Blue Jays Fielding Options for 2011

The Blue Jays ranked 9th last season in fielding percentage (985%), and 12th in runs allowed. Unfortunately, neither statistic really tells us much about the actual fielding ability of the Blue Jays.

Much has been written about the inadequacy of fielding percentage, and its reliance on errors. Errors are a very limited measure of a player’s defensive skill because of their subjective nature. The person who is scoring the game simply determines whether or not a particular play should have been made by the fielder. In general, this model is incapable of taking important factors such as range into proper consideration. The “eye-ball” test is a lousy measure of a fielder’s skill, and fielding percentage is far too reliant upon it.

Runs allowed is an extremely important statistic (runs are of course, the currency of baseball). It is not however, a sufficient measure of a teams fielding because it is largely determined by pitching.

Accurately assessing a players fielding ability is inherently more difficult than assessing his hitting. There are factors like how hard a ball was hit, the location of the hit, and the defensive alignment that are tricky to account for. One of the most effective systems to date is called Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).

UZR uses play-by-play data to measure a player’s contribution to his team in terms of runs (theoretical), above or below what is deemed the average fielding ability at a particular position. Therefore a player with an UZR of 0, would be considered league average at his position. For a full explanation of how UZR is calculated, check out this link: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/the-fangraphs-uzr-primer/

Last season the Jays ranked 16th in MLB in UZR (-1.1). This ranking was pulled down by below average UZR’s at third base and at all three outfield positions. Here is a look at the Jays depth chart at each position, along with the career fielding statistics of each player:

Catcher:

J.P Arencibia:

MLB Career: Inn 63/ SB 3/ CS 2/ PB 1/ FP 1.000%
Minor League Career: GP 357/ E 37/ PB 60/ FP 986%/ SB 203/ CS 77/ CS% 28

Jose Molina:

Career: GP 589/ Inn 4340.2/ E 28/ PB 37/ FP 993%/ SB 233/ CS 159/ CS% 41

John McDonald:

Emergency catcher

As you may have noticed, UZR is not calculated for catchers. The stats that best determine a catcher’s defensive ability are passed balls (PB), and caught stealing percentage (CS%). Another aspect of a catcher’s defense is the ability to “call” a game. This is much more difficult to quantify.

Jose Molina is clearly the better catching option for the Blue Jays in terms of defense. He has a strong, accurate arm (CS 41%), and has been noted to be very good at calling games. His bat unfortunately is below average (even for a catcher). J.P Arencibia’s bat on the other hand, profiles to be above average at the big league level. Arencebia’s defense looks to be league average on paper, and should progress as he gains more experience. Good catcher defense generally takes more time to develop than other positions.

First Base:

2010 UZR: 2.1

Adam Lind:

Career: GP 11/ Inn 76/ UZR 0.9/ UZR/150 20.4/ E 0/ FP 1.000%

Edwin Encarnacion:

Career: GP 2/ Inn 9/ UZR –0.1/ UZR/150 -19.3/ E 0/ FP 1.000%

Jose Molina:

Career: GP 13/ Inn 28.1/ UZR 1.0/ UZR/150 75.4/ E 0/ FP 1.000%

J.P Arencibia:

No stats

Adam Lind is taking over at first base this season, and has very little track record to go off of. With just 76 innings at first in professional baseball, there will likely be a learning curve this season. Lind is a fairly big guy (6’1’’) and catches with his right hand, which helps at first. It will take time however, for Lind to learn the proper footwork and ball scooping ability that define great first base defense.

The Jays other options at first also lack experience. Encarnacion played just 9 innings at first back in 2006, but should have the natural ability to play the position well. J.P Arencibia is listed here despite the fact that he has never played first base professionally. This is because it is possible that he could move to first if his catching defense does not progress to an adequate major league level.

Second Base:

2010 UZR: 9.5

Aaron Hill:

Career: GP 642/ Inn 5541/ UZR 21/ UZR/150 4.8/ E 40/ FP 987%

Mike McCoy:

Career: GP 16/ Inn 76/ UZR 4.5/ UZR/150 77.5/ E 0/ FP 1.000%

John McDonald:

Career: GP 180/ Inn 1149/ UZR 17.1/ UZR/150 18.9/ E 8/ FP 988%

Yunel Escobar:

Career: GP 21/ Inn 164.1/ UZR 0/ UZR/150 -0.3/ E 3/ FP 963%

Second base defense was a strong point for the Jays in 2010. Aaron Hill was above league average according to his UZR in 2010 (3.4), as were both Mike McCoy (4.5) and John McDonald (1.4). The small sample size for both McCoy and McDonald’s numbers should be noted.

Aaron Hill’s defense at second has long been heralded in the sabermetric community. Hill was awarded the “fielder’s bible award” in both 2007 and 2009 by Bill James. There is no reason to believe that Hill will not provide the Jays will another solid season at the keystone position.

Shortstop:

2010 UZR: 5.3

Yunel Escobar:

Career: GP 452/ Inn 3856.2/ UZR 9.6/ UZR/150 3.2/ E 51/ FP 975%

John McDonald:

Career: GP 463/ Inn 3211.2/ UZR 15.4/ UZR/150 6.4/ E 54/ FP 969%

Aaron Hill:

Career: GP 79/ Inn 549.1/ UZR 7.5/ UZR/150 -18.5/ E 12/ FP 955%

Mike McCoy:

Career: GP 7/ Inn 43/ UZR -0.7/ UZR/150 -29.5/ E 1/ FP 952%

Shortstop is another position that the Jays excelled at last season. Yunel Escobar had a UZR of 4.3 in 2010, and played the position with noticeable flare. The Cuban shortstop in coming into his prime, and should continue to bring above average defense to one of the most difficult and important positions on the diamond. Back up shortstop John McDonald is as reliable as they come defensively (2.4 UZR in 2010), and gives the Jays solid depth up the middle of the infield.

Third Base:

2010 UZR: -5.3

Jose Bautista:

Career: GP 357/ Inn 2826/ UZR -24/ UZR/150 -9.6/ E 41/ FP 957%

John McDonald:

Career: GP 96/ Inn 524.1/ UZR -3.3/ UZR/150 -7.9/ E 11/ FP 935%

Edwin Encarnacion:

Career: GP 627/ Inn 5382.1/ UZR -44.6/ UZR/150 -11.5/ E 103/ FP 936%

Aaron Hill:

Career: GP 35/ Inn 286.2/ UZR 1/ UZR/150 3.8/ E 5/ FP 950%

Yunel Escobar:

Career: GP 22/ Inn 159.1/ UZR -1.2/ UZR/150 -12.2/ E 4/ FP 923%

Edwin Encarnacion was horrible at third for the Jays least season (2010 UZR -1.5). He made 18 errors in 95 games primarily due to his wild throwing arm. Fortunately for Jays fans, Encarnacion will not be playing the hot corner this season. Unfortunately for Jays fans, his replacement is also rated below average by UZR. Jose Bautista’s career UZR/150 of -9.6 is only slightly better than Encarnacion’s -11.5. Hopefully it won’t be long until Brett Lawrie is ready for the Major Leagues, so that Bautista can move back to right field.

Left Field:

2010 UZR: -2.4

Travis Snider:

Career: GP 122/ Inn 968/ UZR 3/ UZR/150 5.3/ E 4/ FP 980/ A 7

Scott Podsednik:

Career: GP 545/ Inn 4387.1/ UZR 2.7/ UZR/150 0.3/ E 19/ FP 982%/ A 14

Juan Rivera:

Career: GP 398/ Inn 3298.2/ UZR 11.2/ UZR/150 4.8/ E 16/ FP 980%/ A 31

Corey Patterson:

Career: GP 69/ Inn 505.1/ UZR -1.3/ UZR/150 -3.3/ E 5/ FP 963%/ A 4

Jose Bautista:

Career: GP 55/ Inn 410/ UZR -2.6/ UZR/150 -10.4/ E 1/ FP 987%/ A 8

Rajai Davis:

Career: GP 57/ Inn 348/ UZR -3.4/ UZR/150 -14.6/ E 1/ FP 985%/ A 1

Travis Snider is slated to play everyday in left field this season. He may not look like a speedy outfield on paper, but Snider is deceptively fast and has a plus arm. His career UZR/150 of 5.3 is very good. Snider should help bring the Jays outfield back to respectability this season.

Back up outfielder Scott Podsednik will likely bring below average defense to left. While his career UZR/150 of 0.3 may not look so bad, he is regressing severely as he ages. Last year in 129 games, Podsednik posted a UZR of -8.4.

Centre Field:

2010 UZR: -3.4

Rajai Davis:

Career: GP 342/ Inn 2400.2/ UZR 4.9/ UZR/150 2.6/ E 7/ FP 991%/ A 17

Corey Patterson:

Career: GP 968/ Inn 7646.1/ UZR 43.4/ UZR/150 8.9/ E 26/ FP 988%/ A 40

Scott Podsednik:

Career: GP 379/ Inn 3172.1/ UZR -13.2/ UZR/150 -5.4/ E 11/ FP 988%/ A 12

Rajai Davis should be a significant upgrade defensively over Vernon Wells. Last season Wells posted a UZR/150 of -7. The former gold glove winner had clearly lost a step due to age and injury. While Davis’ UZR/150 was even worse in 2010 (-14.7), he is still fairly young (30 this season), and has posted respectable UZR’s in every other season of his career. I for one, am hoping to see fewer bloop singles fall into short centre this season.

Right Field:

2010 UZR: -6.6

Juan Rivera:

Career: GP 272/ Inn 1842/ UZR -2.7/ UZR/150 -1.8/ E 6/ FP 986%/ A 27

Jose Bautista:

Career: GP 209/ Inn 1661/ UZR 0.1/ UZR/150 -1.3/ E 6/ FP 983%/ A 18

Travis Snider:

Career: GP 57/ Inn 478.1/ E 3/ UZR -3.9/ UZR/150 -10.8/ FP 969%/ A 1

Rajai Davis:

Career: GP 35/ Inn 234/ UZR 1.6/ UZR/150 10.5/ E 1/ FP 983%/ A 2

Right field is a position the Jays will likely struggle at in 2011. Juan Rivera isn’t getting any younger, and he posted a UZR/150 of -2 last year. Look for that number to fall deeper into the red in 2011.

Unfortunately, until Brett Lawrie (or some other 3B option) is ready for MLB, Jose Bautista will not be able to move back to right. Although it should be pointed out that despite his strong arm (12 assists in 2010), Bautista’s career UZR/150 is not very good (-1.3). I can’t be sure, but I think that this may have something to do with UZR’s inability to account for an outfielder “holding runners” at a base.** This is difficult aspect of defensive to quantify, and it is something that Bautista does very well.

Overall, the Jays defense should be roughly as good as it was in 2010. While there should be down grades at first base and in right field, there should be upgrades at third base, left field as well as centre field. The key will be the ability of Adam Lind to acclimate to first base, and the progression of J.P Arencibia’s defense behind the plate.

*Image courtesy of Getty Images

**Correction: UZR does in fact account for an outfielder’s ability to hold runners.

-SB

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  • Mylegacy

    I’m not too excited about our 2011 defensive prowess.

    We’ve a garden gnome in RF, untried beasties at 1st and C and a guy with one (reliable) leg at 2nd. Davis and Escobar should be above league average, Jobau near it and Snider will be slightly above league average in LF.

    If this team surprises it’ll be the hitting and healthy (god willin’ an’ the river don’t rise) pitchers that lead the way.

  • gabriel

    I can’t be sure, but I think that this may have something to do with UZR’s inability to account for an outfielder “holding runners” at a base.

    Just not the case. Every hit/baserunner state is recorded and UZR takes baserunner advancement into account.

    • Scott Barber

      My mistake,

      I came across this from Mitchel Lichtman (creator of UZR):

      “As well, outfield arm run values are also computed separately from “regular” UZR. They are based on the speed and location of batted balls to the outfield and how often base runners advance extra bases (advances), don’t advance the extra base (holds), or get thrown out trying to advance (kills). Park factors are used in arm ratings. For example, because the left fielder plays so shallow in Fenway and balls tend to quickly ricochet off the Green Monster, it is difficult to advance an extra base on a hit to LF in Boston. In Colorado, because the OF is so expansive, base runners advance more easily than in an average park. The UZR “arm engine” adjusts for those things.”

  • Jon Lofto

    Good analysis, sounds like there won’t be much improvement defensively. I am concerned about Lind handling some “hot shots” at first. He just doesn’t seem to have the mobility.

    • Andy Telford

      Jon,
      No need to worry about Lind at 1st, he is an up grade from Overbay

  • Andy Telford

    I’m not sure that Lind is going to be as slow to pick up the fundementals at first as you all seem to think. In my opinion he is an up grade at first over Lyle Overbay.

  • Fungo Freddy

    Looks to me like they’ll be relying on offence. If the bats produce and the pitching matures, the defence will be a neutral factor at best.

    • Andy Telford

      Good point, the Jays best hope really is that their defence being a neutral factor

      • Scott Barber

        Overbay is actually a decent defensive first baseman. Career UZR: 1.4/ UZR/150 0.2 and in 2010 UZR 0.1. So according to ultimate zone rating he’s basically league average. His career fielding percentage is 995%.

        I would be very (pleasantly) surprised if Adam Lind is as good as Overbay this season (in terms of defense). I would be equally surprised if he was not as good as Overbay offensively.

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