ALCS Preview: The Outfields

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Left field: Juan Rivera vs. Johnny Damon

Juan Rivera 572 .287 .332 .478 .348 0 100 13.8
Johnny Damon 626 .282 .365 .489 .376 12 0 -11.9

What is more important in a left fielder, hitting or defense? Juan Rivera is a good hitter who, according to UZR, plays excellent defense. Johnny Damon is an excellent hitter who plays terrible defense. That depends on how highly we value defense. Is poor defense acceptable from a hitter like Damon? Or will we look to the Mariners for an example of how a top defense can make your pitching staff remarkably better?

According to WAR, Rivera’s combination of solid offense and excellent defense is preferable to Damon’s superior bat and terrible glove. Damon has 54 more plate appearances, meaning his offensive counting stats are that much higher than Rivera’s. Still, WAR has Damon at 2.8 and Rivera at 3.5. (And yes, WAR works.) In other words, the runs that Damon creates with his bat are to an extent negated by the ones he allows with his glove. Rivera is on the positive in both aspects.

Damon is going through a prolonged and pronounced slump, ending the season poorly and then going 1 for 12 in the ALDS. The good news is that he can break out of it at any time. But when will that be? Meanwhile, Rivera went 3 for 11 with a double against the Sox. Last time these two teams met in the postseason, 2005, Rivera went 6 for 17 with a double and a homer.

Edge: Angels. Damon’s slump removes any qualms I had with giving this to Rivera.

Center field: Torii Hunter vs. Melky Cabrera

Torii Hunter 506 .299 .366 .508 .379 18 18 -3.5
Melky Cabrera 540 .274 .336 .416 .331 10 17 2.6

Torii Hunter has always been known for his defense. But, like Derek Jeter, he’s more known for his flashy plays. UZR has never liked Hunter, rating him as lowly as -13.0 (in 2008), and not above 4.5 since 2003. His -3.5 mark this year is one of his best. This runs contrary to public perception, and it raises a good question. Is UZR that horribly flawed, or does our perception of Hunter mask the poorer aspects of his defense? I’m not prepared to answer that, though I’m apt to lean towards the accuracy of UZR.

As it pertains to the series advantage in center field, it doesn’t mean much. Hunter is a far better hitter than Melky, more than making up for the defensive gap. WAR agrees, with Hunter at 3.8 and Melky at 1.6. No further deliberation is required.

Edge: Angels

Right field: Bobby Abreu vs. Nick Swisher

Bobby Abreu 667 .293 .390 .435 .367 30 21 -5.2
Nick Swisher 607 .249 .371 .498 .375 0 n/a -1.6

Bobby Abreu is getting a lot of attention this postseason, perhaps undeserved. He’s had a good season, but it wasn’t MVP-caliber, as one sports writer claims. Seven AL right fielders produced higher WAR values, including Nick Swisher. So why is the media fawning over him?

It’s probably because the Angels got such a great deal. The free agent market was depressed for no-defense, mid-30s outfielders, and Abreu’s best offer was for $5 million plus $1 million more in incentives. He clearly outperformed his deal. But what about Swisher? He made less money than Abreu this year, and the Yankees acquired him for Wilson Betemit, who was DFA’d during the season and then granted free agency a week ago. That’s a pretty good story, especially after Swisher’s poor 2008, isn’t it?

Abreu and Swisher are pretty even according to wOBA, though it comes from different components. Bobby hits for better average, gets on base more, and steals a lot of bases. Swisher has the advantage in power, and it’s a decided advantage — his Iso is .249, compared to Abreu’s .142 mark. Swisher also plays better defense. WAR values Swisher at a win over Abreu, and I’m apt to agree. Bobby’s a useful player, but I’ll take Swisher.

Edge: Yankees

The Yankees have a clear edge in the infield, at least offensively, but the Angels have as clear an edge in the outfield. Defensively, the two teams are more evenly matched in the outfield than the infield, though Damon’s poor defense drags down the Yanks.

The Yankees’ fly ball tendencies should play well against the Angels. Their outfield defense isn’t bad, but it’s not as good as their infield. The Angels have a similar advantage, a groundball-hitting team against a team with questionable infield defense, and better defense in the outfield.

The teams are constructed differently, but the Yankees and the Angels seem pretty evenly matched. The Yankees have strengths that play to the Angels weaknesses and the other way around. These were the two best AL teams during the regular season, the way the ALCS should be. Now please, just let it start.

Jon Heyman wants Joba in the pen
Tickets available for tonight's game
  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    In other words, the runs that Damon creates with his bat are to an extent negated by the ones he allows with his glove.

    See also: Late 2000’s Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, and Bernie Williams.

    • Jack

      The only reason Bernie’s UZRs were so bad is that the ball was too afraid to be caught.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside


  • Matt ACTY/BBD

    I didn’t realize Rivera rated so highly defensively.

    • Accent Shallow

      Yeah, I’m not sure how much I buy that. The man has never been known for his speed.

      • Bo

        Its why defensive metrics have a long way to go.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Defensive metrics that have a long way to go, like UZR >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> every single piece of anecdotal “judgment” offered about player defense NOT named UZR over the past century

          • Tank Foster

            No, no, no.

      • Joseph Pawlikowski

        There’s more to defense than speed.

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    UZR has never liked Hunter, rating him as lowly as -13.0 (in 2008), and not above 4.5 since 2003. His -3.5 mark this year is one of his best. This runs contrary to public perception, and it raises a good question. Is UZR that horribly flawed, or does our perception of Hunter mask the poorer aspects of his defense? I’m not prepared to answer that, though I’m apt to lean towards the accuracy of UZR.

    Agreed. Our minds eye remembers all those leaping catches at the wall, robbing a home run, but how many times does that happen a year vs. the number of times that a ball is hit into a power alley and drops in between Hunter and the RF or LF because Hunter doesn’t have the range that a Brett Gardner has?

    Hunter is a classic example of the fallibility of eyewitness testimony and human memory. He makes spectacular plays, but on the whole he’s not an exceedingly efficient defensive player (compared to his less flashy but more well rounded peers) at actually converting balls hit towards him into outs.

    • Chris

      You also have to accept that UZR is a flawed stat. The biggest problem that I have with UZR is that when you calculate a team UZR based on the individuals it’s not a very accurate measure of team defense. The simple stat Defensive Efficiency is better at measuring a teams defensive performance than UZR.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        The biggest problem that I have with UZR is that when you calculate a team UZR based on the individuals it’s not a very accurate measure of team defense.

        Then that would make team UZR a flawed stat. That doesn’t make individual UZR a flawed stat (if your supposition is true, which you’d have to demonstrate).

        • Chris

          I believe that team UZR is calculated by adding together the UZR for all of the individual defenders. (I haven’t seen a more detailed explanation of how team UZR is calculated, so I’m basically just guessing) If all of the individual UZRs are accurate, then you should be able to just add them up and get an accurate measure of how many runs the teams defense saved or didn’t save. If team UZR is flawed, then it would suggest that there is a problem with the underlying data – in this case the individual UZR.

          As for why it’s better, when you plot team UZR vs (FIP – ERA) and DefEff vs (FIP – ERA) there is a nearly perfect correlation between DefEff and a teams variance from their FIP. There is no such correlation between UZR and the difference between FIP and ERA.

    • Arman Tamzarian

      What is it that allows a guy to make some great plays, but routinely misjudge average plays. Poor first step or judging the balls trajectory, taking a poor angle on balls, etc?

      • vin

        Great athleticism helps him scale the walls and make diving catches.

        But his average wheels (for a CF) prevent him from tracking down balls hit into the alley/over his head/blooped into the OF.

    • Tank Foster

      Disagree. UZR might be a meaningful stat. The biggest problem with it is the method it uses to account for the speed of the batted ball. The stringers assess each ball as “slow, medium, or fast” or some similarly-named, three tier system.

      The stringers can obviously pinpoint the fielder’s position at the beginning of the play, and using technology, determining the vector of the ball is also probably easy to do accurately. However, the velocity and trajectory of the ball is a majorly complicated value that, if distilled down to 3 options, is going to lead to some major losses in the fidelity of the data.

      Whether the fielder makes the play is a yes/no event…the movement of the ball is a continuous variable and if you’re very crudely estimating that, in combination with only a yes/no judgement on whether the play is made, you are looking at a very “pixelated” view of the fielder’s effectiveness.

      The other thing that is flawed with UZR is that it assigns numeric values, but we don’t know of what order the numbers are. Does a value of +1 mean that a defender is half as good as a defender rated +2? Or is +2 just “better” than one, and actually much closer to +4?

      The idea – what they are trying to measure – is excellent. I am convinced there is a major gap in the credibility and transparency of the number, however. I think the fact that we see fairly wide swings in UZR for individual players, year to year, speaks to the idea that the stat has alot of noise in it.

    • Mode:Theif and Lair

      According to Fangraphs over the last 3 years your all defensive (range) team would be:

      1b Pujols
      2b Utley
      SS Hardy
      3B Zimmerman
      LF Crawford
      CF Upton
      RF Winn

      I wouldn’t mind running that out there on a daily basis.

  • jim p

    WAR for Abreu/Swisher?

    • Matt ACTY/BBD

      Swish: 3.7
      Abreu: 2.6

    • Chris

      They’re all calculated at

  • Kiersten

    Now please, just let it start.


    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Moly, Moly, Moly, Lord Mo, you are Moly.

  • dkidd

    if it’s possible to have an “under the radar” season in new york, swisher’s had one. his personality and (perceived) effect on the clubhouse overshadow how good a player he’s been

    how many people outside of this site know he has more WAR than abreu?

    • Mike Pop

      Many refuse to acknowledge WAR exists.

      • Riddering

        What is it good for?

      • Rose

        What’s so civil about WAR anyway?

        • Benjamin Kabak

          You, of all people, would ask that.

          • Rose

            lol. ben, cut me some slack here. i’m tryin!

            • Benjamin Kabak

              I know. I know! I was amused by your comment. That’s all. It’s all good.

  • Mike Pop

    Cannot freakin’ wait!

  • steve s

    If the Yanks could trade Swisher for Abreu (just for this series) don’t you think they would in a heartbeat?

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside


    • Mike Pop

      Probably. Just because he’s more consistent at the plate.

      I wouldn’t be down though. We already have a great DH in Matsui.

    • vin

      In theory, yeah they might…

      Because they would be removing either the #2 or #3 hitter from the Angels’ lineup. Abreu is indeed a huge part of that lineup – his patience allows guys to steal bags, his singles keeps the line moving, and he’s a good hit and run candidate because of his keen eye.

      Swisher is great for an 8th hitter, but he means a lot less to the lineup than Abreu does to LAA’s. Their difference in defense doesn’t make up the difference.

      • Matt ACTY/BBD

        Swisher batting 2nd in their lineup would do basically the exact same thing as Abreu does, though. They’re very similar hitters, Abreu just has better contact skills. Swisher has the same patience and his added pop over Abreu could drive more of those runners in.

        • Rose

          But Abreu is good enough to stay consistent no matter what the circumstance is. Swisher seems to need a certain atmosphere in order to perform to his potential. I don’t think he liked Ozzie and the gang all that much and that played a role in his off year. Abreu goes anywhere and you’ll basically get what he’s been bringing regardless. Different personalities…

          • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

            Swisher had one bad year, but just because that bad year happened to occur during his one year in Chicago doesn’t mean it happened because he was in Chicago. I think it probably had more to do with his randomly low BABIP than it did with the “atmosphere” in the ChiSox’ clubhouse.

            • Matt ACTY/BBD
              • Bo

                Maybe Swisher is better for THIS team than Abreu is.

            • Rose

              Regardless, Abreu is more consistent than Swisher. The reasoning behind it is irrelevant and wasn’t meant to sound like I definitely knew the answer.

              • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                “Regardless, Abreu is more consistent than Swisher.”


                Abreu OPS+
                2006: 126
                2007: 114
                2008: 120
                2009: 115

                Swisher OPS+
                2006: 125
                2007: 127
                2008: 92
                2009: 126

                Other than Swisher’s one random season (with a randomly low BABIP), he’s been pretty consistent. I get your point, I’m just not sure it’s as clear-cut as you imply.

                “The reasoning behind it is irrelevant and wasn’t meant to sound like I definitely knew the answer.”

                The reasoning is never irrelevant. (And I know you were speculating, I never accused you of thinking you definitely knew the right answer. We’re all speculating, to some extent.)

                • Rose

                  Haha well it looks like there’s no right answer here. Technically Abreu has been MORE consistent…but Swisher has been consistent as well (other than his one bad season). And we both agree that everybody is speculating to some certain extent.

                  [offers internet handshake]

              • Chris

                Regardless, Abreu is more consistent than Swisher.

                So what if he’s consistent. Tony Pena Jr is consistent too, and I wouldn’t want him on my team.

                • Matt ACTY/BBD

                  But soon he’ll be able to pitch teh 8th!11

                • Rose

                  Consistently good? Do we really have to be that literal on here? Bad analogy with Tony Pena Jr. but you get points for randomly choosing him lol

                • Chris

                  How about this one: Adam Dunn has been consistent, but I wouldn’t take him over Swisher (at least not as a RF). Consistency is overrated. The key is how good or bad a player is, not how consistent they are.

  • Tank Foster

    Abreu is the Angel player I fear most in this series. When he gets hot, he can be a major offensive force, like he was at the end of 2006 or whenever it was that the Yankees signed him. He does just about everything well offensively, and I also have this (probably stupid) fear that he’ll be wanting to – and succeeding in – do better because it’s against the Yankees, who dumped him.

    • Rose

      Meh. He’s a very good ballplayer but you can’t just worry about him. They all have that “i hate you” thing about them right now. I don’t worry about anyone more or less than the other. They’re all pretty scrappy and hate-able right now.

    • pat

      You won’t fear him when a routine fly ball to right drops in for a single because he stopped short of the wall.

      • Bo

        Abreu is feared? I guess this will help his HOF candidacy.

  • A-Rod is my dad AKA The Evil Empire


  • theyankeewarrior

    Mike & The Dog are together talking at the Stadium! Dog says the Yankees are dangerous and Mike says it’s the kiss of death! Also, Dog saus that the Yankees should have kept Abreu. Fack Youk begs to differ.

  • Riddering

    Stats > media highlights

    Last night I was filling the time by looking through Fangraph’s team comparative stats and was impressed by how the Yankees rank defensively in CF and RF this year. I was also surprised at the poor UZR rankings on outfielders from other teams (especially at how Andre Ethier ranks below Swisher in value in right). Now if KLong could just take Gardner to the DR this winter and fix his swing…

    Thanks for these run-downs, Joe. They’ve been a balm on the ninety degree burns of my baseball withdrawal.

  • Eric SanInocencio

    How does arm strength factor into a defensive value system like UZR? Not saying that makes Abreu any better, but how much disparity between throwing arms would it take to even out UZR deficiency?

    • Chris

      UZR takes into account runs saved based on a player’s arm. I believe it’s basically a measure of how many extra bases players take (plus the obvious cases where someone is thrown out).