Originally written on Chop-N-Change  |  Last updated 11/17/14
I got my copy of the 2012 edition of The Fielding Bible last week, and after digesting a lot of the information in it, I'm finally getting some thoughts down about it. In case you've never heard of it, The Fielding Bible is essentially a massive dump of defensive data, looking at pretty much every little defensive situation you can think of. This is some pretty overwhelming stuff if you're not ready, which is why I waited so long to get a post up. I'll take a look at each of the team's eight starters on defense, and a couple of pitchers.

Freddie Freeman had a horrible UZR, and fans immediately jumped to conclusions about how UZR was a flawed stat because they thought Freeman was great. Well, the FB agrees...kind of. Freeman had -2 runs saved in 2011, which is in the bottom half of the league (but nowhere near the worst). Freeman made 70 "good plays" and 30 "misplays" on the season, compared to the league average of 62 and 33. So he was above average in that regard. The average good play/misplay percentage is 50%, and Freeman was above average there at 55.5%. So where was Freeman weak? On bunt attemps, 12 of the 14 sacrifice attempts hit towards Freeman resulted in either a sacrifice or a hit, an 85.7% success rate for the offense. League average is 81.6%. He also allowed one hit on the one bunt hit attempt towards him. A "success" for the defense is when the lead runner gets picked off. So on bunts towards him, Freeman picked off the lead runner just twice. There are certainly worse players in that regard, but Freeman was below average.

Zone rating isn't used too much anymore with the advent of UZR, but it still tells you a little bit about Freeman's defense. He had 188 balls hit in his zone, and he made the play on 138 of them. That 73.4% success rate is second worst among all first baseman, ahead of just Carlos Pena. Oddly, Freeman did make 32 plays out of hte zone, the fourth highest mark in the league. What this essentially says is that Freeman had issues with more routine plays, but was able to make more plays that he wasn't expected to make.

One more category that there isn't an expanded amount of data on, but just one brief tidbit: double plays. The Fielding Bible gives detailed double play statistics for middle infielders, but minimal amouts for corner infielders. Freeman had eight opportunities to start a double play in 2011, and completed just one. Contrast that to Ryan Howard, one of the worst fielders in the league, who had 12 attempts and completed seven of them.

And that's the official explanation on why Freddie Freeman is roundly considered a bad defender. Got it?

We'll touch in the rest of the players, starting with Dan Uggla. He's just so bad defensively. 45 good plays and 53 misplays (compared to 55 and 43 for the average second baseman) results in a pathetic percentage of 39.9%, You can't even use the excuse of "he turns the double play so well", because in addition to getting Alex Gonzalez nearly killed a few times, he only converted 82 of the 140 DP attempts that he had to start. That 58.6% of turned DPs is among the worst in the league. On pivots on DP attempts, Uggla covered 60 of 96, for percentage of 62.5%...still below average. His .817 zone rating was middle of the pack, and his 39 out of zone plays was actually in the upper half of the league. But his overall clumsiness at second killed any of the goodwill that he had built up with his out of zone plays. He was also a -10 on plays to his left. That's pretty bad.

Alex Gonzalez was pretty awesome at short, but we knew that already. 62 good plays and only 37 misplays led to a percentage of 59%, one of the top marks in the league. Gonzalez was above average at starting the DP, converting 65.5% of his opportunities, but not so great at converting the pivot, with only 55.9% converted (SS average is 60%. Plusses everywhere on his plus/minus, though nothing remotely approached the +23 on balls to his left he posted in 2010.

Chipper...oh, Chipper. 21 good plays and 24 misplays results in a 48.3% percentage. On bunts, which Chipper does "oh so well" according to Chip Caray, he nabbed the lead runner just once on six sacrifice attempts, and killed just one of three bunters trying for a hit. Luckily for Chipper, he's not expected to get the lead runner a majority of the time: the league average on sacrifice attempts it 88.6%. On the bright side, none of the sacrifice attempts led to a hit, which means Chipper is doing part of his job right. You know what you're getting out of Chipper, and while he's bad, he's not horrendously bad like Uggla.

How about Brian McCann behind the plate? Catcher defense is generally a total shot in the dark, but you get the sense that McCann isn't too great behind the dish. He had just eight good plays while making 53 misplays, leading to a really bad 38.3% percentage. We can look at bunt defense for catchers too, and McCann was actually pretty good there, with opposing teams converting just 11 of 17 sacrifice attempts. That gives the offenses a 64.7% success rate against McCann, compared to a league average of 72.1%. McCann did allow three bunt hits though, the highest total in the league. McCann also nabbed just 17% of basestealers....that's really not good, and a definitive step back from 2010, when he nabbed 27%. 

A slight comparison for McCann and David Ross: Ross didn't allow any bunt hits, but he never nabbed the lead runner on a sacrifice attempt, either. Ross also pegged out 31% of attempted basestealers, a crazy good rate.

Now, the outfield. Compared to some of the lead glove left fielders in the league, Martin Prado looked like a star. He made 15 good plays and 13 misplays, resulted in a 56.2% percentage. Gerardo Parra, one of the best defenders in the league, had a 56.1% percentage. So, there's that. Prado's arm is about average. Runners took the extra base against Prado 26 times in 74 opportunities, a 35.1% rate. League average in left is 36%. He also had four kills (player goes for the extra base, gets thrown out). Prado's plus/minus numbers were good. He had an issue with shallow balls, logging a -3 there, but was +5 on deep balls.

I'm not going to examine Michael Bourn, because the book doesn't separate his time in Atlanta and Houston, and Houston's center field is a totally different animal than Atlanta's.

Now, Jason Heyward. This guy is one of the best fielders in the league, and no one is giving him any love at all. His good plays and misplays were low, 12 good plays and 20 misplays for a 41.6% percentage. His arm suffered a little bit, with hitters taking extra bases on 47 of 86 attempts for a 54.7% success rate, compared to a 49.4% success rate for all right fielders. He also only had two kills. But then you look at his plus/minus numbers, and things get insane. On deep balls, Heyward was a +29. Think about that: +29. That's an otherwordly number. He was even a +1 on shallow balls, showing that he's not giving anything up by playing where he is. Legitimate stuff right there.

The starting pitchers. Pretty much the only stat we can look at are stolen base percentages due to the lack of bunt and double play data (because the numbers are so low). When Tommy Hanson was on the hill, just 9% of potential baserunners got thrown out. Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, and Jair Jurrjens were at least adequate, with 24%, 24%, and 38% of potential base stealers getting gunned out. Funny stat: basestealers went 30/33 off of Tommy Hanson. Basestealers went 2/4 against Mike Minor. So Minor had one fewer base stealer thrown out in nearly 30 less attempts. Yup. Also, basestealers went 26/30 off of Derek Lowe. Just another reason to hate him.

The bullpen. Craig Kimbrel allowed just one stolen base on four attempts. They went 2/4 off of Jonny Venters. They did go 5/7 off of Eric O'Flaherty, showing some sort of weakness for the holy trinity.

So there are just some interesting defensive facts about the 2011 Braves. There's a lot to be worried about (infield defense, stolen bases) and some stuff to be excited about (outfield defense), so 2012 will definitely be an interesting year defensively for the Braves.
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