Checking in on Seattle's New Outfield
With about half a week's worth of games played I wanted to check in on a major story from the offseason: the increasing importance teams put on defense when acquiring players. We saw some all-hit no-glove guys get much smaller contracts than expected and we saw the Seattle Mariners trade for Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez, two defensive standouts not know for their offense, and promptly make them two thirds of their starting outfield. The outfield hasn't reached its full defensive glory yet because Ichiro is the DL for a couple more days. But the first couple days the Ms still started a pretty good outfield with Gutierrez and Chavez every game and the third spot given to one of Ken Griffey Jr., Wladimir Balentien and Ronny Cedeno.
Their play has already received rave reveiws from Ms fans, so I wanted to see just how good it has been. Small sample size be damned, I thought I would check it out.
Again I am using Peter Jensen's Gameday defense metric as my guide (and his invaluable translation factors as my tool). In this case I took all balls in play at the Metrodome (from 2005 to 2008) and looked at the out percentage (1-BABIP) by location, those are the colors in the image. Over that I plotted all the non-homerun fly balls and line drives that Seattle's outfield saw in their first series, the filled circles are hits and the open outs. Now you can compare how Seattle's outfield did versus the average outfield at the Metrodome. A filled circle in the middle of blue is a hit in a location that most outfields turn into an out, and an open circle in yellow/red is an out which most outfields would let drop in for a hit.
The Mariner's outfield looks pretty good. A couple hits in the blue/green region (one of those in right is Griffey's fault) but a ton of outs in the yellow/green region. As a quick check I added up the expected number of outs and compared that to the number the Mariners actually made. There have been 40 balls in play to Seattle's outfield so far and the average outfield makes 21.75 outs. The Mariners made 25 outs. They are 3.25 outs above average just four games into the season (how many over Raul?).
Huge caveats apply here. 1) Jensen's translation factors that let you go from Gameday's pixel to feet sometimes change year to year and I am using the 2008 numbers for the 2009 hits. So the location of the hits could be off by a couple of feet. 2) Gameday records where the ball is fielded not where it lands, which would be more important. 3) This should be in no way viewed as a substitute for or peer of the real fielding metrics. Once they come out you can ignore these results.