Six Sluggers Significantly Affected by Defensive Woes

How does a player finish with the sixth-best offensive numbers in the league, but still only produce the 36th-best WAR? With some pretty atrocious fielding. In 2010, 29 players finished with -7 UZR or worse. Among them were some of the game’s premier sluggers, meaning they saw some of their offensive contributions offset by their poor fielding skills. Six in particular stand out as being significantly affected by poor UZR numbers.

Just so we’re clear on the format, the first number is the player’s WAR batting component, which I’ll refer to as RAA, and the second is defense.

Paul Konerko: 44.8, -13.4

There are a few first basemen on this list, but none fielded quite as poorly as Konerko. Only Michael Cuddyer finished with a worse UZR among first basemen, and he spent plenty of time in the outfield prior to Justin Morneau’s injury.

Konerko is the example above. He had the sixth-best RAA, but his -13.4 UZR absolutely demolished his WAR. This was also a significant drop-off for Konerko. Prior to last year he was at a -3 UZR for his career.

Saving Grace: There really isn’t any here. DRS actually rates Konerko worse at -17. Total Zone with Location was just as low on him as UZR, at -13.

Prince Fielder: 35.1, -7.4

While much of the focus on Fielder’s 2010 season was his power dip, his defense took even more away from his overall numbers. After producing a 55.3 RAA in 2009, Fielder dropped more then 20 runs in 2010. His defense also took a significant hit. His UZR was 1.7 in 2009, but fell to -7.4 in 2010.

Saving Grace: UZR is Fielder’s saving grace. TZL has pegged him deeply in the negatives every year of his career, a DRS has had him in the negatives (double digits) in every year except 2009. The only remotely friendly stat for him is straight Total Zone, and even then it’s -6.

David Wright: 25.1, -10.6

For the second straight year Wright experienced a UZR in the negatives by double digits. He also experienced his second straight below-expectations season at the plate. Has Citi Field really made this big a difference for Wright?

Even in another down year, Wright was still the fifth-best hitting third baseman in the league. Unfortunately, per UZR, his defense ranked as the worst — by more than three full runs.

Saving Grace: DRS was just as low on Wright, and was actually even lower in 2009. TZL was low in 2009, but had him at -4 in 2010.

Hanley Ramirez: 25.3, -10.2

Defense was the major knock on Ramirez from the moment he started in the majors. In his first two years in the league he had UZRs of -9.3 and -20.5. He followed that up with two mostly average years, which provided some hope that he could remain at shortstop while hitting like a right fielder. Both ideas came crashing down in 2010.

Not only was Hanley’s 25.4 RAA his worst mark since his rookie campaign, but his UZR was in the negative double digits. The combination caused quite a dip in his WAR.

Saving Grace: TZL isn’t nearly as down on Hanley, pegging him at -5 for the year and 8.8 — in the positives! — for his career. DRS, on the other hand, mostly agrees with UZR, except it’s a bit more pessimistic.

Ryan Braun: 33.4, -9.3

Braun has never been known, nor will he ever be known, as a good defender. He’s a bit easier to hide in left field, which is nice for the Brewers. His -27.7 UZR (-41.5 per 150 games) at third base in 2007 will always stand out as one of the worst in UZR history.

Per UZR, Braun actually had a better year in the field than in 2009, but that was more because of UZR’s horrible portrayal of him last year. This year he was at -9.3 UZR, which kept him out of the worst five left fielders.

Saving Grace: Again, TZL is the savior here. It rates him at -1. Straight TZ has him at +2. But DRS is the kindest, rating him as +3. That’s a 17-runs swing from his DRS in 2009.

Dan Uggla: 32.0, -7.6

Last season was Uggla’s finest at the plate. His 32 RAA trumped his previous best by a full win. The only non-1B infielders who finished with better offensive numbers were Robinson Cano, Ryan Zimmerman, and Adrian Beltre. Yet defense was again Uggla’s issue.

His -7.6 UZR is certainly not his worst, but it’s not his best, either. Still, it’s tough to complain about that 5.1 WAR either way.

Saving Grace: Again, TZL comes to the rescue, put him at exactly average. DRS and straight TZ, though, were a bit harsher, both rating him -11.

Bonus: Mark Teixeira: 25.0, -2.9

No, Teixeira did not rank towards the bottom of first baseman. But Rangers, Braves, Angels, and Yankees fans have to scratch their heads at his relatively poor UZR scores. To the eye he appears to be one of the game’s most deft first basemen. I know that Yankees fans often cite Teixeira’s poor UZR scores as a reason why the stat is useless. I disagree with the blanket statement, but I do find it curious that Teixeira is consistently around average.

If we turn to TZL, though, Teixeira usually ranks among the best first basemen in the league. Last year he was +13 by TZL, which puts him behind only Daric Barton. among first basemen. What makes his case odd is that no other first baseman receives quite as large a spike when going from UZR to TZL. I’m not sure how to interpret that. But in any case, thanks for indulging my blatant homerism.

Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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11 years ago

Why should anyone be surprised that Teixeira ranks lower than his reputation on defense? You can’t “see” a guy’s range, especially at 1b. So we use measurements like UZR to measure range. Turns out Tex is overrated.

Mike K
11 years ago
Reply to  Eric

No, just that UZR doesn’t see Tex as a good defender (though MGL would say that’s not precisely true either). It could mean that Teix is overrated. Or it could mean that UZR doesn’t handle first-basemen well. Or it could not handle first basemen in new Yankee Stadium well.

11 years ago
Reply to  Eric

The problem is if you other defensive metrics they all have Tex as an above average defender. So it makes you scratch your head when UZR is the only system that rate him poorly on defense.

Dwight Schrute
11 years ago
Reply to  DT

I don’t a ton of stock into UZR for 1B because I think alot of times firstbasemen don’t get to balls to their right that they could because it actually makes it a tougher play vs. just letting the 2B go and get it.

11 years ago
Reply to  DT

I think for both 1B and especially catcher, a lot of the value is not strictly in fielding range, so it’s hard to measure reliably.

11 years ago
Reply to  DT

I think Dwight hit part of the issue on the head… Tex will let a routine ball go to 2nd instead of making a tough play and pray Burnett or CC can cover 1st. Then you have the Cabrera’s of the world (not that he has great range) who will range as far as possible to nab any ground ball even if the 2nd baseman will easily field (see last out/hit of near perfect game). I know UZR corrects for that with OF’s but I’m not sure if it is done with infielders (specifically 1st and to a lesser extent 3rd).

The other thing I’m not sure about is how double play runs are dealt with… does it include all DP possibilities (3-6-1) and are you potentially factoring in the capabilities of the pitching staff defensively?

Also how are foul balls dealt with? Are they part of the rangeR component and is it adjusted for relative foul territory. A guy playing in Oakland will be able to rack up more foul popups, and even if they are only adding small amounts to UZR if they are considered to be in a routine (high probability out) zone, it is still tacking on range.

11 years ago
Reply to  DT

I thought UZR only used ground balls for infielders.