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.

Shelby Miller left Sunday’s start with forearm tightness

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Diamondbacks pitcher Shelby Miller left Sunday’s start against the Dodgers after four-plus innings due to tightness in his right forearm, the team announced. He’ll be reevaluated tomorrow. Needless to say, though, a forearm injury is very concerning. In his four innings, Miller gave up three runs on four hits and five walks with three strikeouts, raising his ERA to 4.09.

Miller, 26, has had a nightmare of a time since joining the Diamondbacks in December 2015. Last year, he made 20 starts and posted a 6.15 ERA. He suffered a finger injury suffered from scraping his hand on the pitcher’s mound with his follow-through, and he was also demoted to Triple-A during the summer as well.

Ivan Nova finally issued his first walk. It was to an AL pitcher taking his first major league at-bat.

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Pirates starter Ivan Nova has been outstanding in his first three starts of the 2017 season. He yielded only five earned runs in 20 innings for a tidy 2.25 ERA. But even more impressively, Nova didn’t issue a walk in any of those starts.

That changed on Sunday afternoon against the Yankees, but in a most peculiar way. Nova had struck out the side in the first inning, notched a 1-2-3 frame in the second, and got two quick ground outs to begin the third inning, bringing up Yankees pitcher Jordan Montgomery for his first major league at-bat. Montgomery never batted in the minor leagues, either, so Sunday’s AB against Nova was his first since his senior year of high school in 2011. Montgomery took the first two pitches for balls, then a called strike, a ball, and another called strike to even the count. Nova came in with his sixth consecutive fastball but it missed low, walking the Yankees’ pitcher for his first free pass of the 2017 season.

Nova got out of the inning without any further issue. He wound up going seven innings, giving up a lone run on four hits and a walk with seven strikeouts, lowering his ERA to an even 2.00.