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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Defense over the last Twenty Years

After finally getting my defensive analysis work in a more simplified form and setting it up smoothly for everyone to use, we began to discuss the possibility of re-working all the players for whom Zone Rating (ZR) was available.  Trying to go to a website and cut and paste twenty years of data was simply too daunting of a task. 

A book came out a while back called

Baseball Hacks

.  In it, there were descriptions of how to retrieve information from the series of tubes called the internets.  It can pull data, in an efficient fashion.  That’s not really that difficult.  I know many programmers that have always done this with just a few hours of writing code.  I couldn’t find the book, but someone read it and figured it wasn’t going to be too difficult.

A couple of weeks ago, Primate SG in ATL sent RallyMonkey and me all the data from 1987 through 2005.  Completely out of the blue.  His contribution is going to allow us to look at defensive runs by season, career, career-progression for players, improvement and decline, greatest seasons, worst seasons and more.

There were a few gaps, but after going through the data a few times, Rally and SG and I found the omissions and filled in the blanks.  Using the methodology published linked above, the defensive runs saved are calculated and now I’m going to put out a few pieces looking at who the top and bottom performers have been.  I’ve managed to adjust my spreadsheets so I can do this much quicker than in the past, but really, this would not have been possible without SG’s initiative and fantastic effort.  A round of applause for him.

Yes, soon I will reveal just how bad, or just how good, Derek Jeter has been over his entire career.

Just a few notes: the data from 1987 seems wonky to me.  The League ZRs are a bit high. I suspect that original data isn’t perfect.  However, the relativity within that season looks fine.  There doesn’t appear to be numbers well out of trend at all.  I suspect that is some issue with the original raw data. 

The data you will be presented, and yes, eventually, you will get all the data in a spreadsheet for your own good times, as “Runs Saved Above Average at Position for the Playing Time”, abbreviated RSpt.  Basically, there are 1440-1460 innings for a team in a season.  Each player will be compared to how many runs an average fielder would save in the same number of innings played.

Where do we want to start?  The names?  The positions?  The leaders?  The teams?

The Wizard

I think we’ll start with the names.  Who is first?  Well, it seems to me the best place to start is with the best defensive player of all-time.  I am one of Ozzie Smith’s biggest detractors.  I suppose the only person whose defense I consider as overrated as Ozzie’s is Andruw Jones, but when the title awarded is “Greatest of All Time”, it really isn’t difficult to be called “overrated”.  That’s a very high rating.

I always have thought the Wizard of Oz was a great fielder.  One of the best.  My position has generally been that while he is a great fielder, he is not some defensive god that is somehow unapproachable by any other defensive player.  Yes, he had lots of assists and a big range factor (RF), but he also always got a lot of ground balls hit to shortstop.  Garry Templeton had some great RFs in St. Louis and San Diego also.

We don’t have ZR for Ozzie’s peak.  He was a stellar defensive player from 1978-1986 and thirty years old before I get to see his first defensive ratings.  As MGL and Tango have noted, defensive skills decline like offensive skills do, so it is a reasonable assertion to think that whatever numbers we see for Ozzie, we can assume that his peak was slightly higher, and the seasons we have are somewhat during his decline.

For Oz, we have 10 seasons and 10,000 innings played.  From 1987 to 2005, no other shortstop in baseball saved as many runs above average as did Ozzie Smith.  Over his career, and based on the gap between Ozzie and nearly every other shortstop, it is more than reasonably argued that he is the greatest fielding shortstop of all time.  And again, this is almost all decline phase – or past-peak nonetheless.  I think he was on a plateau for a decade.  In the NL, the closest shortstop over his career was still more than fifty runs behind.

For the decade, Ozzie was 130 RSpt.  Going through the data, it is quite amazing that any player stands that far above his peers.


YEAR	POS	NAME	TEAM	LG	GP	INN	RSpt	RS/150
1987	SS	Ozzie Smith	StL	NL	158	1356.3	12	12
1988	SS	Ozzie Smith	StL	NL	150	1330.0	22	23
1989	SS	Ozzie Smith	StL	NL	153	1336.3	23	23
1990	SS	Ozzie Smith	StL	NL	140	1203.3	23	26
1991	SS	Ozzie Smith	StL	NL	150	1253.3	16	17
1992	SS	Ozzie Smith	StL	NL	132	1156.3	13	15
1993	SS	Ozzie Smith	StL	NL	134	1138.3	16	19
1994	SS	Ozzie Smith	StL	NL	96	822.0	-3	-5
1995	SS	Ozzie Smith	StL	NL	41	343.3	3	10
1996	SS	Ozzie Smith	StL	NL	52	443.7	5	17
								
10 yrs	SS	Ozzie Smith	StL	NL	1206	10383.0	130	156
Chris Dial Posted: August 16, 2006 at 02:45 AM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: August 16, 2006 at 03:35 AM (#2142630)
so given the data, you somewhat revise your opinion of the wizard?
   2. Cabbage Posted: August 16, 2006 at 04:39 AM (#2142655)
Just don't tell me you'll be revising your longstanding dislike of the St. Louis Cardinals!
   3. CraigK Posted: August 16, 2006 at 04:47 AM (#2142657)
Just don't tell me you'll be revising your longstanding dislike of the St. Louis Cardinals!

I don't think that'll happen anytime soon. ;)
   4. CraigK Posted: August 16, 2006 at 04:51 AM (#2142658)
On a serious note: how did he do it? Did he, like, have a different way of playing defense, or what? Is it all natural ability?
   5. OCF Posted: August 16, 2006 at 06:38 AM (#2142697)
To a certain extent, he did do some things differently. He used his body control in conjunction with sheer athletic creativity to invent some ways to play things. And he understood the properties of turf and what it was possible to do. I think that he didn't just take grounders before a game, but he was always trying out things, testing what his body could do and what the conditions were.

On particular play that sticks in my mind, although I don't have enough detail to narrow it down to a particular date. Mid 80's, Dodgers at St. Louis, game televised, and I saw what was on television. Middle inning, low-scoring, close game. First and third, one out, right-handed batter. The batter hit a rather sharp grounder into the hole, and it stayed down on the turf. My reaction, and the announcer's instant reaction, was that that was through, a base hit. Ozzie got a tremendous jump and came at it full speed. He couldn't slow up and turn - that wouldn't get there. Many shortstops would have dived. But what can you do if you dive? Maybe one out, if that? That wouldn't prevent the run.

I could be wrong, but this is what I thought I saw. While runnng full speed, Ozzie dropped his left knee onto the turf, with his right foot lifted. Turf is slippery enough that he skidded on his knee. With his torso still essentially upright, he reached across his body, low, to backhand the ball. As that happened, he snapped his left leg out straight, kicking himself up off the ground. With his momentum already partly upward, he planted his right leg to make that closer to straight up - so now he was shooting up into the air, turning. From the air, he fired a throw with something on it, a strike right over the second base bag. And Herr got there and turned the pivot. Double play, inning over, no runs scored.

I don't think I've ever seen that maneuver again.

I've always regretted that things broke down between him and management over ego, salary, and Royce Clayton. At the end, he couldn't really play every day, but he was still getting the job done as a part time player and probably could have continued to do that for a couple more years. Your numbers are consistent with that.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: August 16, 2006 at 07:50 AM (#2142709)
As MGL and Tango have noted, defensive skills decline like offensive skills do

And I believe MGL has stated that they start declining almost immediately -- players are at their defensive peak in their early 20s, not their late 20s as with defense.

However, as applies to Ozzie, that general model may well not work. When we look at many of the greatest hitters (e.g. Musial, Aaron, Pujols) they are great on day 1 and great in their late 30s with very little peak/decline pattern noticeable. If this holds for at least some great hitters, seems reasonable it would hold for some of the greatest defensive players as well.

So, if we had that data on Ozzie's early career, it wouldn't surprise me at all if it was right in line with 87-91 numbers.
   7. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: August 16, 2006 at 10:52 AM (#2142722)
It would also be interesting to see how the "average" changed over the years. I'm wondering whether Ozzie would save even more runs over the "average" shortstop today as offense is emphasized more at the position.
   8. Chris Dial Posted: August 16, 2006 at 11:24 AM (#2142725)
so given the data, you somewhat revise your opinion of the wizard?

Yes and no. I think the argument that he was hte best ever is stronger, but it still isn't the slam dunk that many put out there (as you will see in future articles).

Yes, I change my opinion to the area of"He is better than I thought he was by an impartial metric that I believe in". In that sense, yes, I revise my position based on additional information.

Just don't tell me you'll be revising your longstanding dislike of the St. Louis Cardinals!

I don't think that'll happen anytime soon. ;)


It will not. Zero chance.
   9. Chris Dial Posted: August 16, 2006 at 11:26 AM (#2142726)
I don't think I've ever seen that maneuver again.

Rey Ordonez performed that manuever many, many times.
   10. Chris Dial Posted: August 16, 2006 at 11:27 AM (#2142727)
And I believe MGL has stated that they start declining almost immediately -- players are at their defensive peak in their early 20s, not their late 20s as with defense.

Short-sightedly, I don't have ages in the database yet. And I agree with your second paragraph regarding the "Greats".

There is a young shortstop who could be Ozzie's peer, but it's really early.
   11. Chris Dial Posted: August 16, 2006 at 11:29 AM (#2142728)
It would also be interesting to see how the "average" changed over the years. I'm wondering whether Ozzie would save even more runs over the "average" shortstop today as offense is emphasized more at the position.

I graphed some of this. There is some decrease in average, but the difference isn't large. I'll check on that specifically tonight.
   12. AROM Posted: August 16, 2006 at 04:42 PM (#2143046)
I've always been a big fan of Ozzie. +18 per 1400 innings at the ages of 31-40 are amazing.

Its possible that Ozzie, like Hank Aaron, had a really extended peak and wasn't that much better in his 20's, but what I remember people saying about Ozzie is that his defense in the 90's, while very good, was not as good as his peak, probably 78-82.

The guy Ozzie was traded for, Garry Templeton, was also a great defender. I have him at +28 for the 1987 season. He last played in 1991, so we have less data for him than Ozzie. Per 1400 innings I have him at +16.
   13. Chris Dial Posted: August 16, 2006 at 05:03 PM (#2143083)
We'll get there, Rally. DOn't go waving the shiny objects all around.
   14. SG Posted: August 16, 2006 at 05:23 PM (#2143109)
Do we know if the zone rating scoring is consistent across years? IOW, is there any validity in comparing a player's ZR in 1989 to someone in 2005, or should all comparisons be in terms of league average for the season in question?
   15. Chris Dial Posted: August 16, 2006 at 07:33 PM (#2143295)
SG,
my preliminary work indicates they are comparable across seasons. I think it should be adjusted like OPS or so. The baseline does change wrt the average over the seasons.

But I'll be publishing a series here, talking about all this stuff.
   16. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: August 17, 2006 at 09:32 PM (#2145075)
Chris, I look forward to this.
   17. Saber Head Posted: August 17, 2006 at 10:01 PM (#2145090)
Looking forward to future articles. Especially that eventual spreadsheet.
   18. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: August 17, 2006 at 10:31 PM (#2145106)
Test post
   19. Yardape Posted: August 17, 2006 at 10:45 PM (#2145119)
Just wanted to add my thanks to SG and Dial. This stuff is fantastic.

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