Getting to know stats: Fielding and Defense

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves

By Darren Helley

Defense wins championships; the simple yet essential and fundamental philosophy of allowing a few runs as possible to secure that precious win. Most fans immediately run to pitching statistics to get a feel for the defensive capabilities of a particular team. But what people forget on occasion is that baseball is a team sport, especially when it comes to fielding. Because of the more appealing aspects of the sport, such as power hitting, clutch hitting and dominating pitching on the mound, the tracking of defensive capability is overlooked far too often. But let these key statistics be the gateway for the keen baseball fan to realize just how valuable defence can be in Major League Baseball.

Fielding Percentage: The fundamental statistic of fielding, where the amount of Put-Outs and Assists are divided by itself and the amount of Errors committed, which creates the aggregate known as Chances.

Fld% = (PO + A) / (PO + A + E)

Fielding percentages across all positions in baseball are typically very high. Due to the volume of Chances generated within certain positions, as well as conditions such as the size of a position’s area and the distance to home plate- i.e. reaction time, athleticism- Fielding Percentage can drastically change at each position. League Average (lg) tracks the average value of a fielding statistic within each position, which becomes a valuable base in which to judge defensive capability within a player. The 2014 lgFld% at Shortstop was at .973, while First-Base was a colossal .992 and Catcher at an equally staggering .993. Certain defensive positions possess a lot more difficulty than others, whereas others have a more simplified technique but require near-perfect production.

Range Factor: Fielding Percentage merely tells us how good a player is defensively within himself, his accumulated amount of chances. Range Factor takes a player’s aggregate of Put-Outs and Assists and either multiplies them by 9 (the regular game length) or the amount of games played, then divides the figure by the number of innings played. These two variations are known as RF/9 and RF/G.

RF/9 = 9 x (PO + A) / Innings Played

RF/G = (PO + A) / Games Played

Range Factor becomes heavily influenced by the number of outs in which a player participates in, instead of the percentage of Chances and player converts into Outs. Typically the RF/9 variation becomes the more followed variation due to the fact that every player can be evaluated equally. That being said, RF/G is the more preferred variation for either comparing individual players (say, within a platoon in a certain position) or evaluating players who play a limited amount of innings (bench players). It’s also worth noting that a player’s RF/9 will always be higher than his RF/G, because the former inflates the figure to a hypothetical platform in which he plays 9 innings, rather than simply using how many Put-Outs and Games he has participated in. You can usually get a grasp as to how often a player fields within a season based on how close the two values are to each other.

Just like with Fld%, the lgRF can drastically change between each position. Because we are dealing with a solid value and not a percentage, the differences can be more emphatic. For example, the 2014 lgRF/9 at Catcher was at 8.41 and First-Base was a very high 9.29. On the flip side, Outfield positions had lgRF/9 of a very low 1.82 (LF), 2.48 (CF) and 2.05 (RF). Each position generates a certain amount of participation for an out. The only flaw in Range Factor is the influence of pitching, for certain pitchers generate a certain Fly Ball/Ground Ball Ratio (FB/GB), which can seriously alter exactly where the ball will end up and where the opportunities for outs will land.

Too many fans constantly rush to the fielding statistics to evaluate a player’s defensive skills: such that rely predominantly on the glove. But as we all know, possessing a great glove is not the only defensive attribute in the “five-tool player” concept. It’s very important to introduce statistics that specify on the performance of one’s arm. The following stats are specifically designed for defence in the Outfield, for the statistics already covered are more preferred for players inside the diamond.

Held %: The rate in which an outfielder prevents a baserunner from advancing to his next base following a fly-out or fair ball in the outfield (Held / Opportunities). For an outfielder, his arm strength and accuracy are evaluated against five base-running situations that become Opportunities for a Held baserunner:

Base Hit Single with Runner on 1st base

Base Hit Single with Runner on 2nd base

Extra Base Hit Double with Runner on 1st base

Fly-Out (under 2 outs) with Runner on 3rd base

Fly-Out (under 2 outs) with Runner on 2nd base

These five situations activate the instant contest between base-running ability and arm-throwing ability and it becomes imperative that a capable outfielder prevents the baserunner in advancing the bases. The more bases advanced by base-runner, the greater likeability of that runner coming around to score. Holding runners on their respective base is well overlooked, but it is such a vital tool in a defensive skillset.

Kill %: What’s better than holding a runner on base? Killing the runner (Kill / Opportunities). Yeonis Cespedes showcased last season how beautifully spectacular a Kill in the outfield can be on a baserunner advancing the bases. While this statistic is arguably dependent on base-running decision-making by the baserunner, it does activate alertness and quick-minded action by the outfielder. Holding a runner is good, but killing a runner and getting that precious out from outside of the mound is such a valuable contribution to the team’s defence as a whole.

Errors: Fielding is no easy matter for a baseball player. An error is when an unforced mistake is occurred by a specific player that majorly influences the play, most likely allowing the batter to stay safe. On the play itself, officials will score an error with the initial E followed by the number of the defensive position player who committed the error. For example, the second-baseman overthrew the first-baseman to get the batter out: E4. Errors are what slowly chip away at a player’s fielding percentage. But what not many people dive into is exactly how a player commits an error. There are three major Error categories; Catch, Throw, Fielding.

The best example for an Error on the Catch is a dropped fly ball. For a Throw, overthrowing a base to get a runner out. And for Fielding, muffling a ground-ball or letting a ground-ball go past the defender when attempting to field it. Errors are bad enough for a defensive player; Allowing Runs on Error is the deflation of moral on your team and the equivalent to shooting yourself in the foot.

Coming up in this miniature series will the fourth instalment: Base-running statistics.


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