2015 Fantasy Baseball: The Fielding Chronicles — Shortstops
Why should I read this article?
I thought my draft had gone well. I drafted my man crush Ben Zobrist to be my starting shortstop and even added Jed Lowrie as insurance. Everything seemed right. Then, a month into the season I lost both of them to the disabled list. These things happen and when they happen you start looking for someone (anyone) that can take their place.
This happens to all of us at some point and when it happens we need people that can provide every day at bats, but are off the radar. At most you are looking at a dozen guys and you have to decide which one to go with. Looking at fielding numbers can help you determine which guys will play regularly. Even if they are somewhat lacking with the bat, they will at least get into the lineup because of their fielding ability. While it might not be ideal, when you have a rash of injuries you likely never will get the ideal.
How does this fielding thing work?
I’ve been utilizing John Dewan’s The Fielding Bible as seen daily through billjamesonline.com. The beauty of the Fielding Bible system is that it is expressed in runs. The metric is called defensive runs saved (or DRS) and is calculated using video and computers to categorize all balls in play into different zones and then they further categorize the balls in play by how difficult they would be to make.
The experts that view the plays then determine an average number of plays a player at a position would make. Each player is then given a number of plays they should make depending on the various levels of difficulty of the plays they have a chance to make. If they make more plays than that then they have a positive rating and a DRS over zero. If they make fewer plays then they have a negative rating and a DRS under zero.
For our purposes here, we are limiting our scope to shortstops with at least 3000 career innings as a shortstop. That tends to eliminate guys that have just started playing. It also tends to skew our data towards positive ratings. As you might imagine, teams usually don’t allow sub-par fielders to stick around for long. Of course, there are notable exceptions and we will get to those before too long.
The biggest name on this list is Troy Tulowitzki. He has been rumored to be on the trade block since the offseason. He is due to make over 100 million dollars over the rest of his contract. When you start talking in high dollar amounts, trades get rather difficult. This doesn’t even mention the conversion rate everyone has in their head when you move from Coors Field to anywhere else. That being said, his proficiency with the glove makes any deal a little easier to swallow. Even if he is mediocre offensively, that still makes him above average overall.
Andrelton Simmons is not average offensively. However, the awesome fielding value makes him a fairly solid player overall. He belongs in that special category with Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado. It is that special category where defense can bleed into hitting in your own mind. Suddenly, you think you are getting an above average hitter when you really are just getting an exemplary fielder guaranteed to play every day.
That every day play comes in handy when you are looking on the waiver wire. Zack Cozart is a perfect example. He’s sporting a combined line of .272/6/20/18/3 as of Memorial Day. That’s not half bad for a waiver wire pickup. If you are looking for a shot in the arm because of injuries, you can do a lot worse because Cozart’s glove will keep him in the lineup.
One of the more interesting aspects of fielding analysis is that it helps clear up some misconceptions that we have about certain players. In short, the Gold Glove award process is antiquated and rife with error. Coaches watch their guy 150 times a season and swear by them. If they are really lucky they may watch Sportscenter and see web gems every day. Just like a 500 foot home run and 350 foot home run counts the same, a play made simply and a play made spectacularly also count the same.
It has often been said that the best make it look easy. That is very true when it comes to fielding. So, when you look at some of the names above you’ll notice that many of them are still better than average, but they aren’t nearly as good as we used to think. Elvis Andrus and Adeiny Hechavarria immediately come to mind when thinking of players whose actual performance doesn’t quite match their reputation.
On the flip side, you get guys like Jhonny Peralta who end up being mediocre even though he was replaced in Cleveland by a guy that was worse. A similar thing happened in New York when a probably average Alex Rodriguez moved to third base in favor of probably the worst defensive shortstop of our generation. Go figure.
It raised a lot of eyebrows when the Astros signed Jed Lowrie to a three-year contract. Carlos Correa could be up as early as this summer and when you look at the numbers above you can’t help but welcome it. The general idea is that he is a good enough hitter to stick at third base when that day comes. The same has happened with Hanley Ramirez already. He’s patrolling left field in Boston so that Xander Bogearts can play short. That’s what tends to happen to guys that produce fielding numbers like this.
That is why Starlin Castro is the guy to watch this year. He has Addison Russell and Javier Baez waiting in the wings. Even if he continues to hit, that defense will eventually get the more talented Russell and Baez into the lineup eventually (more likely Russell). The same could happen to Asdrubal Cabrera when and if the Rays decide to give either Nick Franklin and/or Tim Beckham a try.