I didn’t see this one coming.
It’s true, the Padre blogosphere likes to rag on the San Diego Union Tribune’s baseball coverage from time to time. I’ll admit, it can be fun to snicker from the back of the room while the mainstream media, who once derided new technologies like blogs and analytical approaches to evaluating baseball.
That said, critics from traditional news outlets do make some good points. One of them is that sitting in the back of the room shooting spit wads doesn’t contribute much to a conversation.
The Union Tribune appears to be coming around in its coverage using these new tools, though this process took a step backward when the most forward thinking of the bunch, Tom Krasovic, was let go.
This story begins in mid January, after the Padres traded Kevin Kouzmanoff to the A’s for Aaron Cunningham and Scott Hairston. Due to Kouz’s excellent fielding percentage last year, members of the traditional San Diego media (and others) called for him to be awarded a gold glove. The UT’s Tim Sullivan described his defense as “near flawless”. Here was my response, via Twitter (You do follow The Sac Bunt, right?):
@sdutSullivan Thinking Kouzmanoff is a defensive whiz because of fielding percentage suggests range isn’t important.
Fielding percentage by itself is a bad way to measure fielding. It doesn’t consider range, an important aspect of a player’s ability to turn his share of batted balls into outs.
Much to his credit, Mr. Sullivan made a note of this information in a subsequent article:
Though fielding percentage is often a misleading metric, in that it makes no allowances for the relative range of different players, Headley’s .907 rate was the lowest among big league third baseman who started at least 25 games last season. The frequency of Headley’s errors — he made five of them among 54 total chances — occurred at nearly six times Kouzmanoff’s clip.
Although he isn’t completely off the hot seat considering his “results” from Headley’s 54 total chances aren’t worth the pixels they’re read on. But I digress.
Ultimate Zone Rating, or UZR, is the most reliable freely available defensive metric. Unlike fielding percentage, it does consider range. UZR rates Kevin Kouzmanoff average to above average defensively, over the necessary sample size of a multiple seasons.
My attempt to contribute something positive to the discussion, no matter how helpful rolled up pieces of paper shot through a straw may be:
Shout out to @sdutsullivan for reminding readers that fielding % is misleading. Good work. Next up, UZR!
And wouldn’t you know it? Here comes a primer from Bill Center of the Union Tribune on UZR, published at 12am last night by that party animal.
It’s a good article which covers the positives and negatives of UZR, including its inability to measure the context of player positioning at the start of a play, and that catcher defense is still a challenge.
There is this note from 3rd base and infield coach Glenn Hoffman that gives me a giggle:
“So much of defense is based on what you see and what you feel over pure statistics.”
Well, ok. Statistics are an attempt to quantify what we see. They allow us to compare players using the same criteria over tens of thousands of performances. I don’t want to discount the important of scouting, especially if information is only available in small samples or unique immeasurable circumstances. But lets just say if they were my millions of dollars at stake, I’d have a second thought about basing decisions on things people “feel”.
But I don’t want to distract from Bill Center’s effort with this article. I’m glad for the opportunity to hear from players, coaches, and front office personnel about UZR. Cheers to Bill Center and the Union Tribune. This is a strong step in the right direction.
Also, someone at the UT owes me a beer. Or a job. I’m good for either.