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.