12 May 2016

A Closer Look At Joey Rickard's Defense

If there's anything surprising about Joey Rickard so far, it's been that his bat has been decent but his glove has been underwhelming. At the very least, Rickard was supposed to provide a decent outfield glove as a fourth outfielder type. Instead, he's been installed as the team's everyday left fielder and leadoff hitter.

Right now, Rickard has a wRC+ of 99. The league average left fielder also has a wRC+ of 99. However, the average leadoff hitter has a wRC+ of 109. I've been critical of Rickard offensively and still don't quite understand why he's being used the way he is, but at the plate, he's been fine for now. Getting league average offensive output from Joey Rickard is perfectly acceptable. And it's not surprising or a knock on him at all that he's in the bottom half of leadoff hitters in terms of production. He has not been a disaster there by any means, but he hasn't been great. So it's a little strange that he has such a stranglehold on the leadoff spot in the lineup.

Still, in terms of wins above replacement, Rickard rates negatively. The driving force there by Fangraphs' and Baseball-Reference's versions of WAR (currently -0.3 in both) is his poor early defensive ratings (and a tiny slice is that he has done some bad things on the basepaths). Rickard has spent a decent amount of time in all three outfield positions, and he's amassed a UZR of -6.5 (UZR/150 of -33.9) and a DRS of -6. Now, it's tough to state definitively what exactly a full season's worth of defensive metrics actually means, let alone about 250 innings. So who's is to say that Rickard can't improve, or isn't at least close to average?

But I don't think it's unfair to say that while he's made a few nice plays in the field, Rickard has not come as advertised with the glove. In his time in the minors, Rickard logged more than 1,000 innings each in center field and right field. In left field, he logged more than 500. So he's had a lot of experience. Still, playing competent defense at the major league level is an entirely different animal.

All right, so let's get to some examples. Here's one of Rickard's first tough chances on the season. Take a look:
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You'll notice a few things. First, it was a nice effort, so that's something. The ball was just out of his grasp, and it would have looked pretty nice were he to have made the play. You'll also notice that Rickard didn't take the best route to the ball, and that also it maybe wasn't the best decision to dive and take a chance. Yes, of course it's easy to say that after the fact. But that's what happens with split-second decisions. Flashy plays always look impressive, but sometimes just keeping the ball in front and avoiding mistakes is the job of an outfielder. We'll revisit Rickard's route-taking and decision making.

A day later, Rickard had a semi-tough chance on a ball in front of him:
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I think even Rickard would tell you that he should have caught that ball. But wait, the play isn't over.
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Rickard stayed with the play, gathered the ball, and rifled it home to nab the runner. Nice throw.

Here was a pivotal play in a tie game:
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Rickard struggled with the transfer and ended up double-pumping before unleashing a throw too late to catch the runner at home. Maybe it's a bit unfair to be too harsh on this play; the weather was wet, and that didn't make things easy. But Adam Eaton was just rounding third when Rickard scooped up the ball, and it wasn't like the throw was coming from deep in the outfield.

Here was a decent play by Rickard on a line drive to right-center:
View post on imgur.com

One thing to pay attention to on hits to the outfield is how quickly a fielder reacts to a ball, particularly a line drive. When the camera shifts to the outfield after a hit, you can tell if a fielder is slow to react and/or gets a bad read. If the fielder is already off and moving -- in the right direction -- then that's a great sign. In the play above, Rickard is already moving. The ball carries a bit more than Rickard anticipates, so he has to jump at the last second to snag the ball. Maybe he got a little lucky, but that ball was also roped.

In a late-game play against the Yankees, Rickard misplayed a carom off the wall in right field:
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There's not much to say here, as it seems like he just missed the ball. But these little things add up.

Among the GIFs in this post, here is what I think is Rickard's second-best play:
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He reacts to the ball off the bat relatively quickly, though he doesn't take a direct route to the ball. Again, line drives are tricky. But even though he hasn't had a bunch of difficult chances yet, less than ideal routes to the ball will make it hard for Rickard to truly utilize his speed and run down tough chances.

But here's my favorite play from Rickard so far:
View post on imgur.com

Plays like that make me think there's still time for Rickard to show he can be a competent outfielder. Considering how he was described when the Orioles selected him in the Rule 5 draft, I expected Rickard to be a little more polished in terms of reads and routes. But he is a rookie, and he at least won't be asked to play center field unless Adam Jones gets hurt again. Besides, Rickard's arm is OK, but it plays much better in left field.


I think the Orioles are still trying to figure out what they have in Rickard. If I had to guess, I would say he'll regress a bit with the bat and improve with the glove. I'm more than happy to be wrong that he shouldn't be playing every day, especially as the team's leadoff hitter. Still, at 20-12, the O's are in no position to panic or really change anything. That's probably not what Hyun Soo Kim or Nolan Reimold want to hear.

Regarding Rickard's outfield defense, it's evident that speed is not everything. Clearly being fleet of foot helps an outfielder, but reading the ball off the bat and taking an efficient route to a fly ball or line drive is more important. It's also key to pick and choose the right spots to lay out for a ball. These are things a rookie may learn, but there's no guarantee of that, either.


Roger said...

I agree. I noticed he's looked awkward in the OF and was surprised because he came pegged as a good defender. I hope someone's working with him. He could be a better leadoff hitter if he improved his command of the strike zone. He looked good in the first few games (took some walks) but he's started swinging at more bad pitches. It hink it's kinda what you get with Rule 5 guys - some talent but at least one AAA year away from the majors.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if part of the problem is playing LF instead of RF? Especially given he throws left-handed? Seems like most of his career has been spent in CF/RF---so LF is either an adjustment or he's not good at that? possible or not?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

That could be part of it, but I haven't seen him playing noticeably better in right field. I haven't watched every inning, so I'm not sure. Still, there can be difficulty switching from left to right, and vice versa. This FanGraphs post has some interesting comments from players on that topic: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/players-view-the-difference-between-left-and-right-field/

Maybe he's just not as good as many anticipated, but there is still time to improve. Reading the ball off the bat is not such a simple thing, and many players just aren't very good at it.

Pip said...

Great article, Matt!
I always listen on the radio and I only see whatever plays make the highlights, so you shared a few new things.
How can UZR be so bad so fast?
Also, his defense does seem to be improving as the season progresses.
Do you see improvement?
Finally, doesn't he remain-with Reimold, who should be playing more-the best corner OF we have?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I don't think I've seen enough to say there is clear improvement, but I wouldn't dismiss the notion either. He's had to play in all three spots, so perhaps it's been tough to get comfortable.

I think that Rickard-Jones-Reimold is probably the best corner outfield lineup defensively. It certainly isn't one that includes Trumbo. I don't know if anyone has seen enough from Kim to suggest he's awful. Again, maybe it comes down to what you prefer in an outfielder. Would you rather take someone who can make spectacular plays but will also make a couple of bad decisions that could lead to game-changing plays? Or would you settle for someone who won't do anything crazy and be more balanced? Maybe Kim is the latter type, or maybe he's worse than that.

Regardless, unless Rickard falls off the map offensively, it seems clear he's going to keep playing often.

Anonymous said...

Question about Fangraphs stats:
Do they reset from day to day, or from week to week?
Would yesterday's game already be reflected in the stats today?
Yesterday he had at least one excellent catch in addition to the one you shared, but he also had some regular catches that didn't seem to require extreme effort.
Would those move the needle at all? There are so many variables in a defensive play, especially in the outfield where so much ground meats to be covered, it is difficult to grasp how someone could effectively calculate Good or bad of a play

Jon Shepherd said...

One of us could ask, but it varies. It used to update daily as well as split things into home/road splits. That changed to simple monthly updates without splits. Now? I think there are weekly changes by player, but baseline changes by month.

But, no, I do not know for sure. They wait month of play before issuing UZR because they are trying to find the baseline.

Matthew said...

This is not fair to Rickard... for some reason people want to keep putting him down. But... last time you all said bench him, he went and hit a 3run HR to win a game. Keep it up! Seems to have a reverse curse thing going on!!

Banana routes: You have singled out basically 2 attempts. You can do this for every OF... there are plenty of times that the track is not perfect. That is why speed is such a big deal... it allows you to move before you know exactly where the ball is going. Move to the general location, then speed tweaks you to the right spot. Check Adam Jones constantly. He rarely runs in a straight line. Hard hit balls rarely move in a straight line either... fade, come back, rise etc. You begin moving in a general direction, then speed covers the exact spot.

Dives - you are exactly right. Keep the ball in front of you, live to play another day.

Throw from RF - Hmmm.... that is tough also. Wet ball... now whether it is a double clutch or merely gathering himself for a throw... can't tell from the gif.

As to his arm - no doubt you are correct. Cespedes and Puig he is not.

This is all sort of hypocrisy though. We brag on Cespedes' throw... and then on Puig... in both cases... the throw should never have happened. CATCH THE BALL. :-)

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I'm not sure how it's unfair when you bring up many of the same points I did. I don't think anyone here ever said bench him; I believe most are on board with not being an everyday player, but that doesn't mean don't play him.

Yes, speed is a big deal. But not all fast players are good outfielders. That's addressed above.

Thanks for reading.

Matthew said...

Thanks for the response!!

Totally agree... not all fast players are good OF's. Diving plays - Ah, live and learn. We have not seen this continue, so it seems that is a problem corrected. (Hopefully anyway.)

My main argument is merely against the banana route comparison. (I would love to hear other major league OF's talk about this...) That is not fair to any OF. Straight lines merely don't exist. There are ways to hide it... slow foot it, jog at first, then sprint. But if you are going hard off the swing, there will absolutely be a curl in the route as you adjust to get to the ball. That in itself does not determine success.

Arm - Agreed. But so what. We are just saying that he is not a top flight arm. He is competent. (He is not Ellsbury)

As to Camden Depot: Just this quote from May 5th. Not fair, and totally unwarranted. "The Orioles have a huge problem. Actually, they’ve got a number of them. I mean, it isn’t good that none of Rickard, Kim or Trumbo can play passable defense in the outfield and therefore the Orioles have two competent defensive outfielders."

I would argue that Rickard plays a "passable OF." :-)

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Fair points. Agree on everything not being a straight line. Those are just a couple of examples I saw, and I've been surprised that he hasn't gotten better jumps on balls in the gap at times. His speed makes up for some of it, but not everything.

If he's playing left field, then yes, the arm matters less. As we saw on at least one throw, it matters more if he's playing right field. It might not matter a lot, but that doesn't mean it's worth overlooking entirely.

I assume that comment was from Jon, and he can defend that himself, if needed.

GRob78 said...

Rickard is still a better option than Kim in LF and probably a good alternate in RF when Trumbo is DHing or getting the day off. He's settled down from his hot start, but that is expected. Honestly, given the fiasco the Dexter Fowler situation created nobody thought there was a solid corner outfielder on the roster and Joey has performed well. He's not Adam Jones in center but few are. Moving forward, he's got more upside because of age and potential than most guys where he is. The Orioles farm system isn't producing stout players; having a guy come off a Rule 5 pick and do this well is worth something. Joey is young and has potential to develop. Next season, maybe given some AAA seasoning, we'll be seeing him, Kim, and Christian Walker platooning the corner spots. I'm entirely okay with that set up.

I guess I just don't get the constant negative of this blog. We're 7 weeks into 26 week season and the team is doing great compared to where almost everyone (outside of Baltimore) said they'd be doing. We've got a good long season ahead still, but I'm more hopeful for the O's chances than I was at the outset (or in the middle of) Spring Training. Joey Rickard is one of those reasons.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

We write a mix of "positive" and "negative" pieces. Really, we just explore different topics, and many of them don't have to do with the Orioles' win-loss record. Several of us are O's fans, and we'd much rather the team win than lose, but we do our best for that not to shape our analysis.

I don't view the Rickard piece as negative, necessarily. He's been better than expected on offense, and that's what I started the post with. It was more of trying to figure something out and why he maybe hasn't been as good in a department that many figured he'd excel in.

I appreciate the comment. Fortunately, there are many places to read mostly favorable things about the team (and about Joey Rickard).