Oakland’s three CF alignment

Commenting on Oakland’s projected outfield alignment of Rajai Davis in left, Coco Crisp in center and Ryan Sweeney in right, A’s left-hander Gio Gonzalez told the San Francisco Chronicle, “anything hit in the air is going to be caught.”

Gio’s got a point. Following Crisp’s one-year, $5.25 million free agent deal and the four-player trade that shipped Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham to San Diego, the A’s have three center field-worthy fly catchers penciled into the lineup.

Davis, a former Pirates prospect claimed off waivers from the Giants, has a career +12 UZR/150 in 1,700+ innings in center field. Crisp checks in with a +5.8 UZR/150 in 5,000+ frames in center, with a +23.5 UZR/150 in 1,800+ innings in left field. Sweeney has a +3 UZR/150 in 800+ innings in center, with a +25.6 UZR/150 in more than 1,300 innings in the corner outfield. These guys can cover the gaps.

How will a Davis/Crisp/Sweeney outfield produce in 2010? We can get an idea from Jeff Zimmerman’s 2010 projected UZR totals. Zimmerman took four years of UZR data, did a 5/4/3/2 yearly weighting regressed to 125 games, and then applied a -0.7 UZR aging factor (more details here).

Davis has rarely played the outfield corners during his big league career, but he has a projected +6 UZR/150 in center field. Center fielders playing the outfield corners generally perform between 8 to 10 runs better in the corners than in center, so Davis’ UZR/150 could be something in the neighborhood of +14 in left field. Covelli projects to be a +4 UZR/150 defender in center, while Sweeney has a +14 UZR/150 forecast in right.

Florida News - May 20, 2009

But this trio won’t hit enough, right? Davis and Sweeney aren’t exactly your archetypal corner outfielders, and Crisp doesn’t pack a whole lot of punch, either. It’s true, Davis, Crisp and Sweeney aren’t likely to be huge assets at the plate:

Davis’ projections

CHONE: .319 wOBA
Bill James: .323 wOBA
The Fans: .324 wOBA

Crisp’s projections

CHONE: .319 wOBA
The Fans: .323 wOBA
Bill James: .330 wOBA

Sweeney’s projections

Bill James: .332 wOBA
CHONE: .335 wOBA
The Fans: .337 wOBA

For the sake of argument, let’s say each gets 600 plate appearances. That’s obviously a stretch, considering Davis has Michael Taylor breathing down his neck and Crisp is coming off of a season-ending shoulder injury, but let’s go with it for the moment. Davis projects to be about three runs below average with the bat. Crisp is about two runs below average, and Sweeney roughly +4 runs.

There’s nothing special about those totals. But, when you consider how many runs these guys will save with the leather, the alignment doesn’t look all that bad. Davis would be worth about 1.9 Wins Above Replacement, with Crisp at 2.1 WAR and Sweeney compiling 2.5 WAR. So, Davis and Crisp figure to be average players, while Sweeney comes in a little north of that range.

Davis and Sweeney don’t fit the cookie-cutter image of lumbering, slugging corner outfielders. Neither figures to be a liability in 2010, though. The shape of their production is atypical, but plus defense helps compensate for a paucity of power. Oakland’s outfielders won’t blow up the scoreboard, but they should save enough runs defensively to be viable everyday players. Smile, Gio.

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Comments

  1. Eric said...

    Not to mention they will do wonders with the pitching Staff. Is it such an outrageous thought to think that each pitcher, on average, will have about .20 points lower of an ERA with that OF trio?

  2. Fred said...

    Looks like the A’s learned something from watching the Mariner’s last season.  When something works, people copy it.  Run prevention can be just as effective as run creation.

  3. Steve Treder said...

    “I think we are going to see more and more of this type of alignment in the coming years.”

    I don’t know that we will, but if we do I’ll find it welcome.  This sort of thing wasn’t unusual in the 1970s/80s, and it made for very interesting baseball.

  4. Steve Treder said...

    It brings to mind the Giants’ starting OF of 1973-74:  Gary Matthews in LF, Garry Maddox in CF, and Bobby Bonds in RF.  They prided themselves on being the fastest outfield in the majors, and set themselves the goal of never allowing a gapper to reach the fence.

    Obviously that was an impossible achievement, but it set a very high standard of defensive excellence.  Those guys could all flat-out fly, and they covered enormous ground.

  5. arsenal said...

    re: first post, you can’t say that in addition to their defense, they will help the pitching staff.  that’s what UZR measures, how many runs they save with their defense.  you’re trying to double count their defensive production.

  6. Corms said...

    Ryan,Arsenal,

    Another possible benefit of the outfield alignment is that the pitching staff, feeling confident that the guys behind them will turn batted balls into outs, will pound the zone more.  So not only might they have lower pitch counts by having more batted balls turned into outs, they could also have lower pitch counts by throwing fewer pitches per batter and fewer walks.  Pounding the zone is a skill that most pitchers need to learn to be successful and the positive reinforcement of a strong defense could potentially go a long way in helping to develop that skill.

  7. Corms said...

    Fred,

    I don’t know that the A’s are necessarily copying the Mariners.  There’s been talk for a few years now that Beane has turned his attention more toward defense.  I tend to think that it’s more coincidental that the A’s are doing this now just after the Mariners have had success with a similiar approach.  If Billy Beane is still following the Money Ball principle of going after under valued skill sets then it is just coincidence and not copying.

  8. Patrick said...

    Jim,

    Well, UZR attempts to measure the actual defensive contribution.  In (very) short it looks at the average runs created by a certain ball if is not caught, then gives a player credit for saving that number of runs.  (The runs created is context independent)

    So, say for example, a ball in the gap towards right that’s a fly ball – but not a hard liner – if it is not caught, it usually becomes a double.  (They weight it according to % outcomes, so say, 75% of the time it’s a double, 24% of the time it’s a single, and 1% of the time Adam Dunn is the right fielder and it’s a triple. smile)

    On average, a double is worth .something runs, and if the player catches a ball that was going to be a double, they get credited for saving that many runs.  (In the case of our hypothetical ball, they’d actually get credited with 75% of the run value of a double plus 25% of the value of a single.)

    This is then compared to an average fielder, which is where the numbers come from…

    So that’s a long way to get to the answer to your question:
    They will only cannibalize one anothers UZR ratings if they actually start cannibalizing one anothers defensive chances.

    Is the outfield not so large that two of these fielders will regularly be arriving at the ball before it lands?  Then you’ve probably reached the point of diminishing returns for outfielder speed, and then ones UZR will go up at the expense of the others’.

    PS: And yes, my description of UZR is simplified.  Tom Tango and MGL have written in exhaustive detail on the subject.

  9. Ryan said...

    Arsenal,

    I think it’s more of a psychological benefit to the A’s young staff to have a great defense behind them, rather than additional runs saved by the pitchers because of good defense.  Hopefully the additional run prevention will result in fewer batters faced and fewer pitches thrown, thereby reducing the incidence of injuries.  While this is just a hypothesis, maybe it’s something the A’s believe in.

  10. Matt said...

    “Defense is now the new moneyball.” Well said.  The more telling signal is Beane’s recent acquisition of Kevin Kouzmanoff.  He’s the antithesis of the traditional “moneyball” player – low OBP, never walks, but a very good glove man.

  11. Dylan said...

    I can see how this alignment could have a bigger effect then just calculating UZR. With less balls falling in play, the starters either throw less pitches or throw the same ammount over more innings, either leading to pitchers pitching less tired(and more effectively) or skipping the weaker bullpen pitchers. I don’t think this is captured in any current metrics(or it is but the effect is neglible), but I could be wrong.

  12. Hecubot said...

    The Orioles did something similar from 89-91 with three true center fielders: Brady Anderson, Mike Deveraux and Steve Finley.  And they worked Joe Orsulak into that rotation.  Joe wasn’t as fast but he did have an excellent arm in right.

    They covered a tremendous amount of territory out there with very few gappers.  But ultimately they needed more pop from their corner outfielders. I expect the A’s will go the same way when Taylor comes up.  Maybe Carter will play left.  Maybe Doolittle will be in the outfield. 

    But I don’t think they can carry such a light hitting outfield and contend.

    But I do think they can carry a super-defensive outfield and improve.

  13. Iain said...

    Defense is now the new moneyball.. it’s undervalued like OBP used to be.  The name of the game is to create the greatest run differential for the least cost.  At this time defense is the cheapest way to do it.

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