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.

Jeurys Familia blew another save

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 26: Pitcher Jeurys Familia #27 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth inning during game two of a doubleheader at Citi Field on July 26, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 3-1.(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
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Usually, a pitcher blowing two saves isn’t noteworthy, even if it’s on back-to-back days. But Mets closer Jeurys Familia had successfully saved 52 consecutive games before the Cardinals put an end to that on Wednesday night.

The Mets opened up a four-game home series against the Rockies on Thursday afternoon. Because Familia had appeared in consecutive games, manager Terry Collins told the media, including MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, after last night’s game that the right-hander would get a day off and Addison Reed would serve as the fill-in closer.

The Mets rode a 1-0 lead through eight innings and wouldn’t you know it, Familia took the hill to start the ninth inning. Things quickly got out of hand. Trevor Story led the inning off with a single, then stole second base. David Dahl drew a walk, and Daniel Descalso followed up by loading the bases with a bunt single thanks in large part to a mental error by catcher Rene Rivera.

Familia then got Cristhian Adames on what could’ve been a game-ending 1-6-3 double play. But first baseman James Loney booted the ball, allowing a run to score and everyone else to advance safely. Even if Loney got the ball, though, Familia wasn’t anywhere close to first base to cover on a double play attempt. Charlie Blackmon stepped to the plate and Familia uncorked a wild pitch on a 1-1 fastball, allowing the go-ahead run to score.

Collins ordered Familia to load the bases by intentionally walking Blackmon, then brought in Hansel Robles, who escaped the inning without any further damage by striking out D.J. LeMahieu and getting Nolan Arenado to pop up. The Mets were unable to get any offense going against Rockies closer Carlos Estevez, who set the side down in 1-2-3 fashion to lock up the 2-1 victory.

After Thursday’s outing, Familia is now 36-for-38 in save situations on the season with a 3.14 ERA and a 49/22 K/BB ratio in 48 2/3 innings.

Phillies place Peter Bourjos on the DL and activate Aaron Altherr

Aaron Altherr
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
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The Phillies placed outfielder Peter Bourjos on the 15-day disabled list with a right shoulder sprain and activated outfielder Aaron Altherr from the 60-day disabled list, the club announced on Thursday.

Bourjos, 29, injured his shoulder robbing Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki of a hit on Tuesday. It was a pretty nifty grab. He hits the DL with an uninspiring .253/.290/.384 triple-slash line but he had been on a hot streak, compiling a .938 OPS between June 21 and July 21. It’s also bad timing for the Phillies, who probably would have traded Bourjos ahead of Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Altherr, 25, suffered a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist on a diving catch attempt in early March during spring training. He impressed in 161 plate appearances last season, batting .241/.338/.489 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 25 runs scored, and six stolen bases. Altherr is in Thursday’s starting lineup, batting fifth and playing right field.