The possibilities of a stellar outfield defense
By Michael Jong
Yesterday, I discussed the ramifications of losing Dan Uggla at the end of the season and went over some possible replacement strategies. The one I preferred that involved only in-house options was that of moving Chris Coghlan into the infield and playing Brett Carroll in right field. The Marlins are unlikely to keep Jeremy Hermida as well, making way for the second go-around of Cameron Maybin in center field.
Today, I want to take a look at the impact that a potential outfield of Maybin, Carroll, and Cody Ross could have on our team’s defense. For this, I tried to keep it simple and take a look at the defensive data we have available to make our projections. For Carroll, I already worked on a regression based just on his data from the majors this season, however his track record in the minors speaks volumes as well, and I figured I’d attempt to revise that accordingly. When I did this though, his crazy minor league values came up with even more absurd totals (Runs/150 26.6), so to be conservative I’ll stick with the +13.8/150 games that I calculated yesterday. Call it +14 runs.
For Maybin, I used a 5/4/3 weighted average of the last three seasons worth of defense, derived both from his FanGraphs’ page and his TotalZone defense page at MinorLeagueSplits.com. I then regressed it 100 defensive games to the average (league average defense is obviously zero in these scales). When I did this, I got a value of 1.2 runs/150 games. Call that +1 run, not bad.
We obviously have the most amount of data for Ross. However, we would be considering Cody for a corner outfield position, so I’ll only be considering his corner outfield data, of which he has far less. I used UZR and TotalZone when available, weighing them evenly and averaging them for the season. Doing that calculation got me a weighted average of 5.5 runs/150 games. Cody may very well be better suited in the corner outfield. I prefer left field personally, as it has been made somewhat evident that his arm is not very good, if not terrible. Placing Cody in left would not hurt his range much and allow him to make easier throws. Plus, Carroll has a MUCH better arm than Cody.
I have my doubts to whether each of these players would start 150 games for the team next year, but if they did, we’d be averaging a grand total of 19.5 runs/150 games above average in the outfield based on my projections. If you don’t buy the Maybin projection, you could easily knock off a run or two from that total. It could go as low as 12 or 10 runs above average, and it would still be loads better than the outfield we’ve been fielding for much of this season. Consider the same regular outfield from this year, projected for next season.
Coghlan: -7.8 runs/150
Ross: -4.2 runs/150 in center field
Hermida: -4.5 runs/150 (I thought this was generous, but TotalZone seemed to like him 2007. Then again, so did I, and look how it’s turned out.)
That outfield is a total of -17.5 runs/150 games, a very poor total. Just according to these projections, the Marlins would be gaining 37 runs, or almost four (!) wins on defense by fielding Carroll/Maybin/Ross instead of Hermida/Ross/Coghlan. And, as an observer, I’d say -4.5 for Hermida is just as much an understatement as +14 for Carroll is likely an overstatement, so those might even out in the end.
Now, this comes with some caveats, one of them obviously being the difference offensively between the two configurations. Essentially, we’d replace Hermida’s and Uggla’s bats with Maybin’s and Carroll’s, so there’s bound to be some loss in that department. Yesterday, we already eyeballed the offensive loss between Uggla and Carroll to be around 33 runs, which makes up a good deal of this difference. Even if Maybin were around a .315 wOBA, we’d still be down about three or four runs projected in the trade-off, and that’s after losing the second most valuable position player on the team.
I won’t say that these are exact, but I will say that the Marlins’ goal at the end of last season was to improve their speed and defense from the position players, but the defense has been down from last year. These moves could leave us with one of the best outfields in the game, which could allow us to butcher the infield play a little bit and would help our strikeout/flyball pitchers (Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez) from getting unlucky with balls in play. It would be a small step towards improving the ballclub, especially when the team is being strapped for cash and forced to deal effective players like Uggla. As an organization, we need to use Moneyball principles here; defense may still be undervalued, and finding defensive skill for a cheap price may be an easy way to improve the ballclub without spending much. Consider this potentially excellent starting outfield a head start.