Barbarisi on Gardner and Granderson’s defense

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At the Wall Street Journal this morning, writer Daniel Barbarisi takes a look at Brett Gardner‘s range in left field. It’s subscriber-only content, but there are apparently ways to find it free it you search hard enough. Here’s something that caught my interest from the article:

He is effectively a second center fielder, ranging wide over the left side of the field in ways no other left fielder is doing. He frequently takes balls away from center fielder Curtis Granderson, when traditionally, it’s vice-versa…

Gardner teams with Granderson and Nick Swisher to create one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. Granderson is an established, rangy center fielder who has great in-line speed once he gets moving, and Swisher is an underrated and improving right fielder—his UZR is 10.7, fifth-best in baseball. And they move around significantly, adjusting for where they expect the hitter will place the ball…

The way Gardner covers ground allows the Yankees to use different defensive alignments, shifting Granderson more toward right field in some situations because they assume Gardner can cover all of left-center.

Jay Jaffe has speculated before that Gardner takes balls away from Granderson, and so it’s interesting to see Barbarisi essentially confirm this hypothesis. Like Jaffe, I wondered about Granderson’s poor UZR score since it doesn’t seem to pass the eye test and I’ve yet to find a single person who believes that Granderson is actually a poor fielder. It may simply be that Gardner’s speedy wheels and great instincts, and Granderson’s positioning, are the cause of Granderson’s subpar UZR score this year.

This is a relevant issue as it relates to Granderson’s MVP chances. In traditional categories, Granderson cleans up. He’s second in HR, first in R and RBI, and he’s stolen 24 bases. But in the advanced statistic realm of Wins Above Replacement, Granderson is held back by his poor defensive score. His -9.2 UZR rating means that he’s not as high up the Fangraphs’ WAR leaderboard as guys like Bautista, Pedroia and Ellsbury. Yet if we subbed in a value of 0 for Granderson’s UZR, still a conservative number in my estimation, his fWAR would go from 6.1 to 6.9. If we gave him last year’s value of 6.4 runs, his fWAR would go to 7.6, ahead of Pedroia, Ellsbury and Gonzalez and just a tenth of a point behind Jose Bautista. In other words, it’s possible that the case for Granderson winning the MVP should look even stronger than it currently does.

Anyway, the article is an interesting read and I recommend you take a look. There’s some cool stuff in there about how much Andruw Jones (himself a formerly-elite defender) respects Gardner’s defensive prowess, and also a fun quote about how much Gardner would love to win the Gold Glove. Parenthetically, Barbarisi has been a fantastic addition to the Wall Street Journal‘s coverage of sports. He’s been unafraid to integrate new statistics into his work without getting bogged down in explaining the stats and still maintaining the traditional feel of the newspaper sports column. If he isn’t on your radar by now, he should be.

DotF: Montero's big day
Series Preview: Oakland Athletics
  • Greg

    That link didn’t work for me. However, as a general tip for reading wsj articles, you can just google the title of the article (in this case, “A left-field glove with center-field range”) and you can click through to the full article that way.

    • Stephen Rhoads

      OK, updated the post accordingly. Thanks for the heads-up, the google news link isn’t working for me anymore either.

    • 28 this year

      thanks for the tip. The link didn’t work but your strategy did.

      On another note, the two parts of the team where Cashman had complete freedom to build were the outfield and the bullpen. As in, those two places were left without major contracts or legends that cannot be gotten rid of in favor of younger talent. Obviously you never need to get rid of Mo and Soriano kinda threw a wrench in it but you got to give credit to Cashman for building those two parts of the club.

      • MattG

        How is it you know this?

        • jsbrendog

          he doesnt

        • Mike HC

          I think he is saying that the bullpen and outfield show Cashman’s true GM ability, rather than just offering the most money to guys like ARod, Jeter, Teix, CC, AJ etc …

          The comment was obviously a bit too broad though and also a little inaccurate.

    • raider43

      This article is far off base. Through the stats out the window and watch the game.

      Gardner is constantly out of positon, gets a late jump and cannot throw! Plus he does not get to the wall to make the tough grab. Cannot argue about his range, but is it only because of his speed.

      Granderson is the best of the three but not a centerfielder I would put in the top ten defensviely simply because he has a pea shooter not a rifle no less a cannon

      Swisher, no one has ever accused him of being a good defensive rightfielder. He is the Stan Laurel of baseball outfielders, a real comedian.

      • Jim S


        “Cannot argue about his range, but it is only because of his speed.”

        As opposed to everyone else who has good range but aren’t fast?

        Re: Swisher: A few bloopers does not a bad fielder make.

  • David, Jr.

    Maybe not this year, as it wouldn’t be smart to cause them to change, but I can’t imagine why Gardy wouldn’t be the centerfielder starting next year. It is simply a better fit.

    • CBean

      And where are we moving Granderson?

    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      This is a totally speculative point, but I wonder if Gardner’s arm isn’t better suited for LF and Granderson’s for CF. This may seem counter-intuitive (and I’m not sold on this, just something I’ve thought about randomly), but Gardner’s arm plays up in LF because he has opportunities to get baserunners at third and home, and I wonder if you don’t neutralize that advantage just a bit by moving him into CF (while not getting that advantage out of Granderson, since his arm is weaker and won’t be an asset in any outfield spot).

      I’m sure the benefit of getting the better outfielder into the most premium position outweighs what I’m talking about above, it it’s even true/relevant, but whatever. Just a thought. I might be overly influenced by seeing Gardner gun some baserunners down, but I do like seeing his arm in LF. I think it has a nice preventative effect on opposing teams on the basepaths even if he’s not throwing out baserunners.

      • David, Jr.

        I know what you mean. It is a very good point. The nice thing is that we good either way.

  • CP

    Shouldn’t the formula for UZR account for the fact that other defenders may field balls in the players zone?

    I would think it would be easy to just throw out any plays made by another fielder so they don’t help or hurt someone’s UZR. For example, a pop fly behind short shouldn’t hurt a short stop’s UZR just because he gives way to the left fielder to catch it.

    • 28 this year

      perhaps the formula doesn’t take away point from Granderson but it prevents him from gaining points. In order to get your UZR up, I would imagine the plays farthest away from you give you the most points. If Gardner takes half of the balls that are at the outer level of Grandy’s range, the opportunity to gain positive points is reduced. So in essence, it doesn’t subtract his UZR, it just doesn’t give him a chance to add to it. hope that makes sense.

      • TwainsYankee

        Sounds like a flawed metric to me

  • Tom O

    Dave Cameron doesn’t think he’s a great fielder apparently. And he made fun of me for even mentioning runs/RBI’s on one of the fangraphs chats lol. I know its fangraphs, but come on, those numbers at least count for something, even if only to try and think about how the writers will vote.

    • Jim S

      I think some of the fangraphs authors trust their metrics a bit too far, from time to time.

      I tend to look at UZR and related stats in conjunction with what most scouts say, and if there’s a discrepancy, I’ll trend towards meeting in the middle.

      I think Granderson is an average CF who’s speed makes up for a lot of his poor jumps(from what my uneducated eyes can tell). Seems to match up with his career UZR/150 of 2.7

      • Jerome S

        I love Fangraphs, like, love them, but when it comes to the Yankees I find that some of their authors harbor a definite bias. Perhaps I should rephrase that; all of the authors at Fangraphs are fans of one team or another, and consequently, tend to take a more favorable outlook on their home team. A few, though, definitely dislike the Yankees/Red Sox/some other team.

        I mean, for years all I’ve been reading about is how flawed a single-year sample of UZR is, but now that it’s negatively rating Granderson, suddenly he’s definitely a poor defender? There’s really not much logical consistency there.

        • Jim S

          Well to be fair I’m not sure what exactly Cameron said. If his exact words were “He’s not great”, then that still leaves the door open for “average”, which is kind of how I’d rate him.

          I think that people tend to see someone athletic/fast and can’t understand that they might not be an elite defender. Not saying that’s the case with Granderson, but still. While fangraphs may under-rate him, I think the natural tendency would be the opposite.

          It’s hard to stay unbiased, I guess would be a good summary of my long-winded paragraph.

  • Jared

    The problem with UZR is that it uses the law of large numbers to assume positioning. It only adjusts for the batter’s power then will assume the OFs starting position as either deep (for power hitters) or shallow (for not so powerful hitters) — it does not adjust for pull hitters or opposite field hitters to assume a skew of starting positioning to the left or right. More importantly for the Grandyman, it does not take into account the abilities of his teammates in the outfield. So, because Gardner is excellent in LF and pushes Granderson further right than normal, there are many balls in LCF that UZR’s formula believe Granderson did not get to that it believes he should have. (In fact, Gardner gets to many of these balls helping to increase his UZR). This obviously hurts Granderson. Now you would think that his positioning would allow him to get to more balls in RCF that he normally wouldn’t get to if he was positioned in dead center, but Swisher’s excellent (and entertaining) range hurts Granderson’s in this direction too. If my assumptions are correct, swapping Granderson and Gardner would just result in Granderson having the great UZR while Gardner would see his decrease.

    An interesting analysis I would love to see is the correlation of OFs’ UZRs among their teammates. I would bet that you’d rarely (possibly wouldn’t) see an OF where three starters have UZRs even one standard deviation above the mean. I think UZR is the a great concept, yet unfortunately is poorly executed — not because of poor formulation, but because of incomplete data. With the proliferation of field f/x to build upon the foundation UZR has set, you will begin to see a great advancement in defensive metrics. In fact, I bet a lot of teams are already doing this in house.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      So, because Gardner is excellent in LF and pushes Granderson further right than normal, there are many balls in LCF that UZR’s formula believe Granderson did not get to that it believes he should have.

      False. Every ball that Gardner catches is treated like a non-entity for Granderson. Granderson is not docked in any way when Gardner ranges over into CF to make a play. For Granderson, it’s as if the play never happened.

      As stated above, Gardner’s great range impinging on Granderson’s normal CF zones does not materially subtract from Granderson’s UZR rating, it just gives him slightly fewer chances to raise his rating with more OOZ opportunities.

      The negative UZR Granderson has compiled this year is 100% based on the plays he makes; Gardner’s just taking away from his chances to earn extra credit.

      • MikeD

        …which leads me to wonder if it’s possible for all three OFers on a team to have great UZR scores. Gardner and Swisher’s higher UZR’s this year may fit with Granderson’s lower UZR.

        • Stephen Rhoads

          Joe’s actually working on something about the Yankees OF defense for FG, I’ll be interested to see if it answers some of these questions.

      • CP

        False. Every ball that Gardner catches is treated like a non-entity for Granderson.

        Where are the details explaining this element of the UZR calculation?

      • Jared

        Every ball that Gardner catches is treated like a non-entity for Granderson. Granderson is not docked in any way when Gardner ranges over into CF to make a play. For Granderson, it’s as if the play never happened.

        Gotya, can’t argue with this. But what about the balls that neither player get to that Granderson would have caught given a “normal” starting position?

        • BK2ATL

          Well played, Mauer!!!

          I guess UZR doesn’t favor Grandy for lining up in right center, but it does for Swisher. LOL!!!

  • ColoYank

    Thanks for this highly appropriate graphic, Tommie. My favorite bumper sticker (on a car with Missouri plates, of all things) is the anit-corollary to your spot-on sentiment: “If it ain’t broke, fix it ’til it is.”

    • ColoYank

      Hey! This isn’t my reply fail. This one belongs to the blog. I clicked the correct button, I swear.

      • MikeD

        I’m with you. I replied to one of your notes and it ended up at the bottom of the thread nowhere near your comment.

  • ColoYank

    FWIW, I doubt seriously that most voters place a lot of weightin UZR rankings, or their contribution to overall value rankings. Most MVP voters look at traditional offensive stats, and if they pay any attention to a candidate’s fielding at all, it doesn’t get deeper than the naked eye test.

  • Mike HC

    This is what I assumed was happening as well, except I differ in evaluating how that should effect his MVP status. Because Gardner is so good, and Swisher as well, Granderson’s D is simply not as valuable to the Yanks as it might have been on a team with weaker corner outfielders. If Granderson had to move off center, not only would the Yanks defense barely lose a step, but they would actually probably improve because Gardner is probably the superior defender.

    So, even though I agree that Granderson is probably an average to slightly above average centerfielder, on the Yanks this season, his defense simply has not been that valuable. It could have been more valuable given other circumstances, but the MVP voting should be based on how valuable you have actually been throughout the season. Not how valuable you could have been on another team or if Gardner wasn’t so good.

    • MikeD

      So related along that line of thinking, Pedroia, Ellsbury and Gonzalez can all be eliminated from winning the MVP this year because the Red Sox have three very strong contenders, reducing the true value each one has to the team? : -)

      Just trying to increase Grandy’s MVP chances, although I do wonder if this will come into play. Even the Boston media and ESPN can’t figure out which Red Sox player to support. They may end up splitting so many votes further increasing JoeyBats chances, or allowing Granderson to move up in the voting.

      • Mike HC

        Not necessarily. Having guys on base before you, and guys that are able to drive you in after you, would actually increase your offensive numbers. Making you seemingly more valuable than maybe you really are. Hence why runs and rbi’s are not the greatest barometers of offensive value.

        But having great defenders next to you only steals your shit, ha.

        • Mike HC

          Also, having great hitters around you doesn’t change the fact you still get up once every nine times. And having great hitters around you can even up the number of at bats you get in the season because less outs are made.

          While having great defenders around you, in the outfield especially, will almost definitely cut into your chances. Also, an increase in strikeouts from your pitching staff will also decrease the number of chances your fielders get overall.

  • UncleArgyle

    How heavily is UZR weighed in WAR anyway? It seems like its practically 50-50 compared to offense, which would be ridiculous. I’d also like to know how the UZR sausage is made. As far as I can tell its calculated by a couple dudes sitting at the Baseball Info Solutions headquarters in PA watching games saying “Good play, bad play”. To me it seems the statistical community was so obsessed with measuring defense that the first thing they came up with was embraced as a Rosetta Stone, when it very well might be total crap.

    • Jerome S

      It makes up the defensive component of fWAR. Just take the UZR, divide it by ten, and bam. Defensive Wins Above Replacement FTW.

  • Monteroisdinero

    At least after all those flyballs Gardy runs down in left center-he tosses the ball to Grandy to throw back in. They play so well together…

    I like our outfield positioned as it is. Gardner-no complaints. Grandy’s jump on the ball and Swish’s arm is just something we have to live with.

    • Monteroisdinero

      “are” just something we have to live with.

    • BK2ATL

      Agreed. Remember all the dismay for not going after Matt Holliday, etc. last year??? Our OF appears to be one of our strengths. Another Cashman feather in the cap. Go figure.

      Swisher is really not THAT bad out there. Just not as good as our other 2 OFs. I’ll take it.

  • MikeD

    Agreed, although there is an increasing number of sports writers paying greater attention to advanced metrics, with sites like B-R and Fangraphs becoming destinations for all media members. There are so many articles written now by sabermetric types which general media members read and see, ultimately providing input into their decisions. I do think that’s why, for example, King Felix won the Cy Young Award last year and Greinke the year prior. It’s still a minority, but there is more influence than there was five years ago.

    But, yeah, that all said, I don’t think UZR is going to factor heavily into the MVP voting.

    • MikeD

      Reply Fail.

      This was in response to ColoYank’s statement about MVP voters and UZR.

  • Kilgore Trout

    Granderson is MVP as far as I’m concerned. Bautista won’t win as writers won’t vote for a player on a non-contender and that’s just the way it is. Boston will split the vote and Granderson takes the MVP trophy which he deserves for keeping the Yankees afloat all season.

  • Javierkei Pavagawa

    I think UZR is poop.

    Coming from an epidemiology background statistical modeling is actually something that is very, very complicated.

    Beware of dorks who invent metrics and then trumpet them as being “the best” measure of a phenomenon. There just marketing their product. Assessing defense, especially in center field, is extremely complex.

    • Jim S

      Just because something is complex does not make it irrelevant or incorrect.

      UZR should be used as a tool, not a be-all and end-all.

      • Javierkei Pavagawa

        Assessing outfield defense using statistical modeling is complex. The question is whether the modeling (UZR) actually does what it purports to do.

        People come up with models (which are more often an art than a science) to explain all sorts of phenomena and then proclaim their usefulness. Whether the metric actually measures up is a whole different question.

        When the model doesn’t agree with what your eyes see, it doesn’t necessarily mean your eyes aren’t working. Maybe the model is bad.

        • Jim S

          That’s true, but UZR is based on what people’s eyes see.

  • MattG

    How good would Grandy and Gardy look if the Yankees had some more left-handed pitching?

    Good news for CJ Wilson this off-season, although he doesn’t throw too many fly balls.

  • MattG

    Granderson gets bad jumps? I haven’t noticed this…and I have noticed that I really enjoy the way he goes back on balls. By the eye test, he’s a quality CF, at least.

    • Mike HC

      Yea, I have not noticed this bad jump rap he is getting from some people here.

    • Jim S

      Going back on balls isn’t the same as getting a jump though.

    • BK2ATL

      There appears to be some bad rep on Grandy’s defense developing on the boards, based on a couple of flyballs that he missed in the Tampa series, I believe. Surely, it couldn’t be attributed to the fact that he didn’t see the ball at all in the wonderful stadium. As far as I’ve seen this year, I also haven’t noticed Grandy getting bad jumps.

      It’s the same flack Gardner took a year or so ago for misjudging a couple of liners right at him that went over his head. Just two plays, but they muddied the waters for over 500 successful plays since.

      Meanwhile, Grandy’s the best CF we’ve had out there since Bernie in his prime (when both the legs and arm were working, lol).

  • the Oberamtmann

    I thought Barbarisi died during the Third Crusade?

    (heh heh… get it? get it?)

  • BK2ATL

    Thank you for this article!!!

    Any metric that has Granderson as a subpar outfielder (-9.2 UZR), but rates Nick Swisher much more favorably (10.6 UZR), is indeed flawed.

    And yes, it IS being held against Granderson’s MVP consideration by stat geeks. Granderson has put up MVP numbers.

    How about the 20(HRs), 20(2B),20(SB),10(3B)line?

    Runs – 114 (1st in ML)
    HRs – 35 (2nd in AL)
    RBIs – 1st (Tied 1st in ML)
    SB – 24 (9th in AL and climbing)
    OBP – .375 (11th in AL)
    3B – 10 (1st in AL)
    Slugging – .594 (2nd in AL)

    Team? In 1st place!!!!! Granderson 2011 MVP!!!!

    • Jim S

      Honest to goodness question: Did you actually read the whole article? Or just see where Stephen questioned UZR(did not discount it, just questioned it) and jump straight to the comments?

      • BK2ATL

        What’s YOUR point??? Just to comment on the commenters? Do you have your own opinion? I think we’re all entitled to having one.

        I stated my own POV, influenced by the OP. Granderson 2011 AL MVP!!!

        Moving on.

        • Jim S



  • Mike K

    A few thoughts on Granderson’s UZR…

    Last year he had a fine UZR with the same OF. I don’t think Gardner is costing him much – if any – runs on defense.

    UZR remember is against the average CF. It could mean that Granderson is getting to the exact same number of balls as last year, but CF’ers as a whole are getting to more balls. So, Granderson is the same, but against average he’s much worse.

    Granderson has also had a few plays where he fell down or lost the ball – e.g. the one in Tampa – that we may discount, but all UZR knows is there was a ball hit where CF make the play 99% of the time, but Granderson missed it.

    Finally, UZR says Granderson is 16 runs worse this year than last year. But he’s 32 runs better on offense. Why is a 16 run swing considered a flaw with the stat, but a 32 run swing is normal?

    • Jim S

      I honestly think it’s because hitting is something easy to see. He either got a hit, or didn’t. He either hit a home run, or didn’t. And so on.

      Whereas defense is much, much more difficult to see/quantify.

    • MikeD

      Because it’s a defensive stat and even those that create them caution against ever using four or five months of data, or even a season or two of data. People who follow it know that, yet then they turn around and use it.

      Keith Law a couple weeks back in a Podcast basically asked how much weight should we give a defensive stat that disliked Ellsbury in the past, but loves him this year, and which loved Granderson last year, but not this year, especially when looking at four months of data and when professional scouts rate Granderson as an above average defender.

      I’m actually agnostic on the Granderson defense issue. I think he’s above average, no worse than average, but I’m open to the idea he might be slipping. Regardless, I wouldn’t be using UZR, and thus WAR to make the final determination on who is the MVP. It’s a much better cumulative stat, year after year, as opposed to a single-year stat.

      I have Granderson as in the top three for MVP. He might even be #1 by the time the season is out. There’s still a little less than six weeks 40 games to go. That’s a quarter of a season. A lot can change, just as we’ve seen with the AL Cy Young race.

  • 28 this year

    Isn’t kinda weird how UZR looks at runs above average and RAR is runs above replacement? Shouldn’t they both have replacement level as the baseline. Someone please explain that to me. Doesn’t mesh.

    • Mike K

      FanGraphs and BBRef both compute all the run-components as against average. Offense, defense, and baserunning. They then add in position adjustment, and playing time (replacement). So RAR is usually Offense+Replacement, possibly also with Baserunning and Position added.

  • JU

    Great stuff all around. However, why is no one asking the most obvious question of all here? If Gardner and Granderson are going to play in the same OF anyway, why is Gardner not the CF? For all intents and purposes, there is a limit to how good of a LF you can be – due to the field limitations. Granderson would probably be an elite defensive LFer also (negligibly worse than Gardner, simply because there is only so much ground for Gardner to cover). However, I count about 4-5 balls per week that Gardner would run down that Granderson doesn’t.

    If they’re both playing everyday, why not put the best defensive alignment out there? Clearly I already know the answer to this, and it’s another example of the Yankees making decisions based on something other than putting the best team on the field….

    • BK2ATL

      Playing along. Or, could it be that Gardner is now an elite LF due to Granderson’s presence in CF?

      No disrespect, but has Gardner ever held the CF for a complete year so far?

      We know that Granderson has, and more than does a bang-up job in CF game in, game out for 140+ games annually. UZR be damned.

      In this case, much better to go with the known, than the unknown. Esp. with stable up-the-middle defense.

      • Jim S

        “Playing along. Or, could it be that Gardner is now an elite LF due to Granderson’s presence in CF?”

        How in God’s name does that work?

        “UZR be damned”

        I don’t know, a lot of people have their eyes on every single game to come up with that stat, I’m going to err on the side of trusting them before trusting the eyes of the average fan(myself included).

      • Urban

        Gardner was a CFer all through the minor leagues and was regarded as an exceptional defender. His UZR numbers, even in limited appearances in CF, are excellent. No reason to doubt he wouldn’t be among the best, if not the best, defensive CFer in the league.

        What they have now is working. Even if I believe they’d be a little stronger with Gardner in CF, I don’t see them moving their 40-HR CFer to left.

  • Stan the Man

    Since everyone knows that UZR and other fielding metrics are flawed, why would we give them credence in dissecting an MVP candidate??? Ellsbury has a terrible arm, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a good fielder. The offensive stats for the MVP candidates like Ellsbury and Granderson aren’t really comparable and the defense by just watching the games are comparable. Give an edge to Ellsbury on defense and Granderson is putting much better numbers on the offensive side of the ball.

    Pedoria literally shouldn’t be in the MVP conversation at all.

    • MikeD

      The answer is they shouldn’t, at least not to the degree that some people do. There’s an attitude to trust WAR, be it fWAR or bWAR, and you will see people declaring Player X is the MVP because he has the higher WAR. It’s a guideline, a great starting point, but if someone is making his or her determination on an MVP vote based on the UZR component of WAR, they’re being lazy.

      WAR is a good indicator over a career and multiple years. It can be less accurate when taken down to single season and especially when the UZR component is overly inflating or deflating a player’s number, and especially if the defensive component is significantly off base with other years.

      Pedroia, for example, is a good defender, but there is nothing about his game that suggests he is substantially better with the glove this year than previous years outside of UZR, and since that component is heavily impacting his fWAR score, a voter should factor that in when considering his MVP worthiness.