A low UZR doesn’t mean Teixeira is a bad first baseman

Photo credit: Elise Amendola/AP

Mark Teixeira plays a mean first base. We’ve known this for a while. He quickly established his reputation in Texas, and for six or so games per year from 2003 through the first half of 2007 we got to see it ourselves. He just seems graceful patrolling the bag, snagging tough one-hoppers and picking low throws out of the dirt. In 2009 we got a real treat in watching Teixeira ply his craft every day. He resembled a ballerina compared to his predecessor, Jason Giambi. I think Bob Klapisch nailed it when he described Giambi as being “as graceful as Herman Munster around the bag.”

That quote comes from an article Klapisch wrote about Mark Teixeira’s UZR. For the second time in the past three seasons his UZR fell below the league average. We’ve discussed this issue in the past, and have heard many people claim that the gross misrepresentation of Teixeira’s defense proves that the statistic is useless. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While UZR might not cover everything that makes a first baseman, it still does tell us important things about defensive range.

As I covered in the UZR primer, the statistic is primarily concerned with assigning credit and blame on balls in play and comparing that to the league average. This can cause confusion in zones between two positions, such as second and first base. Maybe Yankees’ opponents hit an inordinate number of balls to that side. Maybe opponents ended up taking two bases, thus hurting Teixeira’s UZR more than a mere single. Maybe he wasn’t positioned optimally. There are plenty of reasons why, in this one season, his UZR — in specific the range component — was below league average.

Again, this does not discredit UZR, but perhaps points out some of its inefficiencies. It doesn’t factor in player positioning, and it certainly doesn’t assign first basemen extra credit for scooping balls out of the dirt. When we look at a first baseman’s UZR, we have to recognize that it will not tell us these things. It will tell us only what goes into it, and that mostly involves how often a player turned a batted ball into an out, in a particular zone, compared to the league average. For the other aspects of manning first base, we’re on our own.

To that end, I don’t think anyone would argue that Teixeira played a poor first base last season. At the very least, everyone was happy enough to see an improvement over Giambi. Yet there is an important point to keep in mind. What we tend to remember are the plays he did make. The one hopper that he snagged as he was falling down. The dive to get a ball headed for the hole. The scoop on a three-bouncer. What we probably don’t remember, what we might not even notice, are the balls he just doesn’t get to. I’m not saying that Teixeira didn’t get to all these grounders that other first baseman would have. I’m saying that it’s possible that he did miss a few plays, and that we don’t remember them because they weren’t particularly noteworthy at the time.

Also keep in mind that UZR works with small samples. How many chances does a first baseman get to field a ball? Fewer than shortstop and second base, and we normally take three years’ worth of UZR data to get a read on those positions. Over the past three years, and for his career, Teixeira’s UZR is positive. It’s not massively so, but he’s certainly not rated below average. I suspect that we’ll see him in the positive again in 2010. These things tend to even out over time.

*Bonus section

Sorry, but I couldn’t let these two utterances, one from Tex and the other from Klapisch, fly by without a comment.

Teixeira: “Look, if computers could run the game, why bother having general managers?” Because you need people to analyze and interpret the data. Also, no one’s arguing that computers should run the game in the first place. Also, scouts have their place, and it’s no marginal, second-class citizen status. Numbers are just a recording of what happened on the field, but we need to go much further in order to make the data useful. Also, there is no such thing as a perfect statistic.

Klapisch: But here’s the kicker: Sabermetrics don’t acknowledge a phenomenon known as “clutch.” Untrue, though Klap isn’t the first to misstate the general sabermetric view of clutch. The idea is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. It does make for good storytelling, though, so most staheads have backed off arguing the idea of clutch. If you think a particular player is clutch and another unclutch, fine. It is, after all, your own definition you’re applying to the players.

Open Thread: Pitchers staying in rhythm

Today’s rainout apparently messed up the Yanks’ pitching schedule pretty badly. They were looking at other teams for possible split-squad situations, but apparently found no takers. To keep everyone pitching they’ll have an intrasquad game tomorrow morning, followed by the regularly scheduled game, a 1 p.m. affair against the Phillies which will air on YES and ESPN.

In the intrasquad game Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Damaso Marte will face Joba Chamberlain, Chan Ho Park, and David Robertson. A.J. Burnett will start the game against the Phillies in Clearwater, and Phil Hughes will close the game. Burnett threw just 2.1 innings his last time around, using 66 pitches, so he might only be going four tomorrow. Hughes went four last time, and could go as many as five in relief, if they need the bottom of the ninth.

Oh, and in case you hadn’t heard, Joe Mauer signed an eight-year, $184 million extension with the Twins. Our hypothetical from this week will remain just that.

That’s it for today, though. We’ve got the open thread, though, so kick back and relax for the evening.

Yanks reassign Montero, three others

Via Marc Carig, the Yankees have reassigned Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, Colin Curtis, and Reid Gorecki to minor league camp. With the regulars playing more and more as the season draws closer, it was time for these four to head across to the street and get regular playing time. Curtis’ performance in particular was strong, but the Yankees already have four candidates for the leftfield job, so he was always a long shot.

Dustin Moseley and Jason Hirsh were both assigned to minor league camp earlier this morning.

Spring Training Game Thread: Johnny comes back

Johnny Damon is back in Tampa today, for what I believe is the first time since he signed with the Tigers. I’m sure that he’ll get a nice round of applause when he comes to the plate as the second batter of the first inning, which about sums up the excitement of an otherwise meaningless Sunday afternoon game in March.

Detroit brought the heat today; their scheduled pitchers include Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, and Jose Valverde. Phil Coke’s mullet is on the travel roster as well. Here’s the lineup that’ll have to deal with that nonsense…

Jeter, SS
Johnson, 1B
Posada, C
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Swisher, RF
Granderson, CF
Winn, LF
Cervelli, DH

Scheduled Pitchers: A.J. Burnett, Mariano Rivera, and Phil Hughes. Zack Segovia, Amaury Sanit, and Josh Schmidt are also available if needed.

Also scheduled to play: Reegie Corona, Greg Golson, Brandon Laird, Juan Miranda, Ramiro Pena, Austin Romine, Jon Weber, and David Winfree.

First pitch is scheduled to 1pm ET, and the game can be seen on YES. The weather in Tampa isn’t great, so there’s a chance of a rain delay or a straight up cancellation of this one. I hope not.

Update: So much for that, the game’s been cancelled. I guess go ahead and treat this sucker as open thread.

Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel, AP

Yanks send Moseley to minor league camp (UPDATE: Hirsh too)

11:28am: Jason Hirsh too.

10:41am: Via Bryan Hoch, the Yankees have assigned righty Dustin Moseley to minor league camp, which comes as a surprise to no one. He allowed eleven hits and seven runs in 6.1 innings this spring, but I don’t think he would have been able to make the team even with a phenomenal spring. They probably just would have traded him while his value was high.

Moseley may have some kind of out clause in his contract, but I suspect he’ll fill a middle relief/swingman role for Triple-A Scranton. You always need guys like that in the minors, just to soak up inning when the kids take a beating or the weather makes thing messy.

Open Thread: It’s too nice to play inside

What a wonderful Saturday we got. It felt totally refreshing to walk around Queens today, seeing everyone outside. The summer heat might be a drag in the city, but at this time of year it can’t be beat.

Just in case you were too busy to check, the Yanks dropped a game to the Astros this afternoon. The team did pick up 16 hits, including Robinson Cano‘s first spring home run and a Brett Gardner triple. Al Aceves got knocked around, though, allowing five runs in 4.1 innings. This will surely cause a new round of headlines tomorrow declaring that Aceves’s ascendancy to the fifth starter role is in jeopardy.

(Though, not really. It appears Aceves is the darling of this race and people will gloss over this poor outing, while they’ll continue to scrutinize Joba. So it goes.)

If you’re in this evening, have at it with the open thread.

A bedroom fit for a Yankee fan

A long-term RAB reader e-mailed me this week with a note about his son’s bedroom. Craig had just redone his 14-year-old son’s bedroom, and the family went with a Yankee theme. So as we await the two weeks until Opening Day to pass us by, check out these photos. The only better room would be one that replicates the Yankees’ locker room.

And then go outside. It’s far too nice out in the New York area to spend Saturday indoors, March Madness be damned.