This Dec. 22 Hardball Times article is cool for its --- > depiction of the way that ML coaches and players are reacting to 2017 data.
Kevin Keirmayer, for example, draws swooooooons at BJOL for his defensive prowess; the numbers love him but "I don't love them back," says Keirmayer. No, wait. That was Pillar with that exact quote. All of the managers and players say the same thing, though: they know what UZR is, they follow it, are well aware that (fangraphs) WAR is driven by UZR. But wayyyy too often it contradicts what they know to be true. As Bill James said, "If your defensive system tells you Johnny Bench is a bad catcher, make another defensive system.
In fairness, my friend, it has been a long time since USSM was shouting down everybody who dissented from a 1-year UZR number. THESE days, I don't know of a single place on the 'net where UZR, itself, is taken as gospel. But! Neither is RBI gospel, and we want to know a player's RBI, right? We're back to using all stats with a sense of proportion.
A few quotes on UZR specifically:
“They just put me in the lineup and I play,” says Nationals left fielder Jayson Werth. “I do know that the UZR stat’s convoluted because it’s dependent on a person to collect the data. Then, you know, WAR’s affected by UZR as well – one version, depends on where you get it, I guess. So, I don’t put a lot of weight in UZR and I don’t think it’s that accurate of a stat.”
“I’ve seen the defensive statistics that say that Hechy (Adeiny Hechavarria) is not a good shortstop, and that’s just stupid,” says Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich. “You can’t say that and have any sort of credibility at the same time. I think a lot of sabermetrics and a lot of the numbers don’t tell the whole story. You’ve got to watch the game, as well. You can’t just look at a sheet of paper, look at what it says, and say, ‘This guy’s good, that guy’s not good,’ just based on looking at paper.”
“I get the info on that stuff, and I see some where they might rate so-and-so better than another guy and it shocks me, because we play these guys and I’ll just go, ‘There’s no way in the world that’s the case,’ in my mind,” Toronto manager John Gibbons says.
Another manager goes on to say, though:
“Here’s where I’m into the numbers – it’s for the guy that’s not so obvious, the guy that hasn’t made his mark yet,” says Cubs manager Joe Maddon. “If you can accumulate enough information about that particular guy, and you can tell me why he’s going to be good in advance of him being good, that’s where I like the number. But I already know who’s good. You know who’s good, he knows who’s good, we all know who’s good.
This makes sense for the SSI denizen also. We are not nearly as interested in Kyle Seager's defensive numbers, as we are Mitch Haniger's next year. What would we "do" about Kyle Seager anyway? It's a key concept.
Fascinating is the fact that the men in uniform are irritated by UZR's problems -- as we would be irritated by RBI's problems, if RBI were gospel -- but that they are quite fond of StatCast defensive numbers.
:: taps chin :: It might be fun to have a "StatCast Corner" during the season, unexpected measurements of M's players that move us in one direction or another.
Pillar sees the system grading players for the right things... “I think Statcast is awesome,” Pillar says. “It’s not a perfect science, but it gives you an idea of a guy’s ability to use instincts and read. Obviously, that’s judged by first-step quickness. Route efficiency is great to tell you how well guys run to the ball. I think those are useful statistics. … I think that’s some of the most important things for being a good outfielder – your ability to get a read, and your ability to run the route. Top speed, obviously, is important, but if I have a quicker first step and run a better route, I’m going to cover more ground than the guy who’s faster. So, those numbers are leading toward better defensive metrics.”
So, a second big takeaway. Keep an eye on first step and route efficiency, even on a single play in isolation; the attempt to reverse-engineer outs made can be inherently more problematic for all the moving parts contained.
Corollary: the teams have superb data on these kinds of numbers internally. We've reached an ebb point in the 100-year sine wave, where it is much harder for fans to argue with the teams' decisions on defense. If Dipoto thinks Haniger can or can't help the club in center, he's likely more right than we are.