11 July 2017

Playing Deep Helps and Hurts Jones

There was a lot of talk about Adam Jones' defense this past off season.  Adam Jones talked about it.  Dan Duquette talked about it.  Or, maybe like me, you were in a DC bar next to a guy who works in the Orioles front office who decided to be very vocal about his feelings about Adam Jones' defense.  Needless to say, there was a lot of talk and that talk basically boiled down to this:
1. Adam Jones plays so shallow that he allows what should be catchable balls go for doubles.
2. Those doubles are more costly than all the singles and extra bases Jones prevents by playing shallow.
3. The gist being that a baserunner on second from a double needs one hit to score while a baserunner on first needs two hits to score.

Anyway, the publicly available models on defense are a bit split on how this has gone over the first third of the season.  Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) pegs Jones as a plus one run player so far this year, which would extrapolate to about a plus two run player at season's end.  That would differ from expectation by only three runs.  UZR has him at negative five runs, which would be a negative ten run player at season's end.  It would equal his worst season according to that metric.  That other season was last year.

2014-16 1279 262 (.922) -1 2.3
2017(x) 664.2 145 (.922) -1 2.3
2017(a) 664.2 143 (.911) 1 -5

To varying extents, the underlying data for each metric points toward the same story.  The play value informs you that he is getting to about the same number of balls that he has gotten to in the past.  UZR underlying metrics however show a projected improvement of six runs in his range.  What you can surmise is that by moving back, Jones may be getting to just as many balls as he has in the recent past, but those balls were a higher value hit.  In other words, Jones is losing short singles to hitters, but extinguishing more damaging doubles to hitters.

However, that jump of over a half win in improvement through range in UZR is offset by an equal decrease in the value of Jones' arm.  The narrative follows that by playing deeper, Jones is killing doubles, but on those pesky short singles the baserunners are moving more freely.  Jones still has a good arm, but it is more difficult to throw guys out when you have to run an extra ten to fifteen feet get grab that groundball or Texas League fly.

Event Single Double Flyout

1st 2nd 1st 2nd
2014-16 67% 27% 34% 60%
2017(a) 66% 20% 36% 45%

The numbers play out the story that Jones' arm is not strong enough to deal with the added depth to his position.  It largely is not a role in keeping players to second on a single, but when the runner is on second, it is about 35% more difficult for Jones to prevent the runner from successfully running home.  Though more difficult to read into due to positioning differences, but Jones has also had a more difficult time preventing men on second advancing on flyouts.  Those two together would constitute a increase of three runs given up.  Obviously, that is not the whole story determined by DRS, but it sure is a major aspect of it.

With only a half of season of data to look at, this is not a comprehensive analysis.  However, it is not nothing.  One would hope that if you kick and scream and push a player out of his preferred way of playing the game that we would see pretty sizable differences in performance.  On the team scale, this outfield is considerably better defensive than last year.  The metrics would suggest an improvement of three to five runs over a whole season on defensive performance alone in the outfield.  It may well be that playing Jones deeper along with marginal improvements in corner outfield defense (pretty much just Seth Smith) has result in better play for the whole, which is lost on the individual play of Jones.

So, maybe it does work.  Right field defense is projected to be two wins better.  Left field defense is projected to be a win better.  Maybe a deeper Jones helps them fill the gaps.  Or maybe not.

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