BIS: Ranking the worst outfielders

Rewind to the first week of the season, when the San Diego Padres visited their NL West rivals the Colorado Rockies. With nobody out and Padres shortstop David Eckstein on first in the top of the 14th inning, Adrian Gonzalez hit a fly ball to deep right field.

Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe, who is not known for his defense, couldn't get to the ball in time and failed to cut it off before it trickled to the wall. Knowing that Eckstein represented the potential winning run, Hawpe came up gunning for home but overthrew the first cutoff man (Melvin Mora). The ball bounced twice before reaching Todd Helton, but it was too late to nab Eckstein, whose run made the difference in the game.

Doug Glanville writes Thursday about outfield defensive fundamentals, drawing on his own experiences from high school through his nine-year big league career. The University of Pennsylvania alumnus emphasized hitting the cutoff man and getting the ball in quickly to prevent runners from advancing extra bases. These fundamental defensive plays go unnoticed by most fans but are often just as important as the offensive highlights, Glanville says.

Unnoticed no longer. Baseball Info Solutions tracks these sorts of unheralded defensive plays as part of our defensive misplays (DM) and good fielding plays (GFP) records. We track 54 types of defensive misplays, and 28 different good fielding plays. For example, BIS marks missing the cutoff man as “DM 47” or taking a bad route to a fly ball as “DM 26,” both examples that Glanville cites.

On the flip side, there are things a fielder does that we don’t always expect, and we record those, too. For example, when an outfielder cuts a ball off in the gap and thus prevents runners from advancing extra bases, he gets a “GFP 22.” Using this data, we can accurately determine the best fielders in baseball.

Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer is the 2010 leader in GFPs that prevent extra bases. He has cut the ball off or gotten it back in quickly to hold the runners at their bases seven times this season. Angels right fielder Bobby Abreu is the anti-Cuddyer, with a league-leading five defensive misplays on extra-base attempts.

As you might expect, youngsters are particularly prone to mental errors. Sophomore Colby Rasmus leads all outfielders with seven defensive misplays on throws. In fact, every outfielder with at least six throwing DMs is under age 30. We’ll expect each of these players to make fewer mistakes with more experience and coaching, as Glanville did as his career progressed.

Defensive misplays, league leaders

Baseball Info Solutions has found a way to measure defensive mistakes.

We don’t have to rely solely on GFPs and DMs to tell us who’s doing all the little things right. Adam Jones, whom Glanville mentions as an example of a fielder who takes good angles to cut balls off in the gap, has thrown out three runners in extra-base situations already this season. Additionally, runners have taken the extra base just 41 percent of the time off Jones (21-for-51), tying him with B.J. Upton as the lowest rate among regular center fielders this season.

Marlins left fielder Chris Coghlan has thrown out six extra-base seekers, tops in the league so far. BIS estimates that he’s saved five runs defensively with his throwing arm so far this season, also the best in baseball. Although he’s having a hard time reproducing his rookie of the year season offensively, Coghlan is finding a way, albeit with less fanfare, to help his team on the other side of the ball.

Ben Jedlovec is a research analyst for Baseball Info Solutions.