Theo, Ellsbury, and UZR

Last week, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein did an in-depth interview with WEEI, focusing mainly on the topic of the winter – defense, defensive statistics, and how most of the stat-friendly teams have made moves to improve themselves defensively in recent years. During the interview, he made one specific comment that we feel is worth addressing, since it was aimed our way. In response to a question about whether Jacoby Ellsbury had defensive problems in center field last year, Theo said this:

I think that he is an above-average center fielder now, who is going to be a great center fielder. I know there is a certain number we don’t use that is accessible to people online that had him as one of the worst defensive center fielders in baseball last year. I don’t think it’s worth anything. I don’t think that number is legitimate. We do our own stuff and it showed that he is above average.

Since we publish that “certain number” – more often referred to as UZR – let me weigh in with a few thoughts.

UZR, with its -18.6 rating for Ellsbury in center field in 2009, isn’t exactly out on an island here. John Dewan’s +/- metric had him at 9 runs below average. Sean Smith‘s Total Zone system had him at 10 runs below average. Tom Tango stated that his With Or Without You system had him between 14 and 18 runs below average. This isn’t a case of UZR delivering a strange result that other systems don’t agree with. Pretty much all of the publicly available defensive metrics show Ellsbury had some issues last year.

Now, Theo might lump all of those metrics together as inferior to their proprietary internal metrics, and indeed, they may be. However, we need to keep two things in mind here: first, Epstein making positive public comments about his own players is a classic case of a statement made in self-interest, and second, the Red Sox moved Ellsbury to left field. Theo’s not going to come out and trash any of his own players, and it’s in the Red Sox best interest to fight any perception of Ellsbury as a defensive liability. If they engage in trade negotiations with another team, it would not be helpful if the league comes to a consensus that Ellsbury really does have some defensive issues, considering that is the biggest selling point for his particular skillset.

The Red Sox decision to move Ellsbury to left reinforces that idea. If Theo had left it unchallenged, it would essentially amount to a tacit acceptance of the rating, which would not be good for Jacoby’s trade value. Even if the Red Sox internal metrics had not shown Ellsbury as above average, it would still behoove Theo to publicly defend his player against the perception that his defense in center field may be questionable. Once the Red Sox decided to shift Ellsbury over, it became necessary for Epstein to make a statement to this effect, whether he believes it or not (and I’d bet that he does – this is not intended to question his integrity).

Finally, this is a big point – Jacoby Ellsbury played 1,302 innings in center field last year, basically one full season’s worth. As has been noted many times, one season’s worth of any defensive metric is not a very large sample size. Due to the amount of marginal plays that a player is judged on over the course of a single season, a few bad breaks here or there can make a pretty significant impact on a player’s overall rating. We have always suggested that you want more than one year of data before you start making judgments about a player’s true worth defensively. No one should look at Ellsbury’s 2009 UZR and state definitively that he is a poor defensive center fielder.

In fact, UZR doesn’t even support that assessment. In 2007 and 2008, Ellsbury racked up a +14.4 UZR in 777 innings between left and right field. That equates out to about 20 runs above average, if you extrapolate out over a full season. UZR loved Ellsbury in the corners, and historically, the defensive gap between a CF and a corner OF is about 10 runs. Given how well UZR rated him as a corner outfielder (again, in a very small sample), we can use that data as information about how well he should be able to handle center field. An overall view of Ellsbury through UZR, including all of the data from 2007 to 2009, would have him as a barely below average CF, not anything close to a disaster, and not that far from what Epstein is claiming.

There is a school of thought that these swings suggest an underlying flaw with UZR, but I’d suggest that it may be evidence that the perception of perfectly consistent defensive value is a myth. We know that hitters and pitchers often see wild swings in their performance, but no one thinks its proof that home runs are bunk when David Wright gets out-homered by Ichiro Suzuki. Wright obviously has more power, but over one season, he didn’t show it. It is certainly reasonable to believe that a player that Epstein believes to be “a good defensive center fielder” could simply have a bad year.

In the end, there’s no huge disagreement between FanGraphs and the Red Sox on how to evaluate defense, even if they prefer their internal metrics to UZR. We love the defense that Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre provide and, obviously, so do the decision makers in Boston. Additionally, that Ellsbury was shifted to left field to make room for a 37-year-old suggests that the Red Sox may agree that he’s not yet an elite defender, even if they think he may become one. In this instance, I think that actions may speak louder than words, and I don’t think that Theo sees Ellsbury all that differently than we do.



Print This Post



Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
NEPP
Guest
NEPP
6 years 6 months ago

I think its more of a “Little from Column A and a little from Column B”. UZR suffers from small sample size in 1 season increments and players have swings in their performance that further destabilize its value in small sample sizes. I think it wildly overrated Zobrist due to sample size…something that affected his overall WAR significantly.

However, over a big enough sample (say 3 years of full-time play), I think UZR is an excellent tool for measuring defensive performance…same as the +/- tool.

It will be very interesting to see how UZR lines up with the upcoming fielding Fx system that will be installed supposedly.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

Hence I always tell people that it takes a big WAR margin to say without a doubt that player A > player B.

Like if player A was a 4.6 and B a 4.4, I can’t say with a ton of confidence that A > B (though there’s a solid chance). Now, if it’s like 5 to 4, I can say with decent confidence that A > B, at least in that sample.

TsB
Guest
TsB
6 years 6 months ago

I agree with NEPP in that it probably is a bit of both.

I think a large part of this could also be Fenway being weird (that is the technical term). Coco Crisp saw similar ups and downs in his UZR during his 3 years in CF also.

I don’t think that Theo sees Ellsbury all that differently than we do either though, in that I doubt either side is really sure.

NEPP
Guest
NEPP
6 years 6 months ago

I think we’ll all see how “weird” Fenway is in regards to UZR when Jason Bay is roaming the vast confines of his new LF in Queens. Should be an eye opener.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

I think most smart baseball people see the fantastic upside, but evident flaws, in Ellsbury’s defensive game. I use BJ Upton as another recent example, and now he’s very good.

My guess is Cameron sees about 80% of the time in CF, and Ellsbury the other 20%

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

Dave, as a Red Sox fan, remember this:

This is the SECOND time now that Ellsbury has been defered to a corner for a short term fix player in center. His name is often mentioned in trade rumors, while guys like Jon Lester have worked their way into untouchable status.

Epstein’s being a PR guy to the max right now. For one, he needs to sell Cameron to the Boston media and fans, confused as to why Ellsbury’s being moved to CF. Two, he needs to avoid alienating Ellsbury. Three, he needs to keep a market for his skills and claim he’s valuable to the Red Sox. Which he is, any young, cost controlled player with decent output is. Just nowhere near as much as the fans and media value him.

AGuinness
Guest
AGuinness
6 years 6 months ago

I take everything with a grain of salt, from Theo to articles all over the web.

With that said, I don’t quite understand the theory that Epstein would make these comments based on the assumption that the team would look to boost Ellsbury’s trade value. At the time he made the comments, its unlikely that the team would be in active negotiations. In addition, I don’t see how identifying in-house statistics would help in negotiation tactics; those who would be seduced by such rhetoric would probably be inclined to rely on even less reliable statistics, while any competent GM would already have an established opinion that a comment such as this would have almost no bearing on.

Secondly, Epstein also has motivation to diminish Ellsbury’s value due to the arbitration process the team and player will enter after the season. For what its worth, Ellsbury’s agent is Boras, and I’m sure he’s paying attention to, and will fully utilize, quotes such as this to the player’s benefit.

The best – and typical – comment Theo makes about something like this is a “no comment.”

It also should be noted that while Epstein may have a self-interest to make these comments, Mr. Cameron also has a self-interest to defend UZR (which may or may not be the intended target of Epstein’s quotes) – as it is, as referenced by this article, a statistic published by this website – a website I fully enjoy and appreciate.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

To be fair, in-house statistics might be better than UZR, especially given the quirkiness of Fenway. I’m not so sure that Epstein would diss UZR as much as saying “we have better stuff”. They probably do, I’m hard pressed to not believe teams invest lots of time on proprietary numbers these days. I’m sure you can give many eager recent masters degree grads a reasonable salary and watch them go.

BermudaDelta
Guest
BermudaDelta
6 years 6 months ago

A bit off topic, but I came across this Epstein interview with a Providence radio station detailing his statistical background and his views on the general balance between stats and scouting.

http://news.wbru.com/2010/02/wbru-sports-exclusive-interview-theo-epstein/

walkoffblast
Guest
walkoffblast
6 years 6 months ago

I remember coming to the same conclusion when the idea of moving him to left first surfaced and that was before they even had a specific CF alternative. Even then the idea that the Red Sox viewed Ellsbury as above average by their numbers was suggested. If Ellsbury was already above average in CF they would be nuts to move him from there period. Of course he has to protect his guy’s psyche and perceived value. The real problem here is now all the people that have been bashing defensive stats will think they have confirmation about what “their eyes told them” even though it seemed to be obvious Ellsbury had issues with balls hit short and to an extent deep, something even the red sox scouts admit, so who knows what those people were watching. This “confirmation” is unfortunate because it clearly does not match the actions of the team and appears to be quite misleading to what the team actually believes.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

Yeah, but who do you think is the listenership of sports radio in Boston?

Guys who still judge players solely by BA, HR, and RBI.

UZR? These guys are still unadjusted to OBP.

Phill
Guest
Phill
6 years 6 months ago

Listenership? How about hosts?

I’ve still heard multiple times this off-season Sabermetric savvy writers and Theo alike have to come on and REPETITIVELY explain how RBI isn’t an accurate way to evaluate offensive production.

And for the record, just today one of the guys on EEI’s morning show complained about the Scutaro signing because Alex Gonzales was the “best SS he’s ever seen.”

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

To be fair, RSN hasn’t seen a lot of good SS play since Nomar left town.

I’m sure that’s all he meant…
/bullsh**ing

R M
Guest
R M
6 years 6 months ago

How do you have access to what “red sox scouts admit”?

walkoffblast
Guest
walkoffblast
6 years 6 months ago

I am referencing what the Silverman piece written back in October said they said about Ellsbury. In fact if you listen to the full interview Theo says he still needs to work on reads off the bat and breaking in although he says Ellsbury has already improved on balls hit deep back by the wall. He says this directly after the comment Cameron wrote about.

Moreymania
Guest
Moreymania
6 years 6 months ago

Dan Shaughnessy, your thoughts?
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/dan_shaughnessy/03/01/red.sox/index.html?xid=siextra_newsletter030110#ixzz0gxDuthyj

“It’s all about run prevention. Theo repeatedly cites how bad Boston’s defense was in 2009. Certainly a left side of Lowell and Julio Lugo allowed a lot of grounders to slip through for base hits and the Sox have statistics which establish that Bay was a liability in left.

Most of us didn’t really notice these flaws. Most of us think Ellsbury in center and Bay in left gives you more wins than Cameron in center and Ellsbury in left. Cynics believe that run prevention became the priority because the Sox didn’t want to pay Bay and couldn’t get any boppers in a thin free agent crop. Historically, the Sox have won games with a lot of home runs. Now they don’t have a player on the roster who hit 30 in the bigs last year. They were too easily shut down last year and now look weaker at the plate.”

A pleasure as always!

walkoffblast
Guest
walkoffblast
6 years 6 months ago

The Red Sox historically won games?

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

Too easily shut down to the tune of 3rd in the AL in Runs Scored with 872?

Maybe we should emulate the 2007 team…that scored 867 runs…and WON THE MF’N WORLD SERIES.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

That would also be 3rd in baseball, and 3rd in OPS+. While playing one of the tougher schedules in MLB.

Shaughnessy is an idiot.

Phill
Guest
Phill
6 years 6 months ago

Shaugnessy could make a great living working for Fox News during Democratic administrations and working for MSNBC during Republican administrations. Regardless of anything the Sox do he’s cries about it. He’s the Kevin Paul Dupont of the Red Sox if you will (for anyone who follows the Bruins)

This team has I believe 6 of the top 18 hitters in the AL in Pitches per Plate Appearance. They’re going to get to bullpens at an enormously quick rate.

And any comment about them being “too easily shut down” is referring to the 7, 8, 9 spots, which at times last year featured a rotation of Brian Anderson, Julio Lugo, Nick Green, and Jason Varitek. Something tells me they’ll fair better with Drew/Beltre, Camron, Scutaro in their places.

Larry Smith Jr.
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

They’ve only had six losing seasons (1983, 87, 92, 93, 94, 97) and one .500 season (1985) since 1967. That’s a pretty impressive feat to me. They’ve had fewer non-winning seasons in the last forty-two years than the Tampa Bay Rays, who’ve only existed since 1998.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

He seriously plays people in Boston like chumps.

Then again, so does the whole media.

Win now, f*** 2013 on. Of course, 2013 will eventually happen, and tying up tons of money on a few star players =/= formula for success.

Or maybe…CHB forsees the end of the world on 12/21/12 and wants the Red Sox to run their FO on that assumption. What a visionary!

R M
Guest
R M
6 years 6 months ago

Dave, Epstien said Ellsbury is an “above average” defender. It is common knowledge that Mike Cameron is better than merely “above average”. The fact that he’s 37 has nothing to do with it. There is also the problem that Cameron has not played LF in years, and Ellsbury has spent a significant portion of his time in LF in the majors. Ellsbury doesn’t have to be below average, or even just average, for the move to make a lot of sense. To say Epstien’s words don’t fit his actions is a definite stretch.

Kirkwood
Member
Kirkwood
6 years 6 months ago

That’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s pretty common knowledge, based on really any statistic, that Cameron right now is better defensively than Ellsbury. Regardless of Ellsbury’s potential, the best thing to do for a competing team to increase win totals would be to have the better defender, i.e. Cameron, play center this year. Ellsbury is very probably better in left and Cameron is definitely better in center, so Theo is just maximizing potential for wins.

Doug Melvin
Guest
Doug Melvin
6 years 6 months ago

Did you expect Cameron to say anything else?

Dirty Water
Guest
Dirty Water
6 years 6 months ago

Thank you, RM. My thoughts exactly.

Phill
Guest
Phill
6 years 6 months ago

I was a little worried this post would be over-reactionary and defensive (pardon the pun) when I first saw it. I was glad to see it wasn’t. I heard the interview on the dreadful EEI via podcast, and expected to hear from you folks.

I think it’s evident that Theo sees Ellsbury the same as UZR does. His metrics may in fact be more accurate, and depict Ellsbury in a better light; but either way the shift to LF speaks louder than his words.

He will be defended to the death throughout his Red Sox career to the media, and the second he is either traded or signs elsewhere he will get thrown under the bus just like every other player that has left under current Red Sox ownership. (I say this as a Red Sox fan).

The story has been the same from Nomar to Bay. Ellsbury will be no exception.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

I don’t know, people wanted to keep Bay. More so because “OMG WE NEED HOME RUNZ!” (apparently we’re playing fantasy baseball). Nomar was totally thrown under the bus, though, and it’s sad because he was on his way to being the new Ernie Banks pre-injury issues.

But yes, very few players escape the wrath of RSN in the end. Manny’s a bum now, Big Papi will end up being a bum, Bellhorn was a waste of $ who struck out too much, Varitek gives up too many stolen bases, Drew, well, you have a novel already on why JD Drew sucks from the Boston media.

mofopolice
Member
mofopolice
6 years 6 months ago

Nomar to Bay? Bellhorn a waste of $… I think you are revising history, sirs. Bellhorn cost us nothing, hit a memorable bomb off the Yankees and then played terribly the following year. His was the least noticed departure of any 2004 Red Sox player. Nomar was traded for defensive purposes, and was finally greeted for the first time by the Fenway crowd with a standing ovation last season. Bay will be missed by some and remembered as overrated by others.

In my mind, these are perfectly reasonable reactions to these departures. That doesn’t matter though. Keep perpetuating the notion of the exceedingly fickle Red Sox fan if it fits your argument, right?

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

I’m a Red Sox fan, bro.
I got to lay witness to people burning an autographed Nomar jersey after the 2004 ALCS.
We’re an exceedingly fickle lot.
Not to mention the media has way too much influence over the fanbase, since they always need to stir up something negative to use on Theo and Co.

mofopolice
Member
mofopolice
6 years 6 months ago

That sounds like more of an attention whore than a Red Sox fan. I’ll venture a guess that this was some undergraduate at a university in New England who clearly had too much of his parent’s money to spend and decided to burn a $150 jersey to impress his drunk friends. Am I close?

Phill
Guest
Phill
6 years 6 months ago

Mofopolice: I think you just completely missed the point I was making.

I wasn’t making a case for anyone who left the Sox being poor players, and I wasn’t questioning any moves they made over the years. I’m saying players are defended by management when they’re on the Sox (Manny was clearly the exception to some extent), and then no one is above a smear campaign the day they leave.

Bay was a model citizen in Boston and the second he leaves management starts going to the papers about how bad his knees are, and how bad his physical was for them. There’s no need for that. Say you moved on, and let that be it. You have a fan base either way in this market.

Nomar, Pedro, Millar, Damon, Manny, and even Bay has had comments made publicly about him in the press after leaving. It’s even started already with Lowell. He’s long been considered one of the most professional players in the game, and all through last year people were praising him for how he’s handled himself. Then last week on EEI (The flagship station of the Sox) out of nowhere after Lowell gives a perfectly professional and very respectful interview upon his arrival to Spring Training, the mid day show comes on and starts acting like he said something inflammatory and how they have to get him out of here, and how he was a big problem last year. This is coming from a show that praised him for his professionalism all last season, and all off season.

The Red Sox have many many pawns in the media, and they use them in situations like this every time.

mofopolice
Member
mofopolice
6 years 6 months ago

Phill:

OK, lets say you are correct about the intentions of Red Sox management.

Red Sox management said it was concerned about his knees holding up, and wanted to extend him to a contract that would mitigate that risk. Obviously, this was not accomplished. In your eyes, they threw him under the bus and provided the radio shows with something to point to to justify their decision when they announced this.

If this is true, why did they turn around and give their money to John Lackey? He is an injury risk himself, and the language in his contract is well-known to the media (it protects the Red Sox against elbow injuries, I believe). Same for JD Drew and Josh Beckett and their contract language regarding shoulder injuries. When those players leave for some reason or another, are you going to point to some quote about John Lackey’s elbow as management throwing him under the bus? I would hope not.

The simple fact is that there is no polite way of saying that Player A thought he was worth more than we did, so we let him go.

There are many media outlets asking them these questions, and occasionally they are forced to come up with something besides “no comment”, particularly when it involves a fan favorite.

Will
Guest
Will
6 years 6 months ago

You’re over-thinking the situation. It’s as simple as Cameron’s CF defense > Ellsbury’s CF defense

Cameron was one of the best OFs available this offseason. Besides Holliday and Bay, whose contract demands eliminated the Red Sox, there weren’t any better OFs available. This left Epstein with the decision of whom to start in CF. Cameron has consistently been one of the best defenders in CF over the past decade, which made his decision to move Ellsbury to LF an easy one. Moving Ellsbury to left by no means indicates Epstein thought Ellsbury was a below average defender, it just means he thinks Cameron is a better CF.

Temo
Member
Temo
6 years 6 months ago

I’d like to get your comment on Yunel Escobar, which UZR seems to differ with most other systems:

UZR/150 (career): -0.1
BP’s FRAA: 12 runs above average in 2008, 17 runs above average in 2009
TotalZone Rating: 8.9 in 2008, 21.9 in 2009
SAFE: 8th ranked SS in MLB in 2008 (out of 30); no data on 2009
Dewan’s Plus/Minus: ranked 2nd SS in 2008 (15 runs saved), 3rd in 2009 (13 runs saved)
Fielding Bible Awards: ranked 3rd in ML in 2008, 5th in 2009

Every system out there except for UZR ranks Yunel as a top-5 SS in the majors. UZR merely has him as average. Your thoughts?

elgringo79
Guest
elgringo79
6 years 6 months ago

How can Ellsbury get better by playing left field at FENWAY?

That’s be like learning to sprint in the back of a van.

Kampfer
Guest
Kampfer
6 years 6 months ago

He has played there and when he did, he played well (according to UZR at least).

elgringo79
Guest
elgringo79
6 years 6 months ago

My grandma could play well there. My point is, how is he going to improve without being challenged?

walkoffblast
Guest
walkoffblast
6 years 6 months ago

If your grandma said she could play around pesky’s pole that is in RF and might not be entirely or at all related to fielding a ball … or could it?

Bad jokes aside. Ellsbury is still working on reads off the bat which he can surely advance some playing anywhere in the OF. LF there suits him so well because he is plus on ball hit at him and has less room to worry about the ball falling in front of him. Cameron is not going to play every game anyway and he can still get some time in CF as well.

dat cubfan daver
Member
6 years 6 months ago

Do I get credit in inspiring this article?

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/fangraphs-timeline/#comment-135859

Just something I could tell my grandkids about, of course.

Seriously, thanks for addressing the topic in such a well-balanced manner, Dave.

Jack
Guest
Jack
6 years 6 months ago

Theo wouldn’t name UZR by name and then the group goes on to beat around the bush with gummy bears.

Mike Green
Guest
Mike Green
6 years 6 months ago

TZ has Ellsbury at +2.9 in CF over the period 2007-2009 according to Baseball Reference. Cameron’s annual TZ numbers over 2006-2009 are: 11.9, -7.4, 9.5, 6.5. These numbers would be consistent with the view that Ellsbury is about average and Cameron is better than that.

Epstein was obviously commenting on the one-year UZR in 2009. MGL has on numerous occasions warned about the dangers of inferring too much from one-year UZRs. In this case, given Ellsbury’s decent 2007 and 2008 numbers and his excellent numbers in left-field, the 2009 UZR number in center-field has to be taken as just one modestly significant data point.

BD
Guest
BD
6 years 6 months ago

If UZR has Ellsbury as a minus-18-run CF one year and a plus-10 the next — without any observable change in his actual skills — then I think it IS appropriate to question the usefulness of UZR in establishing his defensive value in the first instance. If, as the OP seems to acknowledge, there are only a small number of “marginal plays” and a few “bad breaks” can account for such a big year-over-year difference, then UZR comes off as a fairly imprecise instrument of measurement. I would probably have more confidence in traditional scouting to tell me whether Ellbury was average, above-average, or whatever as a CF, and then see whether sabermetrics could somehow be used to translate that kind of rating into an estimate of the number of runs Ellsbury would likely save over an entire season so that it can be combine with his offensive output to estimate an overall value. IOW, use sabermetrical tools to estimate the runs an above-average CF is likely to save over a whole season at Fenway, but rely more on scouting to tell me whether Ellsbury is above average.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

If UZR has Ellsbury as a minus-18-run CF one year and a plus-10 the next — without any observable change in his actual skills — then I think it IS appropriate to question the usefulness of UZR in establishing his defensive value in the first instance.

Thing is, everyone agrees with you. Few if any people think Ellsbury is a debaucherous fielder. It was just a weird year that most of us assume is an outlier.

Francona and Epstein are just thinking in terms of winning now, and Cameron > Ellsbury in CF. Doesn’t mean Ellsbury is bad in CF.

dutchbrowncoat
Member
dutchbrowncoat
6 years 6 months ago

there are flaws with uzr, but i think you make a weak argument. a hitter can hit .280 one year and then .300 the next and you would be hard-pressed to notice an “observable difference” that is only a 15 hit or so swing and over the course of a full season you probably won’t notice. it is probably the same way with uzr – a mix of small changes in skill with timing and luck.

freshhops
Guest
freshhops
6 years 6 months ago

A bunch of different people, with different biases and some diversity of ideas about baseball analysis, all come to the same conclusion about player X.

A single person with a vested interest comes to a contrary conclusion about player X.

So far as we can tell, none of the people involved is a bad reasoner. They’re all smart. They’re all well-informed. They’re all, in short, the sort of people that you should typically listen to when you want to know about baseball.

I think it’s pretty clear if the above description is correct, you should trust the opinion of the group of people over the opinion of the single individual even if you think that the single individual is saying what he honestly believes.. Given that there is, furthermore, reason to think that Epstein is telling a story he has an interest in telling even if he doesn’t believe it, it’s pretty clear what we should think.

Ian
Guest
Ian
6 years 6 months ago

That’s not a fair argument. When a “bunch of different people, with different biases and some diversity of ideas” all came to the same conclusion that the sun rotated around the Earth or that heavy objects fall faster than lighter objects, should we trust them over the individual Galileo who contradicted them?

Now obviously that’s a completely different scope of topic and not a perfect analogy but arguing that “because the masses say something is true, it must be true” is poor logic. Theo and the Red Sox have invested a considerable amount of time and money into Carmine and are gambling with millions of dollars. You don’t have to take their word for it but don’t discredit their conclusions solely on the basis that a “group of people” disagree with them.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

Some of the biggest cases of wrongness ever have been because of people not questioning what someone told them.

How easy was it to determine that mass is irrelevant to speed of free fall (albeit resistance to wind is)?

When you think about it, Bill James is kind of the Galileo of baseball. What he did in many cases wasn’t super complex. However, having the idea to test conventional wisdom started a lot of others on their way.

Bridge too far? Whatever, I love Bill James, and his 2001 abstract is still my presleep reading.

Of course, not believing someone just BECAUSE everyone else thinks it is equally foolish.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron
6 years 6 months ago

I’m sorry Dave, but you’re wrong. I love statistical analysis, but blindly trusting the stats will get you there. Watch Jacoby Ellsbury play 150+ games a year and try and push the bias out of your head. He’s good. No, really, he’s good. It’s not Jacoby. It’s not Theo. It’s UZR.

Guess what? UZR is wrong on Teixeira too. And I pretty much don’t trust any UZR number for a Fenway left fielder.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

Ellsbury’s so good that he’s being deferred to LF for a 2nd time in his short career.

Ellsbury can get to balls great (he is, after all, fast), but he was death by 1,000 paper cuts on balls hit in front of him. It’s a big reason why the Red Sox were dead last in defensive efficiency rating (or BABIP against).

Aaron
Guest
Aaron
6 years 6 months ago

Coco Crisp was better than Jacoby. There’s no shame in that. Mike Cameron might be too, I don’t know. Or maybe Francona’s statement that between the two Jacoby is more suited for left field due to his shorter strides has some merit?

Jacoby has no problem coming in on balls. He has problem going back on balls. The Red Sox compensated by having him play too deep, which is why he looked bad statistically coming in on the ball.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

So while my analysis might be wrong, you still mention an issue that’s very clearly a problem for anyone striving to be an elite CF. To be an elite CF, you need to be elite going in all directions.

So the conclusion is the same, Ellsbury has work to do.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

Also, how is trusting a statistic based on balls in play “blind”?
Sure one should also watch a player to judge a player (hence scouting, which is a tool Dave Cameron has fully acknowledged as useful), but fact is, our eyes can lie. There’s a lot to fielding; break on a ball, route running, arm strength, positioning, speed, etc. I know for a fact that it’s hard to judge 3 of those 4 without good comparisons. But I have seen enough of Ellsbury that I can say this:

terrible break
decent route
subpar arm
bad positioning
great speed

Overall, I think he’s an above average OF who had a statistically weird 2009. And it’s good that he did, because his fielding metrics show that while the raw talent is there, he has work to do in avoiding being known as the 2nd coming of Juan Pierre.

Dirty Water
Guest
Dirty Water
6 years 6 months ago

“There’s a lot to fielding; break on a ball, route running, arm strength, positioning, speed, etc”

Hey, guess what, Joe, UZR ignores your points 2, 3, 5 and 6. In fact, it only considers the end result of a ball in play, and that by some mystery data collectors who may or may not be especially interested in the game at hand, and strategy therein.

It is a bunch of hooey, but apparently it’s also one of the best we got.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron
6 years 6 months ago

Saying, “several seasons of UZR data says he is slightly below average, therefore he is slightly below average” is blind. I know the flaws of only considering scouting evidence. I look at UZR all the time for a reality check. But there are some players who have consistently stood out to me as blatantly wrong. Jacoby, Teixeira, and any Fenway LF’er are the biggest ones for me.

The Red Sox were dead last in BABIP against because Mike Lowell was the worst defensive 3B I have ever seen, Nick Green was laughably bad, Jason Bay was below average, and balls off the monster are counted as “in play”.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

Why are they “blatantly” wrong? Teixeira may be correct as UZR may focus on the wrong skills that are needed for 1B (things like picking the ball from the dirt, applying pickoff tags, etc). But you’re not providing any reasoning as to why UZR doesn’t work for Ellsbury, you’re just saying it doesn’t. What makes Ellsbury transcendent of fielding metrics, but no one else? That’s a logical fallacy. That’s what Yankee fans said for years about Jeter while he was sucking the life out of the stadium with his inability to break on the ball.

Don’t like UZR? Fine. Dewan +/- says that Ellsbury was great breaking left and right, sub-par going back (which MAY play into your UZR-bash, since Fenway’s CF is quirky and might unfairly penalize Ellsbury), and badness going in.

And yes, the monster may play a part in this, but BABIP-against splits for the Red Sox and MLB:

Line drive:
Red Sox: .743
League: .724

Up middle, RHB:
Red Sox: .259
League: .264

Up middle, LHB:
Red Sox: .317
League: .282

Outfield:
Red Sox: .519
League: .507

Tough to tell how much was Ellsbury, how much was the monster, etc, but it looks like more balls in play fell for hits.

and FWIW, Righties pulling had a .402 BABIP against vs. the Sox, the league mark was .383. For opposite field lefties, it’s .324/.316. So at first glance, you may also be overrating the effect of the Monster on BABIP.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron
6 years 6 months ago

I didn’t say Ellsbury was transcendent of fielding metrics. I said he’s at least an above average defensive CF’er. I assure you that if I got to watch a lot of games for more teams, I’d have plenty of other players where I thought UZR was off in one direction or the other. Therefore, I think that UZR, while useful, is prone to large errors. I think it’s dangerous to say that because Jacoby had one year of a largely negative defensive stats that he’s therefore a below average fielder. I just don’t trust the classification of the types of hits or the sample sizes. (How many fly balls per year are not routine? How many of those do you need to determine the relative strength of different OF’ers? I feel like an OF’er gets to make or not make a “difference making play” only every couple of games. {I admit ignorance on how arm is accounted for.} For SS’s, I have less concern.) I also would like to split out positioning, because I think it’s largely determined by the team.

Also, I follow Theo closely, and frankly, I think he’s very honest with the fans through media. If he doesn’t want to answer a question, he doesn’t. When he goes on WEEI and explains his thinking, he really sounds like he’s trying to educate the fans and the media. The guy’s job would be much easier if people understood his thinking rather than believing the Sox just don’t want to pony up for big bats or that JD Drew is terrible. I have never seen Theo say something to the media as a fact and then do something to discredit himself. I HIGHLY doubt he thinks he’s going to be able to change the minds of other GM’s on a player by saying he has a proprietary metric that disagrees with UZR (as if Jacoby is even on the trade block). I don’t think that just because he moved Jacoby to LF that he believes Jacoby is below average. Talk about a weak logic…

Aaron
Guest
Aaron
6 years 6 months ago

And I never said he was elite. Yes, he has work to do.

Typical Idiot Fan
Guest
Typical Idiot Fan
6 years 6 months ago

Here’s an “Elephant in the room” question… when are we going to address the possibility that all of us in our advanced research and free exchange of ideas might not be helping the teams we root for when they’re trying to work out deals? If Theo is maknig these comments to keep any perceived value of Ellsbury from dimishing, and we’re the cause of the perception change, then at what point do we start getting blamed? Theo didn’t outright say that we’re all a bunch of nerds in our mother’s basements who don’t know what we’re talking about, but it sure felt like a verbal glare in our general direction, didn’t it?

Aaron
Guest
Aaron
6 years 6 months ago

Yes, because I’m sure that *wink*wink* will work wonders on the statistically inclined Yankee fans.

nanwynnfan
Guest
nanwynnfan
6 years 6 months ago

Read the article; and as longtime Red Sox fan @1939-40, would first observe that playing LF in Fenway should never be considered a “piece of cake” that any stumble-bum can fill, if the club is in a fix.

Mike Cameron may have been the best defensive CF to roam any OF in the last generation, of say, 15 years or so. That said, he’s pushing 40; and in 2007 and 2008 [at least by my defense metric] had seasons in CF worse than Ellsbury’s -5.49 [my metric] in 2009.

Prior to 2009, I had Ellsbury @ 8-10 defense runs on the plus side in LF and RF ….. @ 8 in CF.

Possible LEGITIMATE reasons for moving Ellsury to LF from CF?

-Hike the OF defense overall by FINALLY replacing Manny [glove-wise & gone]; Jason Bay, power + erratic contact + average defense at bi $$$$ & gone]; AND saving the legs of a young guy whose stolen lots of bases with a high safe % easing up on the ground he must cover defensively.

-Recognizing that LF at Fenway demands a skill set not every good OF possesses.

-Getting a veteran CF at a reasonable price [I personally disagree – he’s started to show age; fans far too much; and his power numbers are dropping].

-A young guy brought up exposed boom boxes and earth-moving car radio systems might have an off year in the OF due to slight hearing loss and attendant loss of reaction time.

IF the topic is, indeed, Ellsbury, that seems to have been lost in the shuffle. I do hope that the Sox do have internal defense measurement programs > UZR. The Dewan mystique and the powers alleged for UZR are, IMO overstated, inconsistent and undeserved.

If Theo is allowing himself to get caught up in a crossfire involving the credibilty of UZR in discussing a young star on the rise, then he’s a darn sight poor a GM than I’d thought.

The Typical Idiot Fan
Guest
The Typical Idiot Fan
6 years 6 months ago

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be Theo getting caught up in it. If we’re giving out information that shows negativity towards a particular player, and a potential trade partner balks because these studies show his prowess defensively in center isn’t as good as Theo is advertising, then are we not doing more harm than good?

I mean, nobody cares about Bill Plaschke and morons like him that spew forth bologna that discredits a player’s abilities or heart, but nobody listens to them either. People actually listen to stuff like this. All I’m saying is at what point will the popularity of this new and free information start actually effecting player value? And if so, what happens?

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
6 years 6 months ago

To that extent that no one cares what a blowhard like Plaschke says (which I think is largely true), similarly no one cares what Big Jim from Little Rock says on a message board. Let’s not conflate our importance here. Just like in the MSM, there are a handful of influential voices here, and a LOT of noise.

Nick
Guest
Nick
6 years 6 months ago

One thing I will say is this: it may sound like Theo is dissing UZR because of his somewhat derisive tone and word choice, but IMO he’s reacting more to the hue and cry amongst fans and local media in Boston.

If you’ve listened to the radio or read the sports section the past two to three months you’ve heard some variation on “Oh this crazy UZR stat says that Ellsbury is terrible and that’s why they’re moving him to left and they think Ellsbury sucks etc etc”, you’ve heard this countless times.

Theo has no doubt heard a lot of this, and if you’re him, you can imagine how it would make you feel, even if you do think Ellsbury is average or slightly below average currently. Basically words are being put into his mouth on a massive scale.

I think this also explains why he doesn’t mention UZR by name. It’s not that he has any disdain for it, but he doesn’t want anyone to associate him or the Red Sox with what UZR says, because it’s not what they use, even if they come to the same conclusion a majority of the time. Also, he does UZR a favor in a sense by not mentioning it by name, because the people listening who don’t know what he’s referring to (probably more than we realize) aren’t introduced to UZR by their general manager calling it illegitimate. This I think may also be intentional.

nanwynnfan
Guest
nanwynnfan
6 years 6 months ago

[quote]Also, he does UZR a favor in a sense by not mentioning it by name, because the people listening who don’t know what he’s referring to (probably more than we realize) aren’t introduced to UZR by their general manager calling it illegitimate. This I think may also be intentional.[/quote]

Indeed, there is a certain deference paid to UZR [and Dewan’s metrics as well for that matter] which seem to have commanded such respect largely as a by-product of self promotion.

Theo and the Red Sox [and Ellsbury, too] would be much better served by not confusing a particular spice for the entire recipe.

Any metric that enumerates manic numbers in the negative for players [generally perceived as swift and capable without the metric] should be held up to closer scrutiny than the player[s] under discussion.

Bodhizefa
Guest
Bodhizefa
6 years 6 months ago

Is it possible to get UZR splits from home/away? I know it would shrink the sample, but seeing as how some have posited that Fenway screws these defensive stats up due to its strange dimensions, it would be interesting to have something stat-based to compare the ideas and assertions.

Everett
Guest
Everett
6 years 6 months ago

This would actually be an interesting study. Take all AL East LF and CF (or perhaps only Boston LF & CF) and compare the difference between home UZR and road UZR. While each individual’s sample will be smaller, that might give a large enough sample to show some sort of pattern.

okin15
Guest
okin15
6 years 6 months ago

Am I right that UZR counts missed plays per run, rather than per play? It would seem that this could greatly magnify an outfielder’s UZR, because they’re more likely to give up tripples and doubles, especially if their weakness, as Ellsbury’s is, is in going backwards. There might have been 5 balls that he just missed, but which kill him in the stat because of the run value of the play.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

Oh yeah, FWIW, I just ran 2009 team BABIP-against to 2009 team CF UZR and got this equation:

CF UZR = -647.9*BABIP + 193.8
t-slope: -3.2796
t-intercept: 3.2778

That obviously doesn’t completely damn Ellsbury, but it DOES show that team BABIP-against and UZR have a correlation at a positional level.

Which means it’s likely that Ellsbury was not all that good in 2009. UZR’s weird 1 year sample may be too hard on him, but it’s not like he was a gold glover out there.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 6 months ago

Also, the DER of Boston gives a 95% confidence interval of the combined UZR of Boston CF’s to be between -31 and 9. So, also, not a ton of information to gain from this equation, just the point that team DER IS reflective of a CF’s UZR.

wpDiscuz