2013 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2013 Fantasy Baseball, The Fielding Angle: Cardinals vs. Reds

Yadier Molina

It must be the all-star break if we are talking about fielding on a fantasy baseball website. Well, I must admit that I am a sucker for deep fielding analysis, and while really getting into the fielding numbers isn’t necessary to fantasy success, paying some attention can only help you as we approach the non-waiver trade deadline. So, leave it to me to do the heavy lifting for you.

Why does fielding matter now? Simply put, teams will consider fielding when they consider trades, so you should pay attention too. If it affects playing time and it affects team needs then it could have an impact on your fantasy team even if there aren’t any categories that address it.

For our purposes, we will only look at playoff contenders. That cuts the field roughly in half at this point. We will compare two such teams in each edition so you can get a frame of reference. One of the fun things about fielding analysis is that there are a number of terrific sources of information. We will be using Fielding Bible data from billjamesonline.com. Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and Baseball Reference also have excellent information for us. I could use all of them, but we really don’t want to get too bogged down.

I like John Dewan’s model because it breaks down fielding into a simple +/- proposition in terms of plays made. Simply put, each player is measured against a hypothetical average based on the number of opportunities they have. An average player would make a certain number of plays successfully. If a player makes more than that then he will be in the plus side. If he makes less he will be on the minus end.

When you go to the site, you will see how intricate this information gets. Dewan’s guys (and gals) break down plays based on video and categorize them into different types of plays (like shallow, medium, and deep for outfielders) so you can see how a player does in each possible situation. From there, they use the same video evidence to convert those plus or minus tallies into actual runs saved. We will talk about that in much more detail later. For now, let’s take a look at each team’s regular lineups as they currently stand.

St. Louis Cardinals

INN

+/-

Runs

C Yadier Molina

728

—-

6

1B Allen Craig

772

-5

-4

2B Matt Carpenter

786

-1

2

3B David Freese

592

-8

-6

SS Pete Kozma

712

+8

6

LF Matt Holliday

667

-6

-8

CF Jon Jay

745

-4

-7

RF Carlos Beltran

652

-4

-4

All  

5654

-20

-15

Cincinnati Reds

INN

+/-

Runs

C Devin Mesoraco

419

—-

-3

1B Joey Votto

841

+7

+8

2B Brandon Phillips

779

+11

+7

3B Todd Frazier

743

+4

+2

SS Zack Cozart

771

+3

+1

LF Xavier Paul

309

-13

-11

CF Shin Shoo Choo

830

-19

-10

RF Jay Bruce

851

+10

+8

All  

5543

+3

+2

We should really start off looking at possible fantasy impacts. What fielding analysis can tell us is why certain players are playing and why certain players are not playing. For instance, Pete Kozma doesn’t look like much when you consider his hitting statistics, but when you look at the fielding numbers you can see why he is playing so often. Some people suggest that the Cardinals are in the market for a shortstop, but that seems hard to believe given all of the information available to us.

Even though the Cardinals are struggling as a team fielding wise, it is hard to imagine them making a deal for position players. The players struggling the most in terms of fielding are also their best hitters. So, it looks like status quo for them in terms of position players. However, looking at the fielding will impact their decisions on pitching. Their collective starting outfield is -19 in runs saved, so if the Cardinals are paying attention they will attempt to add ground ball pitchers their staff.

In terms of the Reds, the focus for them will almost certainly be to add an outfielder. At first glance, it would seem simple to add a left fielder given the fact that Xavier Paul is chronically average as a hitter and below average as a fielder. Yet, he was supposed to be a fourth or fifth outfielder coming into the season. Adding a true center fielder would allow Shin Shoo Choo to move to left field and thus they could improve two positions at the same time.

Billy Hamilton‘s presence complicates that some, but Choo might not be back in Cincinnati next season. So, Walt Jocketty may choose to double down on the season. They could add a second short-term solution and let both of them walk in the offseason. Give the Reds even average fielding in both left field and center field and they become one of the best fielding teams in the league in addition to being one of the best hitting and pitching teams in the league.

Beyond the trade deadline implications, looking at the team numbers provides some insight into how teams operate. The Cardinals obviously have the advantage of continuity on their side. Not only do they have more innings, but all eight of their regulars are on pace to surpass 1000 innings defensively. The Reds have been platooning in left field and at catcher.

The more interesting study comes in looking at the differences between +/- data and runs saved data. Plus/Minus data is a raw representation of the collective range of the squad. Managers can’t change that too much, but they can manage where their fielders position themselves. If you have a player with limited range to one side or another, you still might see some deficiencies, but you also might be able to limit how much those deficiencies will hurt you in terms of real runs.

When we look at the Cardinals and Reds we see that the Cardinals have a +5 advantage in terms of runs saved versus the plus/minus tally. The Reds have a -1 differential in that same category. At first glance, we might assume that Mike Matheny is a better manager than Dusty Baker based on the available information, but a closer look reveals that we don’t see +/- data for catchers. If we remove the runs saved on both ends we see the differential for the Cardinals shift to -1 and the Reds shift to +2. I guess we might call that the Yadier Molina factor.

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