The Bill James Handbook arrived in the mail a few days ago and I have been marking it up with a highlighter ever since.
Here are a few things that struck me:
The Handbook contains the annual Fielding Bible awards and some defensive fielding statistics as determined by John Dewan and the folks at Baseball Info Solutions.
I know, defensive metrics can be hard to understand and even harder to believe sometimes. But these rankings are based on actual people watching actual games and noting every play that is made and the circumstances.
They rate players by “Runs Saved” and “Plus/Minus.” Here is how they explain each category:
Runs Saved: This indicates how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position. A player near 0 Runs Saved is about average; a positive number of runs saved indicates above-average defense, below-average fielders post negative Runs Saved totals. There are many components of Runs Saved: range, the ability to turn a batted ball into an out, the ability to play a bunt, the ability to turn or start a double play, how well an outfielder prevents extra bases and whether an outfielder saves runs. There are other factors added for catchers and pitchers.
Plus/Minus: A player gets credit (a “plus” number) if he makes a play that at least one other player at his position missed during the season, and he loses credit (a “minus” number) if he misses a play that at least one player made. The size of the credit is directly related to how often players make the play. Each play is looked at individually, and a score is given for each play. Sum up all the plays for each player at his position and you get his total plus/minus for the season. A total plus/minus score near zero means the player is average. A score above zero is above average and a negative score is below average.
In short, these are not complicated equations. It’s a basic system judging each play a player makes or doesn’t make.
In terms of Runs Saved over the last three seasons, here is how some Red Sox ranked at their respective positions:
Kevin Youkilis, third. Dustin Pedroia, sixth and Marco Scutaro, sixth. Nobody else was in the top 10.
You’ll be shocked to hear that Jacoby Ellsbury was an average of -7 over the last three years and -9 last season. Mike Lowell was -18 last season, making him the worst third baseman in the game.
Victor Martinez has an average of -11 as a catcher over the last three seasons.
In terms of Plus/Minus, Youkilis, Pedroia, Scutaro and Mike Cameron grade out well over the last three seasons. J.D. Drew was +11 last season in right field.
James delivers the leaderboards for all the traditional statistics. But here are some other nuggets:
Ellsbury stole third base 13 times. Only Brian Roberts (14) did that more. … Pedroia saw 2,829 pitches. Only Chone Figgins (3,084), Jayson Werth (3,046), Roberts (2,901) and Adam Dunn (2,893) saw more. …Youkilis was the AL leader in pitcher per plate appearance (4.42) … Scutaro was third in pitches taken. … Drew had the best OPS for AL right fielders and the best OPS (.999) in the entire AL in the second half of the season. Yes, better than Joe Mauer (.998). … Pedroia had the shortest average home runs in the AL (minimum 10 HRs). His “bombs” averaged 366 feet. … Good luck trying to get Pedroia (6.6 percent of the time), Youkilis (10.5 percent) and Ellsbury (12.1 percent) to swing at the first pitch. They were in the top 10 in the AL.
And more …
Josh Beckett received an average of 6.36 runs of support per nine innings pitched, third in the AL. … Jon Lester’s 9.96 strikeouts per nine innings trailed only Justin Verlander (10.09) in the AL. … Opponents hit .128 against Jon Papelbon with a runner in scoring position. … Daniel Bard threw 39 pitches of 100+ mph. That was second in the AL, well behind Joel Zumaya of Detroit, who did it 198 times.
This is very much an inexact science, as James readily admits. But it’s fun to look at. Here are the key Red Sox:
Ellsbury: .302/.360/.420. 106 R, 64 SB
Pedroia: .307/.378/.465, 15 HR, 109 R, 75 RBI
Youkilis: .289/.394/.492, 23 HR, 98 R, 95 RBI
Martinez: .298/.377/.464, 19 HR, 97 RBI
Ortiz: .264/.369/.519, 29 HR, 99 RBI
Drew: .269/.385/.474, 22 HR, 76 RBI
Beltre: .269/.321/.439, 17 HR, 68 RBI
Cameron: .237/.328/.428, 23 HR, 74 RBI
Scutaro: .264/.347/.381, 10 HR, 57 RBI
Hermida: .267, 20 HR, 73 RBI
Varitek: .229, 9 HR
Now keep in mind that these projections were made right after the season and do not take into account players changing teams or leagues.
Do yourself a favor and purchase the Handbook. You’ll learn a lot and see the game at a different angle. You can order it on-line through ACTA Sports. Take a look at The Fielding Bible, too. Both are invaluable tools.