Earlier today, I highlighted the Fans Scouting Report and asked readers to vote for the Miami Marlins that they have watched play defense all season long. This is a good way for Marlins fans to help out in the analysis process of players by providing valuable scouting information from their own eyes rather than from reading advanced defensive statistics or other scouts discuss defense. We all know that fielding is a tough thing to judge, and the opinions of a few managers or scouts can be misleading (Derek Jeter's status as "good shortstop" is a prime example). At the same time, we know that defensive statistics are absolutely flawed, particularly in looking at single-season data and there is a very good chance they are still wrong when accumulating multiple years. We know that there are many biases that have yet to be accounted for in zone-based data.
So that is why the Fans Scouting Report is so important. Sure, it is a data point, like any other. But if done right, it is a data point of many team fans watching their team's players carefully and not considering whether UZR says this guy has done better or worse than years past. This gives us a completely separate set of information on players, and that is very useful for analysts and the baseball enthusiast who enjoys reading about their favorite team.
As with any team, a number of Miami Marlins players will specifically catch the eye of voters in this season's Fans Scouting Report. For me, there are three players whose information in the report is going to be vital for their expectations in 2013 and beyond. These players have a little bit of doubt in their evaluations based on the advanced statistics, and they have discrepancies between different stats and their traditional evaluations by fans. We will discuss them here without mentioning their season numbers in specific in any advanced statistic, so that you can consider their play with as little stat bias as possible.
Earlier in the year, Stanton was in a storm of criticism for his defensive play. While he had not made a significant amount of errors, it was only because it seemed like he was taking improper routes to the baseball earlier in the year. It seemed every couple of balls in play to right field, Stanton would either make the catch seem more difficult than necessary or he would mess up a route and allow a ball to fall in front of him. On at least one or two memorable plays, he made incorrect decisions on diving on balls and allowing to get behind him.Those miscues led to Fish Stripes author FishNFinz publishing a poll regarding how good Stanton's glove is to the readership. Results were mixed among the 56 respondents, and that was still after a month of ugly mishaps following two seasons of seemingly strong play.
In fact, one of the interesting questions regarding Stanton is whether anyone saw those concerns in the last two years. FishNFinz mentioned that he always felt Stanton took poor routes or mishandled balls when it came to making catches, but I certainly did not recall that sort of play before April. It seems, based on our last poll, that a number of fans were also undecided.
So what happened to Stanton the rest of the season? If you ask me, his defense in terms of routes and making decisions on balls improved as the year progressed, as he stopped making many of those egregious errors in judgment from earlier in the year. Based on watching from TV (and that is inherently flawed, as you cannot examine his initial reactions and route to the ball), it seems he still has issues with judging balls off the bat directly, but his athleticism tends to help in catching him up when he is behind on the play. If anything, i think the early season struggles were perhaps about a lack of Spring Training time rather than true-talent struggles.
Marlins fans just do not have a great gauge on shortstop play. For the last six seasons, the only shortstop they have really seen throughout that time was Hanley Ramirez, and Ramirez was a known poor defender at the position. So when any player comes to town to play shortstop for the Fish, chances are it is going to look much better than what Marlins fans are used to.
That is my primary concern in judging Jose Reyes's play. When I watch him, it seems to me his range is miles better than Ramirez's. Both players had a harder time going to their backhand side than towards the second base bag, but Reyes far outranged Ramirez towards the bag. While Ramirez always had a cannon arm, Reyes's arm strength seems quite strong as well, and accuracy to first base is not even a question; I cannot remember Reyes forcing our first basemen to dig out a throw or make a difficult pick. In addition, his transition from glove to hand for the throw and his release are lightning fast compared to Ramirez.
If there was one concern for Reyes, it is his backhand side in my opinion. Much like Ramirez before him, I find Reyes having trouble getting to balls on the backhand side, leading to a lot more singles squeaking by our weak hole to the third baseman's left side. I am having a hard time recalling him making good plays to that side and preventing would-be singles with good throws.
Nevertheless, my thoughts do not necessarily jive with what defensive statistics have said in years past, and it will be interesting to see what Marlins fans think of Reyes's defense and how that compares to what New York Mets fans said before. As one observer, I do think he is above-average at the position.
Emilio Bonifacio was, for the longest time, a man without a position for the Marlins. After his disastrous 2009 season, he became the team's utility backup and was asked to play both the infield and the outfield. As a result, it was hard for him to establish himself at any one position and excel. But once injuries and ineffectiveness forced him into a starting role in 2011, the Marlins were committed to finding one position for him to play full-time. In 2012, that was supposed to be center field.
In watching Bonifacio play center field, it is evident that he has the speed to manage the position. It is also clear that his arm is an infielder's arm that should not be tasked to make good throws from the outfield, as I do not recall one good throw that he has made all year. So with his speed and arm evening out the positives and negatives, what is left is his instincts and routes in the outfield, and my opinion of that is mixed. We rarely saw dives from Bonifacio this year, in part because his speed usually allows him to make up for some errors in judgment, but there were many balls in spacious Marlins Park that he simply could not get to. When Bonifacio was injured and stayed out of center field, other more natural outfielders, in particular Gorkys Hernandez, showed a little of what Bonifacio lacked in instincts by making deep fly balls look more routine.
No matter how well Bonifacio played in center field, however, his defense may not eventually be applied at that position next year. There is a very good chance the Marlins will send him back to the infield to play second base and allow a free agent to patrol the deep recesses of Marlins Park, and the infield is where Bonifacio struggled in the past. He was an awful third baseman in his rookie year, and he did not look great as a shortstop either. Second base, however, is a more natural position for him, as it tasks his arm less and asks him to be rangy rather than worrying about throws as much. It is probably the best place for him in the infield, but it still does not fully take advantage of his speed like the outfield does.
What do you Fish Stripers think about Stanton, Reyes, and Bonifacio and their defense in 2012? Make sure you vote for them and all of the Marlins in whom you feel confident judging in this year's Fans Scouting Report. Tell us what you think about these guys in the comments!