Friday, November 5, 2010

The magic glove of Nick Punto

Measuring defense has not been perfected by any means, but it's still better to know what the metrics are saying than to ignore them. (Imperfect knowledge -- coupled with an understanding of the limitations of that knowledge -- is better than ignorance.) The Bill James Handbook, of which I wrote a few days ago, publishes two yardsticks devised by Baseball Info Systems: plus-minus and runs saved.

Glovework is a big part
of what Nick Punto offers.
Notable Twins in these stats:

Orlando Hudson, now a free agent, had 17 "runs saved" at second base in 2010, tied for the best in baseball with Tampa Bay's Sean Rodriguez, and led all second basemen in plus-minus with a +23. Over the past three years, the O-Dog is credited with 18 runs saved and a +27 -- most of both coming last season.

Alexi Casilla's three-year total in runs saved at second base is -13, tied for fifth worse.

J.J. Hardy has a three year total of 18 runs saved at short, at 2010 total of 4. In plus-minus, Hardy was a +6, tied for ninth in BIS' rankings, and a solid +29 over three seasons.

Delmon Young ranks last among left fielders in the three-year totals, -27 in runs saved; in 2010, he was -8, still among the league's worst. In plus-minus in 2010, he was -20, worst in all the majors; over three years, he's -57.

Michael Cuddyer, despite not playing at all in the outfield after Justin Morneau got hurt in early July, was a -6 in runs saved in right in 2010, tied for fourth worse in baseball. In plus-minus, he was -17, which is ghastly.

Denard Span was top 10 among center fielders in runs saved (nine) and in plus-minus (+14).

And then there's Nick Punto.

Punto was (in plus minus) a +1 at second base, a +10 at third base, a +8 at shortstop. In runs saved, he was 1, 8, 7. These are very impressive numbers for relatively few innings.

BIS didn't include him in their rankings; one of their people told me it was because he didn't play enough innings. But he'd have easily made the top ten at both third base and shortstop in both runs saved and plus-minus.

The question is: How much weight can one put on those numbers? Answer: Not a lot. BIS publishes three-year numbers in part because the single season figures, even for a regular, can fluctuate so much (see Hudson). For a part-timer, the fluctuation problem figures to be worse.

I continue to believe that defense, both the portion we can measure and that which is still hidden from statistical analysis, is one aspect of the game that kept the 2010 Twins from being a truly outstanding team.

1 comment:

  1. So the Twins had the best second baseman, a very good shortstop and a good centerfielder and defense hurt them? Am I missing something? By all accounts I've seen, Danny Valencia was also very good and Joe Mauer has won a Gold Glove. His throwing was off this year because of a sore shoulder, but he's still better than most. So, the Twins are weak defensively in three of eight positions on the field and those three are the least important on the field, RF, LF and 1B. BIS and UZR both have the Twins the second-best team in the AL in overall defense for 2010. Plus, the Twins were able to take advantage of their superior infield defense by becoming the fourth-best team in the AL in GB/FB ratio after being a flyball-heavy team for years, mostly thanks to Liriano's resurgence and the addition of Duensing and Blackburn rediscovering his sinker.