The Defense Question

Bunting is for Opening Day, the World Series, and interior decorators
The RAB Radio Show: May 12, 2011

Just to make sure this is perfectly clear right up front: defensive statistics for the 2011 season are a long, long, looong way from being reliable. The sample size, 30-something games for all teams, is just way to small for the data to mean anything right now. That unreliability is part of the reason why none of the advanced metrics agree on the Yankees’ defensive performance.

The table above, screen cap’d from FanGraphs, shows the advanced defensive numbers for each American League team. I recommend clicking for a larger view, one that you can actually read. The Yankees are third in the league with a +8.6 UZR, meaning they’ve saved more than eight-and-a-half runs better than expected through 34 games. Aside from the outfielder’s arms (ARM), they’ve been better than average on double plays (DPR), at ranging for the ball (RngR), and when it comes to making errors (ErrR). With positive production in three of the four components, it’s no surprise their UZR ranks so high. Then why is their +3.9 UZR/150 just seventh in the league, right in the middle of the pack? It’s just a sample size issue, these numbers are very volatile right now.

John Dewan’s famed +/- system (DRS in the chart) says the Yankees are a dozen runs below average right now, fourth worst in the AL. Revised Zone Rating (RZR), which measures how many balls hit to a player’s zone were converted into outs, says the Yankees are the second best defensive club in the AL at .858. RZR is used in conjunction with Out of Zone Players (OOZ), which is the number of balls hit outside of a player’s zone that he turned into outs, but the Yankees are just sixth in the league in OOZ. DER is defensive efficiency ratio, and although it’s not in the chart, it’s easily calculated. It’s just 1-BABIP, telling you how many balls in play are converted into outs overall, regardless of where they’re hit. The Yankees are middle of the pack (ranking eighth in the AL, to be exact) at 0.716 DER.

Six different stats (though it’s really four since UZR and UZR/150 go together, as do RZR and OOZ) giving us five different approximations about the team’s overall defense. Some say it’s great, others say it’s terrible, others say it’s middle of pack. But like I said before, it’s just way too early in the season for these numbers to have any meaning. So the question to you is this: what is your take on the Yankees’ overall defense this year? Is it good, bad, average, or something else? I think it’s been slightly better than average mostly thanks to Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Russell Martin (who’s reminded everyone what defense behind the plate actually looks like), but that’s just me. What about you?

Bunting is for Opening Day, the World Series, and interior decorators
The RAB Radio Show: May 12, 2011
  • BigTimeBartolo

    I personally think it’s below average, but that could just be because of how sloppy i’ve seen it be recently. Our outfield is very good defensively range wise and I think we’re solid arm-strength wise. Russell Martin is a beast behind the plate too. Teix and Robbie are always good, although Robbie has had a couple mistakes so far. Jeter has been solid as of lately, at least compared to the beginning of the season when he looked like a complete statue…

  • vin

    I see errors factor into these metrics (ErrR). Thanks a lot Eduardo.

  • Plank

    I’d say there are solidly above average at 1b, 2b, lf, cf, and c. rf is average and 3b and ss are below average. All told, I would say they are a bit better than average.

    I feel like 10 years ago, Swisher would have been one of the better fielders in rf, but with the league-wide emphasis on defense I would classify him as average.

  • Matt :: Sec110

    this year’s D has made me:

    • Matt :: Sec110

      it’s just weird how inconsistent they are, it seems like badly fielded games come in bunches.

  • Yo! Im Chris

    Is it me or do the Yankees pitchers suck at fielding their position? Mo excluded but CC is awful. Hes a big guy so I understand him but it seems they make more errors than most.

    • Monteroisdinero

      Agree. There is a promo on Yes and Joba talks about finishing his follow through “squared up” in fielding position. What a joke. He is always off balance.

      CC has mental lapses as well in not covering 1B-very discouraging to the defense.

      Fortunately, Martin is good at balls hit in front of the plate etc.

  • epy0n

    I was watching Felix last night and he covers 1B a lot more effectively than CC.

    • Rob Thomsen’s Chili Farts

      That’s part of why Felix is a true ace.

  • psk

    Overall I think it is slightly above average. Martin has been a significant upgrade. Tex, Cano and Gardner are definitely plus defenders. Jeter and Arod have subpar range but are very sure handed. Swisher is fairly average. I think Granderson is very overrated. He seems to take poor routes and really has trouble with balls hit in front of him as he invariably seems to break back. All three outfield arms are below average.

    • Sleepykarl

      Look at Jeter vs Elvis; sure hands and no range, vs all range and disatster on routine plays (Jeter currently leads in overall runs saved!). Polar opposites.

    • Monteroisdinero

      Do not think Grandy is overrated but agree he breaks back too much. On the other hand, he does very well running down balls hit over his head.

      Solution: play a bit shallower and have Swish and Gardy extra- ready to help out on balls hit deep to right center and left center.

  • Lucas Apostoleris

    Early season catcher defensive rankings actually have Russell Martin near the bottom:

  • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

    Recent D has been awful to my eyes. But overall I agree with your take.

    However, SSS issues notwithstanding, the analysis of the various advanced defensive metrics presented tells me what my eyes have felt for some time: they (the metrics) need work. A lot of work. Sure, when looked at over (much) longer periods they of course show less variance from one another. But they still show variance and sometimes it’s shockingly large. I’m a much bigger fan of advanced O metrics :)

  • jetrer

    So far I think Tex has only been about average, Cano average (he doesn’t look anywhere near as good as he was last year), Jeter – still lousy range but outstanding at everything hit near him, ARod – about average, Gardner – great range, but his throwing has been poor, Granderson – solid above average, Swisher – about average, Martin – good all around (any catcher who can handle AJ reasonably will impresses me)

  • Mike c

    I’ve been most impressed by Martin. it’s also why I’m scared of Jesus montero at C. Having a + defensive catcher like Martin has really done wonders for the pitching it seems

  • Preston

    I don’t really have a good basis for comparison because I don’t watch other teams enough to really have a sense of what’s average. Curtis Granderson is excellent in CF and nobody plays LF better than Gardner. Nick gets good reads and has a good glove, but his speed and arm strength aren’t ideal. Cano is solid, but not great. Tex is really good. I can’t decide if Russell Martin is this good or it’s just that what I’ve been watching for the last decade behind the plate was just that bad. Jeter and Arod will never be great, but both look more fluid and athletic than they did a year ago. So I think that our defense is improved over what it was last year and definitely a lot better than it was in 2009. But I’m not sure where that stacks up against other teams.