Defensive metrics, the Mariners, and Kevin Kouzmanoff

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Vastly improved defense has played a huge role in the Mariners going from 101 losses last season to above .500 this year, and Gary Armida of FullCountPitch.com wrote an interesting article about how first-year general manager Jack Zduriencik and his sabermetrically inclined front office went about making those changes with the help of advanced defensive metrics.
Here’s a quote from special assistant to the GM (and SABR member) Tony Blengino:
The statistics add another level. It shouldn’t be scouting against numbers. Successful organizations have to find a way to blend the two. It’s our responsibility to blend the two. … Our own [statistics] are easily adjustable measures as they build in nature of our pitching staff and our defensive positioning. There’s a margin for error with positioning with many of the public metrics. If you over-shift quite a bit, the shortstop may have skewed out of zone ratings. … To properly evaluate teams have to know the context of how those numbers are generated. So, we use our own metrics to account for that.
There’s plenty of other interesting stuff in the article, so definitely read the whole thing, but the gist is that the Mariners are among quite a few teams that are actively trying to quantify things that until recently have been based on eyes and scouting reports. Perhaps the most popular of the publicly available defensive metrics is Ultimate Zone Rating, and the Mariners have gone from 20th in UZR last season at -20.9 runs to second-best in UZR this year at +52.1 runs.
Of course, not everyone is aware of or interested in new approaches to evaluating defense. For instance, San Diego Union Tribune columnist Tim Sullivan wrote a lengthy piece today arguing for Kevin Kouzmanoff of the Padres as a Gold Glover based on his low error count at third base, writing that “statistically Kouzmanoff’s glovework has been of 24-karat quality this season” because “he owns the highest fielding percentage at his position in either league and has committed only three errors in 121 games.”
Sullivan goes on to make comparisons between Kouzmanoff and two-time Gold Glover David Wright based on errors, fielding percentages, and total chances, but merely gives passing mention to “the new-age calculation called zone rating” and “many arcane statistics being floated now.” There’s plenty of similar “analysis” being done in newspapers across the country, but the funny thing is that you’d be hard-pressed to find many MLB teams focusing on the same old stuff that so many writers are still hooked on.
Kouzmanoff’s own team employs former stat-head posterboy (and current blogger) Paul DePodesta as a special assistant and you can be absolutely certain that the Padres’ front office isn’t doing any meaningful evaluations based on fielding percentages. Low error totals could mean that a third baseman is sure-handed with excellent range, but they could also mean that a third baseman is sure-handed with mediocre range or even sure-handed with terrible range.
Guys like Ozzie Smith, Willie Mays, and Brooks Robinson aren’t considered all-time great defenders because they committed a low number of errors, they’re considered all-time great defenders because they made plays that other fielders simply couldn’t. As for Kouzmanoff … well, he’s a solid defensive third baseman according to UZR, rating 3.2 runs above average this season and 2.7 runs above average last season, but a Gold Glover he’s not.
Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals likely deserves that honor in the National League this season, rating 16.5 runs above average according to UZR and also drawing plenty of positive reviews on his glove from people relying on their eyes. Of course, he’s made 13 errors compared to only three for Kouzmanoff, and despite the fact that more data and information is available for meaningful defensive analysis now than ever before there are still an awful lot of people who misguidedly equate errors with defense.

Brad Ausmus is not a fan of the Tigers’ schedule

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Everyone in baseball has a tough schedule. The season is a grind. Some teams, however, due to weather and happenstance, have stretches which are a tougher grind than others. The Tigers are in one of those right now.

Detroit played the Astros on Thursday night, and lost in a three-hour and thirty minute contest. It was a getaway day, er, night, and they didn’t get to Chicago to face the White Sox until the wee wee hours of the morning on Friday. Waiting for them: a double header which was to start at 4pm. The first game of it was rained out, though, so they woke up after a short “night’s sleep for nothing. Then the nightcap was delayed over an hour, giving them another late bedtime. On Saturday it was another double header, so it was another early wakeup and another long day at the park. And, of course, another day game on Sunday, before a flight to Kansas City.

This stretch has made Brad Ausmus grumpy. Here he was after Friday night’s late finish:

“Give some credit to the White Sox pitchers, give some credit to the schedule we have. We’ll try to get about 5 hours of sleep and come back tomorrow and play two more.”

He was particularly miffed at the scheduling of two doubleheaders in a row:

“You can’t control the weather but I think it would have been prudent to play the second game tomorrow in August,” he said. “That would have made a lot more sense to me.”

Ausmus did note, however, that it’s not the White Sox’ job to make a schedule that is convenient for their division rivals.

You can look at this in a few different ways. One one level, Ausmus is understandably upset about a particularly arduous stretch of games. On another level he’s probably trying to protect his players, who have looked flat, by changing the subject from their play to the schedule. On a different level, you could say that he’s making excuses for a team that is underachieving. And, of course, those three things are not mutually exclusive.

The thing is, though, that the Tigers have lost seven of ten, are five out of first place, four games under .500 and could conceivably leave their series with the Royals this week in dead last in the Central. Ultimately, extenuating circumstances like the weather and an unfortunate schedule don’t save a manager whose talented and highly-paid team struggles like the Tigers have. If they don’t turn it around soon, Ausmus could be hitting the bricks and the Tigers could be fixing to sell off and rebuild.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Good morning. I hope your Memorial Day is safe and meaningful. Here are what sound like some good thoughts about all of that. In the meantime, here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

White Sox 7, Tigers 3: Miguel Gonzalez took a perfect game into the seventh inning as the Chisox take three of four from the Tigers. Many baseball experts think that Memorial Day is the point of the baseball season when the early season mirages begin to dissipate and the shape of the season truly begins to take form. I think the wild card and overall parity has altered that some, pushing the date of baseball reality well into the summer, but it’s worth noting that the White Sox are only two games worse than the Cubs right now and have a better pythagorean record.

Dodgers, 9, Cubs 4: Cody Bellinger and Kiké Hernandez each hit three-run homers as the Dodgers offense compensates for a rare bad Clayton Kershaw start (4.1 IP, 4 R, 11 H, 3 HR). He’s allowed to have a bad day, though, I suppose. Jon Lester‘s was worse (3.1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 2 HR).

Brewers 9, Diamondbacks 5: That Chicago thing is weird, but how many of you had the Milwaukee Brewers in first place come Memorial Day? They are — 1.5 games up on both the Cards and Cubs. Here Domingo Santana hit his first career grand slam and Jimmy Nelson struck out ten over seven innings.

Yankees 9, Athletics 5: Aaron Judge hit a grand slam and now sits at .321/.422/.679 and is on pace for 55 homers. His minor league track record suggested he’d be good, but I don’t think many folks expected him to be this good this fast. Meanwhile, Michael Pineda picked up his sixth win. He had six wins in all of 2016.

Rangers 3, Blue Jays 1: The Rangers snap a five-game losing streak as Joey Gallo‘s 15th homer broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth. He’s on pace for 48 homers and is hitting .198. That’s not ideal, but I hope he keeps that pace up exactly, mostly because it’ll make people’s heads explode. And by “people,” I mean those color commentators of a certain age who retreat to their fainting couches when players don’t hit the ball the other way, make contact for contact’s sake and think homers kill rallies.

Indians 10, Royals 1: Josh Tomlin tossed a complete game, allowing only one run on six hits. He only struck out three batters too, which goes against everything baseball in the teens is supposed to be about. It was probably a lot of fun to watch. Jason Kipnis went 4-for-4 with a home run and two RBI. He walked too, reaching base in all five plate appearances

Marlins 9, Angels 2: Marlins starter Jose Urena walked six guys in five innings. Struck out seven and got the win too. “That’s more like it,” says teens baseball. Giancarlo Stanton had three hits and a homer and J.T. Riddle homered and drove in three. Meanwhile, Mike Trout sprained his left thumb while stealing second base. X-rays revealed no fracture, but he is set to have an MRI today. If he’s out for a significant amount of time Angels fans can turn their attention to other things for the rest of the summer.

Mariners 5, Red Sox 0: Christian Bergman tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits, to help halt the Red Sox’ six-game winning streak. Not bad considering the the last time he pitched he gave up ten runs on 14 hits. The M’s turned four double plays behind him in the first four innings. Robinson Cano and Guillermo Heredia hit homers.

Padres 5, Nationals 3: On Friday and Saturday the Padres scored only one run and had only six hits while striking out 31 times in losses to Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg. Here they had five runs on fourteen hits. The lesson: it’s better to face Joe Ross than Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg. Probably worth noting that Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters were all out of the lineup for Washington.

Reds 8, Phillies 4Patrick Kivlehan hit two solo shots and Adam Duvall hit two two-run dongs. Scott Schebler hit only one homer. Slacker.

Rays 8, Twins 6: Fifteen innings of baseball lasting six hours and twenty-six minutes. Even Longoria and Logan Morrison ended the nonsense in the 15th with a pair of solo homers. Meanwhile, Joe Mauer did something special.

Astros 8, Orioles 4: Baltimore had a 3-0 lead at the end of an inning and a half, but it was all Houston after that. George Springer homered and Marwin Gonzalez and Yuli Gurriel each hit RBI doubles during the Astros’ six-run second inning. The O’s have lost seven straight.

Rockies 8, Cardinals 4Gerardo Parra had three hits, including a three-run homer as the Rockies win their fourth straight and their sixth in eight games. German Marquez got the win. The rookies went 4-1 in May. Overall, Rockies’ rookie starters finish 12-3 in May.

Giants 7, Braves 1: Johnny Cueto‘s blisters didn’t seen to be bothering him yesterday as he allowed one run on six hits and struck out eight over six innings. Brandon Crawford drove in three via a fielder’s choice and a two-run single.

Mets 7, Pirates 2: Matt Harvey allowed one run over six to win his second straight start. Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson each had three hits as the Mets rattled off 14 in all.