Monday, December 23, 2013
Fun with FanGraphs Fielding Charts: Blue Jays Infielders
By Ian Hunter
It looks like the fine folks at Fan Graphs have bestowed all the good little baseball fans an early Christmas gift; none other than offensive and fielding spray charts.
You've likely seem random spray charts throughout Twitter the past week, and I have to say these charts are quite fascinating. Offensive spray charts are one thing, but these defensive spray charts have opened up a whole new window into defensive analysis.
For the most part, I think these spray charts reaffirm what we already know; really good fielders are really good fielders, and poor fielders are poor fielders. There may be a few pleasant surprises in the bunch, but mostly it's fairly consistent across the board.
It's safe to say defense was one area where the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays were severely lacking. One can point to new infielders adjusting to playing on the Rogers Centre turf, but overall defense was not at a premium.
Brett Lawrie and Ryan Goins were the lone standouts in what was otherwise a below average fielding team. And thanks to FanGraphs spray charts, here we can look at all of the Blue Jays infielders individually.
Here's the name of the game; in the Made Plays charts, red and orange dots are really good, and green dots are bad in the Missed Plays charts.
And keep in mind, these guys are making upwards of 300 plays a season, so a few dots here and there shouldn't be cause for concern.
Truth be told, first base is not exactly a premium position when it comes to defense, so it's not really crucial to have an extremely defensively sound first baseman. Adam Lind seems perfectly adequate at his post at first.
The only thing that really comes into question is Lind's durability in the field. After some nagging back issues the past few years, it seems like the Blue Jays are slowly but surely transitioning Adam Lind back into a full time DH role.
Last year, Lind only played 76 games at first base despite not missing any time on the disabled list and staying relatively healthy in 2013. That could mean Edwin Encarnacion may see significantly more time at first in 2014.
Ahh yes ... the dots on the left side of the diamond are a reminder that the Blue Jays moved Edwin Encarnacion back to the hot corner briefly due to a myriad of injuries early in the season. Much like Adam Lind, Encarnacion fielded his position adequately.
There's no empirical data to support this, but I feel that Edwin Encarnacion's biggest asset in the field is his ability to pick throws out of the dirt. In numerous occasions, he was able to scoop balls out of the dirt and hold onto them for outs.
Next to Emilio Bonifacio, it was probably Maicer Izturis who received the most criticism in 2013 when it comes to Blue Jays infielders. Izturis definitely had trouble adjusting to the learning curve which comes with working on artificial turf 81 games a year.
Judging by the graphs, it looks like he really didn't have all that difficult a go a second base with the Blue Jays; there aren't many high difficulty made plays, and he only missed a handful of routine plays at second.
The odd thing about Maicer Izturis is he appeared to be a defensively sound infielder entering the 2013 season. There were no indications he may have difficulty on the turf, so the onus should fall on advanced scouting for failing to pick up on that.
It appears Izturis did have some trouble with easy plays at shortstop at third base, but perhaps part of that can be equated to him moving around the diamond so frequently this past season.
Maicer played 56 games at second base, 28 at shortstop, and 36 at third base. So now with close to a season's worth of experience playing on the turf, perhaps Maicer Izturis will can anticipate how baseballs will behave on the turf much better in 2014.
He is probably the one Blue Jays infielder that will draw the most debate this offseason; will Ryan Goins be good enough to man second base full time in 2013? Judging by his small sample size, he was absolutely terrific at second base.
But that's inherently the problem as well; it was just a small sample size. Goins undoubtedly took away numerous hits at second base, but he only played 32 games down the stretch. What would these results look like extrapolated over a full season?
And no offense to Ryan Goins here, but compared to Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio, Goins looked like a Gold Glover. So the defensive bar at second base wasn't set that incredibly high in the first place.
This one's just for fun; when Munenori Kawasaki took over for Jose Reyes, nobody was expecting a defensive wizard, they were just expecting a placeholder until Reyes was healthy to take over his post at short.
Truth be told, Kawasaki didn't have all that great a range at either shortstop or second base, and his throws across the diamond sometimes didn't even look like they'd make it to first base. But again, he was merely a replacement level player up the middle.
This is where things start to get really ugly. Emilio Bonifacio made a handful of difficult plays of the middle, but that certainly doesn't outweigh the incredible amount of routine plays he missed on the right side of the diamond.
By my count, there's eight plays he missed that were 90-100% fieldable, four that were 60-90% fieldable and about seven plays that were 40-60% fieldable as well.
This is where the margin of error on defense really rears its ugly head; that's 19 plays an above average second baseman should make. And 19 plays that were potentially game-changing, as well.
In retrospect, perhaps Emilio Bonifacio was completely out of place at second base anyway. Many said he was just an outfielder masquerading as an infielder, and these charts definitely reaffirm that theory.
Jose Reyes' reputation as one of the fastest men in all of baseball may precede him, but for whatever reason his quick feet don't seem to translate into more outs in the field. Reyes also may have been hampered due to his knee injury, which could have slowed him down a tad.
Nobody expected Jose Reyes to look like Andrelton Simmons or anything out there, and frankly Brett Lawrie would likely pick up a lot of the slack on the left side of the diamond anyway.
Speaking of Brett Lawrie, he basically reaffirmed his status as the Blue Jays best defender on the roster. All those red dots in the Missed Plays chart above really illustrate the difficult body of work that Lawrie had.
While these aren't quite as flashy as Manny Machado's spray charts, in Brett Lawrie's defense, Machado had 49 more games to display his defensive prowess than Lawrie did this past season.
These charts are also a sobering reminder how the Blue Jays tried to briefly transition Brett Lawrie back to second base. Boy, I'm kind of glad that experiment didn't pan out.
Last but not least, there's Mark DeRosa. Give the man credit; for a 38 year old who was asked to play three infield positions during the 2013 season, and by all indications he certainly held his own in the field.
DeRosa played the bulk of his time at second and third base, filling in for the injured Brett Lawrie and Maicer Izturis. At no point did his age really show on the field, and never was really a defensive liability. Not bad considering the Blue Jays inked him for a mere $750,000 dollars.