More Guns in the Outfield: Center and Left Field

Last month I wrote an article here at The Hardball Times on
rating outfield
arms
. I explained my method for rating arms, but that explanation took
up so much space that I only had room for a discussion of the top
throwing right fielders in 2005. In this article, I want to move
ahead, having a look at center fielders and left fielders.

Just as a brief reminder, here’s how my ratings work:
using play-by-play data, I consider five different situations when a throw from
the outfield is important. For those plays, I add up how often the
runner is thrown out or how often the runner is “held,” i.e. prevented
from taking an extra base. A comparison with league average allows me
to rate the outfielder’s arm.

Center Fielders

Before giving the results of the analysis, I’d like to speculate on
whom we might expect to see among the best and worst center field arms
in baseball. Last time, I presented some “scouting” results on
outfield arms, which were really the results of either fan or player
surveys. The center fielders that topped the surveys were: Mark
Kotsay
, Torii Hunter, Jim Edmonds and Andruw Jones (from Tom Tango’s
Fan’s Scouting Report and SI’s player survey). For the worst CF arms,
Tango’s report listed Bernie Williams, Johnny Damon and Nook
Logan
as among the very worst.

Before we go to the actual rankings, let’s have a detailed look at
a couple of center fielders.

Johnny Damon : Ask even a casual fan for his opinion of
Johnny Damon’s arm and he’s likely to tell you that Damon has a weak
arm. Invariably, the fan will use the words “throws like a girl” while
describing the new Yankee center fielder. Well, we have all seen him
throw and, in fact, there’s no denying it: he really does throw like a girl. But controlling
the running game from the outfield is not only about arm strength; getting
to the ball quickly, cutting balls off in the gaps, a quick release
and accuracy are all important as well. Maybe Damon’s speed and quick
release compensate for his feminine lobs?
The following table shows how Damon fared in the five situations that I consider. “Opps” means “opportunities,” “H” stands for “holds” and “K” is “kills”. The first H and K columns are what Damon actually did, while the rightmost H and K columns give the expected values given average performance.

Johnny Damon, CF
   Situation  |   Opps  |    H    K  |      H      K 
        S-1B  |     56  |   34    2  |   38.0    0.7 
        S-2B  |     38  |    5    1  |    7.0    1.5 
        D-1B  |     22  |   12    0  |    6.4    1.5 
       OF-3B  |     23  |    2    1  |    3.4    0.7 
       OF-2B  |     32  |   10    0  |   21.1    0.5 
     Overall  |    171  |   63    4  |   75.9    4.8 

As for kill rate: Damon threw out four
base runners, when an average CF with his chances would have killed
around five, which is not bad. However, he has trouble keeping runners
from taking the extra base: he recorded 63 holds, well below his
expected number of 76. So, Damon’s performance does seem to be well
below average in 2005. We’ll compare him with other center fielders in
a minute.

Willy Taveras: I hadn’t heard anything at all about
Willy Taveras’ arm, nor have I seen him play much, so his stats jumped out at me
a bit. Here they are:

Willy Taveras, CF
   Situation  |   Opps  |    H    K  |      H      K 
        S-1B  |     49  |   32    1  |   33.8    0.6 
        S-2B  |     36  |    7    4  |    6.9    1.4 
        D-1B  |     11  |    2    1  |    3.3    0.7 
       OF-3B  |     14  |    1    1  |    2.0    0.4 
       OF-2B  |     28  |   16    1  |   18.5    0.5 
     Overall  |    138  |   58    8  |   64.6    3.6 

Taveras eliminated more than twice as many base runners as expected. He
did not hold runners well, but I think it’s fairly common for rookies
to have poor hold rates, since opposing teams are going to test their
arms. Especially, when they are six feet tall and weigh 160 lbs. Six of
Taveras’ kills came in the critical situations 2-4, where the
key play occurs at the plate. This results in Taveras having a large
number of runs saved, as we’ll see shortly.

Andruw Jones: You probably knew this, but Andruw Jones
has a cannon, or at least he did in 2005.

Andruw Jones, CF
   Situation  |   Opps  |    H    K  |      H      K 
        S-1B  |     52  |   34    1  |   35.8    0.6 
        S-2B  |     57  |   16    3  |    9.3    2.2 
        D-1B  |     24  |   11    5  |    7.2    1.6 
       OF-3B  |     11  |    1    0  |    1.6    0.3 
       OF-2B  |     25  |   20    0  |   16.5    0.4 
     Overall  |    169  |   82    9  |   70.4    5.1 

As befits someone of his excellent reputation, runners were reluctant
to run on Andruw; he recorded 12 more holds than expected. And despite
runners not taking many chances against him, he still threw out four
more baserunners than an average center fielder given his chances. A
very strong performance.

Ok, let’s go on to the rankings for center fielders. Last time, I defined two stats, Kill Rate (KR)
and Hold Rate (HldR), which are normalized stats (like OPS+). They measure a player’s ability to kill or hold runners relative to league average.
So a KR of 150 means the player threw out 50% more base runners than a league average player would have given the
same opportunities.
Here is a list of the top center fielders in terms of KR (minimum 75 opps and KR of 150):

Top Center Field Arms by Kill Rate
           Opps   KR     HldR
Taveras    138    225     93
Ford        84    203    112
Bradley     85    185    104
Wilkerson  106    182    103
Jones,A    169    175    119
Hunter,T   115    163     93
Ellison     90    161     88

Some familiar names here, but some that perhaps you didn’t expect to
see: Lew Ford and Jason Ellison.

Now let’s have a look at the center fielders with the best hold rates.
The guys known for their throwing ability will generally excel in hold
rate, as runners will not take chances again them. In other words, reputation is
largely responsible for a good hold rate.
Here are the top
center fielders in hold rate (HldR at least 110):

Top Center Field Arms by Hold Rate
          Opps   KR     HldR
Edmonds   165     87    128
Jones,A   169    175    119
Kotsay    135     80    115
Ford       84    203    112
Sullivan   80    119    111
Rowand    152      0    109

Not surprisingly, we see Edmonds, Andruw and Kotsay at the top. Look at
Rowand’s line; he did not kill a single base runner (in the five
situations we consider; overall he had three assists in 2005), but he
still managed an above-average hold rate. He was either unlucky with
the assists, or runners haven’t figured out that he cannot throw them
out. (I know, Rowand’s hold rate does not meet the 110 minimum, but I wanted
to get his line in there.)

As I did last time, I can combine the benefits derived from good kill and hold rates to obtain an overall ranking by considering the
number of runs saved above average. The ranking is shown below, for all center
fielders with at least 75 throwing opportunites. “Runs” is shorthand for “runs saved above average,”
and “Runs/200 Opps” is the number of runs
saved per 200 opportunites, which corresponds to slightly over a full
season.

Top Center Field Arms by Runs Saved per 200 Opps
           Opps    KR     HldR   Runs   Runs/200 opps
Jones,A     169    175    119    8.2    9.7
Bradley      85    185    104    3.4    8.0
Ford         84    203    112    3.0    7.1
Edmonds     165     87    128    4.6    5.6
Wilkerson   106    182    103    2.9    5.5
Taveras     138    225     93    3.3    4.8
Sullivan     80    119    111    1.7    4.2
Kotsay      135     80    115    1.6    2.4
Hunter      115    163     93    0.8    1.5
Dejesus     161    125    102    0.4    0.5
Wells,V     186    134     94    0.3    0.4
Finley      121     85    106    0.1    0.2
Ellison      90    161     88    0.0    0.1
Rowand      152      0    109   -0.1   -0.1
Griffey     185     71    107   -0.1   -0.1
Matos       148    102     95   -0.7   -1.0
Sizemore    158     49    108   -1.6   -2.0
Beltran     179     77     99   -1.8   -2.1
Matthews    169     59     92   -2.0   -2.3
Patterson   112    125     90   -1.6   -2.8
Wilson,P    160     70     97   -2.4   -3.0
Reed        168    113     85   -2.5   -3.0
Pierre      184     72     94   -3.0   -3.2
Roberts,Da  109     60    101   -2.0   -3.7
Damon       171     83     83   -3.3   -3.9
Williams,B  130    107     76   -2.6   -4.0
Logan       132     87     86   -3.1   -4.7
Clark       169     41     91   -5.7   -6.7
Hollins     111     90     73   -4.8   -8.7

It looks like the scouting reports are pretty much on target. Andruw,
Edmonds, Kotsay and Hunter all place
comfortably above average in the rankings. The “scouts” did even
better on the weak arms, with Damon, Bernie and Nook Logan all among
the very worst center field arms in baseball in 2005, although Brady
Clark
and Damon Hollins were significantly worse than those three.

Left Field Arms

Last time we discussed in some detail Manny Ramirez, who surprisingly
led the American League in assists last season. We also looked at Jeff
Francoeur
who had a terrific season throwing in right field for
Atlanta. Why don’t we have a look Francoeur’s corner mate down in Atlanta:

Kelly Johnson

Kelly Johnson, LF
   Situation  |   Opps  |    H    K  |      H      K 
        S-1B  |     32  |   26    0  |   27.3    0.4 
        S-2B  |     27  |   10    5  |    9.4    2.0 
        D-1B  |     16  |   14    0  |    9.7    0.5 
       OF-3B  |      9  |    2    1  |    2.1    0.4 
       OF-2B  |     15  |   14    0  |   13.6    0.3 
     Overall  |     99  |   66    6  |   62.0    3.6 

Zoom in on Johnson’s performance S-2B situations, i.e. a single with a
runner on second base. He fielded 27 such singles, and 10 times the runner chose
to hold third base, just about the expectation (9.4 holds). However,
of the 17 runners that went, Johnson threw out fully five of them,
when only two kills were expected. As for Taveras, these are very high
“leverage” outs, and hence are quite valuable in terms of runs saved.
Overall, Johnson held more runners than expected
and threw out more as well.

Miguel Cabrera: I must confess, before doing this
study, I didn’t know anything about Cabrera’s arm. I don’t believe
I’ve ever had the opportunity to see him make a throw from the
outfield. He actually scored quite high on the Fan’s Scouting Report,
although that was based on only six ballots. In any case, he had an
excellent arm in 2005:

Miguel Cabrera, LF
   Situation  |   Opps  |    H    K  |      H      K 
        S-1B  |     38  |   31    1  |   32.5    0.5 
        S-2B  |     51  |   22    5  |   16.3    4.0 
        D-1B  |     22  |   16    0  |   13.1    0.7 
       OF-3B  |     17  |    4    3  |    3.9    0.8 
       OF-2B  |     20  |   19    0  |   18.2    0.4 
     Overall  |    148  |   92    9  |   83.9    6.4 

Cabrera was above average in both Hold Rate and Kill Rate and had
three catch-and-kill double plays, where he threw out a runner
attempting to score on a (would-be) sacrifice fly. Cabrera moves back
to third base this season, where I’m sure he’ll put that cannon to
good use.

The best left fielders of 2005 in terms of Kill Rate. Only two would
have made the 150 minimum, so I lowered it to 140:

Top Left Field Arms by Kill Rate
             Opps    KR   HldR
Ramirez,M    192    168    105
Johnson,K     99    168    109
Floyd        180    144    103
Ibanez        79    143     99
Cabrera,M    148    141    112

And here are the top Hold Rate guys. Again, for left fielders, it
appears harder to rise much above the average. I show everybody with
105 or more in Hold Rate:

Top Left Field Arms by Hold Rate
             Opps    KR   HldR
Cabrera,M    148    141    112
Johnson,K     99    168    109
Catalanotto   80     37    108
Dunn         150     76    106
Crawford     199     17    106
Ramirez,M    192    168    105
Burrell      188    119    105

I didn’t expect to see Burrell or Catalanotto here, but their numbers
are not that much above average, and they may not indicate a
superior performance.

Here is the full list, ranked by runs saved per 200 opps:

Top Left Field Arms by Runs Saved per 200 Opps
            Opps     KR   HldR   Runs   Runs/200 opps
Johnson,K     99    168    109    4.3    8.7
Cabrera,M    148    141    112    6.4    8.7
Ramirez,M    192    168    105    7.1    7.4
Burrell,P    188    119    105    3.5    3.7
Floyd        180    144    103    3.2    3.6
Matsui       156     91    103    1.2    1.6
Klesko       125    103    104    1.0    1.6
Catalanotto   80     37    108    0.6    1.6
Ibanez        79    143     99    0.3    0.9
Gonzalez,L   185     96     96    0.8    0.9
Long         157    111     98    0.1    0.2
Dunn         150     76    106    0.1    0.1
Hollndwrth    84     28    104   -0.0   -0.1
Lee,Ca       177    107    101   -0.3   -0.3
Crisp        141     39    102   -0.4   -0.5
Crawford     199     17    106   -0.6   -0.6
Byrnes       106     99     97   -0.7   -1.3
Stewart,S    133    106    101   -1.1   -1.6
Alou          78     34    102   -0.9   -2.4
Anderson,G   122     51     94   -1.7   -2.8
Podsednik    125     26    103   -2.4   -3.9
Feliz         87      0    103   -1.9   -4.5
Mench        150    104     92   -3.5   -4.7
Holliday     158     61     96   -4.1   -5.2
Winn         121     23    102   -3.2   -5.4
Bay          157     19     87   -8.1  -10.3

It’s hard to judge if this list is in accord with our expectations,
because we generally expect left fielders to have average or below-average arms. About half of the bottom ten outfield arms according to the Fan’s Scouting Report are left fielders.
This makes perfect sense, of course; a corner outfielder with a rifle is found in right field, not left. So, perhaps an
evaluation like this is especially important for left fielders, since
we’d have a hard time ranking them based on reputation/scouting
reports. One thing is pretty sure: Jason Bay, and I love him as a
hitter, has a terrible arm out in left field, or at least he did in
2005.

An interesting thing to note here is that the range of runs saved per
200 for left fielders (-10 to 9) is comparable to what we found for center fielders (-9
to 10) and last time for right fielders (-7 to 13). This is not to say
that left fielders need to throw as well as right or center fielders,
but it does say that the top left fielder arms save their teams just
as many runs as a top right field arm. To me, that’s an unexpected
result.

Some Comments to Wrap Up

This concludes our look at the throwing arms of outfielders for the
2005 season. The top outfield arms, ranked on Runs Saved per 200
opportunities, were Jeff Francoeur (RF), Andruw Jones (CF) and Kelly
Johnson (LF). If I
consider only players who played a full season, Miguel Cabrera takes
the top spot in left, while Geoff Jenkins has the top right field
arm.

One thing to keep in mind is the rather large uncertainty of these
one-season rankings due to “noise” or chance. It takes just a few
assists to move a player from below average to among the best in the
league and vice versa.
Sometimes not even a perfect outfield throw will nail the
runner trying to advance and certainly not all outfield assists are
the result of a strong throw.

I’m reminded of a play in the 2003
ALDS between the A’s and the Red Sox. With Jose Guillen on first, Adam Melhuse rapped a single to center. Guillen was going
for third all the way. Damon made his maidenly toss, a rainbow that, it must be admitted,
was heading directly towards
third base. The ball bounced on the infield about where the shortstop
usually stands, but it didn’t skip low to the waiting third baseman, no, it bounded high in the air, and watching on TV you could
see Guillen steaming into third base with the ball arcing over his
head, descending, slooooowly, seemingly traveling in slow motion, and finally
plopping into Mueller’s glove just in time to get Guillen. Terrible
throw, base runner kill.

The analysis presented here shows what really happened on the field in
2005. These are the guys that saved their teams the most runs with
their arms. But, these may not be the best at their trade, since luck
plays fairly a large part when examining just one season.

To answer the question of who has the best outfield arms in baseball, it’s going to be necessary to look at data from multiple seasons. That’ll be the subject of a future article.

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