Midseason TotalZone Minors

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.

First base: Whitney Robbins leads the pack by far at +12. Among prospects, Juan Miranda and Beau Mills are both surprises near the top of the list, and +9 and +7, respectively.

Second base: Nary a prospect in sight. Alexia Amarista scores highest at +15. Close behind are Bradley Emaus at +12, Matthew Lawson at +11, and Harold Garcia at +10. Ryan Dent turns up at +5.

Third base: Darin Holcomb is atop the list at +15 with Angel Chavez next at +13. Right behind them is Marlins prospect Matt Dominguez at +12 and a little further down is Mike Moustakas at +9.

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.

Shortstop: Brewers fans will be happy to see Alcides Escobar near the top of the list again, this year at +12. Edging him out for the top shot is Brandon Crawford at +14.

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.

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  1. Simeon said...

    Is it my imagination or are there a lot of Giants with good defense in your examples? Brandon Crawford, Thomas Neal, Darren Ford, Roger Kieschnick, Martinez-Esteve…

    That last name is enough to make me wonder though – Martinez-Esteve was a bat who projected as a DH back before he had shoulder trouble. Is he really one of the better defensive rightfielders in the minors?

  2. Jeff Sackmann said...

    Simeon:  Yeah, I noticed that too.  Not sure what to make of it; since they are spread across a couple of affiliates, I doubt it’s due to any bias in the data.

    As I mentioned above, a half-season of data on outfielders, esp. corner guys, isn’t enough to draw any meaningful conclusions from.  Once properly regressed, EME’s +16 might be more like +2 or +3 … in other words, he’s making a lot of plays, but a lot of that could be due to a lot of guys hitting the ball right at him.

    One thing I noticed scanning these guys just now—Crawford rates even better than I thought.  In his brief spell at hi-A, he rated +3, so year-to-date, he’s +17, not +14.

  3. Simeon said...

    Jeff: I just wondered if a Giants fan was compiling the list smile I’m not really a minor league guy but I am a Giants fan so the only names I recognised are in the Giants farm system…

  4. Jeff Sackmann said...

    OK, more on the Giants stuff.

    Three of the guys Simeon mentions (Kiesch, Neal, Ford) make up the starting outfield for San Jose.  So I suspect there is scorekeeper bias, at least for those three.

    Sean broke out home/road numbers, which are posted on Minor League Splits.  They are pretty chaotic, in part because of the samples we’re working with.  But…

    Home/Roads for those three guys:
    Ford:  +18 / +7
    Neal: +14 / +2
    Kiesch: +13 / -2

    Counting backups, home/road for the San Jose outfield is +54 / +11, and 7 of that 11 is Ford, who probably is a solid defender.  (At the very least, he’s superfast.)

    In this case, “scorekeeper bias” might mean that the regular scorekeeper leans (extremely?) toward classifying balls as line drives.  Since, across baseball, LDs are much less likely to be caught than FBs, if everything not-caught is classified as an LD, well…those outfielders would look like they are doing a great job.

  5. Simeon said...

    Ah! Scorekeeper bias makes sense. And note that it’s worse than you’ve got it – Home/Away split is +54/+7 (right? Is that supposed to be -2 for Kieschnick?)

    Anyway – thanks for the effort and the info!

  6. Jeff Sackmann said...

    It is a -2 for Kiesch … but +54/+11 includes backups, so it isn’t just the sum of those three guys.

  7. Nick said...

    Hi Jeff

    For the record, think this is totally awesome.  I was wondering if you had the fielding stats for Brett Wallace (so us Cards fans could commit suicide when it turns out he can stick at third), Daryl Jones, Pete Kozma and Allen Craig. 

    Thanks in advance, Nick

  8. Chone Smith said...

    “Jeff: I just wondered if a Giants fan was compiling the list”

    Nope, much worse than that: A rally monkey carrying Angel fan!

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