by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
March 19, 2009
When John Dewan's
Fielding Bible was published
early in 2006, it easily represented the biggest leap forward in defensive
metrics ever. Michael Lichtman had the right idea with
Ultimate Zone Rating, but the
methodology was a little overly-complex, and the data wasn't available in a
convenient mainstream format. Still, UZR held one advantage over
Dewan's Plus/Minus system in that Lichtman converted his metric into runs saved
for you, while Dewan made the reader do that work.
Three years later, in The Fielding Bible Volume II, Dewan has gone the
extra mile, not only converting his Plus/Minus rating into runs saved, but also
adding in bunt runs saved (for corner infielders), double play runs saved (for
middle infielders), outfield arm runs saved, earned runs saved (for catchers),
and stolen base runs saved (for pitchers and catchers). No longer do we
need to wonder whether Bobby Crosby's excellent work at turning the double play
outweighs his poor range: last year, he was the best in the business at turning
the double play, but his four GDP Runs Saved pale in comparison to his 10
Plus/Minus Runs Allowed. Conversely, Alfonso Soriano's underrated arm made
him the most valuable defensive left fielder in the game: despite having saved
just nine Plus/Minus runs over the past three years, his whopping 33 runs saved
via his throwing arm puts his total of 42 runs saved well over the speedy Carl
Crawford's three-year total of 22 (19 Plus/Minus, 3 arm).
How does Dewan convert things like double play percentage, outfield assists,
and bunt defense into runs saved? He uses the same 24-states charts that
we use to determine the value of a walk, a double, or a home run in our
linear weights analysis. It
is possible now with the in-depth play-by-play situational data gathered by
Baseball Info Solutions.
How does he convert pitcher and catcher caught stealing percentage and
catcher's ERA into runs? Those familiar with
Linear Saves will understand
immediately. With Linear Saves, we compare a reliever's save total to how
many saves a league average closer would have converted had he the same number
of opportunities as the closer we're examining. For the example of
catcher's earned runs saved, Dewan uses a pitcher's actual ERA as "league
average" and compares how many earned runs a catcher allowed with that pitcher
to what the pitcher would have allowed with that actual ERA over the same number
of defensive innings. He then adds up the totals from every pitcher that
catcher worked with. I must say, I find Dewan's methodology here to be
fantastic validation of my Linear Saves concept.
This only scratches the surface of the unique information found in The
Fielding Bible Mark II. Bill James calculates Universal Fielding
Percentage across baseball history using an adaptation of the Linear Saves
methodology. This is a more precise method of simply eyeballing a
fielder's career fielding percentage as compared to the league average at that
position on Baseball-Reference.com as I have been doing for years. Bill
Freehan may have thrown his hat back into
Top 200 consideration based on
his 4th-best UPF all-time for catchers.
One feature that has been invaluable for my
team previews thus far is the
Team Defensive Runs by Position section. You can easily see that while
Orlando Hudson isn't quite the defensive whiz he once was, that he's going to
improve on the -17 net runs the Dodgers endured at second base last season,
thanks in large part to Jeff Kent. The same goes for the A's getting
Orlando Cabrera at shortstop, the Reds getting Alex Gonzalez back at shortstop,
or the Cubs replacing Jim Edmonds in center.
Baseball Info Solutions now tracks Good Fielding Plays and Defensive
Misplays. These are not awarded at the discretion of a scorer, but rather
are tangible observations based on set criteria that Bill James explains in
excruciating detail. Mark Teixeira had 71 more GFP than DME (defensive
misplays plus errors) in 2008, easily the biggest net result in baseball.
We are also provided with Defensive Misplays Per Touch to award part-time
fielders and players who have poor range, but who make the most of the plays
they do get to (The Michael Cuddyers of the world). Hopefully, by the time
the next Fielding Bible is published, someone will have figured out a way to
approximate run values for this new Plus/Minus rating of good plays versus
Actually, this current iteration of The Fielding Bible isn't perfect.
The layout doesn't make intuitive sense, making the book somewhat difficult to
navigate. You don't always know whether the information you need is in the
six-year register, the scouting reports, or the leaders/trailers section.
Rather than have the methodology and results for pitcher stolen base runs,
catcher stolen base runs, catcher earned runs saved, bunt runs, outfield arm
runs, and double play runs all in consecutive chapters, they are spread
throughout the book. There is simply so much information in there that it
isn't always easy to have what you're looking for at your fingertips.
Post-it notes are a must.
Also, while the book is usually more than willing to crunch the numbers and
walk you through the methodology of just about every calculation, it glaringly
omits that calculation when mentioning that the run value for a stolen base is
.19 while the run value for a caught stealing is -.43. Earlier in that
section, Dewan mentions that for pitchers' runs saved, an opportunity is defined
as "the number of times a runner was on first base with second base open."
So, for their calculation of the value of the stolen base, are they also
ignoring double steals, steals of third, and steals of home? They provide
us with the 24-states chart for 2008 at the beginning of the book, but as usual
when someone publishes that chart, they failed to publish the frequency with
which each of the 24-states occurred, making it impossible for us to check their
calculation ourselves. Frustrating, that.
(Seriously, for any traditional baseball analysts who want to rid the world
of Sabermetrics, here's what you do. Infiltrate the next SABR convention
and ask what the run values of a stolen base and caught stealing are. Get
out, lock the door, and return in three days. There will be only one
Sabermetrician left alive, which will be a victory for traditional baseball
analysts, and there will finally be a definitive run value for stolen bases and
caught stealings, with no one left to argue. Everyone wins - well, except
perhaps for the families of the slaughtered Sabrmetricians, but I expect most
Sabermetrician's spouses have warned that baseball analysis would be the death
of them. But I digress...)
There are also a couple of random articles that go nowhere, most notably Bill
James' examination of how much Tim McCarver helped Steve Carlton as a pitcher or
Dewan's essay comparing Juan Uribe to Troy Tulowitzki. They aren't bad
articles, but unless you're a fan of McCarver (come on, there must be a couple
of you out there) or a fan of shortstops with unusual last names (of which, I am
one), you're left wondering why they were included in the tome rather than, say,
an expansion of the paragraph describing how Jason Kendall went from having one
of the worst arms in baseball to one of the best in the course of one season.
Or those elusive percentages for the 24-states!
Still, the book would be indispensable even if it had an article about
whether or not to put ketchup on your hot dog. This is information you
cannot get anywhere else, information you need to fully understand the game of
baseball. Without The Fielding Bible Volume II, you might wonder why the
Athletics signed the 31-year old Mark Ellis to a 2-year, $11 million deal after
he batted .233 last year. But at the end of the book, there is a chart
adding up players' runs created on offense, runs created on defense, and
baserunning runs and using a nifty positional adjustment created by Bill James
to compare the players across the diamond. We find that Ellis was a more
valuable player overall last year than Alfonso Soriano, Garrett Atkins, Carlos
Lee, Jim Thome, J.D. Drew, and a host of other players who each make way
more money than Ellis does and each of whom the average fan would consider a
better player than Ellis, hands down.
That is the advantage that the Fielding Bible gives you: the ability to
understand an integral part of the game of baseball that had remained hidden for
so long. Don't analyze baseball without it.
The Fielding Bilbe Volume II is available at local bookstores or directly
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.