Nation STATion: Playing the field

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Nation STATion: Playing the field

By Bill Chuck
CSNNE.com

After watching three Red SoxYankee games this weekend my biggest takeaway (other than by the 3rd inning on Saturday I was begging for Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy) is that Ill take Co vs. So-Ro-Mo. That is to say, against the Yankee triad of Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera, of all the Sox batters, Ill take Marco Scutaro. Co, when playing for Oakland in 2007 hit a three-run walkoff off of Mo to give the As a 5-4 win, then Sunday night hit a double high off the Monster in the 9th off Rivera and then eventually scored the tying run on Pedroias sac fly.

The other thing that I appreciated about watching these two teams play is that they can field the ball. The only error in the three games was an errant throw by Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a steal attempt. The Sox have been particularly impressive making only 55 errors this season, while the Yankees 69. But its not all about errors when you look at fielding, and the fewest errors dont necessarily equal success. The White Sox have committed the fewest errors in the majors (50) and they are 55-58 this season. However, the Phils have committed the fewest in the NL (52) and they have the best record in baseball. The Rangers (64-51) and the Cubs (49-66) each have committed 94 errors, the most in baseball.

Numbers like that are just part of the reason why the Gold Glove Award is by far the most overrated of all the postseason trophies. Way too frequently, voters simply counted errors as a means of determining winners. This is not to say that all the Gold Glove awardees since its creation in 1957 are unworthy, but too many times, when it was simply awarded based on an error count, the award was given to a player out of respect for his body of work, not exactly for fielding prowess (hello, Derek Jeter). Then there are the players who once they were awarded the trophy gave it up as frequently as an incumbent is voted out office in Congress (take the case of Rafael Palmiero who won in 1997, 98, and 99 despite the fact that in 1999 he was a DH for 128 games and a first baseman for 28 games).

This is not to blame the folks at Rawlings for creating the award, it was good for their business, and it was good for MLB to have some additional postseason awards to gather some press. The biggest problem was that statistically the awards primarily were really based on errors and fielding percentage, with a little bit of assists and putouts tossed in the mix for seasoning.

Then along came Bill James and John Dewan. You know that James is the Einstein of baseball stats. John Dewan, was the CEO of Stats Inc, and is the author of The Fielding Bible, in which he and James developed the PlusMinus System, which measures how many plays a fielder made above or below an average player at his position. Since he first started tracking fielding, Dewan and others have created all sorts of measurements. Heres a few as defined by HardballTimes.com:

UZR coined by John Dewan, the stat was created by Mitchel Lichtman. UZR looks at the trajectory and speed of every batted ball and, based on overall major league averages, assigns a probability that a certain position will field it. If a player at that position fields it, he gets credit above the overall major league average. If he doesn't, he gets negative credit.
RZR - Revised Zone Rating is the proportion of balls hit into a fielder's zone that he successfully converted into an out.
TotalZone Created by Sean Smith, it is similar to UZR in that it evaluates fielders on a plusminus scale compared to average.

The problem that I have, and most of us have, is that you cant figure this out on your own. I mean batting average is basic math: hits divided by at bats. Simple and sweet, just like me. But with all these fielding metrics, we are totally dependent on the folks who have access to the video of the zones and they then can figure out the numbers. On top of that, the value of the numbers can often be obscured by the complexity of what is being measured. This is why I use Rtot--Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Avg: The number of runs above or below average the player is worth based on the number of plays made as found on Baseball-Reference.com as my primary tool for comparison.

Heres what I found when I looked at the eight positions:

Catcher
Kelly Shoppach of the Rays leads with 11 Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Avg.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia minus 3 Rtot Salty catches Tim Wakefield and his knuckleball, need I say more?
Jason Varitek minus 2 Tek has totaled -2 for his career
Russell Martin plus 1
Francisco Cervelli minus 4

1b
Adrian Gonzalez - plus 10, leads the league Gonzo has totaled plus-42 for his career
Mark Teixeira plus 1

2b
Dustin Pedroia plus 13, leads the league Pedey has totaled plus 50 in his career. There is no better right side of the infield defensively than Bostons.
Robinson Cano minus 3

3b
Adrian Beltre plus 14, leads the league
Kevin Youkilis plus 3 Youk is plus 16 as a third baseman and plus 28 as a first baseman in his career.
Alex Rodriguez plus 11
Eduardo Nunez minus 1

SS
Alcides Escobar plus 14, leads the league
Marco Scutaro minus 3 Marco is plus 13 for his career at short, but those plus runs were when he played on the turf in Toronto.
Jed Lowrie minus 4 Jed is still plus 4 runs overall at short, but in his first two seasons he was 6 and 3 respectively and has headed downward ever since.
Derek Jeter minus 8

LF
Brett Gardner plus 20, leads the league, the highest rated fielder in baseball
Carl Crawford minus 1 Crawford has been a big disappointment in the field. I note that he has trouble going to right, particularly at Fenway, but he could be feeling the effects of playing all those years on the turf at the Trop. He is still plus 66 lifetime.

CF
Denard Span plus 17, leads the league
Jacoby Ellsbury plus 10 As with everything, what a difference in Ellsbury in the field. Have you noticed that you havent seen those diving plays from Jacoby this season? Thats because he gets a much better jump on the ball and reads the ball better off the bat. Hes plus 9 for his career in center, which means he started the season minus 1.
Curtis Granderson minus 9

RF
Nick Swisher - plus 19, leads the league
Josh Reddick plus 2 Its too early to really judge Reddicks play in right, the only thing we know is that he is not a negative.
J.D. Drew plus 2 The J.D. stands for Just Declining. In 2009, Drew was a plus 21 rightfielder and last year he was plus seven. Its a good thing his contract is up at the end of this season.

We should never underestimate fielding when judging the strength of a team or a player. Los Angeles Dodgers Executive Fresco Thompson said describing his teams number one nemesis, "Willie Mays and his glove. Where triples go to die."

We all remember the walkoffs and the homers, but those are rarities compared to the 20 or so outs per game the Sox fielders produce and the untold number of hits they take away. Spend some time watching the Sox in the field and you will indeed see a first place ballclub.

Former Red Sox prospect Andy Marte killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

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Former Red Sox prospect Andy Marte killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

Former major leaguer Andy Marte, a one-time top prospect in the Red Sox organization, was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic on Sunday. He was 33.

Marte was killed the same day that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura died in a separate car crash in the Dominican. Ventura was 25. Coincidentally, Ventura was the Royals starting pitcher in Marte's final major league game, for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 6, 2014.

Marte, drafted by the Braves in 2000, was ranked the No. 9 prospect in baseball in 2005 when the third baseman was traded to the Red Sox as part of the deal that sent shortstop Edgar Renteria to Atlanta and Marte became the top-ranked prospect in the Red Sox organization.  

Marte was traded by the Red Sox to the Indians in 2006 in the deal that sent Coco Crisp to Boston and spent five seasons with Cleveland. His best season was 2009 (.232, six home runs, 25 RBI in 47 games). After a six-game stint with Arizona in 2014, he played in South Korea the past two years.  

Metropolitan traffic authorities in the Dominican told the Associated Press that Marte died when a car he was driving his a house along the highway between San Francisco de Macoris and Pimentel, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital.
 

Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

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Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car crash in in the Dominican Republic on Sunday morning, according to multiple reports. Ventura was 25 years old.

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo told the Associated Press that Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of Santo Domingo. He says it's not clear if Ventura was driving.

Ventura was killed the same day former major leaguer Andy Marte died in a separate car crash in the Dominican. Coincidentally, Ventura was the starting pitcher in Marte's final MLB game, for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 6, 2014. 

Ventura was 13-8 with a 4.08 ERA for the Royals' 2015 World Series champions and 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA in 32 starts in 2016. The right-hander made his major league debut in 2013 and in 2014 went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA for Kansas City's A.L. pennant winners. 

Ironically, Ventura paid tribute to his good friend and fellow Dominican, Oscar Tavares, who was also killed in a car crash in the D.R. in October 2014, by wearing Tavares' initials and R.I.P. on his cap before Ventura's start in Game 6 of the World Series in 2014. 

Ventura is the second current major league player to die in the past five months. Former Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident in Miami on Sept. 25.