Been a while since we’ve taken a look at some of the advanced defensive metrics out there. We’re almost halfway into the season and so, the whole “small sample size” thing is getting less and less relevant.
Besides, as I’ve mentioned a few times, if we could rave about the Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) numbers of the M’s as a team when they were doing well, we can talk about it when the numbers aren’t so good. As a team, the M’s are still near the bottom of the pack, despite their recent rise to contention.
Seattle is at a minus-16.3 for the season, third worst in the American League and fourth-worst in baseball.
But it’s more interesting to take a look at the individual players and see who is driving the numbers. That’s because we’ve seen some changes since we last checked in on this at least a month or so ago.
Franklin Gutierrez has been back for roughly a month now and, as expected, he has quickly risen to the top of the UZR charts. Gutierrez checks in at +7.5, which leads the team and would translate to a mind-blowing +54.3 over a season of 150 games.
Gutierrez won’t play in that many games this year, so that stat is somewhat irrelevant. But if you compare to his legendary 2009 season, he had a UZR/150 of +28.9. So, this is on-pace to be nearly double that. Doubt it can continue. Merely because his 2009 season was about as good as a defender can get and he’s on pace to double it.
Last year, when he won a Gold Glove (yes, those awards are always a day late, if never several thousand bonus dollars short), Gutierrez was at a +6 over a theoretical 150-game season. So yeah, he’s been real good, according to the numbers.
Know who else has been real good of late? This should make you happy as well. Brendan Ryan at shortstop.
Ryan had his UZR struggles early and if you watched the games, it was apparent why. For every brilliant range play he’d make, he’d seem to lose focus on the routine plays. That cost him in the UZR scores.
Lately, though, Ryan seems to be making just about every play on balls hit his way. There aren’t as many misses where you go “What the heck?” (Chone Figgins has taken over that latter category the past six weeks or so).
Ryan is now at a +2.4, which translates to a +5.0 over a full season. You’ll take a +5.0 from your starting shortstop. Two years ago, when the Fielding Bible Awards named Jack Wilson the best shortstop in the majors with Pittsburgh and Seattle combined, he scored a +15.0. Yeah, that’s three times as much as Ryan is on-pace for, but don’t forget, Ryan has been in negative or break-even territory for much of the first 2 1/2 months.
If he keeps playing this well, the numbers will climb. But even if +5.0 is still what he finishes with, that’s still a productive UZR season at one of the toughest positions to play. Nobody expects him to be Wilson right away.
The rest of the numbers trend towards the break-even point, either right above or below the zero-mark. Figgins is down to zero and headed for minus-0.5, so, with the margin for error and everything it’s safe to conclude he’s been little more than average. He’d been trending towards slightly above average before, but, as we know from watching him play, he’s had trouble with a lot of grounders lately.
By the way, yesterday’s tough hopper, which he blocked with his chest before throwing out the runner at first, was not one of those. That was a fantastic play on a ball that was impossible to get a glove on because of the way it shot off the ground and up at his chest. Only a handful of fielders could have successfully made that out. The fans who booed Figgins for not gloving it right away were clearly unaware of what they were witnessing. You see Figgins make plays like those and understand why his defense was so valued by this team when it signed him. But like Ryan did early on, Figgins is missing a few too many of the more routine balls. I’m sure the booing and the pressure of his underperformance is getting to him a bit. But he needs to snap out of it and stay focused on getting better. Easy for me to say.
Justin Smoak is the best of that middle-of-the-road lot, at +0.7, heading for a +2.8 over a 150-game season.
There is the obligatory point about these UZR scores needing to be looked at over several seasons to really get a guage on how good or bad a defender is.
But that’s sort of like hitting when you think of it. Even career .300 hitters can have a .250 season once in a while. They are still good hitters. What the .250 season tells you is that the hitter had an off-year.
Some M’s are having good years defensively and some are having off years, according to the data that’s piled up so far. Again, it doesn’t make the stats irrelevant. And if anyone out there is quoting Wins Above Replacement (WAR) numbers for a single year, you have to realize that UZR is a component of WAR. Just throwing that reminder out there, because if the component is “useless” then the entire WAR engine would be. It’s not. Just something to keep in mind.
Ichiro is again on the downside of UZR and shows no signs of making up ground despite the presence of Gutierrez in center for the past month to handle some of the ground to Ichiro’s right. This would, in theory, enable Ichiro to cheat a bit more to his left with positioning and get to balls down the line he’d been missing before.
But right now, Ichiro is at minus-8.4 and headed towards a minus-24.1 score over that 150-game season extrapolation. That’s a terrible number. Another reason why he needs to keep on producing with his bat like he did the past week. He just hasn’t shown the same outfield value this season. For those who say “I didn’t see him drop anything this week!” it’s not merely that you have to consider.
There was a triple to right center this past series — might have been Shane Victorino on Saturday, I can’t really remember — in which it seemed to take Ichiro forever to get to the ball, pick it up and heave it back in. In past years, that’s probably just a double. He’ll get docked points for plays like that.
Anyhow, that’s what the UZR scores say.
For the sake of more info, I usually cross reference the UZR findings with those of John Dewan’s Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) scores.
And sure enough, they conclude largely the same thing.
Gutierrez and Ryan are tied for the team lead with +7 runs saved. Ichiro is the worst at minus-four runs. A bunch of other guys are at minus-1 or minus-2, with Figgins and Smoak being at the minus-2 stage, so there’s a bit of a difference with UZR there. But they’re getting read at slightly below team average compared to average. Again, the whole middle-ground thing has margins for error.
But at the very top and very bottom, both systems check out the same.
It’s still Gutierrez and Ryan leading the way and Ichiro trailing the pack.