Mar
26

Looking at the Yanks’ projected defense

By

GM Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankees’ brass have been preaching the mantra of “get younger and more athletic” for years now, and they have done so in each of the last two offseasons. They effectively replaced the trio of Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, and Johnny Damon (combined 2010 age: 111) with Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson (combined 2010 age: 88) while handing the 26-year-old Brett Gardner something close to a full-time job this year.

The improvement made with this transition is noticeable in more ways than one. First of all, it’s easier on the bottom line, even with Tex’s massive deal. Swisher and Granderson will combine to make $750,000 less this year than what the Yankees paid Damon by himself last year. Secondly, the younger players are less susceptible to the daily aches and pains associated with a 162 game season, and generally recover quicker than players on the wrong side of 35. Durability is a big part of it. For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on the third way the young players are an improvement over the old dudes, and that’s defensively.

Last year, the Yankees posted a team UZR of -18.5, 18th best in the game (or more accurately, 12th worst). Sadly, that was a massive improvement from their -44.5 UZR in 2008, which was third worst in all the land. With Damon, and to a lesser extent the perpetually average Melky Cabrera elsewhere this year, the Yankees stand to improve some more on the defensive side of the ball.

Using Jeff Zimmerman’s UZR projections, we can get an idea of how the Yanks’ projected starters for the 2010 season should do with the leather. Remember, these are just projections based on a weighted regression of the last four year’s worth of data, and are in no way predictions. They’re just a fancy estimated guesses, really. The table, obviously, is on the left.

Because we’re looking at the total defensive production from the individual positions in 2009 and comparing it to just the projected starters for the upcoming season, we’re really comparing apples to … slices of apples.  More accurate than oranges, but not whole apples. Guys like Ramiro Pena, Randy Winn, (ugh) Marcus Thames, and who knows who else will make their mark throughout the season, for better or for worse. For us though, this is fine.

The real improvement comes in the outfield, which is good because new fourth starter Javy Vazquez and new fifth starter Phil Hughes are fly ball pitchers, as are bullpen mainstays David Robertson, Damaso Marte, and Al Aceves. Despite his struggles down the stretch last year, Granderson has been an above average defensive centerfielder his entire career, which is what the UZR projections see him being in 2010. Sliding Gardner over to left instantly improves the position, even if he undershoots his projection by a few runs. Nick Swisher will probably be the same Nick Swisher in right, and while it may not always be pretty, it’s still damn effective.

As for the infield, well that crew remains unchanged from last year except for one thing: they’re all a year older. Zimmerman’s projections are age adjusted, which is why they see 36-year-old Derek Jeter‘s defense dropping significantly despite the improvement he’s made in recent seasons. Shortstops that age who don’t decline with the glove are few and far between. Ditto 35-year-old third basemen. I expect Jeter and A-Rod to be collectively below average next year, though I’m hopeful it’ll just be slightly below rather than oh-my-goodness-this-is-Sarah-Jessica-Parker-ugly defense.

Cano and Tex are firmly in the primes of their career, and even though their UZR doesn’t always jive with what our eyes tell us, I think we can all agree they’re no worse than league average as a tandem. The Yankees will be fine on the right side of the infield both offensively and defensively as long as no one gets hurt.

The Yankees have come a long way since 2005, when they trotted out what was arguably the worst defense in baseball history. They’ve managed to do so while importing some long-term pieces on affordable contracts that are more than total zeroes with the bat. They figure to be even better in 2010, which can only help the pitching staff that posted the second best xFIP (4.23) in the American League last season.

Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP

Categories : Defense

58 Comments»

  1. ROBTEN says:

    The Yankees have come a long way since 2005, when they trotted out what was arguably the worst defense in baseball history. They’ve managed to do so while importing some long-term pieces on affordable contracts that are more than total zeroes with the bat. They figure to be even better in 2010, which can only help the pitching staff that posted the second best xFIP (4.23) in the American League last season.

    While everyone is talking about the Sox’s commitment to defense this year, this is something that Cashman really should get more credit for. He’s made defensive improvements without sacrificing offense (and even slowly reducing the payroll, thus also increasing flexibility). While he doesn’t always get credit because of the money involved, he’s shown that it’s not simply about spending money, but spending it wisely.

    • bobbybaseball says:

      im with you on cash… to give myself props, ive been preaching for years that the two most important but underappreciated aspects of the game are defense and baserunning….which brings up the ugly missing link-posada-
      i know hes great offensively, and hes a leader and everyone loves him ,blah blah…but…my big issue with him has always been that 1.his catching skills are very poor ( noone wants to throw to him despite the polical answers)2. he calls a bad game (when asked in 2008, he said he calls the game based on what he thinks a pitcher would throw him..?good idea jorge, everyone hits like you!) also, have you seen him on passed balls? he waits till the runner takes the extra base befre he even retrieves the ball! lastly, he might well be the worst baserunner ive ever seen, and ive been watching the yanks daily since 1965. sorry for the negativity, but true is true,,

  2. bexarama says:

    poor Sarah Jessica Parker.

    I know A-Rod was coming off hip surgery and not 100% in 2009 so his defense wasn’t gonna be amazing but yeesh I didn’t realize it was that bad.

    • bexarama says:

      also… dear lord, how did the 2005 Yankees win so many games? (It probably had something to do with A-Rod destroying the world.)

      • JGS says:

        Because the emphasis on defense is overblown…until you get to the playoffs, when their shortcomings were on full display. That’s why I will laugh hysterically if the Sox end up in third

        • bexarama says:

          Because the emphasis on defense is overblown
          I can agree with this, but the worst defense possibly ever combined with the relatively rancid pitching… yeesh.

          I definitely thought this team was the weakest of the three teams from 2005-2007 that didn’t get past the first round, but funnily enough they were the ones that, facing elimination, managed to win the fourth game. That fifth game in Anaheim was painful but the White Sox would have EATEN THEM ALIVE in the ALCS.

          • JGS says:

            well, how much of the rancidness was because of the terrible defense?

            Kevin Brown–6.50 ERA, 3.61 FIP

            well, that’s about it. No one else had ERA/FIP splits anywhere close to that

            and yes, the White Sox would have demolished them

      • RollingWave says:

        partly because they hit very well in the clutch, and they had some absurd luck with the pitching ( Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon namely) . RJ had great periphals that year but only modestly good ERA, Moose had decent periphals but poor results.. and err let’s not even get to the rest of the crowrd.

        The competition also helped, the Red Sox were trotting out the hilarious infield of Mark Loretta, Edgar Rentaria , Bill Mueller , Kevin Millar, only Mueller (but this would basically be his last pro year as he got badly hurt next year) manage to not embarrase himself with the bat. Trot Nixon was also on the decline.

        Oh right , and their top 3 starters were Tim Wakefield (huh?) Bronson Arroyo (heh) and Matt Clement (lol)

        Curt Schilling was hurt that year but they brought in David Wells who didn’t pitch too poorly.

        • bexarama says:

          Thanks, that explains it pretty thoroughly. I actually burst out laughing at that Red Sox infield, heh. (Though they actually had a good offense overall, 111 OPS+. Their pitching did them in, too.)

          • RollingWave says:

            they had two guys that can rake and most of the other guys at least got on base. so yeah it wasn’t a bad offense but that infield is pretty hilarious. Though Kevin Youkilis made it a bit better towards years end (he wasn’t that great that year either, but was better than Millar)

  3. Eirias says:

    Gardner’s projected UZR is 0.0 after positional adjustments? This from the man projected for several WAR due to his defensive skills? Ouch.

  4. Manimal says:

    Predicting Gardner and Swisher to be league average is a joke. Gardner is clearly a +10 UZR kind a guy and Swisher is definitely a negative UZR.

    • K.B.D. says:

      Nick Swisher is a career +2.6 UZR outfielder and has posted -1.7, +0.9 and +4.9 in the past three years. His biggest sample is in right field where he’s posted a +6.0. Definitely negative? I’m not so sure about that.

      • bexarama says:

        isn’t his bad UZR mostly due to his arm as well? His range is fine, both last year and in his career, from what I understand.

        • JGS says:

          +19.2 range for his career in right field, -9.2 arm

          • Salty Buggah says:

            Hope that improves in 2010. SSS but his arm looked better in the playoffs and so far has looked better in Spring Training than it did in regular season 09. And there is (somewhat) tangible evidence for that improvement as he worked with Dave Eiland to improve his mechanics. With a better arm rating, he could easily put up a +2-5 UZR.

    • Bo says:

      +10?

      When did Gardner become Franklin G?

      • pete says:

        Franklin G had a +27 last year, in CF. Gardner had a +23 UZR/150 in center last year in a small sample. If that was anywhere near his talent level, then yes, he should be at least +10 in left. It’s an easier position

      • H.W. Plainview says:

        Guttierrez is way over +10 in a season.

  5. MOboy says:

    Gardner isn’t gonna hold down the job all year.This site loves Yankees prospects too much and (besides no major love for MO like Jeter) think their gonna be more then they aren’t.

    Haven’t we learned anything from Rasner,ChaseWright,Clippard,Melky DeSalvo and Bubba Crosby that there all back-ups.

    • JGS says:

      Mo is referred to as God here. I think that qualifies as major love

      • Eirias says:

        Mo is referred to as God? Are you implying he isn’t ?

        Sure, his WAR for last year may have only tied with, say, Vincente Padilla, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t liquid awesome at his particular job. Besides, is WAR or WPA the better “advanced” stat for relievers?

    • Accent Shallow says:

      Hey, Cano was a prospect. Does he count?

    • Angelo says:

      Wang…Melky….Joba….Hughes….D-rob…Aceves….Yeah, I guess the Yankees never call up anyone useful nowadays. A bunch of garbage prospects I guess.

    • Bo says:

      Everyone here falls in love with prospects. It is why most think Gardner is an all star because some def metrics say his OF def is great.

      Remember you had a day of mourning here when they traded a rookie ball pitcher for a stud in his prime who just finished 4th in the Cy voting.

      • Rick in Boston says:

        Nobody here is claiming Gardner is going to be an all-star based on his fielding or his hitting. His history shows that he is an excellent to near-elite defensive OF’er based on his ability to cover significant ground in the outfield, both in the minors and in the majors.

      • pete says:

        pretty much everyone here loved the Javy trade. And nobody thinks Gardner is an all-star. They just think that he’s a much better solution, all things considered (including defense and cost) to the LF problem, at least for this year, than Johnny Damon, whose defense is liable to almost completely undo anything positive he adds with his bat.

  6. Salty Buggah says:

    I might be too optimistic here but I think the Yanks can easily outperform that projected -5 UZR in 2010.

    • whozat says:

      I dunno…it would probably almost entirely depend on how hard Granderson bounces back and how well Gardner does in how many innings. The collective infield is probably going to be below average in UZR, Swish and Granderson _might_ collectively be above average, but probably will be at about 0.0…and then it’s Gardner, Winn and Thames.

      • Salty Buggah says:

        It does depend somewhat on Granderson but if he’s +2 out in CF, I’d be ecstatic. I know I shouldn’t judge on a SSS but I think Gardner is at least a +10 UZR guy in LF. Also, for some reason, I don’t think Jeter will drop all the way to -2 (which is funny because 3 years ago, we’d be happy with a -2 UZR).

        Again, I’m being optimistic but a scenario in which the Yanks are at 0 UZR isn’t that hard to envision.

      • JobaWockeeZ says:

        Jeter too. They expect a huge drop in performance from him. If Jeter can nearly replicate hsi 2009 defensive numbers then I’m sure the team can be better than -5.

  7. dkidd says:

    me too. i’d be surprised if tex/gardner/cano didn’t surpass their projections

    • YankeesJunkie says:

      Well Tex was around a zero UZR last year, obviously most people that watch the game or do the stats would agree that is a gross understatement. The Yankees have a real solid right side of the infield defense wise and a real nice defense out in the OF. Granderson and Gardner are both plus defenders and while Swisher is not the prettiest OF he does play a slightly above average with his aggresiveness charging the ball which makes his arm less of an impact. The Yankees did a real nice job in adding defense without subtracting from the offensive side outside of Gardner, but if Gardner gets on base around .340-350 his runs above average on the base paths compounded with the defense will make him a league average player who will score a ton of runs with Jeter hitting behind him.

      • Salty Buggah says:

        If Gardner OBP .340-.350 with above-average defense and baserunning over a full season, he’ll be at the very least slightly above average.

        • YankeesJunkie says:

          I can agree with that, but considering that Gardner at most would start about 130 games IMO, I can’t really see his WAR getting too much higher than 2.5. However, if he was at 2 WAR I would be ecstatic considering that everyone else on the Yankees will probably be averaging 4-6 WAR.

  8. DerMegalodonster a/k/a friend of Bo says:

    I did not read the post on Teixeira & UZR on the 22nd but felt compelled to make a comment. I don’t think it would be inappropriate to leave it here as much is applicable… will not be able to reply until this evening probably.

    The insistence on the validity and veracity of wUZR as expressed in the Mar. 22nd post & commentary (and here) is nothing more than the forcing of the camel through the needle’s eye and – when one finds oneself a sticky mess of blood, guts, hoof, & hair – simply surmising that it is that particular camel which is the problem (nothing to do with the method whatever!) and continuing blissfully in error. It is… the very quintessence of doctrinaire.

    I believe perhaps Bo said it best, “Any stat measure that shows D[aniel] Murphy as a good 1b is inherently flawed and should be dismissed.” What Bo is eluding to on an intuitive level is the Coherence Theory of Truth which, along with the Correspondence Theory, constitutes one of the major schools in the study of Truth/Falsity. He eludes also to an ancient legal precept “falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus.” Never heard of it? It means, false in one thing – false in all. In other words, if there is a flaw in the testimony or, for our purposes, if something is flawed somewhere in its method or measurements, the whole thing is going to be flawed. NO AMOUNT of “sample size” (3yrs, 5yrs, 10yrs!) will rectify the flaw — because it is flawed FUNDAMENTALLY! So it is with wUZR. It is not “coherent” with the panoply of our experience — from systematic logic to sensory perception. We know this from its conclusions if from nothing else.

    I take umbrage with those who would claim that Teixeira’s RANGE is approximately average. I would bet the farm that if I did some archiving I could come up with quotes from Scioscia, Cox, and Girardi, or opposing players/managers, etc which speak SPECIFICALLY to Teixeira’s RANGE being superior. I seem to recall all who worked in the Yankees booth last year (Kenny, Flaherty, Leiter – even Coney, no enemy of sabermetrics), noting if not exclaiming on Teixeira’s RANGE, i.e., its significance as being well above average at the least. If there truly are those who don’t see Teixeira as well above average in his range, I can only sigh and say how prescient Pope was when he penned, “All seems infected which the infected spy/As all seems yellow to the jaundic’d eye” (from the Essay on Criticism).

    I’ll close with another quote from Bo, “They need to improve their data [for it] to be a useful tool.” Or, as Horace would have it some several millennia earlier, “Nil agit exemplum, litem quod lite resolvit.” That is to say, of no worth is an example that solves one quarrel with another – regardless of Tom Tango’s (and other’s) protestations.

    Funny how that Bo comprehends on an intuitive level concepts/reasoning’s that the great minds aver – and yet which elude those who continually flaunt themselves as the fruition of the Enlightenment.

    • It means, false in one thing – false in all. In other words, if there is a flaw in the testimony or, for our purposes, if something is flawed somewhere in its method or measurements, the whole thing is going to be flawed.

      But that argument ignores that there are tons of players, Franklin Gutierrez in the OF, Kevin Youkilis at first, Chase Utley at second, for example, who are rated highly by the “eye test” and are also rated highly by UZR.

      No one has said that UZR is perfect; it isn’t. For the time being, all defensive metrics have some sort of flaw, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore them all. UZR’s biggest flaw is its handling of first basemen, and as time goes on, it will be fixed. With the availability of Hit F/X data in the next few years, we’ll likely see big improvements in defensive stats.

    • Accent Shallow says:

      Semper ego auditor tantum?

      UZR isn’t perfect, because it doesn’t necessarily measure defense — it measures how good a player is at accumulating UZR. This is why one should look at scouting reports, +/-, and other fielding metrics (I liked David Pinto’s PMR, but I haven’t been able to find that since THT took their stats down) in addition to UZR.

      And while condescension is always appreciated, please go read one of the threads on BBTF and the Book Blog where MGL lays out UZR’s functionality. You’d learn something.

    • Rick in Boston says:

      The issue with stating that Murphy makes stats worthless statement is that there is no basis or fact behind it (kind of like most of your friend’s points). We see Tex and believe his range is above-average; it might be, but compared to the average first baseman, maybe he as a tick below last year.

      Maybe last year, Murphy (being a converted OF), actually showed good/above average range. You don’t know that because you can’t sit there and watch every first baseman on every play in every game during a 162 game season. If you have time to sit down and watch at least 22,000 innings of baseball with a camera only pointed at the first baseman, great. But we don’t and therefore don’t have the ability to say if this stat is purely junk.

      And utilizing a coach/manager’s opinion isn’t 100% great either. Again, these are the same people who gave Gold Gloves to Jeter and Palmeiro. Their knowledge of the game is fantastic, but they are also extremely jaded and they weight their opinions and their eyes over statistical data. These managers and coaches are watching players from an angle that is not at all conducive to rating how good a player’s range is.

      • Bo says:

        What more of a fact do you need that the stat metric is flawed than it saying Murphy is better than Tex?

        If that isnt a HUGE FACT i dont know what is

        • William says:

          They are two fucking players!

        • Rick in Boston says:

          It’s like saying Murphy is a better player than Tex because he stole more bases (I have no idea if that’s true or not). It’s a small piece of a much larger picture. UZR doesn’t calculate how good Tex is at picking throws from his infielders or positioning himself on throw overs from pitchers to tag out guys. For one year in his career, Murphy had a better calculated UZR than Tex – you seem to miss that it’s part of a larger picture.

  9. DerMegalodonster a/k/a friend of Bo says:

    As for Robbie’s defense:

    Robinson Cano is to me the best defensive second baseman in baseball. I don’t care who else you look at Robbie makes plays that no one else can… and his arm strength is incredible, the way he turns double plays is incredible, he’s got great range… about once a week I say, there’s nobody else in baseball that can make that play and Robinson Cano is the only one who can do it. I mean, you talk about plays to the right, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone make them better than him, I find it hard to believe that anyone played better defense than he did last year. The problem is that he defensive metrics are somewhat unreliable and not necessarily a defined way to measure it.

    • EJ says:

      I agree. He is easily the most overlooked, underrated second basement in baseball. Watching him day in and day out clearly shows his incredible range and arm, yet other second basemen, i.e. pedroia, are rated higher because of the statistical defects of UZR. Cano is easily the most fluid second baseman in the MLB and is definately one of the top 3 second baseman in baseball all around.

      • Bo says:

        Cano will never ever get credit for defense because he got the rep when he was younger as “lazy” and “clueless”. It will never change for him even if we see him make great plays on a daily basis.

        His range is terrific and his arm is the best in the league at 2b.

        • pete says:

          his arm is terrific, his range is (or has been, up to this point) extremely inconsistent.

          We rarely ascribe blame to players not getting to balls. We should start.

      • ultimate913 says:

        “He is easily the most overlooked, underrated second basement in baseball.”

        Ha. I expect someone to make a RAB-insider out of this typo.

      • pete says:

        i’m going to keep a tab of all the balls that get by him. I love the guy, but balls trickle under his glove all the time.

  10. Angelo says:

    I’m wondering why would the projection systems predict a much lower UZR for Granderson this season. Yankee stadium is not nearly as spacious as comerica park, so he shouldnt have as tough a time. Also, Swisher and Gardner/Winn have above average range in the outfield, which should make things even easier on Granderson. A +2 UZR is not bad, but I definitely disagree with the projection. Granted, in the end it is just a projection after-all.

  11. pete says:

    I completely agree re: the infield – it will be collectively a tad below avg. this year, but not significantly so. Jeter can’t sustain this improvement for long at his age, A-Rod should bounce back some but he’s also 35, and I do think that, in terms of range, Cano and Teix are roughly average. Cano is an elite defensive talent, don’t get me wrong, but he is undeniably inconsistent in the field. You constantly see balls squeak by him or dribble under his glove. Does he sometimes make plays that you’re not sure any other 2B can make, and make them look easy at that? Sure, but the balls that get by him count, too. As for Teix, he is great at scooping throws, he’s a great thrower, and he makes a ton of diving plays, but I’ve watched a ton of Youkilis and a ton of Teix, and where range is concerned, I’d definitely give a huge edge to Youkilis, as much as I hate the guy. One reason, I believe, is that Teix rarely seems to play particularly far back, and also seems to try to get back to the bag more than he should on balls hit to his right (considering many of them do, in fact, get by cano).

    As far as the outfield goes, however, I’d have to disagree with some of that projection. Granderson had issues towards the end of last year, but he’s had eye issues that have since been corrected. He has been, for his career, above average in center, and he’s only 29. I’d expect +2 to +8 for him. The Swisher projections look to be pretty much spot on, if not a little low. He is +6 for his career in RF, after all. I highly doubt he’s below average again in 2010. But for Gardner, his LF sample from last year was clearly too small to hold much predictive weight. My guess is he was just adjusting to the angles and never had time to fully adjust. I just can’t see him playing out as an average defensive left fielder. I don’t remember who said it, but someone else on here said around +10, and I would actually consider that a conservative estimate on him (albeit one that I will agree with, for now). I think that overall, our outfield should be anywhere from +10 to +30 (don’t laugh – if Gardner goes +18, Granderson goes +8, and Swish goes +4, we’ve got a +30 OF). That would represent something like a 2-4 win swing on outfield defense alone for the yankees this year.

    What boggles my mind is the fact that the Sox and Mariners get all of the defensive attention, but the Rays have gone largely ignored. IMO, the Rays are as good a defensive club as any in baseball, if not better, and that’s pre-Jennings. If you factor him in (I’m assuming they’re going to delay his arb clock), then you’ve got an elite defender at LF, CF, RF, 3B, 2B, and 1B, with a solid defender at SS. I’m predicting (predicting, not projecting) +13 for Crawfod, +12 for Upton, and +14 for Jennings (+39 OF), +15 for Longo, +3 for Bartlett, +8 for Zobrist, and +6 for Pena. (+32 IF). They’re the only team out there that doesn’t have any position without an above average or better defender.

    • Rob in CT says:

      There are two reasons those other clubs got the press they did for defense:

      1) Bigger markets
      2) The Rays have been good defensively for some time now. For the Mariners & Red Sox, this is new.

  12. Rob in CT says:

    I expect the outfield to be good, possibly very good. I’d be surprised if Gardner puts up a 0 in LF. Winn, when he plays, is also above-average. The worry is defensive innings for Thames, who sucks. I expect the infield to be below average. ARod should bounce back somewhat, but he’s been a tad below average at 3B before the hip thing. Jeter has been good the past two seasons, but age and past history make his projection reasonable to me. Cano… sometimes he makes great plays. Other times he lets balls get past him. He has solid range and a great arm, but sometimes balls scoot past him, even though he gets there in time. They go as hits, but he shoulda had ‘em. If he can eliminate those, he could be above-average, so the potential is there. Tex is a good 1B, and 1B is a tough position to figure by UZR… some of Tex’s impact may be on the ratings of the other three guys (gathering errant throws). Pena is a good fielder, and I expect him to be less jittery out there this year.

    And then there’s Jorge. I love Jorge, but we all know he’s below average defensively. I think Cervelli is very good… young Molina good, IMO. If only he could hit…

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