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About Jon
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1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
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Fielding, U.S.A.
2006-02-03 09:19
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

A year ago, I began doing research and interviews for a Dodger Thoughts article on the state of fielding ratings: where things stood with the new systems being developed and whether we were getting any closer to some real answers about who the best defensive players are. A rush of activity during Spring Training sidetracked me from completing the piece, but that turned out to be fortuitous, because I started from scratch over the past week to do the story as my second column for SI.com: "A Glove Affair."

Hope you find it interesting. If you want to go into further depth, one of the people I interviewed, David Gassko of The Hardball Times, has an article today offering more details about several fielding rating systems, including his own. David Cameron of U.S.S. Mariner also had an insightful column about 10 days ago, just after I had pitched this to SI, that helped me reboot my own piece.

Meanwhile, voting for the all-time Dodger single-season MVP will continue through the weekend. (Please keep your actual votes in that thread.) Results will be announced Monday.

Comments (61)
Show/Hide Comments 1-50
2006-02-03 10:14:03
1.   popup
Excellent. The writing is as good as a finely turned double play. SI needs to get you into the magazine.

Stan from Tacoma

2006-02-03 10:17:55
2.   regfairfield
I wish I could write like that.
2006-02-03 10:21:05
3.   D4P
As you note, these new-fangled fielding metrics aren't likely to gain general acceptance any time soon, if at all.

Which raises the question: how long does it typically take for new stats to gain general acceptance among GMs, managers, fans, etc.? Has anyone seen a history of various metrics, including when they were first devised and when they gained acceptance into the canon?

From what I can tell, there are still plenty of folks who rely solely upon traditional "box score" stats (many of which are as old as the game itself) to evaluate players, and shun even the least frightening "new" stats (e.g. OBP, SLG, etc.). Have these traditional stats always been accepted, or did they have a waiting period as well?

2006-02-03 10:25:56
4.   regfairfield
A very long time. I think RBIs took something like 30 years to catch on, and on base percentage has pretty much always been part of the modern (post Cap Anson) game, but it got pushed aside for batting average.
2006-02-03 10:26:31
5.   Sam DC
There goes Stan, looking for a respectable reason to buy the swimsuit issue again. . . .

But that si.com has a wicked east coast bias. A whole article about fielding metrics and the eyes v. the adding machine and nothing about Alex Cora v. Jeff Kent! Someone should let these guys know there's baseball west of the mississippi.

2006-02-03 10:28:25
6.   Jon Weisman
3 - When I started Dodger Thoughts in 2002-2003, you had to be a true stat-nerd to know what OPS was. Now, you see it referred to casually in the Times. Not that they rely on it, but it is making huge progress. I've noticed some BP stats also making mainstream progress.

So it does take time, but these things do gain ground. Not all, but some. And because the old fielding stats are so inadequate - no one likes them, no one is beholden to them - I think one or more of the new ones has a great chance of being embraced.

I'm sure Alan Schwarz's recent book on the history of baseball statistics would answer this question much better.

2006-02-03 10:29:23
7.   Jon Weisman
1, 2 - Thanks.

5 - Yeah, yeah, yeah ...

2006-02-03 10:38:44
8.   popup
One observation about the subject: I don't think that numbers will ever tell the story adequately. A baseball hit into Jeter's area that takes a bad hop or that is smoked off the bat is far different than a weak ground ball induced by a pitcher who has fooled the batter. A pop fly that Arod catches in Jeter's "area" should not count for Arod and against Jeter. And finally, a foul ball that Jeter goes five rows into the stands to catch should not count the same as a pop foul that any spectator in the ballpark could be expected to catch.

Stan from Tacoma

2006-02-03 10:41:51
9.   regfairfield
8 True, but for everyone of those plays he makes, according to the stats, several more balls go just out of his reach.
2006-02-03 10:45:39
10.   Jon Weisman
Thanks for your thoughts, Stan. You don't ever have to close your eyes to the field. But everyone gets bad hops - moreover, these systems take into account the ballpark and can be tailored to know which parks generate more bad hops.

I could be wrong, but I also don't think in some of these new systems that Jeter gets penalized for a play that was taken away from him - a play that results in an out. But in a sense, even if he does, you have to ask yourself, why is A-Rod making the play? Because he's a ballhog, or because he was better positioned to make the play. Just hypothetical, of course.

And the foul balls that Jeter goes five rows into the stands to get are very infrequent. Jeter gets full subjective credit for those, but the systems are designed to prevent him from getting too much credit for what, after all, is just one out.

2006-02-03 10:56:00
11.   LAT
Off topic:

Last night I couldn't sleep. Didn't want to watch TV or start a new book so I spent 2+ hours reading DT archives. Not only was it a trip down memory lane (e.g. I had no recollection I supported giving Nokomura more playing time. What was I thinking?) but I was again reminded of the quality of the insight and people who frequent this site. I remain convinced Bob is really Ken Jennings. And Steve is Dennis Miller: the humor is sophisticated and caustic and I am always 5 seconds behind his last joke.

In any event, I don't blog elsewhere cause it would only be a step down. The Warden can write with the best of them as evidenced by his new SI peice and the rest of us inmates just keep plugging along. Don't mean to get all Brokeback Mountian here but it really is the best baseball blog on the web and we are lucky it is for our team.

2006-02-03 11:12:34
12.   Bob Timmermann
Stan,
The problem of third basemen poaching on shortstop's plays has always been a thorny one for people studying fielding.

When Bill James created Range Factor in the 1970s, there were a lot of complaints from Phillies fans that Larry Bowa shouldn't be penalized for not getting to as many balls as the numbers indicated because Mike Schmidt was so good.

But if you asked about Jeter's fielding at Bronx Banter, I would think the majority of the people there would tell you that Jeter isn't all that good of a fielder.

If you wander into a Baseball Primer game chat for a Yankees game (you only have to wade through 500-1000 comments per game) you will often hear the joke "Past a diving Jeter" every time a Yankee opponent gets a hit up the middle. John Sterling says that all the time. In Sterling's mind, if Jeter can't catch a grounder, he just missed it by a thousandth of an inch and failed only because his superhuman effort failed.

Rob Neyer wrote a column about going on the radio with Sterling to discuss Jeter's fielding and I think Rob was ambushed not unlike an ACLU member popping up on the "O'Reilly Factor".

2006-02-03 11:18:41
13.   Disabled List
From the article: "In baseball, one trendy test is to toss Derek Jeter's Gold Gloves into the Bronx River and see if they float."

That's a funny line. And as one of the presumably few New Yorkers on DT, I was going to chastise you for exhibiting West Coast bias and getting the name of the Harlem River/East River wrong.

But lo and behold, I just looked it up, and there is indeed a Bronx River. Shows how much I know. It turns out, there's even other boroughs here besides Manhattan! Wow.

One last question though. What is an Izturii?

2006-02-03 11:24:25
14.   Bob Timmermann
And did you know part of the borough of New York is attached to the mainland part of New York?
2006-02-03 11:24:36
15.   Steve
What is an Izturii?

It's a compact that goes from 330 to 0 in six weeks flat.

2006-02-03 11:27:19
16.   Jon Weisman
Shouldn't it be, "What are Izturii?"

I'm told that the Bronx River is, quote, "murky."

2006-02-03 11:29:56
17.   popup
11, LAT, I agree completely.

One aspect of fielding that I don't think gets much recognition, and why I am a skeptic about the numbers and even observation, is how much defense is a function of teamwork. The best infield defense I have ever seen was played by the Mariners in 01. Olerud could cover a lot of ground at first, which allowed Boone to play up the middle. Carlos Guillen could make the play in the hole at short and David Bell would take away what should have been extra basehits down the line. Take away any one of those guys and the remaining three players would have had to play defense differently.

As far as observation being deceiving, Garry Maddox had the best range of any centerfielder I have ever seen. He had Luzinski in left and Jay Johnstone in right and somehow the Phillies had a good defensive outfield. Any fly ball in the outfield Maddox had to catch. If you put Mays in the same situation I suspect Willie could have done as well. But Mays was not in the same situation, so Garry Maddox gets my vote as having the best range of any centerfielder. He couln't throw like Willie though. Few could.

Stan from Tacoma

2006-02-03 11:31:28
18.   D4P
Residents of Melbourne, AUS apparently like to say that the river that flows through their city is an "upside down" river, in that the mud is on the top.
2006-02-03 11:35:20
19.   Bob Timmermann
17

That doesn't sound like teamwork as much as the fact that just all four infielders were above average in ability.

2006-02-03 11:47:31
20.   Jon Weisman
11 - That was great, LAT - thanks.
2006-02-03 11:51:17
21.   Bob Timmermann
If I played against Ken Jennings in Jeopardy!, he would mop the floor with me. There would be little of me left after that encounter.
2006-02-03 12:07:50
22.   LAT
And did you know part of the borough of New York is attached to the mainland part of New York?

"I'll take New York geography for $1000, Alex."

2006-02-03 12:10:03
23.   D4P
Steve has yet to deny the Dennis Miller accusation...
2006-02-03 12:13:05
24.   Daniel Zappala
Be sure to tune into NPR's "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me", February 23rd. It will be broadcasting from Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus and feature special guest Ken Jennings.
2006-02-03 12:16:52
25.   Daniel Zappala
Excuse me, that's broadcasting Feb 25th, recorded the 23rd and it's sold out.
2006-02-03 12:36:50
26.   Bob Timmermann
TinyURL doesn't seem to be working so I apologize for this link to the Marble Hill neighborhood of NYC:
http://www.forgotten-ny.com/STREET%20SCENES/marblehill/marble.html
2006-02-03 12:43:50
27.   Disabled List
26 Actually, that's one of my favorite websites. I wonder if there's anything similar out there on the web for LA...

From the NY Times, June 27, 1984:

The Assembly voted tonight to move the Marble Hill section of the Borough of Manhattan into New York County, thereby correcting a 46-year old mistake.

The neighborhood of Marble Hill was severed from the rest of the Manhattan Island in 1895 when a ship canal was built to connect the Harlem and Hudson Rivers.

A dispute over Marble Hill followed, but the matter was mostly put to rest in 1938, when the boundaries of the Borough of Manhattan were shifted to include Marble Hill.

But last month a judge ruled that the neighborhood remained part of Bronx County. Tonight the Assembly voted 140 to 4 and joined the Senate in moving to change that, and the measure now goes to the Governor. It would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 1938.

2006-02-03 12:50:44
28.   Bob Timmermann
I believe that an act of Arte Moreno has located Anaheim inside the city limits of Los Angeles.

But seriously, L.A. has a lot of weird border issues as the city was pieced together over time by annexing unincorporated areas. The city of L.A. is so big that it contains cities that are enclaves, such as San Fernando and Beverly Hills.

2006-02-03 12:55:15
29.   the OZ
Speaking of defense, the headline story at dodgers.com is about JTD's impending position switch. The organization has officially decided that he's not a shortstop anymore.
2006-02-03 13:14:58
30.   King of the Hobos
Oscar Robles has yet again hit a double to right, his second of the Caribbean Series. Except this time, he did it against a legitimate major league pitcher (Julian Tavarez)
2006-02-03 13:21:23
31.   Rainman
Anybody else see this?

Hershiser leaving Rangers
http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ap-rangers-hershiser&prov=ap&type=lgns

Let's start the speculation on his new role in Chavez Ravine.

2006-02-03 13:29:35
32.   Bob Timmermann
31
Sounds familiar

http://griddle.baseballtoaster.com/archives/317782.html

2006-02-03 13:36:32
33.   Izzy
6.

At the end of Schwarz's book he talks about a new fielding system that would be fully up and running by 2005 or maybe 2006 (can't recall.) It consisted of 3 cameras I believe. One measured the speed of the hit ball, another the height and the third the exact direction it was going in. These three together were going to be the basis of a new fielding formula. I don't know if it actually happened, but they were using it in a couple stadiums already.

iz

2006-02-03 14:03:20
34.   Nolan
Liked the column - but what about Defensive Win Shares? I rarely see it mentioned, despite what seems to be fairly positive reaction to the Win Shares concept generally. In fact, if you read his book, James believed that its main contribution woyuld be to the evaluation of defensive statistics.
2006-02-03 14:19:48
35.   Jon Weisman
34 - Thanks, Nolan. My article wasn't meant to be all-inclusive of new systems. There are others that aren't mentioned as well.

Some of the guys I talked to liked Defensive Win Shares, some didn't. Ultimately, I was okay with leaving them out because James himself contributed to the new book, The Fielding Bible - including a new system called Relative Range Factor.

2006-02-03 14:38:11
36.   NetShrine
A slightly different take on Jeter, FWIW:

http://www.waswatching.com/archives/2005/08/in_defense_of_j.html

2006-02-03 14:48:38
37.   OaklandAs
34 The defensive part of Win Shares is probably the weakest section of Bill James' Win Shares formula. The main disadvantage is that it does not correctly account for opportunities (same problem as Range Factor), since it does not use play-by-play data. The main advantage of DWS is that it can be calculated for all players throughout history.
2006-02-03 14:50:37
38.   regfairfield
36 It's like everyone who thinks Hee Seop Choi is terrible has gathered into a central place.
2006-02-03 15:29:43
39.   Jon Weisman
36 - Thanks, NetShrine. I think that article and mine are pretty easily reconcilable. My article doesn't deny that Jeter has good hands; the WasWatching.com doesn't deny that his range is questionable.

But I think the other article treats the questionable range as a throwaway point. But for a shortstop, my sense is that range is very important.

2006-02-03 16:09:17
40.   caseybarker
Is there a stat for how many times ESPN reruns its "Web-gems" segment each day and how that gives people misperceptions about fielding prowess. I've seen Jeter's two "gems", the pop-up and the play on Giambi in the ALDS about half-a-million times.
2006-02-03 16:11:13
41.   Daniel Zappala
When and why did people start referring to Joel Guzman as JTD? I must admit I don't get it.
2006-02-03 16:11:41
42.   popup
Jon, is there any work being done to translate the newer defensive stats to the performance of players in the past? My memory is that Wills was not that good a shortstop and Bill Russell was even worse. Nevertheless, the Dodgers won pennants and championships with each one of them playing shortstop.

Stan from Tacoma

2006-02-03 16:15:43
43.   jasonungar05
41 Joel the Destroyer. I think Dennis Miller made it up.
2006-02-03 16:29:36
44.   OaklandAs
42 The problem is that most of the newer defensive stats rely on play-by-play data, which is not available for players of the past. That is, they count how many balls are hit in each zone, and may also account for the number of baserunners, number of outs, type of pitcher, etc. For past players, defense can usually only be evaluated quantitatively with things like Range Factor or Defensive Win Shares, which are based on available stats like putouts, assists, and errors.
2006-02-03 16:33:33
45.   Bob Timmermann
The problem with using some of the current defensive metrics to the past is that play-by-play data isn't available.

In Wills' era, the only team that likely kept detailed fielding stats with charts would have been the Dodgers and Allan Roth.

However, in the famous Life magazine article by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth where Rickey talked about stats, the Mahatma discounted fielding statistics as "useless". So I wonder if Rickey used stats for hitting and pitching and then just picked fielders on a hunch.

And if you remember that Campanis was a Rickey disciple and Rickey liked to change players positions to get their bats into the lineup, you can understand why Bill Russell became a shortstop instead of an outfielder.

2006-02-03 17:34:29
46.   King of the Hobos
Nomar has dropped out of the WBC.
2006-02-03 17:51:32
47.   Bob Timmermann
I'm shocked! Shocked I tell you!
2006-02-03 19:27:07
48.   Brendan
Bob, have you heard the goings on about a certain park name-wise in San Francisco? I checked the griddle but hadn't seen posted there yet.
2006-02-03 19:28:36
49.   Brendan
nevermind I think that story is just new to me.
2006-02-03 19:33:41
50.   Bob Timmermann
I got to reference Louis Prima with that one.
Show/Hide Comments 51-100
2006-02-03 21:20:42
51.   das411
26 - Yeah Bob, what was with that TinyUrl outage today? Did humanity finally reach the end of the internet?

For all the Ken Jennings fans:

http://www.blacktable.com/lindsay060127.htm

2006-02-03 21:24:18
52.   King of the Hobos
ESPN Deportes says Nomar will miss the WBC because he's injured, or at least that's what I'm told this article says

http://espndeportes.espn.go.com/news/story?id=405547

2006-02-03 21:27:35
53.   D4P
52
I believe that "una lesión en la pierna izquierda" means something along the lines of "cut on the left leg."
2006-02-03 21:33:00
54.   Steve
So, how'd Kobe do tonight?
2006-02-03 21:57:21
55.   D4P
54
He's dead to me.
2006-02-03 22:27:13
56.   Steve
One thing has to be admitted, while anybody could have sold the NBA when Magic, Larry, and Michael were playing, just keeping the NBA ahead of the Arena League at this point has confirmed David Stern's genius.
2006-02-03 22:32:50
57.   D4P
Yeah, that does have to be admitted.
2006-02-03 22:39:52
58.   trainwreck
Once Shaq retires, all the stars of the game could be real young like the eldest in the early thirty range. Just shows how much younger the league has gotten.

And to go with it many of the stars will be guys who jumped out of high school or who skipped college before their junior year.

2006-02-03 22:42:51
59.   Bob Timmermann
The ESPNDeportes article says that Garciaparra is rehabbing an injury to his left leg and groin.
2006-02-03 22:58:25
60.   Steve
Admitted it is. I wish Stern would take a crack at MLB. When he got done with it, middle relievers would be begging for mercy.
2006-02-04 21:09:00
61.   jpeace
Great stuff Jon. I enjoyed both your articles for SI. And finally, a face to mentally attach to the name.

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