Whose arm helps the team, and whose hurts it?

The statistical (non-)impact of PED use
Roberts book to be even worse

When discussing outfield defense, there are two main factors to consider: range and arm. So often we get caught up in the range aspect of the equation, and for good reason. You can conceivably save more runs by having more range than you can by having a solid arm. That’s not to say that an arm doesn’t play into things. In fact, the guys at FanGraphs thought it mattered enough to come up with ARM, which means outfield arm runs. It’s just another way the baseball community is improving upon defensive metrics.

You can check out the league leaderboard here. Only outfielders qualify, and beyond that it appears there’s a minimum game requirement. That’s per position, not overall in the outfield. We’ll get to that issue in just a second. For now, let us ogle the Orioles outfield. Nick Markakis checked in second overall in the league with a 6.8 ARM, trailing only Hunter Pence (an astounding 8.6). With a UZR of 10.1, it looks like he could be the best defensive right fielder in the league. Playing to Markakis’s right is Adam Jones, who checks in with a 3.2 ARM and a 10.3 UZR. With that type of production, couldn’t they afford to put Adam Dunn and his -14.9 UZR and -3.7 ARM in left? I guess not. For now they’ll have Luke Scott (-0.6 ARM, 4.7 UZR) and Felix Pie (0.5 ARM, -1.2 UZR in a small 2008 sample).

I first read about this at Beyond the Boxscore, where they listed the best and worst arms in the league. I fully expected Johnny Damon to be in the bottom crew, but alas he is not. Why? Apparently he didn’t have enough innings at one position to qualify. That’s my best guess at this point. FanGraphs’ list cuts off at 43 names, all of whom had more than Damon’s 659.1 innings at one outfield position. Damon did log 285 innings in center, though. Adding up his ARM stats, he’s at -2.7 in 944.1 innings, which would put him at 11th worst in the league. Of course, most of the guys worse than him played considerably more innings, so when you rate out the stats (ARM/150, anyone?), he could easily look worse.

You can check out the Yanks leaderboard here. Brett Gardner destroyed everyone on the team, posting a 3.9 ARM in just 160.2 innings. One might say that’s a small sample size inflating his number, but in left field he posted a 1.0 ARM over 145.1 innings. The Melk Man posted a 0.2 ARM in center, though in a much smaller sample he was far better at the corners, posting a 0.4 ARM over 18 innings in left, and a 0.5 ARM over 23.2 innings in right.

FanGraphs also released DPR, or double play runs. Their definition:

The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, based on the number double plays versus the number forces at second they get, as compared to an average fielder at that position, given the speed and location of the ball and the handedness of the batter.

Sounds a bit complex. In any case, you’ll never guess who ranked among the worst in the league. Yep, Mr. Derek Sanderson Jeter. Fielding numbers are just out to get this guy. He ranked fifth worst in the league, ahead of Freddy Sanchez, Brian Roberts, Placido Polanco, and Yunel Escobar. For anyone interested, of the Yankees last year to turn in a positive DPR, only one is still with the team: Cody Ransom. The others were Morgan Ensberg, Wilson Betemit, and Alberto Gonzalez. A-Rod came in at zero.

What do these fancy defensive metrics tell us? No, they don’t determine who has the best outfield arm, or who turns the slickest double play. Those we can judge with our eyes. Instead, these stats measure what happened. Who saved more runs with their arm in the outfield? ARM can tell you. Who was the best at turning double plays? DPR can tell you. They’re results-oriented, not talent oriented. For all we know, Derek Jeter might turn a pretty double play. But as far as the results last year, he and Robinson Cano weren’t the best DP combo in the league.

The statistical (non-)impact of PED use
Roberts book to be even worse
  • Mike R.

    I think that Gardner could make up for his bat in CF. Who was the last real defensive whiz we had out there?

    • kem

      I agree 100% if gardner can even be decent at the plate there is absolutley no reason the yankees should not be able to score enough runs to win games with the rest of the lineup that they have and that is even more the reason to keep nady and swisher if swish is ur everyday right fielder u can rotate matsui nady damon in left and dh and you still have a solid threat from the bench to pinch hit for garner late in games

  • Tom Zig

    I wonder how Paul O’Neill would have scored…

    • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      He lead the league in WRM (Watercoolers Ravaged and Mashed)

  • Dave

    This is a response to the post about arod stats analysis:

    Ben,

    Recover faster? Yes. Stay healthy longer? I am skeptical about that. There is overwhelming evidence to the contrary in fact. Players and anyone who used steroids seem to get hurt earlier in their careers, go on the decline faster and more often because their body starts to break down. I know bonds played until he was older as did clemens but both of them have dealt with their fair share of health problems as well. i can see if you said that roids helps you play better when you are older but I really doubt that it helps you stay healthier as you age, I will try to see what i can find out about that and get back to you but all of the available facts seem to contradict that sentiment. And even if one were to assume that roids helps you stay healthy and these guys health problems came as a result of cycling off them i could certainly buy that but then, what does that have to do with arod? And further, arod was 26, 27 and 28 I believe when he was using on texas. Was he really that likely to get injured on roids or not?

    Finally, arod had over 600 at bats all three seasons on the rangers. I think it is safe to say he did not need the roids to recover faster from any sort of injury during that time to gain an edge as he did not have any. I really think that the roids only helped him marginally if at all as he was the best player in the game in his prime already. he didnt become a monster on texas. He hit a few more homeruns in a right handed power hitter friendly Arlington Park.

    His homerun total was probably more impacted by the park factor than the roids. The only thing I see in his numbers that really do look like they may have been caused by the roids was his 2004 season and the year after he claims he came off them. The stats reflect that notion very well as that was the worst season he had gone through since 1997 after six straight years of sustained excellence he came back down to earth a bit. He actually put up similar numbers last year though so it may have just been his difficult times adjusting to NY and the pressure as well. There is just no solid proof anywhere when looking through his numbers that steroids gave him any sort of help padding his stats.

    • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      “This is a response to the post about arod stats analysis:”

      So… Post the comment in that thread, maybe?

      • Tom Zig

        or e-mail it to the guys

      • Dave

        Why would i post it in a thread that no one is checking or posting in anymore? And I did post it in that thread but you know why you didnt know that? Because no one is checking the last thread anymore. Like 20 separate conversations goes on in one thread alone anyway. I dont really see what the difference is. I just actually wanted people to see the post is all.

        Also, why do people continual say melky is the far better defender if gardner was leaps and bounds ahead of melky in these defensive metrics. If gardner is significantly better than melky defensively and has the best speed in the organization and more patience at the plate in his minor league career, I dont see a reason why we wouldnt head to the bronx with gardner in tow?

        If melky has amazing spring, I would take hi but otherwise, its a tough call. He is running out of options and I really dont think melky is going to be in pinstripes a heck of a lot longer unless he turns things around early and often. I have zero faith in him and thought he wouldnt be starting by last season but some people still keep the faith due to his arizona league numbers. I dont think those can prove anything for melky. He needs to learn how to hit and how to walk once again or he is going to run out of options might quickly.

        • http://poormansanalyst.wordpress.com/ dan

          Is this the same Dave from LoHud that Pete hated on today? He deleted all of your off-topic posts there, so you post them on this thread? Not every thread is an open thread. It’s not just annoying to Ben, Mike, and Joe, it’s annoying to everyone who reads and comments here.

          • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Furthermore, if you’ve got an “ARod and Steroids” comment, just wait… I’m fricking POSITIVE the topic will come up again.

          • Count Zero

            Is this the same Dave from LoHud that Pete hated on today?

            It’s a stretch, but I’m gonna go with “yes” on that one. If it looks like a duck, etc.

        • Andy In Sunny Daytona

          When did Melky play in Arizona?

        • steve (different one)

          Also, why do people continual say melky is the far better defender if gardner was leaps and bounds ahead of melky in these defensive metrics.

          b/c defensive metrics have almost NO VALUE for a sample as small as Gardner’s?

          • steve (different one)

            also, WHO says Melky is “the far better defender”?

    • steve (different one)

      His homerun total was probably more impacted by the park factor than the roids.

      if you just typed this one sentence, you could have saved the other 3 paragraphs.

      • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Brevity is really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really good.

  • Tom Zig

    OH and how did Betemit have a positive DPR? Maybe i was just blinded by my dislike for him, but I swear he was a worse fielder and DP turner than jeter.

    • John

      Luck…

  • http://ranger2709.blogspot.com Old Ranger

    We are done with the A-Rod Rods aren’t we?

    Ok! It seems as though we may just have a CF on our hands. Some of the stats are showing Brett as being better then some of the “Experts” say he could be. Now, if he can hit/walk enough to win/keep the job, I’ll be happy.
    Mentioned in one of the posts that our out field this year could stack up as; Johnny-LF, Brett-CF, Swisher-RF with Melky/Nady as the bench.
    Next year I believe there is a chance of A-Jax playing LF with Brett in CF and Swisher in RF and Melky all three. The kicker was that All of them can play all three positions, with the exception of Brett. Brett is a CF and has not really played well in the corners…I think it’s because he really never played much RF or LF until this year at AA/AAA.
    Now if Cervelli shows his stuff in spring training!?!?!

    • whozat

      “Ok! It seems as though we may just have a CF on our hands. Some of the stats are showing Brett as being better then some of the “Experts” say he could be. Now, if he can hit/walk enough to win/keep the job, I’ll be happy.”

      Garder’s MLB stats are a very small sample size. Defensive stats are especially prone to sample size problems.

      Brett Gardner is fast. Period. There is disagreement about the quality of his D among people who’ve seen him play. Just because he’s fast doesn’t mean he’s a great defender…it could simply mean that, despite taking poor routes to balls, he’s still league average. He could even LOOK stellar to an ill-educated eye because he runs full-out and makes running catches that (say) Beltran glides to easily because he’s a better ballplayer.

      Yes, AS LONG AS he gets on base better than league average, he will not be a drag on the team. However…his defense is not going to make up for a sub-.700 OPS.

      • Andy In Sunny Daytona

        This defensive stat is deceptive. It should weigh heavily toward young, unestablished arms. In 2007 Jeff Franceour had a 16.5 rating and Melky had a 5.4 rating, but they both went down in 2008. Maybe both of their arms good progressively worse or runners didn’t challenge their arms as often. I’m no Bill James, but I think I’ll go with the latter.
        I hope Brett can establish his arm in the same fashion as Melky.

        • Andy In Sunny Daytona

          “got progressively” (I’m no Daniel Webster either)

          • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            You have let Melvin down.

            • Andy In Sunny Daytona

              I’m going to some Spring Training games. I’ll wander around the minor league facilities, and see if I can find him and take a picture with him. I can be his Hype Man.

  • Scott of 3 Kids Tickets

    via PeteAbe: The Post reported today that long-time (as in 21 years) team physical Stuart Hershon is stepping down and will be replaced by Dr. Chris Ahmad.

    -Scott

  • Sweet Dick Willie

    When discussing outfield defense, there are two main factors to consider: range and arm.

    From first hand experience, we Yankee fans know that “fear of the wall” must also be considered.

    • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      The first rule of Bobby Abreu is: you do not talk about outfield defense.
      The second rule of Bobby Abreu is: YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT OUTFIELD DEFENSE.

      • Count Zero

        ietc

  • MattG

    I wish I shared the Brett enthusiasm. I feel like everyone’s enjoying a sunny day, and I’m Chicken Little.

    Let me ask you this–name a player that you think Brett Gardner’s career might look like, if he maxed out his ability.

    I’ll kick it off. I’ll give him Bip Roberts. We’ve got no defensive numbers on Bip, but he managed to eek 12 years out of a .358/.380 career–I’m gonna guess he was better than fair.

    I would love for Brett Gardner to have Bip Roberts’ career. I wouldn’t necessarily love it to be with the Yankees, though (although sign me up for .358/.380 for 2009 right now!).

    • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Brett Butler? That’s probably his ceiling… but Brett Butler, minor league stats demolish Gardners.

    • steve (different one)

      not Bip Roberts, but DAVE Roberts is the comp i like to use.

      Dave Roberts had some pretty good seasons, and his numbers in the minors look a lot like Gardner’s.

      i think the Yankees would be THRILLED with that.

      i think the problem is that a lot of people seem to think Gardner’s ceiling is Rickey Hendersen….

      • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Yeah, I’d be totally cool with Dave Roberts. I think people who think Gardner is going to be a starter for the next 10 years are fooling themselves, but Gardner’s definitely capable of being a useful backup outfielder for a long time.

        A slap hitter with a .260/.340/.360 and 40-70 steals isn’t a starter, but it’s a damn useful player to have on your bench.

      • http://ranger2709.blogspot.com Old Ranger

        Damn, I hope not! There will be a lot of disappointed people if they think that.

      • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

        i think the problem is that a lot of people seem to think Gardner’s ceiling is Rickey Hendersen

        That’s ridiculous. I’d say his ceiling is like…Willie Randolph–a slap hitting, on-base-getting good defender.

        • http://ranger2709.blogspot.com Old Ranger

          Got it right! Be nice, wouldn’t it?

          • A.D.

            sign me up

        • steve (different one)

          the difference between Gardner and guys like Randolph is that Gardner strikes out WAAAAAAY too much for someone with his skillset.

          that’s the difference that everyone ignores.

          Randolph rarely struck out, so by putting a ton of balls in play, he kept his average up.

          Gardner approaches his AB’s like a power hitter, working deep counts trying to draw walks instead of trying to slap the ball the other way and beat out base hits.

          in the majors, those 3-2 counts are going to turn into K’s instead of the BB’s he gets from minor league pitching.

          now, that’s not to say he CAN’T change his approach. he can, and i expect that he will, and become a somewhat useful player.

          but there are a LOT of people that just look at his minor league OBP and assume it will translate to the majors. that is pretty unlikely.

          he’s going to have to bunt more and start putting the ball into play more often to be successful, and unfortunately, he’s going to walk less as a result. but if he doesn’t, he’s going to wind up hitting .250/.330/.360, which isn’t going to help anyone.

          • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

            I don’t think he strikes out too much. His minor league numbers indicate that striking out was never really a problem. He only struck out more than 80 times once, in 2006 splitting time between Tampa and Trenton.

            He struck out a lot in the majors this past season because he was coming up to a new level and he seems to have a track record of struggling once he reaches a new level, but then settling in fine the year after. Once he adjusts to major league pitching, I think we’ll see the strikeouts drop and the walks begin to rise, along with more singles.

        • Tom Zig

          I don’t think it would go over well if Gardner called Cashman saying
          “This is Brett calling on behalf of Brett, Brett wants to play”

    • http://ranger2709.blogspot.com Old Ranger

      No one around here ever said Brett WOULD be our CF of the future…more like, could. I was pointing out the stats that keep showing Brett is better then Melky (over all). Melky has two things going for him…his arm and better power. Think about it, Bernie used his speed to cover up a lot of defencive short comings…a lot of players do the same thing.
      A lot of the experts have said he will be nothing but a 4th or AAA OF. A few of our own so called experts have said over and over; “Melky is the better defender”, so I disagree. His numbers (defencive) can also be checked by watching him at AA, AAA and in NY.
      As some of the stats in the bigs are a small sample, I agree with that assement but, extrapolate the numbers and you will find his defence has been about the same at all levels.
      As of this minute we don’t have a better CF is the bottom line…if he can hit etc.,..!

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      I think Brett = Scott Podsednik. Podsednik was a capable major leaguer until leg injuries caught up with him. But when you have a player whose main weapon is speed, leg health is everything.

      • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

        That I disagree with because Gardner has a better track record of on-base skills, something that Podsednik lacked. Defensively, as well, I think Gardner projects to be above Podsednik. Meh, we’ll see. If Melky mashes in ST and Bretty doesn’t hit well, I’d be fine putting Melky out there in CF and having Gardner as the back up or vice versa. We’ll see in a few weeks.

  • Andy

    This article demonstrates why these stats and “metrics” are overrated. One doesn’t need to be much of a baseball fan to notice that Melky has a WAY better arm than Gardner. I don’t care what the stats say, Melky’s arm is far, far superior to that of Gardner, anyone with eyeballs can see that. And without hardly thinking about it, I can take a guess at why the stats say Gardner is better – because he was, by pure luck, in situations which allowed him to meet the requirements of the stat. There is just no way you’ll convince me his arm is anywhere near as good as Melky’s – because I CAN SEE.

    And what about this “stat” about double plays??? It relies on “the speed and location of the ball and the handedness of the batter.” How subjective is that? What, they have a gun on the ground ball? What if the lefthanded batter is Adam Dunn and the right handed batter is B.J. Upton?? Does the guy fielding the grounder off Dunn’s bat get a break in the stat, and the guy fielding the grounder off Upton’s bat not? Or do they time everone from home to first? What about the guy already on first? What about the proficiency of the other fielder?

    Some stats and metrics are helpful, but some are a joke, and these two seem like a joke to me. To quote the evil one who’s name shall not be mentioned, we can’t forget the game has a heartbeat…

    • http://ranger2709.blogspot.com Old Ranger

      Read what the stats are all about. It’s isn’t about the arm only, any kid could see Melky has the better arm.

      • http://ranger2709.blogspot.com Old Ranger

        Oooops! It isn’t….

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      “One doesn’t need to be much of a baseball fan to notice that Melky has a WAY better arm than Gardner.”

      I’ll try to cut the snark, but you clearly didn’t read what I wrote:

      “What do these fancy defensive metrics tell us? No, they don’t determine who has the best outfield arm, or who turns the slickest double play. Those we can judge with our eyes. Instead, these stats measure what happened.”

      “What, they have a gun on the ground ball?”

      Yeah, they can measure the speed of a batted ball. Imagine that! Technology at its finest.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      I should go onto explain that regardless of who has a better arm (it’s Melky), what ARM tells us is who saved more runs with their arm in the 2008 season. That was Gardner. Doesn’t mean he has a better arm. Means he used it to save more runs. That’s it.

      • Andy

        You didn’t post what goes into calculating ARM, and I did read the part where you said it doesn’t say who has a better arm, but you also titled the article “who’s arm helps the team” – that infers it is about who has the better arm. And we are talking semantics here anyway. The bottom line is that I don’t care if a stat says one guy “saved more runs with his arm” than anther guy in 2008. When I am judging an outfielder’s arm, I can tell who’s arm is better, and it is Melky’s, pure and simple. And the fact that this stat suggests Garnder’s arm was more valuable than Melky’s clearly demonstrates that the stat is flawed. Fangraphs is great, but not every stat is useful. You and I can respectfully disagee, but I feel, based on those outcomes, this stat is clearly not all that useful.

        As far as the “technology” of judging ground balls, I could be wrong, but there has to be some subjectivity in how that is calculated. Moreover, it doesn’t address any of my other points. The fact is, these stats become much like social science – there are so many variables that cannot be put into a statistic that it cannot tell the whole story. Doesn’t make social science useless, but there are scenarios where some studies are better than others, some take into account more variables than others, and some are just harder to quantify. In this case, these two stats seem like they aren’t as good as others, in my humble opinion.

        • Jack

          but you also titled the article “who’s arm helps the team” – that infers it is about who has the better arm.

          No, it doesn’t. It infers it is about who’s arm helped the team the most. They aren’t the same thing.

        • Dirt

          So you’re taking an inference over what Joe actually wrote? That seems flawed to me too…

    • A.D.

      It’s really who was most effective with their arm last year, not who has the best throwing arm.

      Its similar to pitchers “stuff” vs result. Mo doesn’t have the hardest pure fastball out there, but he has the best results.

      • Andy

        That is apples to oranges. Judging pitching is a whole different animal from judging an outfield arm. An outfield arm is valuable for one thing, and one thing only – getting the ball from the glove to the location required as qucikly as possible. In my opinion, Melky simply does that better than Gardner, and I think that is obvious just by watching. And if it is clear Melky does that better than Gardner, to me, the stat is flawed, and isn’t telling the correct story.

        • A.D.

          Its the confounding variables that are coming into play, Gardner’s is a fairly small sample, therefore a few key holds or people being gunned down can spike his stats, when over the long run, there just wouldn’t be as many opportunities or he would end up failing at converting them, thus lowering his ARM.

          As others have pointed out, you’re taking this statistic as being who has the physically best throwing arm, which its not, everyone knows Melky’s arm is better than that of Brett Gardner’s.

        • MattG

          Just say, “Oops, I missed that part of the post. Sorry.”

        • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          But, even if Melky has a stronger arm than Brett, if Brett takes better paths to the ball that leaves him in a better and quicker throwing position once he has the ball, and has better range meaning he gets to more balls in general, and has a more accurate arm than Melky meaning his throws are truer and less off-line meaning they get to the intended base in position for the other defender to make a play more frequently, it’s easy to see how Brett can have a more effective arm that saves more runs despite it being much weaker.

          Melky may save a certain number of runs a season over Brett by having a stronger arm but may give those runs right back by having a less accurate arm or by putting himself in poor throwing position leading to a slower release.

  • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

    The irony of this Melky/Gardner arms debate is that the arm is very much secondary to range in CF. I’d rather have Gardner’s range and not-so-great arm in CF than Melky’s strong arm and not-so-good range in center this season.

  • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

    Anyone else surprised to see Pat Burrell on the top of that list for LFers?

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