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It ain’t over yet! - A look at the Royals defence

1.79K   //    21 May 2014, 18:38 IST

So you’re saying there’s still a chance?

Yes – and here’s why. Fielding. Fielding. Fielding.

For the second straight year Kansas City has the best fielding in the majors. I was perusing stats from Inside Edge Fielding as provided by fan graphs. The Inside Edge folks are scouts who watch every play and grade it on a scale ranging from impossible to almost certain to make the play. They assign a range of percentages of likelihood and then catalog whether or not the play was – you know – made!

So breaking it down – the Royals have converted 6.8% of the plays listed as remote (7th in the majors); 40% of unlikely plays (2nd in the majors); 71.8% of plays listed as about even chances (2nd in the majors); 77.8% of likely plays (24th in the majors); and 98.1% of the almost certain (7th in the majors). None of that by itself sounds all that good, right? Well, it is. It’s not like a single team is leading the Royals in more than 2 of those categories, and many teams are worse in 3-4 of them.

Another measure of fielding proficiency is the commonly cited UZR/150. This is Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games. The explanation of UZR is here: I don’t feel an extensive need to explain since, you know, we’ve been using UZR/150 for quite a while now and the fine folks at fan graphs are better at it anyway.

The Royals are first in UZR/150 at 16.6. Let’s look at the next four teams and then return to the Inside Edge numbers. They are:

Angels 14.9

Braves 11.2

Reds 9.4

Rockies 9.1

UZR can go negative (indeed the average is 0, and as expected 15 teams are negative – the worst is the Astros at -24.1).

Seriously, 16.6 is showing nearly twice as good as the fifth best here: the Rockies.

Okay, remember the Inside Edge where the Royals ratings were (7 2 2 24 7).

Angels are 23 29 17 16 10

Braves are 13 11 22 21 3

Reds are 16 7 19 18 2

Rockies are 2 5 13 3 4

So Inside Edge might see the Rockies as better (somewhat). But it sees the Braves and Reds as teams which, while they make the routine plays very well, don’t make spectacular or even difficult plays all that well. The Rockies appear to be a different story.

So could it be that the Rockies are as good as the Royals? Well, UZR/150 doesn’t see it right now; but it’s not that different to where we could say too much just yet.

But defensive statistics are notoriously difficult to read. We could look in the def column on fan graphs where the Royals rate as third best; looking there another team enters the top group – the Cardinals (at 4th). Their UZR/150 rates at +4 (8th best), but Dewan’s runs saved metric rates them as best.

So what does Inside Edge think of the Cardinals?

Cardinals 20 16 25 7 28. The Inside Edge numbers do not see the Cardinals as very good defensively.

So that takes us back to the Rockies. Royals and Rockies. According to many analysts the defensive stats take some time to normalize. Last year the defensive stats showed the Royals lapping the field, while the Rockies showed as a below average defensive team.

So until I see a lot more data I’m going to be a bit suspicious of the Rockies, but at this point the Royals appear to be a really good defensive team again this year (indeed at this point their UZR/150 is actually better than last year, which is just crazy). The only dropping defensive metric is Dewan’s +/- which is way down from last year.

Even so, DRS (another name for Dewan’s system) is showing the Royals as above average. Defensive statistics don’t all agree with each other often. Frequently defensive statistics disagree with scouting… but in this case ALL agree: the Royals are a very good defensive team.

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