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Revisiting Preseason Outfield Defense Expectations

Before the season Dave Cameron looked at the trend of some teams putting a greater emphasis on outfield defense. He specifically noted that the Mariners, Rays and Orioles were planning on effectively playing three center fielders. The outfield defense plan has worked out well for the Mariners and Rays, but not for the Orioles.

Ichiro Suzuki, Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez were just as good as advertised and the Mariners limited defensive butchers Wladimir Balentien‘s and Ken Griffey‘s time in the field. Chavez is out for the season with an injury but his playing time has largely been replaced Ryan Langerhans, also a very good defender. By UZR’s measure the Mariner’s outfield defense has saved 30 runs over average, playing a big part in keeping them in AL West contention.

The Rays outfield has been worth 25 runs over average, second only to the Mariners. Their outfield innings have gone to equally to Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and the Gabe platoon, with a little sprinkling of innings from Ben Zobrist. All of these guys have played well this year, right in line with their career UZRs.

For the Orioles things have not gone as well, giving up an additional 20 runs in outfield defense. Nick Markakis and Adam Jones are two of the game’s up-and-coming star outfielders and their futures are bright, but their defense this year has not been good. Together they have given up over 15 runs, but it is important to remember this does not mean we should expect them to be poor fielders going forward. UZR and other defenses metrics, by all accounts, take huge numbers of innings before they become predictive and are subject to big fluctuations even of the course of an entire season.

Markakis and Jones came into this season with great fielding numbers in 2008. Markakis at +11 UZR/150 in over 1300 innings in RF and Jones at +11 UZR/150 over 1000 innings in CF. This year Markakis is -16 UZR/150 over 760 innings in RF and Jones -12 over 600 innings. This new data put together with the old tempers our expectations; maybe Markakis is only a +5 to +0 corner outfield and maybe Jones is just a +5 to +0 center fielder. With so few innings it is also important to weigh our projections going forward with scouting reports, at least one set of which calls the two great defensive outfielders.

Luke Scott and Nolan Reimold picked up most of Felix Pie‘s, the third member of the Orioles planned three CF outfield who couldn’t hit enough to justify his playing time, innings and have played poor defense. Scott has a history as a +5ish corner outfielder and Reimold was projected as an average corner outfielder, so their performance should get better. Going forward we shouldn’t expect the Os outfield to play as bad as it has, but we can’t expect them to play like three center fielders either.