Reyes, Ramirez, and Defensive Value

Will Marlins fans see fewer moments like these with Ramirez now at Third Base?

Much has been made since the signing of Jose Reyes to be the Shortstop of the future for the Marlins. For his part Reyes has said he is excited to play along side friend and countryman Hanley Ramirez on the left side of the Marlins infield in 2012 and beyond. Ramirez, on the other hand, as has been well documented, has been less receptive, finally accepting the move after an early showing of disapproval toward being forced to shift positions.

Now with everyone apparently on the same page the Marlins possess one of the top Third Base Shortstop combinations in the league. With a rebound year from Ramirez on the offensive side of the game and continued success from Reyes the Fish can expect to see offensive fireworks ignited by two of the top players at their respective positions in the game. However Ozzie structures the lineup both players should benefit from having the other batting around them. Obviously being surrounded by better players makes for better production up and down the lineup. The offensive affect of adding Reyes and moving Ramirez to Third Base will no doubt provide an offensive boost to the Marlins in 2012.

Having upgraded the offensive side of the ball is something Marlins fans can look forward to in the coming season. But scoring runs is only half of the game. The other half, preventing them from being scored against you, is just as important. How does the addition of Reyes at Shortstop and Ramirez manning Third affect the Marlins defense? Lets take a look at the numbers to find out.

In 2011 the Marlins had three players log significant time at Shortstop (excluding the 21 innings by Osvaldo Martinez) : Hanley Ramirez, Emilio Bonifacio, and Donnie Murphy, along with Reyes, who will be manning the position for the Marlins this season. Here is a sample of their defensive contributions (or lack thereof) in 2011:

player

innings

DPR

RngR

ErrR

UZR/150

Hanley Ramirez

754 2/3

-0.8

-0.9

-4.8

-10.2

Emilio Bonifacio

543 2/3

0.2

-3.3

-5.0

-13.6

Donnie Murphy

140 1/3

0.0

0.5

1.1

14.4

Jose Reyes

1,087

-0.4

-2.4

-0.3

-3.6

The Marlins saw many more players man the Hot Corner in 2011. In total seven players logged at least one inning of work at Third Base. Both Jose Lopez and Wes Helms are no longer with the team and Osvaldo Martinez only had 1.0 inning at the position leaving the bulk of the time to Greg Dobbs, Emilio Bonifacio, Matt Dominguez, and Donnie Murphy. Here is how they performed at Third Base:

player

innings

DPR

RngR

ErrR

UZR/150

Greg Dobbs

755

0.0

-2.6

-2.2

-10.0

Emilio Bonifacio

245 2/3

0.8

-0.6

-0.3

-2.6

Matt Dominguez

122

-0.1

-0.2

-0.6

-13.0

Donnie Murphy

79 2/3

-0.1

1.2

0.0

15.0

Wes Helms

179

0.0

-2.5

-0.3

-25.3

Jose Lopez

77 1/3

0.1

-2.0

-0.2

-42.4

The stats in the tables above are the components that make up UZR and are explained here. I chose to use UZR because it is the system I am most familiar with and also because it is one of the most, if not the most, reliable system for evaluating a players defensive capabilities. That being said there are a few caveats that need to be pointed out about the information it provides us.

First, as mentioned, there are numerous systems out there, such as UZR, Dewan +/-, Fan Scouting Report, and Total Zone, among others. The calculations that go into producing the final results are different for each system and, therefore, produce differing results, which can be quite significant.

Even though I added a UZR/150 column to account for the vast difference in innings played among the four players, the sample size is admittedly extremely limited. In general, at least three years of data is necessary to draw any reliable conclusions. When analyzing defensive numbers it's important to keep in mind larger sample sizes will produce more reliable results.

Finally, and most importantly, when evaluating defense, because fielding metrics are more volatile than those for hitting and pitching, the conclusions drawn from the data needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

An example that illustrates the shortcomings of using defensive metrics to analyze player performance can be seen in the numbers of Matt Dominguez. His glove is what will carry him in the Majors, not the bat. Looking at this example we see the issue of small sample size come up. 122 innings is not enough to reliably evaluate his true defensive abilities.

With all this in mind, taking into consideration all that is lacking in defensive metrics, if we go strictly by these numbers we see that Reyes was 6.6 runs better than Ramirez defensively at Shortstop in 2011. How about over their careers?

player

innings

DPR

RngR

ErrR

UZR/150

Reyes

8,803

1.7

11.3

0.5

2.1

Ramirez

7,163 2/3

-1.1

-25.5

-17.4

-9.1

The trend continues. Over the course of their careers, Reyes has proven to be the better defensive Shortstop by a significant margin, a full 11 runs better according to UZR/150. Based on these career numbers it's safe to say that Reyes is the superior defensive Shortstop.

What does this mean for Ramirez at Third Base? As we have seen reliable data for analyzing defensive performance isn't as reliable as the metrics we have available for hitting and pitching. Predicting future defensive performance is even more of a crapshoot.

What we can expect from Ramirez at Third Base is an improvement in defensive value, assuming he really does embrace the move and adapts well to his new position. Using data from Baseball Prospectus a player who moves from Shortstop to Third Base will be 1.9 runs better at Third than he was at Shortstop. Add to this the better defense at Short by Reyes and the Marlins should have better defense on the left side of the infield.

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