Q&A: Doug Glanville on Defensive Metrics

Had “The Fielding Bible” existed during his playing days, Doug Glanville would have graded out well among outfielders. As it is, the respected ESPN analyst has to settle for being one of 10 panelists who voted on this year‘s awards. Glanville addressed the subject of defensive metrics prior to a Spring Training game in Fort Myers, Fla.

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Glanville, on the Growth of Defensive Metrics: “I’m very excited about what’s happening in the world of defensive metrics. I was a center fielder who was glove guy, so it’s great to see someone trying to measure performance and show value on the defensive side of the ball. I’m excited about the detail with which these metrics are breaking down players’ performance.

“I’m happy with the results I’ve seen. There has been really diligent work done in terms of trying to measure everything, from good fielding plays to range. I’ve looked at a lot of B.I.S. data and it’s very detailed. That said, I think we’re just scratching the surface. As we get much more involved, and look closer, we’re going to find even more jewels in this research.

“This is the detail that you need now. From general managers on down you’re evaluating talent and leaving no stone unturned. I don’t know exactly how many teams are [evaluating defense] numbers-wise, but it has certainly expanded quite a bit. I remember that there was a discussion about Jason Bay’s fielding when he signed [with the Mets], and then there was a correction done based on a subsequent look at his metrics. This is a whole aspect of the game that kind of got ignored for a long time, and there’s no doubt it’s become a serious part of evaluating talent.”

On a Former Player‘s Perspective: “When I played, we had spray charts and we paid attention to patterns. I don’t think that has changed, but there was a lot less depth to how we positioned our defense. Now we can see fielding maps and what kind of pitch [a pitcher] is throwing when a ball is hit to a certain location. Those things are mapped out in a very detailed manner, so you can be that much more in tune with your pitcher — as far as your team’s plan — as a defender.

“My strategy as a player — and I think a lot of players feel this way — was that you get a lot of information on the front end, but you don’t want to be doing any calculations when you’re about to catch the ball. But as far as pregame, and how you prepare for an opponent, there is a lot of information you can use. It’s a matter of how you sort through it.”

On contributing to “The Fielding Bible”: “I got a chance to evaluate every single position and choose a top 10 for each position. Along with using feel — what I’ve gained from watching — I went through all of the data and studied it. By the end, I learned a lot about every single player, including what their strengths and weaknesses are as defenders.

“It was interesting to see who is overrated and underrated. Some guys aren’t flashy in the field, like Ben Zobrist, and you realize, ‘Wait a minute, this guy has done tremendous work.’ Clint Barmes had numbers that are really off the charts last year. He was extremely solid — if the ball was hit to him, he made the play. Nick Markakis made a lot of good fielding plays. He doesn’t necessarily have a ton of range, but whatever he got to, he made a good play on. Those were guys who, at face value, you look at and kind of go, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ But when you look at the numbers, you see how effective they were.

“In my outfield rankings, Austin Jackson was up there. Franklin Gutierrez was up there. Carlos Gomez, Peter Bourjos and Jacoby Ellsbury were up there. Andre Ethier was highly ranked in right field. Someone who is really underrated is Chris Young. That’s actually who I voted number one [in center field]. He had a great year. Those are the type of things you learn when you study the metrics.

“Again, I’m excited to see so much work on defensive metrics. The defensive side of the game is starting to gain much of the respect it deserves. Players are now being looked at more completely — as opposed to just as offensive machines — and that’s a good thing for the game.”




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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA

4 Responses to “Q&A: Doug Glanville on Defensive Metrics”

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  1. bkgeneral says:

    I am big Doug Glanville guy. He has been true proponent of Strat-o-matic for years, and shows a deeper understanding of the game than most of the former player/baseball commentator ilk.

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  2. Snowblind says:

    But we still don’t have a single good defensive metric that is as reliable as some of the offense metrics like wOBA or pitching metrics like FIP. Perhaps defense will always be the most subjective of all the measurable aspects of the game.

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  3. pft says:

    I think defensive positioning is an unappreciated factor in a players defensive ratings. Coaches, scouts help a player know where to play and pitchers hitting their spots (given positioning is partly related to the pitch thrown) all contribute to defense.

    A good defensive player may have a poor UZR for reasons because his positioning is not good (due to poor coaching, scouting or pitchers who throw inside when the ball is supposed to be thrown outside), while a mediocre player may have better UZR because he plays on a well coached team with pitchers who hit their spots.

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