In February, Sean (“Chone”) Smith applied his TotalZone defensive metric to the last few years of minor league data. The resulting numbers confirmed some opinions, questioned some conventional wisdom, and helped us better understand the relationship between fielding at various levels of professional baseball.
Sean or I will probably go further in depth when the 2009 season is in the books, but while we wait, we’ve run TZ for the full-season minors through games of July 31. Read on for some of the highlights.
Keep in mind, of course, that the vagaries of defensive metrics (especially metrics that depend on scorekeepers coding batted balls as “line drives” or “fly balls”) are only multiplied when we look at partial seasons of data.
Also of interest is the presence of Mike Hessman at +11. TotalZone put Hessman at average last year, but in 06 and 07, +11 and +26, respectively. Hessman’s strikeouts have kept him in the minors, but perhaps someone will give his glove and power another shot in the majors.
Notable to my eye, though with extra sample-size caveats, is Gordon Beckham (yes, at shortstop), who comes in at +6 in very limited time at the position. It’s encouraging to see him there, since my own college fielding algorithm rated Beckham one of the best defenders in the college game in 2007-08. And—lookee here!—just above Beckham on the 2007-08 college list is…Brandon Crawford! For all the warnings we have to throw around with defensive stats, it’s great to see different systems supporting each other.
The numbers aren’t nearly as kind to another Beckham. Tim Beckham rated -4 in limited time last year; so far this season, he’s at -12, putting him right in the running for the 2009 Yuniesky Betancourt Award.
Left field: Once we get to outfielders, it’s tough to get much out of the data. The combination of fewer chances and the influence of batted-ball coding leave these much less reliable. Four guys are at +14 or above: Thomas Neal, Jay Cox, Cole Gillespie, and Nicholas Weglarz.
Center field: Greg Burns sits at a stunning +29, with Darren Ford (+25) and Drew Stubbs (+19) close behind. Also of interest: Cameron Maybin and Gregor Blanco are both at +13, while Ben Revere rates a +9. Perhaps surprisingly, Adam Stern sits at the very back of the pack at -23.
Right field: Leaders are Kyle Russell (+17), Eddy Martinez-Esteve (+16), and Edwar Gonzalez (+14). Brian Barton has racked up +11 in limited time, while Roger Kieschnick is at +11, perhaps showing skills his older cousin was never known for. Another recognizable name sits in dead last: Billy Rowell is -20.
These midseason numbers are all now included on each player’s defense page at Minor League Splits, so you can check for an update on your favorite prospects.