Every year, there’s at least one player that has an absolute fail-tacular year in the field. Jermaine Dye in 2009 (-22 UZR). Ken Griffey Jr. in 2007 (-29 UZR). Brad Hawpe in 2008 (-36 UZR). These players all had good years at the plate, but their defense was so excessively poor that they ended up negating a large portion of the value they provided to their team.
This year’s candidate to join this illustrious group? Mark Reynolds. After spending most of the season at third base or first base, Reynolds currently has the worst UZR score in the majors: 22 runs below average. And not only that, but Reynolds also has the lowest Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) rating of the year (-32 runs), he’s tied for the most amount of errors in the majors (26), and his Fielding Percentage is by far the worst in the majors (.897). I don’t like using Fielding Percentage as an evaluative tool, but when the next worst person is a full 50 points better than you, your glove is pretty darn bad.
When looking at these numbers, two questions pop into my head. How often is it that DRS and UZR both agree like this? And should the Orioles put Reynolds at DH once Guerrero is gone?
It’s not very common that both the traditional and the advanced fielding metrics align, but we shouldn’t be that surprised by the fact that both UZR and DRS have very similar ratings for Reynolds. In general, both these defensive systems agree much more often than they disagree; in fact, the two statistics have a strong correlation for the 2011 season (.70), and have very few disagreements on the extreme ends of the spectrum. If a player is particularly good or bad at defense, it doesn’t matter which defensive rating you prefer, their defensive skill (or lack thereof) will shine through.
Quick example: Top and Bottom Three by UZR
That’s not to say you should only look at one statistic; since defensive stats are still a work in progress, it’s always good to have more information, especially if you’re looking at a player who rates out closer to average. But I simply wanted to make the point that in my experience, DRS and UZR agree much more often than they disagree, and I find that extremely encouraging. If you trust one but not the other, you should realize that despite their different methodologies, both stats are telling you largely the same thing.
To return to Reynolds for a second, though, as tempting as it say the Orioles would be better off if they were DH’ing him, that’s not entirely true. Since Reynolds has spend the majority of the year at third base and dabbled at first base, his positional adjustment has so far been almost exactly zero. If he had spent the season at DH, his adjustment would have been a much heftier -22.5 runs.
So by playing third base horribly, Reynolds has been worth around -22 runs in the field. Meanwhile, if he had played DH instead, he’s have been worth….-22 runs.
This has been a horrible year for Reynolds in the field. While he’s always been a below average fielder, this season he’s taken things to a whole new level. But hey, that’s how baseball goes, right? Adam Dunn is having an outlier year at the plate, so it shouldn’t be inconceivable that a player could have a disastrous year in the field. Talent levels change, performances fluctuate — when you’re dealing with humans, you have to accept that performances aren’t always going to follow smooth trends.
If Reynolds can return to only being a -10 fielder at third base, the Orioles would be better off keeping him there than moving him to DH. But will he? How much will he regress next year toward his career average? I’m sure the Orioles are asking themselves the same question.