The link is to FanGraphs.com, a great site which is largely responsible for why we are all relying on Ultimate Zone Rating (or UZR) so heavily as a defensive metric. FanGraphs.com updates UZR’s regularly, so the stat has become readily available, which is a huge reason that it is widely used. The other reason is that it seems to be a good stat for judging defensive prowess; far from perfect, but good.
The page I linked to is one of several valuable ones at FanGraphs.com. It shows qualified right-fielders, and I'd like you to sort by the last column, UZR/150 (which is the projected UZR of players over 150 games). UZR’s are supposed to measure the number of runs a player is better or worse than average at that position. So in this case, you can see that Nelson Cruz is at the top of the list, +13.4 runs better than average, while Brad Hawpe is at the bottom of the list, -25.4 runs worse than average.
But what struck me about this list is how two-thirds of the players are below average. Of the 19 qualified players (which I think means they played at least 900 innings in right field), only 6 of them are above average, and those six “saved” just 59.8 runs. But 13 are below average, and they cost their teams 140.3 runs.
Overall, the number of runs saved should be almost exactly the same. That’s how you determine what average is.
So what’s the explanation?
- Possibly the right fielders who played in 2009 were worse than in previous years, and it’s the previous years benchmarks that are set. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard how far back UZR goes in determining what “average” plays are.
- Perhaps right-fielders are substituted in late games by better defensive options frequently. Those subs drive up the average, making the hitting right-fielders looks worse defensively.
- There are definitely a handful of above average fielding outfielders that didn’t play quite so much. In fact, it looks like there are a number of outfielder with between 590 and 900 innings who are above average, but didn’t make this list. I wonder how many of them are superior defensive outfielders who can’t hit enough for a regular spot and spend time there for some other reason.
Ultimately, I don't know how important this is. But it is interesting that of the guys who are given the most playing time in right field, so many of them are below average. If anyone cares to study this more, or has some takes on it, I'd love to see it in the comments.