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.
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