Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Mets are the worst fielding team in baseball.

Yes, the Mets are the worst fielding team in baseball and what's worse than that? The fact that if they weren't, we would be in first place and one of the best teams in either league. How do I arrive at this conclusion? It starts by looking at the Mets team UZR. UZR is a stat similar to WAR or RAR that estimates how many runs a player saves or gives up in relation to a replacement level player. For instance David Wright had a UZR last year of 1.5 meaning he saved 1.5 more runs than a replacement at 3rd base would have. We can also look at a team's UZR to see how they do compared to a team full of replacement players. Right now the Mets team UZR is -27.7. Meaning that a team of totally average players would have saved about 28 more runs than the current Mets. -27.7 is the worst team UZR in baseball about six runs worse than the Detroit Tigers.

If the Mets played average defense (meaning a UZR of 0) they would have about 3 more wins right now (10 runs usually equal 1 win). This would put our record at 31-20 instead of 28-23. 31-20 would put us at first place in the division and tied with the Texas Rangers for second best record in all of baseball. For all the great pitching performances, .400 batting averages and great bench performances we are getting we could in 1st by simply having average defense. Let's look at the worst offenders.

First which Mets have the worst individual UZR on the team:

Duda
-10.7
Murphy
-7.3
Bay
-3.3
Davis
-2.9
Baxter
-2.7

Yikes. Duda and Murphy have cost this team 17 runs through their poor defensive play. Duda is doubly painful to see because he has been bad offensively this season also and therefore is really doing nothing but hurting the team. Murphy has always been a defensive question mark and a concern at 2nd base, so far these numbers show he is not handling the position well despite a few flashy plays. For those who dislike advanced metrics, looks let at a more traditional stats, errors.

Murphy
7
Davis
4
Thole
4
Wright
4
Nieuwenhuis
3

Well Murphy tops this list as well which just adds to concerns about his defense. My biggest worry though is that Ike appears on both of these lists. First of all, first base is not a hugely challenging defensive position. You should not have four errors at first 50 games in. Secondly it bothers me because in past years Ike has been a defensive star. He was a leader in UZR his rookie year finishing with one of the highest runs saved among all first basemen. His poor defense and even worse offense have made Ike the disappointment of the year so far.

The two teams leading the league right now in UZR are the Dodgers and Rangers, coincidentally the two best teams in baseball. In the coming months the Mets are taking on several good offensive teams, solid defense (or at least average defense) is going to be needed to keep up our winning record.

25 comments:

  1. In my opinion UZR is a joke. Does any baseball fan with 2 eyes think Ike Davis is a below average defensive player? If so go find another sport to watch. Murphy? Yes. Duda? Yes. Obvious weak links. But where is Torres on this list? He is one of the weakest lunks by far. All of this is obvious by watching the game, not by sime statustic that doesnt work.

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    1. You are certainly welcome to your opinion but it is hard to argue with math. The point of UZR is that we can't tell whats going on in every game. Few people watch every second of every game and fewer are actively engaged enough to say how good or bad someone is defensively. UZR factors in every single play and gives us someones true value.

  2. yes they cost duda and murphy costs us some runs in the field, and in turn a couple of games. But dudes 7 hrs and 25 rbi and murphys 300 avg surely win us some games offensively. So why dont we look at it from both sides.

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    1. I totally agree that Murphys bat has been a contributor to the teams success (as well as Duda) I am just focusing on the this aspect as the one that needs to get turned around the most. The Mets are excelling in many areas I am just highlighting one of the few they aren't.

  3. The point of the article, if I'm not mistaken, isn't that Duda and Murphy don't contribute. It's that their fielding contributes negatively. If the Mets were an average fielding team (replacement level) they would have won more games. That conclusion seems to follow logically. Sure UZR is not a perfect stat (although there is no such thing as a perfect stat), but likewise errors, as shown above, doesn't account for balls not gotten to, hence Duda's absence from the list. His total lack of range makes his error total low but still has a negative effect on the team. I think the post gets to the heart of an issue that is otherwise flying under the radar...that the Mets defense isn't just suspect, it's actually a major hindrance on the team's ability to be sustainably competitive. After all, this is a team that most of us had pegged for bottom dweller. So one major flaw like this, continued over the course of the season, is likely enough to keep the Mets out of playoff contention.

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  4. If you ask me, the Mets should send Ike down to AAA to figure it out because he is hurting the team, move Duda to 1B, and play Bay, Torres, and Nieuwenheis in the OF when Bay comes back. That might help with at least Duda's part of our bad defense.

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  5. I believe that defensive stats like UZR are considered practically worthless with such a small sample size.

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    1. I wouldn't say worthless, a larger sample is better but this is still telling. Especially when used in comparison to the other 29 teams UZR's based on the same sample size.

    2. Listen, I've heard that you need 3 years of defensive statistics to tell you a full story. Considering that we've got less than a third of one season...

    3. I think three years is arbitrary. When it comes to sample sizes more is always better. That being said a small sample size does not make the stat useless it just make it less telling, it tells a part of the story and shows a trend. It will be interesting to see how this compares to the the teams UZR at years end but their is a clear corolation between the current team UZR's and team successes.

    4. Sounds to me like you just don't like the Mets..

  6. The idea that if their defense didn't suck, they'd be in first place is based on a flawed premise. If their defense didn't suck, it would be because they'd have guys in the lineup that are better defenders but worse hitters. (If the Mets have guys that are better defenders and also as good or better hitters, I assume they'd already be using them) So their offense would presumably be worse if their defense was better, and they still might not be in first place.

    Similarly, Johnny Congress's contention that since they can't afford to have a big weakness because they aren't a very good team may be backwards. Perhaps the fact that they played better hitters thus far, even at the cost of defense, is why they are in contention when they were expected to be in last.

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    1. Definitely hear what you are saying EWJ, the suggestion wasn't that they would be in 1st with replacement level players, it's that they would in 1st if they played defense as well as replacement level players.

  7. I can't at all agree with the logic of this article's thesis statement: "Yes, the Mets are the worst fielding team in baseball and what's worse than that? The fact that if they weren't, we would be in first place and one of the best teams in either league."

    Because if they were a better fielding team . . . then they'd be putting different players on the field! How do we know that those different, better-fielding players would perform as well on the offensive side of the game? Take 2B. You could upgrade the defense easily by pulling Murphy, but would you be improving the overall team?

    It's the essential balancing act: offensive value vs. defensive value. In general, I'll take offense over defense. Exhibit A: Mike Piazza.

    Lastly, I'm also not a big fan of defensive metrics, though I think they are worth considering. Coming into the season, however, it was pretty clear that this would be a poor fielding team.

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  8. Thanks for the feedback James. My point isn't that we need different or better players just for our current players to play defense as good as replacement level players, which isn't an outrageous expectation.

    Why don't you like defensive metrics?

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    1. Jeff, I may be wrong, but I don't believe the Mets will ever get average defense from Murphy and Duda and Thole -- and frankly, when compiling a list of problems for this team, I've been mildly surprised by how little we've suffered for the poor defense of those three. I see Tejeda as steady but only average in range and arm strength (though that's without studying the metrics).

      I agree that defense matters, of course. But again, it's a balancing act, and generally I prefer outstanding offense over outstanding defense. WIth Duda and Murphy, in both cases, we need to see more offense and power to make the equation work out.

      There's a lot of noisy data when it comes to defensive metrics, a lot of variables. Good positioning and dumb luck seem to be huge factors, for example. Even Bill James and other analysts will admit that the defensive statistics have a long way to go. In addition, and purely from a personal level, I find them dull and tedious. In the extreme cases, the best and the worst, there are rarely surprises. And when it comes to the middle of the pack, the stats are so flawed to render those distinctions meaningless.

  9. Guys:

    Anyone who truly follows the Mets knows they are not even an average fielding team. No surprises with Duda and Murphy, but as disappointing as Davis' offense has been, his defense has been worse (compared to what he is capable).

    Bottom line...defense matters! Just look at the Tampa Bay Rays.

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    1. Agreed! Rays were one of the top ranked team UZR clubs last year.

  10. I agree that ideally we'd hope these capable hitters would become at least average fielders. Unfortunately, I think Duda has limited potential for improvement as he is slow footed and doesn't get good reads on the ball's trajectory. When he was at AAA, I saw him misread and/or drop routine fly balls so at least on that score he has actually already improved. Back then I couldn't imagine him playing outfield ofr an MLB team. Likewise, it seems a fair bet that Murphy is a future DH in the American League. Davis should be elite at 1st so I expect his numbers will improve--unless he's permanently lost flexibility due to his ankle injury and that is a factor in his decline....Torres is supposed to be an elite defender, so likewise sample size is likely a factor....To James- Piazza's defense was tolerable not only because of his hitting but because he played on a team with an otherwise exceptionally good infield...perhaps the best ever. Also, his main weakness was his throwing...he could call a game and block the plate. That is, he contributed more on offense and was was less of a liability on defense than either Murphy or Duda...

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    1. Murph as a DH? He has little to no power so no decent team would use him at DH and plus now the DH is just used as a spot to get regulars a half-day off. They really need to get rid of that dumb position.

  11. You can't ever expect Duda or Murphy to be league average at defense. They are playing there because the powers that be, who have all the advanced metrics in the world, deem that offense from those positions in clearly more valuable than defense. I'm right with them in Duda's case, but Murph needs to start driving the ball more to justify his bad defense, a punchless .300 average and child-like enthusiasm aren't going to cut it as a starter past this season. Davis hasn't passed the eye-test in my opinion this year, but I'd expect that to turn around when/if he starts hitting.

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    1. I feel like Duda could play league average 1st base if he needed to. I also think he could improve greatly at RF he is never going to be quick but better defensive thinking and learning how to read a ball better are things he can practice and improve on.

      I agree Murph needs one more tool to be worth it. Hitting .300 is certainly a value but without speed, power or a great eye it's not enough.

  12. It is well known that the mets defense was going to be bad this year with people playing out of position.
    While i don't know the specifics of UZR, i was wondering if they weight each play the same. Similar to all the talk that has been going on about the Met's Run differential and how they are "playing way over their heads" because of the expected W-L calculated using Run scored and run allowed, it is not true that all runs are worth the same (a run in the 9th inning of a tie game is worth much more than a run in the 9th of a 10-0 blowout), it shouldn't be the case that a good play with the bases loaded tie game 9th inning is the same as the same play with bases loaded 10-0 blowout 9th inning.

    Also, another side note. It is well documented that good/bad defense can affect pitching (FIP). However, it is possible that the converse is also true to some effect? We would like to think that good pitchers get batters to make weaker contact and so easier defense plays. We also know that the Mets bullpen has been really horrendous so far. Is it possible that the bad pitching is a contributing factor for the bad defense metrics the mets have gotten?

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    1. They do not rate each play the same, UZR is heavily specialized to park specificity, types of plays and other factors, you can read a good primer here: http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/defense/uzr/

      Your second point I am not sure on. I have never seen that postulated before so can't really comment. Very interesting idea though. If anything the Mets should have a 1/5th better chance at this since knuckleballs are reliably hit in easier to field fashions.

  13. Wow, this is alot of comments!

    This is a frustrating team to watch right now because they have mojo but they are really sucking against LHP. The bad defense I am used to and even with the bad defense the METS are 21-9 against right handed starters on the year.

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