I Award You No Points
To keep up with the times, Daily News Live had to up its daily dosage of stupid. They brought Marcus Hayes and Mandy Housenick on to talk about the Phillies. Apparently, the two were trying to set new personal highs.
Watch if you dare to risk a brain hemorrhage. Hat tip to @TonyIsDynamic for the hilarious video splicing.
Housenick: I think you should’ve DH’ed Chase. I don’t think Chase should’ve been playing second base. Not to mention — nobody wants to hear this — but Wilson Valdez has a better fielding percentage than Chase Utley. I’m not saying he’s a better player, but you’re not losing anything when you play Wilson Valdez [unintelligible] Chase Utley. I’m not saying he’s a better player —
Hayes: He’s a much better second baseman than Chase Utley, who’s average at best. I don’t care what kind of fantasy stats you want pull out and, you know, range statistics… Chase Utley is a go-to-his-left second baseman, period. I know he made one play this year to his right, but if you compare him to a guy like Brandon Phillips — that’s a second baseman.
More, uh, intellectually-honest takes on Utley’s defense:
- John Dewan, “What Makes Chase Utley So Good?“, March 4 2009
What are these charts showing us? Against right-handed batters, Utley and Phillips look about the same. They both have minus plus/minus scores to their left. But their positive scores to their right more than make up for the difference. Both players appear to be shifting well over to the right when a right-handed batter is up. They have a harder time getting to the balls to their left, but there are fewer of those. They more than make up for the missed plays by making more plays on the greater number of balls to their right.
Now for the Left-Handed Batters side of the chart. It’s the whole key to Chase Utley. What appears to be clear from this chart is that both players are shifting left against left-handed batters, but Utley is going further. Phillips is missing plays to his right, but gets a few extra to his left. Utley is missing even more plays to his right, but is really making up for them on plays to his left. To the tune of +37, 30 more extra plays than even Brandon Phillips is making. That’s huge.
So what makes Utley so good? Simple answer: Positioning. And more specifically, positioning against left-handed batters.
Now keep in mind that not all left-handed batters are created equal. If you look at Defensive Positioning System in the Fielding Bible, you’ll see that. Utley has to vary his positioning by batter, even against different lefties, to maximize his performance. But, in general, the key appears to be that he is moving closer to first base against lefties than virtually any other second baseman in baseball. BIS Video Scouts, who watch every game and chart nearly everything you can imagine, have said the same thing. Utley has a strong tendency to position himself towards hitters’ pull side.
- FanGraphs, “Highs and Lows of UZR 2007-9: Utley“, November 7 2009
Tonight, the best player from 2007-9: 2B Chase Utley.
Consistent greatness is Chase Utley‘s calling card. His wOBAs from 2005 through 2009 have all been inside the range of .389 to .420. His UZRs during that stretch vary only from +9.8 to +20.5. In the last five seasons, Chase Utley‘s worst season, 2006, had him as a 6.8 WAR player. His best, 2008, he was an 8.1 WAR player.
For five seasons Chase Utley (38 total wins) has been just a smidgen less valuable than Albert Pujols (40.4 total wins) has been. Thank goodness that he is losing his mind in this World Series because hopefully now he’ll start getting more credit. He’s been close to the best player in baseball over the last half-decade and how many people would have included him in the top ten?
- Crashburn Alley, “Give Utley His Gold Glove“, June 28 2010
Single-season UZR isn’t totally reliable, but even if we go over the past three calendar years, Utley is still far and away the best defender at second base in baseball.
Utley has been the best defender at second base in four out of five seasons from ’05-09. That means he should have four Gold Glove awards, right? Wrong. The award was won by Luis Castillo in ’05; Orlando Hudson in ’06 and ’07; Brandon Phillips in ’08; and Hudson again in ’09.
The problem with fielding percentage is that it unfairly punishes players with good range and rewards players with poor range by ignoring range entirely. Hayes scoffed at the thought of range being a consideration in evaluating defense, but if a player simply stands at his position and doesn’t move left or right, his fielding percentage better be a clean 1.000. Players with more range get to more batted balls, but that also means their odds of misplaying the ball — simply by virtue of the scaling difficulty as the amount of ground covered increases — rise as well.
Dismissing fielding percentage isn’t a Sabermetric ideological thing, either; it’s a logic thing. Ben Jedlovec does a great job of explaining defensive stats in this article he published recently for ESPN:
Errors provide useful information. When the official scorer assigns an error, we know that the fielder has gotten to the ball and either bobbled it, made a bad throw or committed some other miscue on a play that would normally be made successfully. The fielder screwed up, and he should be penalized for it; hence, he is charged with an error.
However, there are well-documented issues with using errors to evaluate fielders. For starters, there is often room for disagreement in the official scorer’s ruling. Additionally, errors don’t appropriately account for a fielder’s range; if a shortstop is a step slow and doesn’t reach a ground ball through the hole, he’s not likely to be charged with an error, although other shortstops might have made the play.
I never thought I’d see the day where Intentional Talk would provide more intellectual commentary than Daily News Live.