Marlins’ defense could be worse


While listening in to the TV broadcast done by Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton, I overheard Hutton mention how the Marlins’ defense was the worst in all of baseball. This stems from the fact that the Marlins had committed the most errors in all of baseball, coming into tonight’s matchup with the Chicago Cubs having committed 30 errors as a team.

Now, as intelligent fans of baseball, we all know that errors are not the be all and end all of defense. There is more to defense than simply not booting the balls you get to. Rather, you’d like to see whether the Marlins are even getting to balls in the first place. Luckily for us, FanGraphs has become a one-stop shop for defensive metrics, and we can find out whether the Fish are getting to balls on defense, rather than just throwing them away.

Team Fielding

Team UZR: -3.8 runs (T-18th)
Team Plus/Minus Defensive Runs Saved (DRS): -4 runs (T-26th)
Team RZR: 0.826 (14th)
Team OOZ: 84 (18th)

Let’s explain each of theses. UZR and DRS are in terms of runs and include aspects of such as range/errors, outfield arm, double play turning, and catcher stolen base/caught stealing defense. RZR is a rate stat measuring plays made over total plays possible, thus being a measure of range (RZR stands for Revised Zone Rating). OOZ stands for “Out of Zone” and is a supplement to RZR. In RZR, zones are predefined for players on the field (so-called “zones of responsibility”), but players will make plays out of their zones, which are recorded here.

Now that we have an idea of what those mean, we can see that the Marlins are not doing awful. In fact, in most systems, it seems like they are currently in the middle of the pack as a team, a bit below average. Both UZR and DRS can be further broken down in terms of range/errors, outfield arm, and double play defense. Here’s how the Marlins stand on each of those categories:

DefenseDRS RunsUZR Runs
Double Play-2-2
Outfield Arm+3+0

The two systems are similar in their totals, though not necessarily similar in their breakdowns. UZR breaks down range and error runs separately, and as you can imagine the Marlins are struggling with error runs, at -2 runs for the season. You’d think with the amount of errors the team has committed that that number would be worse, but perhaps the team’s defensive chances have also been difficult. You can see that the Marlins are also doing just as poorly with the double play, something that has been fairly noticeable when watching the games. The team has had a good deal of DP’s left unturned in this first month or so of the season.

It’s too early in the season to break down defense too much further, but let’s take a look at some individual players and see if they pass the eye test in terms of defensive quality.

PlayerDRS RunsUZR Runs
John Baker-2
Ronny Paulino+2
Gaby Sanchez-2-2
Dan Uggla-4-2
Jorge Cantu+6+2
Hanley Ramirez+0-2
Chris Coghlan-1-2
Cameron Maybin-3-3
Cody Ross+0-1
Brett Carroll+3+3

The biggest surprise in that list has to be Jorge Cantu, who’s come off nicely on defense so far this year. I have not had the chance to watch Cantu’s defense at first and third, though I doubt it is heavily changed from seasons past. What do you guys see?

Outside of Cantu, everyone generally passes the eye test. I think Hanley Ramirez has looked a lot better fielding, but it is difficult to see whether he is not reaching balls in his zone. Hanley is getting docked a run on range and double play turning, though some of that DP fault should go along with the rest of the team. Cameron Maybin has visibly struggled so far this year, taking bad jumps and misjudging balls in the sun/lights numerous times. Similarly, Gaby Sanchez has had balls squirt by him in his range. RZR looks like it agrees with Ramirez and Sanchez, as both players have made in-zone plays in around 75% or fewer chances. However, Hanley’s superior physical talents have also allowed for 16 OOZ plays, tied for fourth among shortstops. Sanchez, on the other hand, is ranked third to last in RZR for first basemen so far this year, and has made only four OOZ plays.

How can we use this information? There’s not much here yet, and certainly there is not a whole to go by terms of helping the team improve its defense. I’ll leave that task to the coaches. What I will say is that, while the club has at time certainly looked like the worst defensive team in the game, the Marlins do have decent range and have had a little bit of a struggle with errors. That rate is going to regress a bit, and we should normalize soon enough. If we’re 15 runs below average by the end of the season, I’d be really happy.