Marlin Maniac Midseason Review: Defense


Today we continue our overview of the Marlins’ first half by looking at team defense. I’ll remind you of last year’s review, which pointed out how drastic an effect team defense can have on a team’s win record. This season, the difference in UZR between the highest ranked defensive team (the San Diego Padres) and the worst team (the Cleveland Indians) is over seven wins!

Team Runs Allowed: 384
Team UZR: -9 runs
Team DRS (without home runs saved): -4
Team RZR: .821
Team Out of Zone plays: 244

This season, the Marlins have appeared better on defense than in year’s past. You could have fooled most fans, who have been extremely frustrated with the numerous mental errors that lead to baseball errors on the field. The Fish are indeed second in the big leagues in errors made, but that does come with a caveat. While the team has the worst fielding percentage in baseball (tied with the Washington Nationals), UZR has the Marlins as even on defense in terms of error runs (in comparison, the Nats are at -9 runs defensively due to errors). How can that be?

Part of the reason could be that the Marlins’ errors are the type that aren’t usually counted in UZR. We all remember the numerous errant pickoff throws our pitchers have uncorked at Gaby Sanchez, right? Well, those don’t get counted in the system, as UZR does not account for pitcher defense. If we include those 14 Marlins pitching errors, the team could be down another five or six runs from that -9 total.

Another reason could be that some of those errors are of better “quality;” in other words, perhaps some of those errors went to locations on the field where the error rate is higher. Even if the physical error count becomes high, the overall run value as compared to average can still remain low because the error count was already expected to be somewhat high.

The Marlins 21st in range runs in UZR, 26th in double play runs, and tied for 10th in arm runs (regarding the control of the running game by the outfield). According to Sean Smith’s TotalZone metric, calculated on a game-by-game basis over at Baseball-Reference, we are also at -2 runs defensively at the catcher position, right around the league average.

Best Performer: Dan Uggla

I haven’t seen anything different, but it seems Uggla has gotten to more balls this year than he has in years past, and it certainly has helped his value. According to UZR, Uggla is 0.5 runs better than average, which is second on the team among starters (behind Gaby Sanchez’ 1.9 runs), but being second in run value in a much more difficult defensive position is enough to give him the nod.

Most of you are a bit wary of the “black box” nature of UZR, so we can turn to Revised Zone Rating and Out of Zone plays (OOZ) to give a comparison point. Among qualified second basemen in 2010, the collective RZR for the group is 0.827, while Uggla’s mark is at 0.851. Based on how many balls he has seen in his zone, he is approximately five plays better inside the zone than the average second baseman. Unfortunately, when counting out of zone plays per inning, Uggla is about 8.5 plays worse than the average second baseman. In total, this comes out to about -3 runs on defense.

In comparison, I ran Gaby Sanchez’ totals with the same methodology. The average qualifying first baseman made plays in his zone 76.7% of the time, while Sanchez has only made plays in 71.7% of his 106 opportunities. On the other hand, Sanchez has gotten to 26 balls out of his zone of responsibility, while the average first baseman would have been expected to get to about 20. So all in all, Sanchez comes out at less than a play better than average, or essentially dead even.

Worst Performer: Hanley Ramirez

This is disappointing to see given Ramirez’ improvement the last few years. Still, we can never be too sure if this is really representative of the runs Ramirez has cost this season. UZR has him at -6 runs, while DRS agrees, having him at -5 runs. The zone rating numbers paint an even uglier picture, as Ramirez’ .761 RZR pales in comparison to the qualified shortstop average of .806. In total, Ramirez is some 13 plays below average according to this measurement, totaling -9 runs.

The metrics tend to agree that Ramirez has played poorly this year, but what I’ve seen of him is not any worse than the last few seasons. Anyone else have any potential insight on that?