Earlier today, Statcast released some new defensive metrics for infielders. More accurately, they took Outs Above Average, which was already available for outfielders, and made those figures available for infielders, too. Pretty cool. I always like to have a new leaderboard to poke around, even though I’m generally very skeptical as far as defensive metrics go. The individual leaderboard is here. The team leaderboard is here. Go check it out. There’s a lot to play with there.

Despite my overall defensive metric skepticism, one thing that this new set has going for it is simplicity: Outs Above Average measures — you guessed it — the amount of outs above average an infielder converts. In other words, if a player rates as a +2, that means they saved two outs. A -2, by contrast, means they cost two outs. It’s very straightforward and is based on the following four principals:

  • How far the fielder needs to travel to get the ball
  • The time he has to get to the ball
  • How far he is from the base to which he must throw the ball
  • His average sprint speed (on force plays)

The first two, obviously, apply to the outfield model as well, while the last two are unique to the infield. There is one other obvious positive: it takes into account a player’s positioning. In other words, where a player is listed on the lineup card is irrelevant. It’s all about where they’re standing on the field for a particular play for this evaluation. In the age of Big Shift, that’s a good thing. (You can also break it down by direction, which is also pretty neat.)

Anyway, Mike Petriello obviously wrote this all up over at MLB.com, so check that out for more details. Tom Tango, their stats guru, has the math/science behind it. I think what I described above should be enough to get the basics, but the basics are never enough with stats like these — it’s always good to dive into the methodology itself.

Yankee Takeaways

Anyway, there are a few immediate takeaways as they relate to the Yankees. Here’s what I found most interesting for our purposes:

  • Team Defense: The Yankees had a -18 OAA, which rated 28th overall (or third-to-last). We knew they were poor in the infield in 2018, but last year really felt different. They seemed much more competent on the diamond, but that’s not what this says. This surprises me.
  • Team Zones: Breaking it down further, the team was only a positive (+7) when moving laterally toward first base. When moving laterally toward third (-18), moving in (-5), and moving back (-1), they rated negatively. Overall, they converted 1% fewer outs than they “should” have. Interesting. Didn’t feel that way. Maybe the Yanks are excellent at shifting/positioning and that compensated for players with limited range. That might be enough to trick the eyes and explain the gap I hinted at above.
  • Best Yankee Defender: Surprise! DJ LeMahieu is the top NYY infielder with a +6 OAA. He converted 2% more outs than expected and ranked 23rd overall. Of course he did. This tracks well with the eye test.
  • Worst Yankee Defender: That distinction goes to Didi Gregorius, who was really, really bad defensively. Sir Didi was the third-worst defensive infielder (137th) in baseball with a -13 OAA — this is not prorated — but hey, he was better than Vlad Jr. A part of me wonders if this played into the Yankees’ decision not to bring him back. He converted 6% fewer outs than expected. The injury probably didn’t help here, but still. Ouch.
  • Gleyber’s Defense in Spotlight: Going off of that, if you really get into Gleyber’s data — he logged a -7, 2% fewer conversions than expected, good for 129th overall– you see a real discrepancy. Torres was much, much better as a shortstop than elsewhere by this metric. Derek will have more on this tomorrow, though, so check back for that.
  • Gio Urshela, Average Defender: I will die on this hill, but Gio Urshela is once again hosed by a defensive metric. I know that stats are supposed to fill in gaps and correct what we’re seeing. I know that players who make diving plays sometimes are worse defenders because of what it says about their range. But I just don’t see that with Gio…but all of the metrics disagree with me, so maybe I’m wrong. Definitely would not be the first time. I mean, DRS, UZR, and now OAA — he was a 0, exactly as expected. That’s 75th overall. I don’t know. I really don’t. This just feels wrong to me. FRAA, Baseball Prospectus’ metric, rates him much better, for what it’s worth. Also, I find it hard to believe that Urshela would still be employed if teams didn’t rate his defense well given his pre-2019 offensive production. It really feels like there’s a big gap here between public/proprietary stats here, but who knows?