With the recent addition of Gold Glove CF Michael Bourn, the Tribe has put themselves into a position of having one of the best OF defenses in all of baseball. Using UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) as a tool for evaluation, let’s take a look at the Tribe’s outfield defense.
First of all, let me take a couple seconds and explain how UZR works. UZR is a calculation provided by Fangraphs that is used to measure fielding. It compares the event that actually happened (such as hit, out, or error) to data on similarly hit balls in the past. This way it is easier to look at how a fielder performs in comparison to the average fielder. UZR basically divides the baseball field into different zones and assigns individual fielders responsibility for those zones.
Last year, the Indians obviously lacked a consistent LF for much of the season which obviously did not translate to good defense from the position. Shelley Duncan played left field for 404.2 innings last year, which was the most out of anyone else in comparison. Duncan’s UZR of -2.6 was definitely below average, but not nearly as bad as a lot of people would have expected. Now let’s shift to CF and RF. On paper, the combination of Brantley and Choo sounded very solid defensively. Brantley definitely made a lot of good plays in CF last year and Choo’s cannon of an arm in RF is well documented. However, players don’t really get bonus points for making SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays with UZR. In simple terms, UZR measures how much ground the fielder covers along with taking into consideration the number of errors they make and the number of runs above average an outfielder saves with his arm. Taking all of that into consideration, Brantley had a slightly below average UZR of -1.9, and Choo had a horrible UZR of -17.0, which was the 2nd-worst UZR among all qualified outfielders. Unfortunately, our combined outfield UZR for last season was one of the worst in baseball.
Now let’s return to 2013. Michael Brantley will be moving to left field, and new acquisitions Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs will be taking over CF and RF respectively. A lot has been made about the signing of Michael Bourn due to the speed and defense he brings to the table. Just how good is Michael Bourn defensively? Michael Bourn’s UZR in 2012 was 22.4, which was by far the best UZR for all CF’s. The next highest UZR among qualified CF was Denard Span with a UZR of 8.5. Pretty much, Bourn is in his own class in CF. Drew Stubbs had a UZR of 6.8 in CF with the Reds last season, which ranked behind Bourn and Span for the 3rd best UZR among eligible CF. The move to RF should not be a difficult one for Stubbs. He will have less ground to cover, and he has a strong enough arm to be successful at the position.
Now let’s turn our attention back to Brantley. As stated before, Brantley had a UZR of -1.9 in CF last season, which is just below average. However, Brantley will be moving back to LF in 2013, which is a position he has played in the past. In 2011, Brantley played 558.1 innings in LF. What was his UZR during this time? Well Brantley put up a UZR of 3.4 during this time, which is above average.
This gives the Tribe 3 outfielders with potential above average UZRs heading into 2013. In addition, Bourn is the best defensive CF in the game according to the statistics, and Stubbs could very well see his already impressive UZR improve with a shift to right field. Just to put all of this into perspective, guess how many other teams can reasonably project their outfielders to all have a positive UZR going into 2013? None. Based on statistics from 2012, the Tribe has the best OF on paper in the Majors by a landslide. Baseball Tonight better get ready to roll the Web Gems, because it looks like our outfield is in a league of its own when it comes to defense.