What the New Statcast Infielder Metrics Say About the Yankees

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?

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6 Comments

  1. JG (Ben Francisco)

    Sorry but the metrics are bunk if they say Urshela and Didi aren’t good.

  2. Mungo

    I’ll wait to see more data over several years before I draw any conclusions on this new statcast metric.

  3. Coolerking101

    I’ll die on that hill with you Bobby.

    I have watched 90% or more of non West Coast Yankee games for the last 15+ years. Based on my eye test, Gio is an elite defender and one of the best defensive third basemen the team has put out there in that time. If advanced metrics say otherwise, it’s just further proof that advanced metrics are not sufficiently reliable.

  4. RetroRob

    Defensive metrics are always interesting, but I also share a level of skepticism with them.

    Petriello, in response to a question, said that it’s possible that infielders on teams that are better at positioning could be impacted negatively by this metric because they are more frequently in position compared to other infielders. As for Gleyber, Petriello also noted that most of Gleyber’s missed opportunities occurred on the right side of the infield, what we traditionally think of as 2B, regardless if Gleyber was listed as the SS or the 2B’man. What does that mean? Who knows, but it is possible that Gleyber being slotted at SS full time, with DJLM at 2B, will lead to a stronger defensive unit than what we saw with Didi and Gleyber in 2020.

    Overall, it’s interesting and hopefully with fine tuning it will become even better. I will say that a player who rates poorly in three or four of these defensive metrics and also is not regarded as a strong fielder by scouts is, well, not a good defender! Other players who are strong in one but not another may have an argument that the metrics are not fully capturing what they do.

    • The Titleise

      This is the question I have regarding these defensive stats as well. The Yankees shift, a lot. Maybe not the most in MLB but certainly way above average. I’m curious that if by doing this, intentionally decreasing the range and throw distance, they also negatively skew the stats.

      For, example on a tight shift to a lefty dead pull hitter, your shortstop is standing on 2nd base. The shortstop ranges to his left a few feet makes an easy play on a ball up the middle and throws to first. Easy out. But by doing that you’ve negatively impacted both the SS and the 2Bs range and removed 50 ish feet from the throw. The math doesn’t seem to account for this in the calculation. Similarly, Gio is likely also affected by his throws coming from the typical SS position.

      What do you suppose the answers to these flaws are?

    • The Titleist

      This is the question I have regarding these defensive stats as well. The Yankees shift, a lot. Maybe not the most in MLB but certainly way above average. I’m curious that if by doing this, intentionally decreasing the range and throw distance, they also negatively skew the stats.

      For, example on a tight shift to a lefty dead pull hitter, your shortstop is standing on 2nd base. The shortstop ranges to his left a few feet makes an easy play on a ball up the middle and throws to first. Easy out. But by doing that you’ve negatively impacted both the SS and the 2Bs range and removed 50 ish feet from the throw. The math doesn’t seem to account for this in the calculation. Similarly, Gio is likely also affected by his throws coming from the typical SS position.

      What do you suppose the answers to these flaws are?

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