Graphing the Yanks’ outfield defense

Fielding Bible: Jeter's defense revisited
Previewing the ’09 season for The Times

Outfield Defense

That graph comes courtesy of Dan Turkenkopf at Beyond the Box Score. Dan took the vector data from Dave Pinto’s database and plotted it to show where each of the Yanks’ starting outfielders excels defensively. Basically what you’re seeing is how good each player is on balls hit to a specific “zone,” with green being good and red being bad. The center fielder is shown above the corner guys just so you can see the overlap, it doesn’t mean that balls hit to corners will go undefended or anything like that. And also don’t worry about the background, the New Stadium will have the same dimensions as the old joint.

The very first thing I noticed was how bad Nady is on balls hit right at him, basically about five outs worse than expected. He’s even weak to his immediate right and left, which tells me that he’s just not very instinctive out there, and is at his best defensively when it’s obvious off the bat that he’ll need some hustle to get to the ball. You know what would be cool? If Mr. Turkenkopf put one of these together with Swisher in right instead of the X-man. (nudge nudge)

Damon is the opposite of Nady, eating up everything hit close to him, which is what you’d expect from a veteran Major League outfielder. He’s also stronger going to his right, which probably has something to do with him not having to reach across his body with his glove to field balls on that side. Gardner’s very strong out there, making plays on everything hit even remotely close to him. He shows the same pattern of struggling to get to balls that would require him to reach across his body with his glove, so my theory might hold a little water. Of course the small sample size police are in full force with Gardy.

Judging from the graph, it looks like the biggest problem areas are the gaps (expected), specifically the left-center field gap. And, you know, the whole Nady in right field thing. Joe and I have mentioned on the podcast several times that the hardest ball to field is the one hit right at you, but it looks like Nady is the only one in the Yanks outfield with this issue.

This is some really interesting stuff. What do you guys think?

Fielding Bible: Jeter's defense revisited
Previewing the ’09 season for The Times
  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    If Mr. Turkenkopf put one of these together with Swisher in right instead of the X-man. (nudge nudge)

    Say no more, say no more!

  • Matt

    This is valid because I can see the zones with my own eyes.

    • Jamal G.


  • A.D.

    What should be interesting for the stadium is, you see that Damon has green well to his left, including foul territory, which I’m guess comes from strong fielding in bigger outfields elsewhere. One would think that by moving Damon over in LF they wouldn’t loose anything to his right & would help cheap to the gaps where he is weaker

    • Brian

      Damon kicks ass at fielding balls that are hit 20 rows into the stands.

  • Paulie

    This is interesting, especially the thing with balls hit right at Nady. However, I don’t think you can really judge someone based on this.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      … because …

      • steve (different one)

        i don’t know if this is what he meant, but without knowing the number of chances, i don’t know how meaningful it really is.

        we are talking about 89 games in RF, then looking at only one of 8 zones, and drawing firm conclusions?

        was this 20 balls and he misplayed 1 or 2?

        it’s a tiny sample.

    • andrew

      I don’t really think it’s that interesting (if by interesting you meant weird/out of the ordinary)

      Just from my own personal experiences, I played infield my whole baseball career and then was eventually moved to the outfield the last 2 years I played. The one single thing about playing outfield that I found to be most difficult were balls hit right at you, for reasons that Mike mentioned: “which tells me that he’s just not very instinctive out there, and is at his best defensively when it’s obvious off the bat that he’ll need some hustle to get to the ball.” Even Damon, who is widely considered to be a much better defender than Nady, has a red bar near the center of his zone.

      Joe and I have mentioned on the podcast several times that the hardest ball to field is the one hit right at you, but it looks like Nady is the only one in the Yanks outfield with this issue

      Mike, I’ll agree with your assessments that you make on the podcasts and disagree with your reading of the graph. Damon has a red bar near the middle of his graph, and while Gardner maintains all green in his middle, the shade of green seems to be deepening as you move away from his absolute center, which would imply that he gets slightly better at getting to balls the further they are away from that center zone. That is until it reaches the outermost zones which are just extremely difficult to run down due to a physical ability standpoint, and not an instinctive defensive ability standpoint.

      As I iterated above, I always found it much easier to read a ball hit off to my side because you are able to run in the direction left or right first, and then adjust your path for the distance the ball has been hit while in route. Meanwhile, for a ball hit straight at you, by the time you figure out how far it’s been hit, you are still at a standstill and can’t recover in time to reach the ball and it’s probably dunking in front of you or 5 feet over your head

      • steve (different one)

        anecdotally, i have seen Gardner misplay at least balls hit right at him this spring.

        talk about small samples…

        • steve (different one)

          “at least TWO balls”

          • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Heh, you just said “small samples” and “two balls”.

      • Sky

        Remember, each player is being compared to others within each vector. So Nady being red in the vector right at him means he’s worse than others — everyone has to deal with the challenge of reacting to balls hit right at them, and most do it better than Nady.

        • andrew

          It doesn’t say anywhere that he is being compared to other players within his vector… so I don’t agree.

  • Drew

    It looks like Gardners best area is only a 1 on that color scale. I don’t understand this whole dealy.

    • Sky

      Gardner’s spread is based on very little data. Almost worth not paying attention to.

  • Darth Stein

    I would love to see what this chart looks like with Abreu. The big red paint brush would be taxed on that one.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      I was just thinking that.

      I’d like to see the 2009 Angels outfield, with Abreu/Hunter/Matthews/Rivera/Vlad. Out of that quintet, I count two good fielders, and one of those two (Matthews) will likely be on the bench more often than not.

      • Darth Stein

        I just checked Here are the UZR/150 from 2008:

        Abreu RF: -23.1
        Hunter CF: -13
        Matthews RF: -14.7
        Matthews CF: +11.7
        Matthews LF: -24.2
        Rivera RF: -79.8
        Rivera LF: +4.6
        Vlad RF: -14.4

        Wow. Having assembled that and looking back at it, that is really bad.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          And just think: Vlad’s a year older (which would make him about 50 now), GMJ is a year further removed from his steroid regimen, and Abreu will be patrolling a LARGER rightfield.

          Angels outfield = Keystone Kops

          • A.D.

            Hunter is their stud defender and he hasn’t put up a positive UZR since 2005…not the best.

        • John

          Wow I didn’t Hunter was so bad in CF. I thought he had GG caliber D?

          • Mike Axisa

            He just robbed a bunch of homers a few years ago, like that one in the ASG he took away from Bonds.

            • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              I saw all of those homers he robbed with my own eyes.

          • A.D.

            He used to be better, but some of his d might have been the old web gem factor, diving catches don’t actually make you a better defender if other guys can catch them standing up.

            • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              diving catches don’t actually make you a better defender if other guys can catch them standing up.

              BILL PLASCHKE, YOU LIED TO ME!!!

              • jsbrendog

                thats why woody paige is better

        • radnom

          I’m going to guess that there are some small sample sizes skewing some other those numbers.

          Like how Mathews is a good CF but awful at the corners, or Juan Rivera posting a -80 in RF.

          • A.D.

            Yeah there are, for Matthews its CF that the least significant (only 220 innings), and thus but up a -10 in the OF for the season. He was a pretty good defender before coming to Anaheim, so either he’s digressed or the lack of regular playing time last year hurt him

  • Darth Stein

    Why can Damon only field 2 rows into the seats? It appears that he is below average with anything further out or on the upper deck. That needs to be addressed! I bet Jeter, man of the people, would get to all of those foul balls if we put him in LF.

    • John


  • John

    Isn’t Nady’s sample size for RF in Yankee Stadium kind of small…he played LF mostly last year.

    • steve (different one)

      this may bring in his time in Pittsburgh as well, i don’t know.

      even if it does, it’s a small sample. if it doesn’t, it’s less than meaningless.

      well, it’s fun, but that’s about it.

      • John

        But this is for Yankee Stadium only I think. Fielding in Pittsburgh is different, so this graph would not work.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          But this is for Yankee Stadium only I think.

          Nowhere does it indicate that this is for Yankee Stadium only.

          I doubt BtB would be foolish enough to plot a graph they expected people to take seriously based on 7 games and 50 innings of Nady in YS alone. I have to assume the opposite, that this is based on all of Nady’s 2008 and not just his YS numbers.

          • A.D.

            On top of the fact that they have Damon in the green fielding several rows into the seats, my guess there’s more foul territory/bigger OF elsewhere.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Yeah. I’m assuming Nady’s sample includes the RF he played with the Pirates.

        But, for the record, Nady didn’t play “mostly LF last year”:

        45 games/389.0 innings in LF, all for us
        89 games/763.2 innings in RF, some for us but mainly with PIT

        Also, FWIW, his Pittsburgh 2008 RF UZR/150 of +3.8 is his easily his best mark in recent history. His previous years in RF are less appealing:

        2003 Padres 105/846.2 +13.4
        2004 Padres 2/14.0 -10.9 (N/A SSS)
        2005 Padres 13/82.0 -5.2 (N/A SSS)

        2006 Mets 71/620.2 -10.7
        2006 Pirates 28/234.0 -17.1
        2007 Pirates 94/748.0 -7.9
        2008 Pirates 82/713.2 +3.8
        2008 Yankees 7/50.0 -23.5

  • Rob S.

    Nick Swisher was not aquired to play right field, he’s not even a natural outfielder. Nady shouldn’t lose his job because Swisher lost his. Swisher is now a super utility guy and a decent bat off the bench, that’s it. These charts mean nothing to me, I don’t recall Nady playing bad defense after he came over last year and they switched his position. In any case Gardy should be able to cover a lot of ground.

    • pat

      So you’re saying because you didn’t see it with you own eyes this is not a valid chart?

      • John

        Rob: Are you one of them Old-School guys that don’t look into these metrics and stuff like that

    • John

      Total as 1B: 229
      Total as LF: 109
      Total as CF: 131
      Total as RF: 201
      Total in OF: 441

      How is he not a natural OFer?

    • Matt

      Nick Swisher’s played 441 games in the outfield in his career, almost doubling the amount of games he’s played at first (229). How is he not a natural outfielder? And, just because you don’t recall something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I’d assume that the data this chart is based on is much more accurate than our memories, especially of every ball hit to various locations.

      • A.D.

        In addition he played the OF in college, so it wasn’t even the A’s that moved him

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Furthermore, Nady was drafted as a third baseman. He was only moved to the OF by the Padres after he couldn’t hack it/stay healthy at third.

          So the statement that Nady is a natural outfielder and Swisher isn’t is doubly wrong.

    • Darth Stein

      Nady had a UZR/150 in RF of:
      -23.5 over 7 games with the Yankees in 2008
      +3.8 over 82 games for the Pirates in 2008
      -7.9 over 115 games for the Pirates in 2007
      -12.1 over 99 games for the Mets and Pirates in 2006

      Swisher had a UZR/150 in RF of:
      -9.5 over 18 games for the White Sox in 2008
      +18.7 over 57 games for the A’s in 2007
      +9.5 over 121 games for the A’s in 2005 (only played 1 game at RF in 2006)

      The 7 games for Nady with the Yanks and 18 games for Swisher with the Sox in 2008 are both suspect due to low sample size issues.

      Given this data, it is not really relevant if Swisher was acquired to play RF or if he is a natural outfielder. The bottom line is he has historically been a better outfielder.

      • A.D.

        The bottom line is he has historically been a better outfielder.


    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      All of this is batshit insane.

      • Darth Stein

        That just happened!

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside


          • Drew

            Is your mind blown?

      • Matt

        So’s your face.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Oh yeah? Well, I had sex with your wife.

          • Drew

            My wife is in a coma.

    • Sky

      Swisher is a natural outfielder. He came up as a favorite of the scouting types and the saber-types both and highly regarded as an outfielder. He earned an awful reputation with the Sox last year, but really wasn’t that bad in center, and still projects to be about 5 runs above average in a corner spot.

  • Joey H

    Here’s an idea, let Nady and Damon sit there, collect dust and let George Herman “Babe” Gardner catch all the fly balls.

  • Darth Stein

    This chart tells me that Nady needs to “go rover” Jacky Moon style. By running around RF he minimizes the chances that a ball will be hit right at him.

    I also think he should wrestle a bear.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      I fully endorse this idea, as well as any other Will Ferrell-inspired additions to our player development strategy that you propose going forward.

      • Matt

        The locker room should be filled with many leather bound books and smell like rich mahogany.

  • Phil McCracken

    Abreu seems to have the same problem as Nady. During the WBC he had trouble with one hit right to him.

    Also a few years ago, Sheffield seemed to let a lot of balls hit right at him take a hop instead of making the play in the air.

  • Bonos

    I would vote for a chart of Melky as CF just for laughs.

  • Dan Turkenkopf

    Glad you like the graph.

    Unfortunately we don’t have a large enough sample for Swisher in 2008 to even make this worth putting together for him.

    I’ll fall back to the same argument that he’s been better in the past than Nady and is at least considered competent enough to occasionally play CF.

    I’ll see what I can do for Melky.