2010 UZR Projections and the Yankees

Fan Confidence Poll: November 16th, 2009
What Went Right: The Offseason Pickups

Johnny Damon taking a header in the World SeriesProjection season is upon us, folks. Bill James’ 2010 projections have already been posted on individual player pages at FanGraphs, and CHONE’s batter projections hit the interwebs yesterday. Instead of talking about projected offense today, I’m going to change gears and focus on projected defense. Jeff Zimmerman at Beyond the Box Score created weighted UZR projections for the 2010 season based on the last four years of data, and I can’t remember ever seeing advanced defensive metric projections before (though I’m sure they’re out there).

I’m not going to bother to explain Jeff’s methodology, but all of the math is explained here. The individual projections can be found in this big Google Spreadsheet. Let’s kick off this post by taking a look at the projections for the players that we can assume will be back in pinstripes next year, and how they compare to last year’s UZR.

Position 2009 UZR Projected 2010 UZR
Mark Teixeira 1B -3.7 +0.6
Robinson Cano 2B -5.2 -1.7
Derek Jeter SS +6.6 -1.9
Alex Rodriguez 3B -8.6 -3.8
Brett Gardner CF +7.2 +3.7
Melky Cabrera LF -2.5 +0.9
Melky Cabrera CF +1.4 -1.9
Melky Cabrera RF -0.5 -0.1
Nick Swisher LF -0.5 +0.7
Nick Swisher RF -0.7 +0.4

There’s more red than black, but the  good news is that in general, the projections see most of the Yankee regulars improving in 2010 (Jeter, Gardner, and Melky in center being the notable exceptions). Pitcher and catcher defense is so hard to quantity that UZR doesn’t even bother to try, hence Jorge Posada‘s exclusion. As a team, the Yanks had a -18.5 UZR this season, 8th best in the AL and 19th best overall, so an improvement would be pretty sweet.

The only position in the field the Yankees have to fill this offseason is leftfield, and Johnny Damon has to be considered the odds on favorite to fill that vacancy. The incumbent leftfielder had a -9.2 UZR last season, a drop of nearly 16 runs from the year before and 17 runs the year before that. It was noticable watching the games too, as every routine fly to left in 2009 seemed like an adventure. Zimmerman projects Damon to bounce back to -2.1 UZR in 2010, which would be a welcome improvement.

If Damon doesn’t return, my personal choice to replace him would be Mike Cameron, who hasn’t played leftfield in the big leagues since 2000 and has just 9.2 career innings at the position. Regardless, it would be a waste to use him in left, because his centerfield defense is still very good. Cameron put up a +10.3 UZR in center in 2009, and projects to post a +3.9 UZR next year. Assuming Melky slides over to left to make room for Cameron, you’re looking at a combined +4.8 UZR between left and center in 2010. If you instead have Damon in left and Melky in center, it would be -2.2. Hell, even if it was Damon and Gardner, it would be +1.6 UZR between the two positions. Cameron and Melky would clearly be the best defensive alignment in this scenario.

Moving on to actual leftfielders, the two big names are obviously Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Holliday projects to post a +4.9 UZR in left next year after +5.7 this year. Bay projects to have a -9.8 UZR next year, which is actually an improvement over this year’s -13.0 mark. The guy is just awful in the field. Whoever signs him for huge money and three or four or however many years is going to regret it by year three.

A Holliday and Melky arrangement would be good for +3.0 UZR in 2010, Bay and Melky an unsightly -11.7. Replace Melky with Brett the Jet, and you’re looking at combined UZR’s of +8.6 and -6.1, respectively. Matt Holliday would clearly be the best defensive option in leftfield among free agents for the Yanks, although factoring contracts, adding Cameron and sliding Gardbrera to left would be more cost efficient.

Of course, if the Yanks really want to go big for leftfield defense, the answer is trading for Carl Crawford. The Other CC has long been the best defensive leftfielder in the game (he leads all LF in UZR over the last two years, and has ranked either first or second every season since 2003 with just one exception), and he projects to put up a +10.6 UZR next year, the best at the position. Whether or not the Yankees decide to part with a few quality young players to get him is another story all together, I’m just making an observation about Crawford’s defense.

By no means are those the only leftfield options for the Yanks, they’re just the most discussed options. They could bring Xavier Nady back (projects to have a -1.9 UZR next year) and hope the elbow holds up, but that’s quite a risk. Neither Mark DeRosa or Chone Figgins played enough leftfield over the last four years to qualify for the projections (minimum 63 games), though DeRosa projects to have a +2.7 UZR in right while Figgins projects to -2.7 in center. Rick Ankiel projects to have a -2.4 UZR in center but doesn’t qualify for left, while Marlon Byrd projects to have +0.8, -0.8, and +1.0 UZR’s going left to right. A trade for David DeJesus would bring a studly +8.9 UZR to leftfield in 2010.

Obviously defense is only half the equation when it comes to evaluating a players worth, or maybe even less depending on how you feel (a run saved is as good as a run scored in my book), otherwise Randy Winn and his projected +2.5, -1.1, and +8.8 UZR’s in the outfield (going left to right) would make a lot of sense for the Yanks. However his .262-.318-.353 batting line with a .302 wOBA (fifth worst among all outfielders) in 2009 scream “STAY AWAY!” Ditto Endy Chavez and his projected +3.1 UZR in left and .300 career wOBA.

Remember, these are just projections for one year. UZR is best used with multiple year samples, however we’re all guilty of referring to one year totals to prove a point. Zimmerman’s projections are just that: projections. Just an educated guess at what might happen in the future, so don’t take them as gospel. Sure would be nice to see the defense improve again next year, though.

Photo Credit: Tim Shaffer, Reuters

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Fan Confidence Poll: November 16th, 2009
What Went Right: The Offseason Pickups
  • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

    If Damon doesn’t return, my personal choice to replace him would be Mike Cameron

    What about if Damon does return? Cameron is still a good option for CF on a 1 year deal type contract…but you have to believe he’d get a better offer than that elsewhere.

    Damon/Melky in LF, Cameron in CF, Swisher in RF

    Mikey likes it…

    • radnom

      Eh. There is no reason to spend the money to make Melky a bench player at this point.

      • andrew

        Well, except for upgrading the team…

        • radnom

          Yes. But there are smarter/better ways to go about that. Melky is good enough to hold down the CF spot. That money is better spent on rotation depth than signing a 3rd OF.

          • andrew

            But if we sign Damon, we still don’t have a DH. My plan – in this case – would be to sign Damon and Cameron, let Matsui walk and then have Damon DH with Melky in LF. I wasn’t clear. I didn’t really say much at all before

      • Mike bk

        why does it make melky a bench player. damon dh, melky lf, cammy cf, swish rf

        • radnom

          For some reason when she wrote Damon/Melky in LF, I took that as the DH spot being occupied by someone else (Matsui).

          I suppose you’re right though, she likely meant what you said.

          Although I think if I had to choose 2/3 from Damon, Matsui, Cameron I would pick the later two….in large part due to the expected commitment in years for Damon.

          • Bo

            Even with a new addition in CF Melky would still play 120+ games and get 450+ at bats.

  • A.D.

    But how many Webgems did each player amass this year??

  • Mike

    I’m sorry Mike Cameron is NOT the answer!. I’d rather have Melky in Center and Gardner in Left. I hope we sign Damon soon.

    I wonder is Crawford will be available at the All-Star break ??

    • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

      I’d rather have Melky in Center and Gardner in Left.

      What??? Why????

      You’d rather have 2 platoon 4th and 5th outfielders playing in our outfield in 2010??

      • Hey ZZ

        I am going to assume there is a different Rose that posts on LoHud, because that Rose was advocating the exact same thing

        • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

          Yeah, I don’t post on LoHud. Must be a different person…

      • Stuckey

        “You’d rather have 2 platoon 4th and 5th outfielders playing in our outfield in 2010??”

        Of all the shorthand criticisms of players, the “4th” and “5th outfielder” designation is by far the most knuckleheaded.

        It demonstrates a lack of perspective, because it implies that there IS or somehow ‘should be’ 90 other outfielders in baseball (3 outfielders x 30 teams) that produce demonstratively better than a player of Cabrera’s caliber.

        There is probably not even half that number.

        In fact, just looking it up, among all outfielders in the majors with enough qualifying at bats in 2009, Cabrera ranks 45th in OPS. He’s 50th in terms of WAR (according to Fangraphs).

        Much less “4th”, that puts him solidly in the “2nd” outfielder class (31-60), if ACTUAL relative production of outfielders counts for anything.

        As to Cabrera specifically, I think someone did an analysis that showed of all the 8 or 9 hole hitters among the 8 postseason teams, Cabrera was in fact statistically the most productive.

        The point is, taking into account actual relative production than a pie-in-the-sky fan FANTASY of what a major league outfielder ‘should’ look like, Cabrera is at worst an AVERAGE or slightly below average major league outfielder, which the NY Yankees can EASILY absorb until a superior option presents itself for a price that represents value added.

        • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

          I’d say at best Melky’s an average major league player.

          • Stuckey

            Either way, when you worst player’s ceiling is average, you’re not only okay as a team, you’re WAY ahead of the curve.

            This is how Yankees fans get a bad name, when some of our own seem to think it’s unacceptable for the Yankees to pencil an average player into the 9-hole of their line-up.

            • andrew

              But that’s not the point. Nobody said it was unacceptable to have Melky in the lineup, we clearly had him in the lineup all year and won the world series… but If you had the choice between avg and above average, why would you take the average?

              • Stuckey

                I believe when Cabrera is called a “4th outfielder” that this is EXACTLY the point being made, that he’s not an “acceptablw major league STARTING (“1st”, “2nd” or “3rd”) outfielder, which is the specific point I responded to.

                I agree there is a legit argument to be had in regards to “Cameron vs. Cabrera” and points could be made for both sides, but again, that’s not what I responded to.

                I’d like to hear someone who used or have used the “4th outfielder” tag for him explain to me their criteria, and mathematically justify it.

                • TheLastClown

                  Wow…the problem is with an OF of Melky AND Gardner.

                  We won the WS with Melky OR Gardner manning CF.

                  Big difference.

                  We don’t think it would be pie-in-the-sky Yankee fannish or whatever to have Melky out there.

                  But you want a league average player and a 4th OF playing together.

                  Are you going to show me some numbers saying that BG is somehow not a 4th OF?

                • Stuckey

                  Again, I’m responding specifically to someone who called Cabrera a 4th outfielder and Gardner a 5th outfielder, which is not at all the same has notching them BOTH back a grade from that.

                  That said, given their production at C, 1B, 2B, SS 3RD, RF, and DH, do I think the Yankees could have on the World Series with Gardner and Cabrera in the OF.

                  Yeah, I think it’s possible. I don’t think they’d they’d have lost 16 games in the standings (which is what stood between them qualifying for the WC and we all know the Postseason is unpredictable from there.

                  So to summarize.

                  – Carbera is NOT a 4th outfielder, which is what I was responding to.

                  – All off teams, the Yanks could carry an average and below average CF and LF together and still be a factor for a title.

                  – I agree, if an upgrade is available, you consider/pursue it, but it’s not an imperative.

    • A.D.

      Any particular reason you are against Cameron/Pro Melk and Garnder each getting to start.

    • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD
  • CountryClub

    I’m not sure why we should expect:

    1. Gardner to get worse in CF
    2. Arod to get better at 3rd

    • Thomas

      A-Rod’s 2009 UZR was brought down, because he was horrible after he came back of the DL (like -27 through the first 30 games or something). After they started to rest him and he got healthier, he was much better defensively. Because in 2010 he will be a full year back from hip surgery and he most likely won’t have that horrid start (due to injury), he should post a higher UZR.

      • CountryClub

        OK, that makes a lot of sense. I’m sure he did gain mobility as the year progressed.

        However, the Arod playing 3rd at the end of the year was still a highly challenged fielder when it came to range. I don’t expect that to change.

        • whozat

          He made a couple poor plays in the playoffs that were memorable.

          The facts indicate that, over the course of the season, he started getting to more balls in his zone than he was when he first came off the DL. If you don’t choose to believe that, that’s your prerogative, but it’s true.

          • http://www.newyorkjets.com/image_assets/8997/052109_coach_rex_ryan_presser_320.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

            CountryClub: “… that makes a lot of sense. I’m sure he did gain mobility as the year progressed.”

            whozat: “The facts indicate that, over the course of the season, he started getting to more balls in his zone than he was when he first came off the DL. If you don’t choose to believe that, that’s your prerogative, but it’s true.”

            He did choose to believe that.

            • whozat

              “However, the Arod playing 3rd at the end of the year was still a highly challenged fielder when it came to range. I don’t expect that to change.”

              And then he said this. Which ain’t true. ARod was back to approximating league average by the season’s end. He was awful at first, and then made a couple shitty plays in the playoffs.

              • http://www.newyorkjets.com/image_assets/8997/052109_coach_rex_ryan_presser_320.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                That’s fine, but that’s not the point you made in the comment I responded to.

          • Stuckey

            Pure speculation on my part, but if A-Rod in fact doesn’t have a 2nd surgery this off-season and doesn’t need rehab, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hires a guy like Jeter did last off-season or if the two of them work out with the same guy together.

            A-Rod is hyper-aware of this type of thing and if he believes Jeter legitimately found something of a fountain of youth, he’s going to want in.

            Would love for all the Yankees to be evaluated by and given an off-season plan by that guy.

            Not everyone will get the results Jeter did (because not everyone is Jeter) but I can’t imagine it could hurt anyone either.

    • Thomas

      I can’t be positive as why Gardner would get worse in CF. However, one possibility is that the projection may have him getting less time in CF. The UZRs given are the aggregate stat (not the rate per 150 games stat), so if Gardner does not play as many games as last year he would probably have a lower UZR.

      That’s all I can come up with other than, for some reason, they just think he won’t be as good and/or the lack of previous seasons data to suggest he will continue to be good.

      • whozat

        These aren’t subjective projection systems, so it’s not that they “think” anything about Gardner or any other player. Basically, because they don’t have historical data on Gardner, they regress his numbers to league average. Why? Because SSS large outliers in general are likely to regress to the mean.

        • http://www.facebook.com/dougchu Doug

          That sounds like players coming off their rookie season are a blind spot for the projections.

        • Thomas

          I am well aware of the fact that projection systems are not subjective. When I said “they don’t think” I meant “the projection doesn’t show,” due likely to the lack of data/SSS.

          However, judging by the formula used to predict the UZR (assuming I read it correctly), it appears the average CF has his best year at age 25 (Gardner’s age this year) and the UZR falls a large amount at age 26 and 27 (Gardners age in 2010), before rising again at ages 28 and 29. With the SSS factored in, this could be the primary reason Gardner’s projected drop.

  • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

    An OF alignment of Melky-Cameron-Swisher would be great. Of course, this means, Hideki or Johnny is gone.

    • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

      If we’re going solely for DH (assuming your outfield stands)…I’d go with Matsui. Even though he is more likely to get injured…he’s still a much better hitter. Damon could be supplanted in the outfield here and there and run…but Matsui’s bat does magical things. Damon also has Boras and will probably be more likely to get a longer deal than Matsui would…

      I still don’t see why we can’t bring them both back.

  • GG

    I was on the site yesterday on that Grandy post repping a defense of Granderson Cameron Melky with Swish as the DH and 4th OF…thats a defensive alignment with some punch

  • http://riveraveblues.com/2009/11/open-thread-you-have-the-red-sox-19930/ the artist formerly known as (sic)

    Love the picture for this post

    • larryf

      Johnny D giving it the failing effort. What ballpark???

      • JGS

        I’m going with Philadelphia

        • Andy in Sunny Daytona

          It looks like Brett tumbling, with Melky coming in from LF.

          • Andy in Sunny Daytona

            FAIL

      • http://riveraveblues.com/2009/11/open-thread-you-have-the-red-sox-19930/ the artist formerly known as (sic)

        image tag says “johnny damon taking a header in the world series”. this+ world series patch on the sleeve+ away unis+ my magic powers of logic have informed me that this was at citizens bank in philly.

        • JGS

          and here I am looking at the outfield wall like a sucker

        • Chris

          I just clicked on the link at the end of the post to read the following:

          New York Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon (L) fails to reach a double hit by Philadelphia Phillies Shane Victorino as Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera comes in to get the ball in the first inning. in Game 4 of the 2009 Major League Baseball World Series in Philadelphia, November 1, 2009.

  • mryankee

    Whats with everyone in love with Mike Cameron. He was good about 5-6 years ago and he was never really great. I dont get the big thing about cameron. If your not going for Holliday or Bay you might as well go with waht you know and have the same outfield as last year.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dougchu Doug
    • Hey ZZ

      Well if you think he was good 5-6 years ago that would mean you would think he is good now, because his numbers have not changed.

      In fact you could make the argument that he has been better the past 2-3 years than he was 5-6 years ago.

    • Tom Zig

      Because Cameron plays CF and plays it well and won’t command a long term deal. OH and he’ll be an improvement to the team

    • http://www.newyorkjets.com/image_assets/8997/052109_coach_rex_ryan_presser_320.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      He’s been a very good defensive centerfielder the last couple of seasons, and his WAR is consistently in the top 5-10 of centerfielders in all of baseball.

      I understand his game not being so impressive to you, but take a look at his numbers and, more importantly, his numbers in comparison to the rest of his peers at CF. He’s attractive on a one-year deal.

      • http://theyankeeway.mlblogs.com/ Keanu Reeves

        What I was trying to say, but better.

        • http://www.newyorkjets.com/image_assets/8997/052109_coach_rex_ryan_presser_320.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          Well I found your comment very informative and reasonable, as well.

          • http://theyankeeway.mlblogs.com/ Keanu Reeves

            Why thank you, sir.

    • http://theyankeeway.mlblogs.com/ Keanu Reeves

      It’s not that we all think he’s a stud that will have a huge year and make the team that much better. It’s that he won’t come with the same price tag or commitment of a Bay or Holliday while still providing above average defense and some pop.

      Ideally, he just fills the gap between this year and 2011 when (hopefully) Austin Jackson will be ready and the free agent market is much better.

      My thinking is that I don’t want to commit money to Bay or Holliday when they can have an adequate alternative in Cameron for so much less.

      • vin

        Exactly. By signing Mike Cameron to a 1 or maybe 2 year deal, the team can actually GET YOUNGER in the big picture.

        • Hey ZZ

          Exactly. Beyond even Holliday and Bay being older players in the middle of their contract you are saving your draft picks as well. Additionally, signing Cameron would take the Yankees out of the running for Granderson. Therefore, you get to keep AJAX which will make the team younger in the big picture.

    • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

      False.

      People like Cameron for a few reasons:

      1. Consistent production at the plate. He’s had least a 104 OPS+ every year since 1999.
      2. Good defender. He may not be as flashy as he used to be, but he’s still got the range to cover a good amount of ground in CF.
      3. He’s better than both Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner.
      4. He’d be relatively cheap–$9-11MM probably.
      5. He could be had on a short term contract, therefore used as a stopgap to either give Melky more development time (maybe he could blossom, however doubtful) and the same goes for Austin Jackson, who probably has a higher ceiling than Melky Cabrera.

      There are five reasons why people like Mike Cameron.

      • jsbrendog

        plus he is boys with cc so think of TEH CHEMISTRY!11!!1!!

  • vin

    “Obviously defense is only half the equation when it comes to evaluating a players worth, or maybe even less depending on how you feel (a run saved is as good as a run scored in my book)”

    I, too, think defense is very important… however, it’s definitely not half of the equation.

    Take Johnny Damon, for example – throughout his career he has averaged 4.4 PA/game. However, during his career he has only averaged 1.95 chances/game in LF.

    DISCLAIMER – These numbers are a bit flawed because they don’t take into account whether or not Johnny pinch hit, was a defensive replacement, or moved to LF from another position.

    If defense were half of the equation, then he would need to get 4.4 chances per game to be able to make the case.

    It’s about 30% of the equation for a LF.

    4.4+1.95 = 6.35 “plays” per game
    1.95/6.35 = 30%

    In CF, Johnny averaged about 2.5 chances per game, which verifies that CF is a more important defensive position.

    This logic doesn’t necessarily hold water when it comes to first baseman. Tex has averaged over 9 chances per game in his career. Many of a first baseman’s plays are so routine that it skews the numbers.

    Of course there’s a hell of a lot more to this than what I’ve broken down. Which position is tougher to field because of the way the ball comes off the bat, how do ballparks come into play, the team’s pitching staff plays a role, how much range do the other outfielders have, does one OF position get more “routine” plays than the other, etc.

    It’s an interesting discussion – I’m sure Bill James has broken it down at some point.

    • RCK

      I was just about to post a similar thought. “A run saved is as good as a run scored” is true, but players do not have an equal number of opportunities to save runs as they do to score them.

  • JMK aka The Overshare

    I haven’t given it much thought until now, but what would you guys think of a DeJesus, Cameron, Swisher OF with Damon or Matsui as the DH?

    I realize DeJesus is a sizable drop in offensive production from Damon, but he did put up an OPS+ of 106 in 2009 and 118 the year before. He plays an excellent LF, which offsets a 106+ OPS a bit.

    Damon, for the record, put up a 126+ OPS this year and a 118 last year.

    So, first question: Do you guys think that it would be worth it to upgrade defensively in left but downgrade offensively (although in fairness, if you’re interested in Cameron in center and Melky in left, DeJesus is better than Melky)?

    What do you think the prospects would cost to get DeJesus, what is the cost/benefit analysis, and are there better options worth exploring?

    • Ghost of Scott Brosius

      I like this alot. Keep matsui to DH, take the fantastic defense, keep melky or gardner around as the fourth OF, use the other as trade bait either for dejesus himself or someone else. If its melky that stays, he can fight it out with cameron and dejesus for an OF spot. hot hand plays, the odd man out is an above average fourth of

  • Bo

    Cameron wasn’t even good 5 yrs ago let alone now at 38yrs old.

    They are much better off getting Damon back and letting the kids battle for CF.

    • Jack

      No, that’s not true.

  • Tank Foster

    How in the world can something like UZR be predicted, especially such small differences….seems stupid to me.

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