Examining the Projected Team Defenses

There are people who think we make too much of projections, and that’s with regard to hitting and pitching projections. That is to say, the more reliable projections. We pretty much never talk about defensive projections, and there’s enough controversy over defensive non-projections. People can’t even agree on what’s already happened, so it’s asking a lot to expect people to look at defensive forecasts and take them seriously. Also, hey, by the way, it’s not even Christmas yet, so there’s plenty of offseason left to go. We don’t yet know what team rosters are going to look like in April. Projections we have right now are of limited utility.

But, there’s nothing happening. It’s the holiday season, so now baseball’s moving slowly, and one of the things we offer here are team defensive projections, so, let’s look at those. They’re coming from Steamer, as usual, and they’re based on our current author-maintained depth charts, as usual. Following, a big table, which I will try my very hardest to make sortable.

This is the Red Sox depth chart page. Perhaps you’ve looked at this before. You can go player by player, position by position, or you can scroll down. This was a bad example for me to choose, because Steamer doesn’t yet have a projection for Rusney Castillo, and now I’ve broadcasted that to the world. But, onward. Look at the All Batters section. The Red Sox are projected for +73 batting runs, with nothing from Castillo. They’re at -9 baserunning runs. And they’re at +19 fielding runs. Again, that’s with nothing from Castillo, but then perhaps Castillo projects as a league-average defensive outfielder. That would be convenient and not outlandish. It’s those fielding projections we’re going to take a look at.

Below, all 30 teams, their fielding projections, and their fielding projection z-scores. Then, each team’s 2014 UZR, and each team’s 2014 UZR z-scores. At last, the change in the z-scores. This should provide a good idea of which teams are most and least improved, and it’s better than comparing the raw numbers since they’re on different scales.

You should be able to sort the table. If not, blame the internet.

Team 2015 Projection Z Score 2014 UZR Z Score Change, Z
Angels -7 -0.5 26 0.8 -1.3
Astros -35 -2.0 -64 -1.9 -0.1
Athletics 13 0.5 24 0.7 -0.2
Blue Jays 1 -0.1 -7 -0.2 0.1
Braves -3 -0.3 35 1.0 -1.4
Brewers 5 0.1 3 0.1 0.0
Cardinals 24 1.1 29 0.9 0.3
Cubs -1 -0.2 -6 -0.2 0.0
Diamondbacks 10 0.4 -4 -0.1 0.5
Dodgers 21 1.0 -8 -0.3 1.2
Giants 7 0.2 3 0.1 0.1
Indians -13 -0.9 -72 -2.2 1.3
Mariners 6 0.2 8 0.3 -0.1
Marlins -4 -0.4 -3 -0.1 -0.3
Mets -13 -0.9 7 0.2 -1.1
Nationals 17 0.7 -6 -0.2 0.9
Orioles 34 1.6 55 1.7 0.0
Padres -26 -1.5 9 0.3 -1.8
Phillies -12 -0.8 -22 -0.7 -0.1
Pirates -8 -0.6 -40 -1.2 0.7
Rangers -2 -0.2 -7 -0.2 0.0
Rays 29 1.4 7 0.2 1.2
Red Sox 19 0.8 49 1.5 -0.6
Reds 20 0.9 46 1.4 -0.5
Rockies 5 0.1 -1 0.0 0.1
Royals 34 1.7 61 1.9 -0.2
Tigers -9 -0.6 -48 -1.5 0.8
Twins -26 -1.5 -35 -1.0 -0.5
White Sox -26 -1.6 -39 -1.2 -0.4
Yankees 29 1.4 4 0.1 1.3

The range of the projected defensive ratings, from the highest to the lowest, is 70 runs. A year ago, the actual range, as measured by UZR, was 134 runs, so maybe this seems unrealistic. But, you know how projections work. They regress numbers to the mean, and then in reality we just get a sample size of 1 season so numbers fluctuate and sometimes stray toward extremes. Last year, the actual range of team win totals was 34. The Angels won 98, and the Diamondbacks won 64. The projected range of team win totals right now is 22. Similar thing happening. Let me take that back. Identical thing happening.

So, the three best defensive teams, projected:

  • Royals
  • Orioles
  • Rays

The Royals aren’t a surprise at all. They showed on the biggest of stages how much an awesome team defense can accomplish. The Orioles, meanwhile, intend to get more playing time out of a healthy Manny Machado. They’ll also welcome back Matt Wieters, and as things currently stand, the Orioles will see a lot of playing time from David Lough. Finally, there are the Rays, who are projected to give a lot of time to Kevin Kiermaier. Maybe that will happen and maybe that won’t, but Kiermaier is outstanding in the field, and the Rays have other good gloves anyway.

Now, the three worst defensive teams, projected:

  • Astros
  • White Sox
  • Twins

Defensive metrics have never been real fond of Dexter Fowler, and the Astros also just recently signed Jed Lowrie on purpose to play shortstop for a year. With the White Sox, there’s a little bit of debate — Adam Eaton might actually be a real good defensive center fielder, in which case the projection would be off. But there’s still Conor Gillaspie, Melky Cabrera, and Avisail Garcia. And then the Twins aren’t particularly strong anywhere. The debate with them would be Trevor Plouffe; there are signs he’s gotten much better in the field, but Steamer has him regressing somewhat substantially. Probably not going to be the difference between a playoff season and a non-playoff season.

To change things up a little, the three most improved defensive teams, projected:

  • Indians
  • Yankees
  • Dodgers

With Cleveland, you’ve got three things going on: regression to the mean, expectations for better health, and a shortstop who isn’t Asdrubal Cabrera. The Indians still don’t project as a good unit, but they don’t project as a dreadful unit, either. The Yankees get to look forward to a full season of Chase Headley. Didi Gregorius and Brendan Ryan are in place instead of that other guy. And the Dodgers rid themselves of Matt Kemp‘s defensive presence. Also, Hanley Ramirez‘s defensive presence. You’re free to question whether the trade-offs are worth it, but there’s no questioning the defensive step forward. There are going to be fewer holes behind the Dodgers’ pitchers.

Finally, the three most unimproved defensive teams, projected:

  • Padres
  • Braves
  • Angels

The Padres are obvious. The Padres took Matt Kemp, and they’re in line to play Wil Myers every day in center field. They’ve replaced Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera with Derek Norris, and there’s also Will Middlebrooks at third base right now, where last year they got some months out of Chase Headley. The Braves have replaced Jason Heyward with Nick Markakis. They’re also in line to play Evan Gattis in the outfield, instead of Justin Upton. The Braves don’t seem to think going from Heyward to Markakis is too much of a step back. The Braves don’t see eye-to-eye with statistics. At last, the Angels. The Angels don’t project too poorly. But, they’re down one Howie Kendrick. And Steamer sees steps back from Erick Aybar and David Freese. Maybe they’re not even steps back; last year, DRS as more down on them than UZR was. If UZR was wrong, and the Angels were worse than they look, then they haven’t taken much of a step back. They’re just bat-first no matter what.

We’ll see what else happens from here. We’ll see if the Padres actually keep Wil Myers. We’ll see if they keep him and keep him in center. That’s one of the more compelling defensive storylines of the moment. Maybe you’ve noticed there aren’t many compelling defensive storylines of the moment. And certainly, the Padres know what they’re sacrificing for offense. They’re apparently happy to do it, but make no mistake, a sacrifice is being made. Or, if nothing else, it looks that way now.



Print This Post



Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
1 year 5 months ago

Did these projections come from the team depth chart pages? Because the Nationals announced that Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth have traded outfields, so those depth charts reflect last season. Link in username.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
1 year 5 months ago

Also, thank you. This was a cool and interesting article and I feel rude barging in with a complaint as the first reply instead of an appreciation.

(Happy Christmas to all, and may Banknotes Harper visit your house with toys on Christmas Eve.)

Michael
Guest
Michael
1 year 5 months ago

Are we assuming that Joc Pederson is going to start in CF? If so, the Dodgers appear to have improved defensively at SS, 2B, C, CF, and RF

Teej
Guest
Teej
1 year 5 months ago

Hot damn, Orioles! I guess letting Cruz and Markakis walk away will do wonders for your defensive numbers.

cktai
Guest
cktai
1 year 5 months ago

The Orioles are actually projected to do worse in 2015 than they did in 2014. Both Cruz and Markakis had a positive UZR. In fact every regular position player for the Orioles did. Not even the Royals could claim that (due to Infante and Hosmer).

Orsulakfan
Guest
Orsulakfan
1 year 5 months ago

The Orioles’ defense was as big a part of their success as it was for the Royals. It didn’t manifest itself so spectacularly as KC’s did in the playoffs, but it was there. Don’t feel bad about not noticing, as no one else did, and Fangraphs treats the Orioles like a last-place team because of their projection (and Boston as a first-place team for the same reason), so it probably surprises anyone not paying specific attention.

Mountain Landis
Guest
1 year 5 months ago

The O’s defense should be better than it was in 2014 with Lough getting regular PT in RF and Machado hopefully staying healthy, and Weiters also back behind the plate. The O’s and Rays should be the two best defensive teams in baseball next year.

anonymous
Guest
anonymous
1 year 5 months ago

The “projected range of team win totals” is not the same thing as the “range of projected team win totals.” You wrote the former when I think you meant the latter.

Ian R.
Guest
1 year 5 months ago

Forgive me, but how are those not the same thing? If the best team is projected to win 90 games and the worst is projected to win 68, the range of projected team win totals is 22. The projected range of team win totals is also 22. It makes sense that you might prefer the one wording, but that doesn’t make the other wrong.

ghug
Guest
ghug
1 year 5 months ago

No. The range in projected win totals is 22, but if we were to project the age of win totals, we’d account for variance and get a higher number.

anonymous
Guest
anonymous
1 year 5 months ago

They’re clearly not the same. Pretend for the moment that, in any given major-league game, each team has an equal chance of winning. Then each team would be projected to finish 81-81, so the range of projected win totals would be 0.

However, even if all games were coin tosses, it would be highly unusual for, say, the Astros to finish 81-81; the probability is something like 6.25%. The probability that the range of projected win totals is 0 (or less) is something like one in 1000000000000000000000000000000000000.

The average spread between the best record and the worst record in the situation above is something like 26.4 wins even when all teams are equal, and it only goes up when there are skill differences.

He computed the range of projected win totals, and that’s why he got 22 wins. That’s the analogue of 0 above.

matt w
Guest
matt w
1 year 5 months ago

Anonymous, that’s an excellent explanation of an important concept in projections.

Yirmiyahu
Member
1 year 5 months ago

Anonymous, I get what you’re saying. But you’re still being a pedantic jerk.

Schlom
Guest
Schlom
1 year 5 months ago

It seems to me that defensive numbers jump around a lot – for example in the last seven years the Padres have been 12th, 18th, 23rd, 8th, 2nd, 17th, and 25th. Of course that could just be because of roster turnover.

It might be interesting to take teams with very little roster turnover over a time period and see how their team defense ranks each year. Is there any way to quickly look this up or do you have to search manually (on BBRef or whatever)?

BobbyJohn
Guest
BobbyJohn
1 year 5 months ago

The projections must HATE the outfield for the Rockies, because they arguably have the best infield in all of baseball.

jfree
Member
jfree
1 year 5 months ago

It doesn’t account for the combination of huge outfield and altitude (ie velocity of the hit ball and the effect of that on outfield positioning/range). Basically, like pretty much everything else, the Rockies are an outlier and normal distributions hate outliers and pretend they don’t really exist for any reason other randomness.

Mountain Landis
Guest
1 year 5 months ago

well they may be in the running for best left side of the IF…

MNzach
Guest
MNzach
1 year 5 months ago

Ahhh yes, another year of watching a stellar Twins defense.

I can’t wait to see the opening day outfield of Arcia/Hicks/Hunter. That’s going to be worse than the experiment in San Diego.

mgraves
Guest
mgraves
1 year 5 months ago

Remember when the Twins had J. Jones, Hunter, and Lawton–not great fielders in the corners, but they had decent range and caught everything in that range, to say nothing of a young Hunter. Heck, even when Lawton was replaced by Kielty/Mohr they weren’t bad defensively.

The Twins are going to continue to be bad until they significantly improve their outfield defense (the pitching appears to be developing, which may “improve” the outfield defense). At least it looks like they going to play “outfielders” in the OF this year, as opposed to shortstops–everywhere but first and catcher.

froggy
Guest
froggy
1 year 5 months ago

How about back in 2009 when Gardenhire set a starting outfield of Kubel – Cuddyer – Delmon Young? For two consecutive games. With Carlos Gomez on the bench. And Kevin Slowey’s 32% groundballs pitching.

Near
Guest
Near
1 year 5 months ago

I don’t think Middlebrooks starts over Solarte, unless the Padres have already released a statement to the contrary.

J
Guest
J
1 year 5 months ago

As an Astros fan, these rankings are definitely concerning. But hopefully full seasons from Marisnick and Springer should improve the defense. Think Singleton will be improved as well.

Hurtlocker
Guest
Hurtlocker
1 year 5 months ago

Shouldn’t the Cards benefit from adding Heyward??

Gin and Bourjos
Guest
Gin and Bourjos
1 year 5 months ago

I’m guessing that they are taking a step back because Jay is the projected starter in CF and the projections still maybe don’t believe in Adams’s defense.

Bono
Guest
Bono
1 year 5 months ago

Wonder if he could play CF. Obviously it’s different, and why mess with something that’s not broken, but if he’s so good in right couldn’t he at least be an average CF? and then his offense would really play up.

jose
Guest
jose
1 year 5 months ago

I’d like to see the Yankees go for Heyward next year, they would essentially be fielding 3 Center Fielders.

All in tents and porpoises
Guest
All in tents and porpoises
1 year 5 months ago

St. Louis will likely retain Heyward, as there just aren’t many (if any) other places for them to invest the money right now. Even at, say, $24-26MM per year, he’d still represent a solid value IF the Cardinals see him as a true 5-win player for the next 4-5 years. And I sort of doubt it’ll actually take more than 7 years and $155M to keep him — a price St. Louis can well afford.

They’re too smart to sink that kind of money (the $24-26MM I mentioned) into a pitcher, and each of the other best current team assets (Wainwright, Molina, Carpenter, Peralta, Lynn, Wong) are already under contract/control for at least 3 or 4 years.

Like Holliday several years ago, Heyward just makes sense as the place to invest.

Ben Markham
Guest
Ben Markham
1 year 5 months ago

7/$155 is what Ellsbury got going into his age 31 season. I would be ecstatic is Heyward resigned for that, but it’s just not realistic. In fact, I’ll be happy if they can keep it under 9/210. If he’s a true 5 win player for 4-5 years then he’s worth well more than that.

Subversive
Guest
Subversive
1 year 5 months ago

I’m surprised the Jays dont project for more improvement. Martin & Saunders should be pretty significant upgrades over Melky and Navarro, and Donaldson for a full season should be better than Lawrie/Francisco we had last year.

Bono
Guest
1 year 5 months ago

Perhaps this is due to outperforming their projection from last year? If they did project to be worse than they were last year they might project not to match those values this year. Also, UZR doesn’t account for pitch framing does it? That is part of Martin’s reputation as defensively valuable.

Bono
Guest
1 year 5 months ago

That is, they might project not to match those actual values in this coming year. I think that makes sense.

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City
1 year 5 months ago

I am surprised by the projected raking of the Pirates. I am going largely by my amateur “eye test,” and so I admit I am probably wrong…

But I assumed the Bucs’ OF defense was as good as any non-Royals OF, and that the infield defense would be fairly strong with Josh Harrison at 3B, Cervelli being almost as good as (and younger than) Russ Martin, Mercer playing a decent SS, and – most importantly – Pedro Alvarez not needing to throw across the diamond this year as a 1Bman.

Other than Neil Walker at 2B, I don’t see any below-average defenders on the diamond. And their bench players are decent with the glove (Stewart, Snider, Rodriguez, Kang).

Anyway, I don’t mean to suggest the projections are flawed… just expressing surprise that the Bucs are not projected significantly higher.

stonepie
Guest
stonepie
1 year 5 months ago

shouldn’t the tigers be the 2nd most improved team? the outfield is much better without hunter or rajai starting

wpDiscuz