The All Sure-Handed Team

If there are two somewhat separate skills when it comes to defense — getting to balls and converting the chances you can get to — we all know which one gets more attention. The leapers and divers get the oohs and ahs while those watching the ball all the way into the glove gets golf claps at best. It’s time to appreciate the guys that make the plays they are supposed to.

The All Sure-Handed Team.

Using the new Inside Edge leaderboards, we can find out fairly quickly which players made the plays they were supposed to last year. Only nine players made every single play that 60%+ of baseball ‘should’ have made: David Murphy, Buster Posey, Denard Span, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Reddick, Brandon Barnes, Jayson Werth, Marlon Byrd and Dexter Fowler.

Maybe Andrew McCutchen doesn’t deserve to be here. He makes all kinds of plays. In fact, our older advanced defensive metrics liked most of these guys last year. Most of them had above-average Ultimate Zone Rating numbers — Murphy (+15.5 UZR/150), and Reddick (+22.3 UZR/150) were superlative even.

Maybe we’d like to use this team to spotlight the guys that didn’t do well with our other numbers. Someone like Jayson Werth (-4.1 UZR/150) is probably perfect for the team. So let’s try to get the best mix of sure-handedness and mediocre overall numbers for our lineup. The percentage here is the percentage of plays the player made that 60-100% of baseball should have made.

Player UZR/150 60-100%
1B Nick Swisher -7.9 97%
2B Jason Kipnis -6.3 97%
SS Asdrubal Cabrera -16.8 97%
3B Chase Headley 8.2 97%
LF Matt Holliday -7 96%
CF Adam Jones -7.9 99%
RF Jayson Werth -4.1 100%

Hello, Indians’ infield. Maybe this has something to do with why the Indians had a negative team UZR/150 (-4.5) last year, huh? And if you’d like to see something about the relative value of sure-handedness, notice that the Indians were eighth-worst in batting average on balls in play allowed, 11th-worst in errors, and fifth-worst in team UZR/150. But at least few of their players can make the play if you hit the ball right at them.

You may notice something weird about third base and left field immediately. I had to look in the 96% guys to get a negatively-rated left fielder in Holliday. Among the guys that made 97+% of their ‘easy’ plays, only Alfonso Soriano was worse than a +10 UZR/150 guy, and UZR liked him last year (+7.3). And I couldn’t find a negatively-rated third baseman with sure hands.

A possible theory: those aren’t positions that are normally associated with range, so if you have sure hands and make the plays you are supposed to make, you’ll do fine in left field and third base by any defensive metric. The fact that most of Nick Swisher‘s negative numbers came from time in the outfield supports this theory, to an extent. There wasn’t another negatively-rated first baseman that made most of his plays.

But for the other positions, range is important. And you’d take a guy that could get to more balls at shortstop than Asdrubal Cabrera, for sure. If you watch Adam Jones and think he’s a good defender because you don’t see him make mistakes, his inclusion on this roster might open your eyes to his flaws even as it’s meant to laud him for being steady.

Guys like Brandon Crawford, who made five plays that fewer than 10% of baseball could make last year (best in baseball), are obviously better defenders. Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, and Carlos Gomez made three of those plays and you’d rather have them on your team.

You may hear some negativity about the gloves on our All Sure-Handed Team this year. There will be a reason for that. And yet, there’s also at least one reason these guys haven’t been moved off their positions quite yet. They make the plays they are supposed to, at least.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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Cool Lester Smooth
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Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 6 months ago

Derek Jeter is, of course, the poster boy for this. 98% of 90%-100% plays, 0% of 10%-40% plays.

NatsLady
Guest
NatsLady
2 years 6 months ago

Jayson is a smart feller who doesn’t like to dive for balls (bear in mind he broke his wrist doing that)or bang into walls. He CAN climb walls–he did in the playoffs–but he usually doesn’t. I think if he’s healthy (big IF, of course, at his age), his range will improve; and he knows every right field quirk in the league.

Ben Suissa
Member
Ben Suissa
2 years 6 months ago

for Catchers, i have been going through the IE data, and it seems like catchers rarely have to make 60-90% plays? why is this? they seem to have to make 10-40% a lot, not much 40-60 either

Ian R.
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

How many truly routine plays are there for catchers? They basically field bunts (which are almost never routine) and pop-ups (which are easier, but still not exactly easy). Every infielder and outfielder has some balls that are hit right at him. Catchers don’t, really.

NatsFan73
Member
NatsFan73
2 years 6 months ago

Are catchers scored on how they field throws to the plate?

larry
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larry
2 years 6 months ago

as someone pointed out in another comment thread, throwing out stealing baserunners seems to fall into the 10% – 40% bucket, which is why theyre higher than most other positions in that bucket

TKDC
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TKDC
2 years 6 months ago

But other players don’t seem to be judged on non-batted balls. Receiving the ball, cut-off throws, etc., are not included (I’m basing this on logic, not actual facts, but look at it and you’ll agree). This is basically first person to be near the ball conversion data. I don’t think they ever put anything on another player (for example, an infielder making a play relies on a first baseman catching the ball – is that negated some how?)

Cidron
Member
Cidron
2 years 6 months ago

yeah they do!! But, most of them bounce right off the facemask off that foul tip.

Jim Price
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Jim Price
2 years 6 months ago

Seems like Jhonny Peralta would be a good fit for this too. Rarely makes a spectacular play, looks more like a Pillsbury doughboy than a MLB SS, he just scoops up all the routine plays cleanly and throws strikes to first. Its kinda funny that the guy who moved him off SS at Cleveland has a lower UZR….

Eric R
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Eric R
2 years 6 months ago

I grabbed the ratio of 1-60% percentage to 60%-100% percentage for all of the qualified players:

Holliday 26.1 [4% vs 97%]
Peralta 8.3
DeAza 6.6
Choo 6.6
Beltran 5.9
Aybar 5.7
Rios 5.7
Rollins 5.5
Upton 5.4
Smoak 5.2

Trout 2.1
Heyward 2.0
Zimmerman 2.0
Ichiro! 2.0
Freeman 1.9
Cano 1.9
Arenado 1.9
Alex Gordon 1.7
Machado 1.7
Bourn 1.6

Eric R
Guest
Eric R
2 years 6 months ago

Positional adjustment? Here are the ratios by position:

RF 3.3
SS 3.2
CF 2.9
1B 2.9
CA 2.9
LF 2.7
2B 2.6
3B 2.6

Taking the previous set of numbers and making it an OPS+ like number using the positional adjustment:

Bourn 183
Ichiro! 167
Heyward 163
Gordon 157
Alcides Escobar 154
Machado 151
Freeman 150
Trout 141
Aoki 141
Arenado 141

Rollins 58
Rios 58
Poluffe 58
Aybar 56
Kipnis 56
Beltran 56
Smoak 56
BJ Upton 54
Choo 44
DeAza 44
Peralta 38
Holliday 10

JoeElPaso
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JoeElPaso
2 years 6 months ago

Eric, you are great. Thanks for doing this little study.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 6 months ago

Seriously, this is awesome.

KK-Swizzle
Guest
KK-Swizzle
2 years 6 months ago

Love this. Even with relatively rough methods, the correlation between range and defensive value is uncanny!

Jimmer
Guest
Jimmer
2 years 6 months ago

Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but he says nine guys made every single play that 60%+ of baseball ‘should’ have made. Then he lists them and there are only eight names.

Anthony
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Anthony
2 years 6 months ago

Does Marlon Byrd’s 38.6 UZR/150 in CF really hold any weight? If I’m not mistaken it’s in a two games or so there.

JKB
Guest
JKB
2 years 6 months ago

Surprised to see B. J. Upton above, because I thought he was a speed and defense guy. I’ve watched Upton and his routes are good and he gets to the ball quickly, but he tends to be slow getting the ball back in – I have seen other teams stretch outfield singles into doubles on slow throw ins from him.

mrauscher
Guest
mrauscher
2 years 6 months ago

Just in case we didn’t get enough Cabrera vs. Trout debate over the last two years. (“Cabrera’s a good defender, look at his fielding percentage! And he went there for the good of the team!”)

I compared Cabrera’s 2012-2013 to all 3B who played more than 1500 innings, and Trout’s 2012-2013 to all OF with 1500+ innings. Miggy actually rates very well for the routine play, but ask him to move a little, and man does he fall off quickly.

Cabrera:
90-100%: convert 98.1% – ranks 2nd of 21 eligible 3B
60-90%: 60.0% – 21st/21
40-60%: 46.9% – 18th/21
10-40%: 17.4% – 16th/21
1-10%: 0.0% – tied for last (most chances of anyone with zero)

Trout:
90-100%: convert 99.4% – ranks 26th of 70 eligible OF
60-90%: 81.5% – 46th/70
40-60%: 68.8% – 18th/70
10-40%: 66.7% (6/9) – 5th/70
1-10%: 30.0% (6/20) – 2nd/70

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 6 months ago

It’s always great when anyone with eyes has some stat to point to.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

Brandon Barnes and Dexter Fowler. I’m curious to see how Barnes does this year with the Rockies. I think he might be getting underrated a bit.

The Foils
Member
The Foils
2 years 6 months ago

You know it was a cool idea for an article when the comments are mostly follow-up research.

Good stuff all around.

Justin
Guest
Justin
2 years 6 months ago

What can there be said about a guy like Andrelton Simmons? He seems to get nudged out in this type of debate without a mention that he had 54 more “90%-100%” plays than any other player in baseball. It doesn’t seem that there is a way to attribute his ability to make a play easier (whether it is superior positioning or his freakish athleticism).

Jimmer
Guest
Jimmer
2 years 6 months ago

It’s explain why Simmons likely isn’t on this list. It’s because other metrics clearly say he’s superior. Look what Eno said when he developed this list

‘Maybe we’d like to use this team to spotlight the guys that didn’t do well with our other numbers. Someone like Jayson Werth (-4.1 UZR/150) is probably perfect for the team. So let’s try to get the best mix of sure-handedness and mediocre overall numbers for our lineup. ‘

michael
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michael
2 years 6 months ago

Didn’t peruse the comments for already mentioned, but to me this article begs for a Sex Panther reference.

michael
Guest
michael
2 years 6 months ago

60% of the time I spent reading this article I thought 100% of my time I spent reading this article, thinking about Sex Panther references.

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