As we get further and further away from the PED era and home run rates drop off, defense becomes more important (though the rising strikeout rate has counteracted that a bit too). Unfortunately, the data isn’t out there yet at the big league level to truly gauge the value of defense. I prefer the Fielding Bible to any other measure at this point since it involves reviewing every play and charting various factors on the ball and then comparing it to all other plays made at that position. When it comes to more readily available data though, UZR is the best that I have had come across. Even more unfortunate, that data simply does not exist at the minor league level. The best option at the minor league level is range factor.
Range factor is incredibly limited in my opinion, but does have its uses. It is rather basic, taking put outs and assists and dividing it by games played. That makes it almost useless to even look at for first baseman or catchers. It also means that the pitching staff (strikeout staff gives less opportunities; fly ball or groundball staffs will limit chances for either the infielders or outfielders) one plays behind can make a difference as well as the stadium you play in (think about Bakersfield where the gaps are smaller and center field has significantly less room to make plays). Comparing players on the same team at the same position may tell us something about those two players, but comparing players on different teams probably doesn’t. But hey, it is all that we have and it’s the offseason, so let’s look at it some numbers for each position on the infield (I will look at the outfield next week).
As noted, range factor for catchers is pretty much a crapshoot without much value. And while there is a lot of defensive value that a catcher brings to the table that is going to be missing here (pitch framing, sequencing your calls, knowing your pitchers and their mechanics and other things), we can still look at the numbers and find some things that are useful. I only looked at catchers with at least 15 games played this season.
While this isn’t always a perfect way to line up a catchers receiving ability due to cross ups or just generally wild pitchers, it probably gives you a good idea of just how far the catcher has to go in terms of general receiving. Here is the list of the 16 catchers that met the 15 game threshold.
There isn’t a ton of surprise here. At the top you have veteran Nevin Ashley and minor league gold glove catcher Tucker Barnhart. At the bottom of the list you have Brandon Dailey and Shedric Long. Dailey just took up catching this past season and Shedric Long was a 17-year-old kid fresh out of the draft, both the types you would expect to be more raw than the rest of the guys on the list.
Caught Stealing Rate
While there have been recent studies that have shown evidence that at the big league level pitchers are far more important to caught stealing than the catcher is, it is still worth looking at from the catchers perspective. At the minor league level, the guys with big arms do tend to stand out (though not always). Here is the list for all qualifiers and their caught stealing rates.
Daniel Paula really stands out from the crowd here with a 46% rate, though it was in rather limited playing time. Brandon Dailey, new to catching, finds himself second with an impressive 38%. There were nine players who found themselves over 30% inside of the organization. At the bottom of the list are three veterans, which is rather surprising and they find themselves very far from anyone else on the list.
As noted above, range factor is pretty useless for first baseman since it accounts for putouts and a first baseman is at the end of tons of plays to get the putout. To make things simple here, and incredibly limited of course, I just wanted to look at the fielding percentage of the various first basemen in the system. Again, this is a very limited view on their defense that overlooks plenty of value that they could be bringing in saving errors on throws from other fielders (or hiding their abilities at the bag to save errors).
I am just going to leave this data as it is. I really don’t think it tells us much, but I wanted to present something for the first basemen in the system.
This is the first position where we will get into range factor. While it is limited for the reasons explained above, it is likely better than using something like fielding percentage though both aren’t a ton. Here is how the various second basemen performed in range factor over the 2013 season.
The then 17-year-old Alberti Chavez finds himself at the top of this group in range factor and by a significant margin. He also had limited playing time though, so sample size should apply. With that said, Chavez is known to be a quality defender so the numbers may be accurate. Brodie Greene separated himself from the next group with his 4.35 range factor. Given his past experience at shortstop, his range is pretty good at the position. Both of those guys are also sure handed, committing an error once every 20 and 29 games. Avain Rachal and Robert Ramirez stand out on the list for their rate of errors, an error ever 3.4 and 4.4 games.
Here is how the third basemen defensive stats broke down for the 2013 season.
Another position for the youngster Alberti Chavez and another spot where he is at the top of the range factor list. In his limited time at the position he tied with Seth Mejias-Brean atop the range factor list in the system. Mejias-Brean was the more sure-handed of the two though, with a better games/error rate. Tanner Rahier came in next, a little off of their pace and with a solid games/error rate. Juan Silverio is just behind him, but had a low games/error rate at the position. Things fall off a bit to the next group of guys, though Travis Mattair really stands out for his games/error rate at the position which is nearly twice as good as the next best player on the list.
Aside from catcher, shortstop is the most important position on the infield. Range is important, but given the number of plays they are involved their error rate is also pretty important (not that it is less important at other spots, but by the sheer number of plays it adds up quicker).
Juan Perez finds himself at the top of this list in range factor, which is interesting given that he has been viewed as an iffy option to remain at shortstop in the past with a move to second something scouts had mentioned. New draftee Cory Thompson finds himself second on the range factor list at 4.36, but he also made an error every other game with the worst game/errors rate on the list. Ronald Bueno and Zach Vincej both rounded out the over 4.00 range factor group with Vincej standing out among the top group in terms of games/error. Kristopher Negron had one of the low end range factors, but had a games/error rate twice as good as anyone else on the list.
Next week at some point I will look around the outfield in a similar fashion.