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Center Stage

Steve Goldman looks at Curtis Granderson as an MVP candidate. He examines stats from Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference and says that:

One of the main reasons for variance between these measurements is the way they handle fielding, with each having different ways of tabulating a player’s defensive contribution. What is fascinating is that despite this, all three rankings agree that Granderson shouldn’t be anywhere near the MVP award, and they agree on the reason: they think he has been a poor defensive player this year. Conversely, they agree that Brett Gardner has been a spectacular defensive player, which is why he shows up in the top 10 for two of the three sites (Gardner ranks 17th in BP’s hierarchy). BP’s fielding runs say that Granderson has set the Yankees back about 10 runs with the glove beyond what an average defender would have done, equivalent to a full win. Fangraphs’ version of the same says about the same thing with -8 runs, while BB-Ref generously only penalizes him seven runs.

What perplexes me here is that I can’t see it, whether on television or at the ballpark. When we talk about Derek Jeter’s defensive deficiencies, I have always been able to see his difficulties going to his left. The statistics merely confirmed what I already knew. In this case, Granderson’s problems aren’t obvious to me, so I ask you: have you noticed Granderson fail to play a solid center field?

That’s a good question. I have a hard time wrapping my head around fielding stats, that’s for sure.

[Photo Credit: ESPN]


1 Just Fair   ~  Aug 15, 2011 3:37 pm

I can't wrap my brain around fielding stats, either. My lying eyes tell me Curtis is doing just fine out there. I did see Austin Jackson on the highlght shows last night robbing 2 homers from last week. Good stuff. I'd still take Curtis every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

2 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Aug 15, 2011 3:50 pm

This is weird. I haven't noticed any gaping deficiencies in Granderson's defense, either. As Goldman says, poor fielding, even with respect to range, is usually apparent (Derek, Bernie, whoever).

So all I have to say is: *shrug*.

3 RIYank   ~  Aug 15, 2011 3:51 pm

I'm too lazy to look into how BP, BRef, and Fangraphs measure defense. But there are well known issues with all defensive metrics when used over small samples -- and 'small' in this case includes a full season. Just look at how wildly Fangraphs' rating of Curtis varies from year to year, for example.

Some metrics just count balls hit into zone. If one year a whole lot of balls in an OF's zone are gappers, he'll look terrible; if the next year they are hit right to him, he looks great. A more interesting issue is that if, say, Brett is covering ground that Curtis is assigned by the stat, then Curtis gets penalized. (This is true only of some of the metrics.)

It's a problem, because trusting what you see is only partly reasonable. There are plenty of illusions that we're all susceptible to. But trusting UZR, or whatever, to tell you how well a player is doing this year is even more problematic.

4 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Aug 15, 2011 3:55 pm

A couple of the comments in the thread seem apt: maybe Granderson's numbers are adversely affected by having Gardner steal a higher percentage of putouts than your average leftfielder, thus making it look like Granderson has a range problem.

Again, I can but shrug.

5 a.O   ~  Aug 15, 2011 4:05 pm

I have noticed some weaknesses in Granderson's defense in CF.

Specifically, he plays shallow (which I like), but he does not go back on balls well. I feel like sometimes he does not see balls that are hit on a line well. He also does not have a great release, meaning that he takes a little longer than he should to throw after making a catch. The release is easily fixable, and could make a big difference for him because I think he has an above-average (not great) arm.

With all that said, I do not think Granderson is a below-average defender in CF. And I have no idea whether any of the defensive metrics are measuring what I have observed.

6 BobbyB   ~  Aug 15, 2011 5:19 pm

I don't see it, either. He looks good to me. a.O's comments are the same as those on tonight in baseball last night but I just don't see it. Anyone can take two tapes and say he's does not go back on balls well and does not always take the right route. That can be said of any outfielder I've ever watched. Also, weeping for makes a good point about Gardner taking a lot of balls. He's MVP in my book.

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