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White Sox Thu Sep 18 2014

Fans Effectively Evaluate White Sox Defense

Sox_200.pngWhen Gordon Beckham was on the White Sox, the case was made that Beckham's defensive impact was overrated.

Everyone -- roughly meaning, Chicago baseball writers, Sox fans and people who had any sort of take on Beckham -- said that while he wasn't a hitter, he was a good fielder; one of the better second basemen in the league. The argument was made in this space that the advanced defensive metrics didn't back up that subjective evidence. Stats like his UZR and dWAR were average at the very best. Everyone, according to the numbers, was wrong.

But are they?

Fielding data is the weak link of the new age statistical baseball era. It's getting lapped by pitching and batting metrics. For instance, everything about pitching is trackable -- the speed and location of pitches, the movement on the balls, the results of the opponent's batting -- as is hitting. With defense, there's next to nothing in terms of tangible figures other than errors and assists. There aren't any mainstream stats that take into account range, routes to the ball, tough plays and baserunners respecting arm strength. The advanced stats we do have are approximations and estimates, and can get totally convoluted.

But we do have empirical evidence. The other day, Deadspin brought to light the Fan Scouting Report, a project by stat head and Cubs consultant Tom Tango. The project, which measures individual player's defensive skills, is so un-Sabermetric it becomes Sabermetric: though it is based on subjective eye-tests, with enough observant fans submitting scouting reports, there's enough data to accurately put a number on a player's fielding impact.

For the Fan Scouting Report, fans who have watched at least 10 games of a certain team can judge players in seven categories: Reaction/Instincts, Acceleration/First Few Steps Velocity/Sprint Speed, Hands/Catching, Release/Footwork, Throwing Strength and Throwing Accuracy. Then, all the evaluations are averaged out, and players are given a score in each category between zero and 100 (plus an overall score). Simple enough.

To give a taste as to what the score might look like, the Braves' Andrelton Simmons had an overall score of 89. He is elite in just about every category, especially Release/Footwork, where he got a 96. Mike Trout, with an average of 75, isn't quite the defensive dynamo he's portrayed to be, but Miguel Cabrera (average of 51) isn't quite the defensive mess he's made out to be. Derek Jeter (43) has had better days, and it's a good thing Chris Carter (21) can hit.

The best fielder for the White Sox this year has been Alexei Ramirez, an unsurprising result. He scores relatively high in everything, especially Throwing Strength, and his overall average score is 71. The worst, also unsurprisingly, is Adam Dunn, who had the lowest score I saw in the league with 12. He had a 2 for Hands/Catching, which is hilarious. Don't let him hold your baby. Hell, don't even toss him a PBR.

Adam Eaton is a few steps above average (62). While he loses points for his Throwing Strength, he scores high for Sprint Speed. Avisail Garcia (51) is adequate, and Jose Abreu, Conor Gillaspie and Tyler Flowers are below average across the board. The less said about Dayan Viciedo, the better. The team's results pretty much match the public's conception of what their defensive values are. Of course, that's exactly the point.

The second-best White Sox fielder? That's right, the departed Gordon Beckham. He scored a 66 based on 28 votes, and other than his Sprint Speed, Beckham checks out as a good fielder. Naturally, Beckham's rating could be biased. It's possible all the Sox watchers who submitted an evaluation were swayed by the media and other fans who lauded Beckham's D.

But most likely, statistically-converted empirical evidence wins this round. Everyone wasn't wrong.

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