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:
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
Career: GP 589/ Inn 4340.2/ E 28/ PB 37/ FP 993%/ SB 233/ CS 159/ CS% 41
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.
2010 UZR: 2.1
Career: GP 11/ Inn 76/ UZR 0.9/ UZR/150 20.4/ E 0/ FP 1.000%
Career: GP 2/ Inn 9/ UZR –0.1/ UZR/150 -19.3/ E 0/ FP 1.000%
Career: GP 13/ Inn 28.1/ UZR 1.0/ UZR/150 75.4/ E 0/ FP 1.000%
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.
2010 UZR: 9.5
Career: GP 642/ Inn 5541/ UZR 21/ UZR/150 4.8/ E 40/ FP 987%
Career: GP 16/ Inn 76/ UZR 4.5/ UZR/150 77.5/ E 0/ FP 1.000%
Career: GP 180/ Inn 1149/ UZR 17.1/ UZR/150 18.9/ E 8/ FP 988%
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.
2010 UZR: 5.3
Career: GP 452/ Inn 3856.2/ UZR 9.6/ UZR/150 3.2/ E 51/ FP 975%
Career: GP 463/ Inn 3211.2/ UZR 15.4/ UZR/150 6.4/ E 54/ FP 969%
Career: GP 79/ Inn 549.1/ UZR 7.5/ UZR/150 -18.5/ E 12/ FP 955%
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.
2010 UZR: -5.3
Career: GP 357/ Inn 2826/ UZR -24/ UZR/150 -9.6/ E 41/ FP 957%
Career: GP 96/ Inn 524.1/ UZR -3.3/ UZR/150 -7.9/ E 11/ FP 935%
Career: GP 627/ Inn 5382.1/ UZR -44.6/ UZR/150 -11.5/ E 103/ FP 936%
Career: GP 35/ Inn 286.2/ UZR 1/ UZR/150 3.8/ E 5/ FP 950%
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.
2010 UZR: -2.4
Career: GP 122/ Inn 968/ UZR 3/ UZR/150 5.3/ E 4/ FP 980/ A 7
Career: GP 545/ Inn 4387.1/ UZR 2.7/ UZR/150 0.3/ E 19/ FP 982%/ A 14
Career: GP 398/ Inn 3298.2/ UZR 11.2/ UZR/150 4.8/ E 16/ FP 980%/ A 31
Career: GP 69/ Inn 505.1/ UZR -1.3/ UZR/150 -3.3/ E 5/ FP 963%/ A 4
Career: GP 55/ Inn 410/ UZR -2.6/ UZR/150 -10.4/ E 1/ FP 987%/ A 8
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.
2010 UZR: -3.4
Career: GP 342/ Inn 2400.2/ UZR 4.9/ UZR/150 2.6/ E 7/ FP 991%/ A 17
Career: GP 968/ Inn 7646.1/ UZR 43.4/ UZR/150 8.9/ E 26/ FP 988%/ A 40
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.
2010 UZR: -6.6
Career: GP 272/ Inn 1842/ UZR -2.7/ UZR/150 -1.8/ E 6/ FP 986%/ A 27
Career: GP 209/ Inn 1661/ UZR 0.1/ UZR/150 -1.3/ E 6/ FP 983%/ A 18
Career: GP 57/ Inn 478.1/ E 3/ UZR -3.9/ UZR/150 -10.8/ FP 969%/ A 1
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.