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Some Fun With UZRs

Over lunch today, I was leafing through SI's baseball preview issue -- reliably the thickest book of the year, with enough info to pack a DC-to-LA flight. One of the main stories, written by Albert Chen, details the next stage of statistical analysis, as baseball thinkers (and, yes, front offices) search for better, newer metrics to measure fielding capabilities. Admittedly, some of the terms are mouthfuls. But I have an immediate liking for Ultimate Zone Ranking -- the number of runs above or below average a fielder is. The term itself has been around for a while, but only now is it gaining acceptability is a non-esoteric tool.

We all know the Nats were dreadful on defense last year, when they ranked last in the NL in errors. (Apologies for the antiquated, non-sabermetric defensive stat. Sometimes, errors DO tell the full story.) So for 2009, do things get better or worse? Improved health at 1B and 3B will likely shore up two of the biggest weaknesses. But the Nats also signed one of the highest-paid defensive liabilities in the game, and aligning him in the outfield next to Lastings Milledge could be adventuresome. So...

(To keep things neat, I am going to quote a stat called "UZR/150" -- the number of runs above or below average a fielder is across 150 games. I will use 2008 figures only, drawn from the primary position that they will be playing this year. That will give us a rough guess of how many runs Washington's defense will cost and/or prevent this year.)

All in all, a fairly decent picture.

Nick Johnson, 1B: 10.7
Anderson Hernandez, 2B: 32.1
Cristian Guzman, SS: -2.3
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B: 6.0
Adam Dunn, LF: -28.5
Lastings Milledge, CF: -16.8
Austin Kearns, RF: 19.4
Jesus Flores, C: --

If you're looking for better info on catchers, check out this research. It looks like Flores's defense is quite neutral.

By Chico Harlan  |  April 5, 2009; 3:32 PM ET
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The AHern UZR/150 is really skewed by sample size. He's no where near that good. No 2B in baseball is.

Posted by: sbiel2 | April 5, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I'm somewhat suprised that R.Zimm's UZR for 2008 was that low (6.0) & that Kearn's was that high (19.4). I think Hernandez's rating was skewed by a small sample (Johnson's may be as well).
Overall team = 20.6 to the positive.

Need to dig into career #'s to prove/disprove small samples - also would like to see the same values for all field players at projected positions for 2009. That would give the posters at NJ an objective defensive value to compare.

Posted by: BinM | April 5, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Getting off work early tommorow to come home and check out opening day sadly not many of my friends look at opening day the way i do. Question Is Manny on the hot seat? I mean how much leeway does he have? I'm not a big Manny fan that being said i'm hoping the team plays well and is fundamentally sound in all phases of the game they are getting no respect at all from any of the media seamheads thats probably for the best the better to fly under the radar. ALLRIGHT, LETS GO DC 9

Posted by: dargregmag | April 5, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Manny is not on the hot seat. Look to see his 2010 option picked up before the All Star Break.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 5, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

For what it is worth, I responded to a request to post an article on Bleacher Report on the Nats as the season begins. I am sure some of you received the same e-mail. I wrote it from the perspective of the mood of us fans, based on reading what is written here and elsewhere in the Natosphere:


Posted by: kevincostello | April 5, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Sorry- You may need to remove the ? and what comes after it in that link.


Posted by: kevincostello | April 5, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Chico - CS% is about as meaningful as batting average in judging a catcher's defense and nearly as antiquated. For starters, it's interdependent with the pitcher's ability to slide-step, not to mention his handedness (e.g. a LHP with a slow delivery still has an advantage over a RHP with an average delivery). Thus far, the only stat the seamheads have been able come up with that seems to pass muster is the prevention rate of passed balls and wild pitches:

Posted by: Wooden_U_Lykteneau | April 5, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Crud. I spelled Stephen Strasburg's first name wrong in my piece.

No need to tell me.


Posted by: kevincostello | April 5, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse


I couldn't agree with you more. In fact, I wrote almost the same thing:

Posted by: wigi | April 5, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

I haven't been this upset since Frank Robinson / Jim Bowden demoted Ryan Church to 'AAA' to start the 2006 season. Without question, he was the 2nd best outfielder we had (behind Soriano that year) and yet there he was in New Orleans.

Now, Josh Willingham will begin the seaosn on the bench. For his career, he's hit .264-26-86 over a 162 game season, and has hit 4 homers and drove in 13 runs in just 55 spring at-bats.

But no, he's on the bench.

Along with Elijah Dukes.

I have stuck with the Nationals through some very tough times, but none of this makes sense - unless - the team is trying to showcase Austin Kearns & Nick Johnson.

After all, both Johnson and Kearns are in the last year of their contracts, and there is no way that they will be back in 2010.

So the Nationals are playing two guys who don't fit into their long-term plans and benching two guys capable of combining to hit 55 homers and drive in 170 runs?

Sigh ...

I only hope that by naming Nick and Austin as starters, they are trying increase their value in trades that may be brewing.

Posted by: rushfari | April 5, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

ja, das ist der grammmar-polizei reporrrt:

you could say, "ranked worst in errors:" yes. or "had the most errors committed:" yes. but not "ranked last in errors," unless you mean "committed the fewest errors," which since you are talking about our team, i happen to know you don't.

Posted by: natty-bumppo | April 6, 2009 5:18 AM | Report abuse

der grammar-polizei report: verrrry interrresting


Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 6, 2009 6:28 AM | Report abuse

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