Assessing the Yankee fielders, John Dewan style

No more Giuseppe Franco on YES
Previewing the 2009 Yankees

fieldingbiblecover Baseball all boils down to runs. As the Moneyball/Baseball Prospectus crowd have long realized, the more runners a team has on base, the more runs they are going to score, and the more games they are going to win. Hence, the recent emphasis on on-base percentage and other offensive-oriented stats.

Over the last few years, a nascent field of statistical analysis has come into its own largely in part of the efforts of John Dewan. Three years ago, Dewan unveiled his plus/minus system in a way to measure how teams prevent runs from scoring.

This year, in his second volume of The Fielding Bible, Dewan takes this analysis one step further with Defensive Runs Saved by position. The book contains year-by-year rankings and three-year cumulative totals for all Major League Baseball players, and as expected, the Yanks in 2008 were pretty terrible in the field. That is, after all, what happens when you build a team around hitters.

Here’s how the Yanks’ starters did:


Overall, according to The Fielding Bible, the Yanks featured a total -43 Team Defensive Runs. As Dewan figures that 10 Defensive Runs is the equivalent to one win, the Yanks’ defense cost them around 4 wins last year.

Things, though, are looking up for 2009. While Jorge Posada will hopefully take over the bulk of Jose Molina’s catching duties, he more than makes up for it offensive. (Aside: Dewan’s book features an excellent essay comparing Molina’s impact behind the plate. It’s hard to overrate Jose Molina as a defensive catcher. He is truly in a class by himself.)

Meanwhile, Mark Teixeira and his +17 fielding rating will replace Jason Giambi‘s -13. Johnny Damon will notch a full season in left field, and Xavier Nady could be a +10 improvement over Bobby Abreu. It’s tough to say how the center field battle will shape up between Brett “Babe Ruth” Gardner and Melky Cabrera, but in the early going, Dewan’s system prefers Gardner.

Now, it would be really easy and far too simplistic for me to proclaim the Yanks four wins better because of their projected +40 swing on Defensive Runs between 2008 and 2009. As Dewan notes, defense is only half of the battle, and the book ends with a chart of Total Runs adding up the top 260 players’ offensive and defensive contributions. For example, despite his terrible fielding, Bobby Abreu was responsible for three more runs — or 0.3 wins — than Xavier Nady. Mark Teixeira was responsible for a whopping 74 runs — or 7.4 more wins — than Jason Giambi.

The Yankees went into the 2008-2009 off-season intent on improving the team’s defense. That was, after all, why Manny Ramirez drew so little interest from the Bronx. On paper, at least, they seem to have accomplished that goal. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano still raise some eyebrows up the middle, but overall, the Yanks should have a solid fielding team in 2009. That should be a welcome relief from the last few seasons.

No more Giuseppe Franco on YES
Previewing the 2009 Yankees
  • greg

    Damn, didn’t realize Cano was that bad! What’s the difference between John Dewans system and UZR. UZR had Jeter as about average this past season.

    • Ben K.

      Zone Rating stats are calculated based upon the number of batted balls hit toward his position a player should field and how many outside of that zone he fields. Jeter’s zone ratings are around average (or worse) because he doesn’t get to many batted balls outside of the short stop zone.

      Defensive runs is a bit more complicated. It uses the expected runs matrix to calculate the impact a player’s attempt at fielding a ball had on the game. Different stats measuring different aspects of the fielding game really. That’s the ultra-simple version of Dewan’s essays on it.

  • Drew

    Man I hate all these compuerized rankings and projections. Can’t wait until the games are played!

    • Ben K.

      Seriously? You hate understanding more about the games? I know some people think the Internet is full of people who play games on their computers, but it really just gives people another way to understand and appreciate what’s happening on the field.

      • John

        i think he was just implying that he is tired of projections (doesnt hate them) and just wants to see the game actually played on the field after a long winter.

      • Drew

        Lol no I don’t hate understanding more about the game. I hate March.

        • Ben K.

          Hah! My bad. I hear you. Less than a month. We’re almost there.

  • Chris G

    So Teixeira was about 10 wins better the Giambi last year? If the team can go .500 while Arod is out they will be in a good spot.

    • dan

      where the hell did you get 10 wins from? It’s not 10 runs either.

    • Ben K.

      Teixeira was, overall, 74 runs better than Giambi. That equates to just over 7 wins.

  • Rich

    Swisher would be a bigger defensive upgrade over Abreu than Nady (at least according to UZR), and he’s better offensively as well.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Can you give us the side-by-side offensive and defensive info on Nady and Swisher? Or is Dewan’s Fielding Bible searchable online somewhere?

    • Chris C.

      Abreu is a freaking lamp post in right field.
      If it aint hit right to him, he aint catching it!

    • Bill

      Agreed projections clearly favor Swisher, so barring another down year he should be the starting RF and hopefully should unseat Nady pretty quickly.

  • Tony

    Got today’s Jeter bash out of the way early.

    • Ben K.

      We draw straws for that one. Today it was my turn.

  • Natalie

    Not even sure if this is legal, but could the Yankees let Sabathia hit during his starts and designate a hitter for Molina? Sabathia could probably outhit Molina.

    • Ben K.

      It’s not illegal, but CC Sabathia hit .229/.229/.333 with a 46 OPS+ while with Milwaukee. While that’s not much worse than Jose Molina, it doesn’t justify risking the Yanks’ investment in his pitching arm. Hopefully, we won’t see too many Molina ABs this year.

    • C

      In the majors, the DH can only replace the pitcher’s spot in the lineup. The DH can replace other positions in some high school leagues, but not in any level higher than that.

    • A.D.

      After Wang last year, I don’t think we see the Yanks have any pitcher run the bases voluntarily

      • Chris C.

        Yeah, and I hear they don’t want A.J Burnett volentarily throwing the baseball this season either. He’s got a history of getting inured when he does silly stuff like that.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Is this in the spirit of humor?

          • Chris C.

            Of course.
            Wasn’t the original post humorous? I’m not even sure what “volentarily run the bases” means. When you hit the ball, you have to run, otherwise you are disrespecting the game.

            Since AL pitchers have to hit during interleague games, I’d think they’d want to be productive at the plate to give themselves some runs.
            Wang had a freak injury.

    • A.D.

      Now if they traded for Micah Owings & his career 126 OPS +, then they might have something.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Yes, they might.

        They might have a good pinch hitter, since Owings is really no great shakes on the mound.

        • A.D.

          I enjoyed that after being traded to the Reds last year he didn’t pitch at all, but he did get 4 at-bats

  • Elle

    Hip hip Jose!

  • Rob in CT

    I’m assuming that -18 for Posada had a lot to do with his inability to throw. I know he’s not a good defensive catcher, but damn.

  • Jeremy

    Cano really was a season killer last year.

  • MattG

    This is good stuff. Aside from the impossible situation at SS, and limited options in CF, the Yankees are clearly addressing their fielding. Finally.

    I’ve been away–has there been a thread about the possible (and quite probable) stupidity of the plan of action regarding 3B this year–essentially creating a situation just like C, where the replacement is a far, far cry from the starter, and there is no real confidence that the starter can go? If you compare this with the merits of having the proper surgery/19 week recovery, and getting a real replacement via trade (Tejada, Guillen, Hall, etc.), how do the Yankees conclude that this is the better option?

    • Whozat

      Click on the arod tag and see.

      Tejada: bad and expensive
      Hall: currently injured and on a bad contract.
      Which guillen? Not that I can think of one that’s a good idea.

    • A.D.

      A-Rod is out a month, Posada missed the season. Plus if A-Rod was out for longer they probably would try and trade for Adrian Beltre

      • Angel

        IPK X BelTre

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          IPK for Beltre? Only if we make a concurrent trade where we deal away Xavier Nady and get back a prospect of IPK’s caliber.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      I’ve been away–

      Bully for you. How is Fresno this time of year?

      has there been a thread about the possible (and quite probable) stupidity of the plan of action regarding 3B this year–

      Yes. I assume you know that the posts from the previous few days are still available, all you have to do is click on the hyperlinks to them from the homepage. There’s even a nifty one called “Previous” that lets you view older ones. They have handy-dandy titles and everything.

      essentially creating a situation just like C,

      ARod’s hip injury really isn’t much like Posada’s shoulder injury at all, if you examine the two situations carefully.

      where the replacement is a far, far cry from the starter,

      Every replacement for ARod is going to be a far, far cry from the starter. We could have Mike Schmidt in his prime sitting on the bench waiting to spell ARod and he’d be a far, far cry from the starter.

      and there is no real confidence that the starter can go?

      Based on the doctor’s evaluation and recommendation and the proclaimed success of the surgery and the fact that ARod is an obsessed workout freak who started rehabbing literally hours after the surgery was over, I’d say there’s plenty of confidence that the starter can go.

      If you compare this with the merits of having the proper surgery/19 week recovery,

      We did. It was concluded that this option made more sense, since there’s only a small chance that he exposes himself to any further injury from playing. (It’s in those posts you missed.)

      and getting a real replacement via trade (Tejada, Guillen, Hall, etc.),

      Miguel Tejada has never played a game at 3B in his big league career, he wOBA’d a measly .313 last year, and he’s owed $13M this year. Carlos Guillen is owed 36M over the next THREE years and he can’t play any position other than 1B or DH passably. Both of those acquisitions would be a massive case of Bad Idea Jeans. Bill Hall makes sense, but he’s currently injured as well.

      how do the Yankees conclude that this is the better option?

      By thinking about it. You should try it sometime, it’s awesome.


      (Ed. Note: After rereading all this, I realized I came off as excessively snarky… but $%#& it, I don’t feel like changing any of it.)

      • Whozat

        Is that really an editor’s note, or an author’s addendum?

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Let’s call it a codicil.

      • jsbrendog

        golf clap

      • Chris C.

        “and getting a real replacement via trade (Tejada, Guillen, Hall, etc.)”

        Tejada? Awesome.
        If the Yankees end up leading the league in anything, it will be the amount of players getting called to congress or the MLB offices for steroid questioning.

    • MattG

      I wonder if I am expected to argue all this. It seems like the snarkiness is preemptive, as though I would argue.

      If Rodriguez is unable to play regularly, or well, this will look incredibly similar to Jorge Posada, 2008. I am not comparing the injuries, only the circumstances. Both players need(ed) an invasive surgery, and both tried to put off the surgery, with courses of action that were approved by doctors, leaving the Yankees with no roster spot or plan for a reasonable replacement.

      I’m glad that on the advice of the doctors, we concluded Posad…er, Rodriguez, will be able to get through the season without the surgery he needs.

      editor’s note: the author of this post really is glad. But the similarities are definitely worrisome, and if Carlos Guillen could’ve been had in a reasonable trade, he probably would’ve preferred Rodriguez get the surgery he needs and be back healthy in September.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        … except Posada tried to put off the surgery without any real attempt to fix the problem or to give appropriate rest/rehab time he just played through it, and ARod put off the surgery by having an intermediate surgery AND resting and rehabbing.

        Also, ARod’s been complaining of mild stiffness and soreness in his hip. Jorge could barely lift his arm over his head. Not only are the injuries very different in terms of efficacy of treatment plans, they’re different in terms of intensity and severity.

        I’ll grant you that there is *a* similarity, but it’s much more tenuous than you’re portraying it, IMO.


        And no, Guillen is NOT a good alternative. Not at all. I won’t hold back the snark on that one: Trading for Carlos Guillen would be a monumentally, titanically, astronomically stupid idea. One of the worst ever. There are literally, and I mean this with all plain English precision and absolutely no hyperbole, there are literally HUNDREDS of better options for dealing with this ARod scenario than trading for Carlos Guillen. He’s signed for the next three years for 36M, and he is AWFUL in the field. They’re playing him in LF because he couldn’t hack it at 2B, or 3B, or SS, and they can’t put him at DH because Gary Sheffield is even crappier. Guillen is a glorified DH.

        If we didn’t have Mark Texiera and Jorge Posada and ARod all under contract for the next three years, I MAY be interested in considering it, and I’d STILL pass.

        Trading for Carlos Guillen because ARod is likely to miss April and possibly May would be the dumbest decision this franchise has made since acquiring Ken Phelps.

  • Simon B.

    I’m confused by this. First of all, I wasn’t aware Dewan’s system included catchers. Is this a new thing? It seems like a difficult thing to quantify.

    Also, are those numbers really runs saved? Traditionally, I think his system doesn’t use runs because, again, it’s difficult thing to quantify. I thought he used a different point system.

    • Simon B.

      Generally, I’m not really a big fan of these run or win based statistics. Yeah, averaged out over the entire league, it works out, but it’s too dynamic to be so simplified into a single number.

  • MattG

    1. Oops–I thought it was 2/26, but you are right, it is 3/39 left on the contract. At 2/26, that is penance for not having an in-house option stashed at AAA. At 3/39, it is pretty stupid.

    2. Guillen is not a DH. He is still a viable, albeit poor, 3B. He is perfectly fine at 1B or the corner OF.

    I don’t know how monumentally stupid you would think this is if he had 2/26 on the contract instead. On the one hand, $26M is a lot to pay for 10 weeks of a third basemen that is a little bit plus (bat and fielding considered). On the other hand, one extra year at $13M is not a lot to pay for ensuring a season of contention if there is any real doubt that Rodriguez will be able to effectively stay on the field this season. It depends on how much you believe in the Yankees and their doctors, and based on the 2008 Posada debacle, their credibility is questionable.

    It’s moot…I wouldn’t pay Guillen $39M either.

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