As a welcome change for Tiger fans, the title of this post doesn’t indicate my annual team preview. Instead it refers to the Tigers’ centerfield situation. With Sanchez out of the picture, Craig Monroe and Nook Logan are the current Tigers being counted on to roam centerfield. I’ve argued for Craig Monroe (or Bobby Higginson) to get a shot in centerfield for awhile. I knew that Sanchez had horrible range in centerfield, and that Monroe and Higginson were pretty good corner outfielders. I figured that as good corner outfielders they would be at least comparable to a bad centerfielder. Throw in the fact that both, but Monroe especially, would be offensive upgrades and the net effect would be positive.
Fortunately, David Pinto at Baseball Musings has done extensive work on quantifying fielding through his Probabilistic Model of Range. I won’t explain it at this time because I’ve gone through it before and David has a much better explanation. Since David has pursued blogging for a living, he has developed charts to reflect the PMR data. He was kind enough to produce the following charts for me:
As a brief explanation, centerfield is highlighted. As you look to the left of center, you are looking at how fielders performed on balls hit toward left field. Move the other way and you see how they did on balls hit to right field.
The chart shows the percentage of balls that a player was able to catch compared to what they would be expected to catch. If you’re doing good, the black line is at or above the yellow line. One important point is that just because one player didn’t catch a flyball, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t caught by somebody else. For example, shortstops going deeper into center to catch a pop up or a right fielder taking everything in the gap.
As you can see with Alex Sanchez, he was consistently below expected no matter where the ball was hit. Nook Logan on the other hand was pretty good going toward left field, but wasn’t as good on the balls hit straight away. Craig Monroe seemed to struggle across the board.
For people like myself who were advocating that Monroe play center this chart is pretty discouraging. It is worth noting though, that there probably isn’t enough data for Monroe (and to a lesser extent Logan) to form strong conclusions. A typical season has about 4500 balls in play. Alex Sanchez was playing center for about 2100 of those balls while Nook was in for almost 1200. Monroe on the other hand was only in for 586. While 586 sounds like a lot, typically only about 9-10% of those balls are expected to be converted into outs by the centerfielder. In Monroe’s case you’re only looking at about 56-58 expected plays. Now when you further divide that by the different areas, you’re in a situation where one missed play could have a pretty substantial impact. However, one extra play would have as significant an impact to the positive as well and this just doesn’t show Monroe excelling in center.
These graphs still don’t quantify how many runs the Tigers stand to gain or lose with their various outfield options. However it is a great way to statistically view their range. Tomorrow I’ll attempt to quantify the offensive gains (or losses) that the Tigers might realize with Monroe and Logan.
A special thanks to David for the graphs. Seriously, go donate some money so he’ll keep doing cool stuff like this. He’s also working with Retrosheet data and has written code to allow you to view any player’s stats over any time period you specify.