to me. I know of some others who simply think its insane to suggest what his numbers actually suggest. I had an argument of Curtis Granderson versus Grady Sizemore and who was more valuable. I quoted Justins numbers and Granderson is a +32.2 runs defender, while Sizemore is -19.9, which is a difference in over 50 runs on defensive value. Is the gap truly that big? I don't know, but even if we cut that number in half, its pretty much making a HUGE difference in the value of a player.
    I wonder if some metrics overstate the case a bit. Let's take David Wright and Ryan Braun. According to those numbers above, Wright is nearly 60 runs better defensively than Braun. Think about that for a second. For a league-median team that allows about 750 runs over a season, they're implying that Braun vs. Wright could explain 8% of a team's runs allowed. Out of every 12.5 runs that would cross the dish, one of them could be laid at the feet of the lousy third baseman. That just doesn't intuitively compute.

    I'm sure the state of the art has advanced, but back in Moneyball, the A's derivative-based system that did everything possible to strip out luck decided that 15 runs separated Johnny Damon, a pretty good center fielder at the time, from Terrence Long, a truly execrable one. For what it's worth, I think that's too low. But systems that routinely produce 50-60 run spreads between the best and worst are probably too high, in my opinion. I don't think there are that many outliers in this day and age.
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    Rally Onion! Chip R's Avatar
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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    Quote Originally Posted by TeamBoone View Post
    But Dunn's defense has improved; in fact it's the best it's been in several seasons... .976 with six errors. He actually isn't as bad as he's made out to be, while others are made out to be better than they actually are.

    He's not going to make anyone forget Willie Mays out there - or Willie Mays Hayes, for that matter - but while he may be a little better than he was last year, he's still below average.

    But that's the point we're making. Just like the Gold Glove is not always awarded to the best defensive player, guys who hit very well get a break on their defense. There may be a few fans in BOS who want to get rid of Manny Ramirez because his OF defense is not good but most take a whimsical approach to it because he hits very, very well. If Manny were an average or just an above average hitter he would receive more flack for his defense than he does now. It's why Juan Castro gets a pass on being a poor offensive player. He has a reputation as being an outstanding defensive player that his lack of contribution offensively is overlooked.

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    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    Quote Originally Posted by TeamBoone View Post
    But Dunn's defense has improved; in fact it's the best it's been in several seasons... .976 with six errors. He actually isn't as bad as he's made out to be, while others are made out to be better than they actually are.
    It depends on how you measure it. Using the aforementioned +/- Runs system, Dunn clocked in at -18.1 runs. Of the 45 guys with 300+ innings in LF, only Pat Burrell and Manny Ramirez were worse. Better than he was in the past? Maybe. Good? Hardly.

    When it comes to OF, errors are far less important than range. You can drop a flyball and it turns a would-be out in to a double or you can come up a step short and it turns a would-be out in to a double. Guess which one is more frequent? Guess which one counts as an error? Heck, how many times does a ball drop 5 feet ahead of him that a better fielder would've been camped under. That sort of play barely touches our radar, but it adds up.

    FLD% is like batting average. It counts the freuqency of some thing happen. Unfortunately, that thing is not inclusive of all the important events and is in no way weighted for the impact.

    FWIW, Griffey was 2nd worst in RF and Hamilton was merely below average in CF, whereas Hopper was average, and Freel above average.

    And IR, I agree, the scale of that metric seems a bit stretched out to me too. But even if you cut it in half, there are some very real adjustments that need to be made to our perception of overall value. And Chip is really refinforcing the point that I most wanted to make; defense is simply ignored way too often. We have this ambivalent approach where we sometime count defense and sometimes don't.

    You'll often get this argument "Player X is a superb offensive player whose offensive value is somewhat offset by his poor defense. But, all told, he's still a great player". In reality it should be, "Player X is a superb offensive player whose offensive value is somewhat offset by his poor defense. Therefore, we shouldn't consider him amongst the best players."

    It's:
    Great Offense + Poor Defense = Great Player

    When it should be:
    Great Offense + Poor Defense = Pretty Good Player

    Good luck finding somebody who will say "All things considered Derek Jeter is an average SS" or "Manny Ramirez is an average LF".
    Last edited by RedsManRick; 09-28-2007 at 12:25 PM.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

  14. #13
    The Boss dougdirt's Avatar
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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    Quote Originally Posted by IslandRed View Post
    I wonder if some metrics overstate the case a bit. Let's take David Wright and Ryan Braun. According to those numbers above, Wright is nearly 60 runs better defensively than Braun. Think about that for a second. For a league-median team that allows about 750 runs over a season, they're implying that Braun vs. Wright could explain 8% of a team's runs allowed. Out of every 12.5 runs that would cross the dish, one of them could be laid at the feet of the lousy third baseman. That just doesn't intuitively compute.

    I'm sure the state of the art has advanced, but back in Moneyball, the A's derivative-based system that did everything possible to strip out luck decided that 15 runs separated Johnny Damon, a pretty good center fielder at the time, from Terrence Long, a truly execrable one. For what it's worth, I think that's too low. But systems that routinely produce 50-60 run spreads between the best and worst are probably too high, in my opinion. I don't think there are that many outliers in this day and age.
    I think its all a matter of position. What percentage of baseballs in a third basemans zone are going for doubles down the line? Same thing with outfielders.... how many balls that they don't get to are turning into extra base hits. It doesn't take many XBH to turn into a few runs. For shortstops and second baseman, balls they don't get to seem to turn into singles almost every time, and then likewise, the plays they don't make, in theory anyways, are not hurting as bad... of course, they get so many more chances than the other positions, it all evens out probably.

    While I am not sure there is a 60 run difference between Wright and Braun, even if we divide that in half, its still a huge difference in value between the two players.

  15. #14
    The Boss dougdirt's Avatar
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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    Quote Originally Posted by RedsManRick View Post
    Hamilton was merely below average in CF, whereas Hopper was average, and Freel above average.
    Funny you bring that up, I noticed that there were three CFers over 30, then the next closest was around 15 (going off the top of my head here). I found that to be very interesting that 3 guys were just so much better than the rest of the guys in baseball that they almost doubled the 4th best player at such an important position.

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    Re: Do we really consider defense?

    Quote Originally Posted by RedsManRick View Post
    I won't go through the whole exercise, because Justin did so well, but here's the most blatant example, using THTs +/- Runs metric. (yes, no defensive metric is perfect, and occasionally they even disagree -- this is one I've found to be extremely consistent with scouting and other accepted metrics and is logically sound)
    Except that the +/- Runs when applied to defense isn't actually logically sound. There's no way on Earth that Ryan Braun is worth negative 30 Runs defensively. Here's why:

    The expected Plays/BIZ for a third baseman is .706. According to THT's numbers (which I do not trust), Braun has seen 219 Balls in Zone this season and has made 123 "Plays". That means Braun is 32 Plays short of the .706 standard. Unless every one of those Plays projects to be an inside the park Home Run, there simply isn't enough opportunity for Braun to be worth -30+ Runs defensively; and that's even if we factor in that he appears to reach fewer OOZ balls than your average 3B (@-12 OOZ Plays).

    Even if we trust THT's wonky BIZ/OOZ data, we're looking at a total of 44 missing plays by Braun versus expected results. And those plays are allegedly good for around minus 30 defensive Runs? Sorry, but that's quite literally impossible.
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