Defensive metrics part 2:

If you missed part one of this post, go back and check it out.  Or if you want to get right to part 2, here’s the quick synopsis of part 1:

Defensive metrics are far from perfect but when it comes to evaluating player performance, they’re way better than using fielding percentage and errors, and they’re way better than your eyes – even if you have good eyes.  And although disappointing to find out, it is more likely than not that Gio Urshela is not a good defensive 3rd baseman.

But I had a theory that Mookie Betts is very overrated defensively and Aaron Judge is very underrated defensively.  For part 2, let’s see what I found out:

For starters, “underrated” and “overrated” are very subjective terms.  I’m basing this solely on my perception which is unlikely to be 100% accurate.  But (again, my perception) it seems that Mookie Betts is described by baseball media as the right-field equivalent of Willie Mays and I don’t get it.  Between games against the Yankees, nationally televised games and the post-season, I’ve probably seen Betts play about 75 games over the past three seasons.  That’s not a lot, but it’s no insignificant either.  And just about every time I see him play, he either makes a play running back and jumping or lunging to make a catch that would have been easy if he didn’t misjudge it, or he comes in, moves to the right backs up, then moves to the left before making the catch.  A catch he could’ve made more easily by just standing still (like he did in the 4th inning of yesterday’s game against the Yankees).

I think he misjudges balls often by coming in first, then recovering to make the catch if he has to go back.  That doesn’t make him a bad outfielder – but he’s not great either.

On the other hand, the media, to me, portrays Judge as a solid outfielder with a great arm.  I think that’s an incorrect assessment – he’s a far above average outfielder.

Let’s start with Betts:  Statcast bears my eye test out to a certain degree.  His “jump” – making your first move in the right direction quickly – is a little above average (34th out of 105 qualifiers).  Good, but far from great.  And his Outs Above Average (OAA) is very good – not great, but very good.  But my theory is correct in that he’s a plus six on balls where he has to come in and a minus-two on balls where he needs to go back.  He clearly makes his first move coming in, which forces him to make some plays that are behind him more difficult than they need to be.

What about the Judge?

Judge’s jump is below average and he doesn’t have enough fielding opportunities to qualify for the outs above average rankings.  Although playing in a right field as small as Yankee Stadium helps, I can count on one hand the number of balls I thought he should have caught that he did not over the last three seasons.  And he has made many plays that I was surprised he got to.

OK, never mind what they’re doing, what about the actual results?

Betts’ UZR 150 (see part 1 for explanation) is 11.2 runs saved for his team which puts him 7th out of 25 right fielders with a minimum 400 innings played.  Judge comes in at 19 runs saved for his team which puts him 3rd among MLB right fielders, trailing only Max Kepler and Cody Bellinger.

And as I said in part 1, Baseball-Reference calculates their dWAR a little differently but they also have Judge ahead of Betts.  Judge comes in 2nd (to Bellinger again) with 0.9 dWAR while Betts comes in right after him with 0.8 dWAR.  But remember, WAR is a cumulative stat and Judge has only played half as many games as Betts has this season, so the gap isn’t really that close – Judge has been a much better outfielder in 2019 than Betts has according to Baseball-Reference.

My sanity has been restored.  I’m going to take this as a win for my eye test and my theory.  Betts although good, tends to break in when he doesn’t need to, which prevents him from being great.  Judge has better than average range, better than average direct line route taking, and a far better than average arm.  Add all those up and we can say Aaron Judge has been a better outfielder than Mookie Betts.

Did I miss something?  Let me know.

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