For the last few seasons, sabermetrician Tom Tango has conducted a defensive survey called The Fans Scouting Report. I’ve mentioned it in the past, and I’m sure that some of you participated. Essentially fans rate players on a variety of traits. I’m not going to rehash how the Tigers did because Lee has covered that already. I’m going to focus on Brandon Inge (because it’s always good for traffic and comment numbers) and how he can be expected to fare as he moves all over the diamond this summer.
When fans are instructed to fill out the survey, they are told to make their evaluations independent of position. For example don’t compare Curtis Granderson’s speed to that of other center fielders. Compare him to all baseball players. This is relevant because Tango has developed a system to weight the different traits based on their importance to a given position.
The traits that are evaluated are instincts, first step, speed, hands, release, throwing strength, and throwing accuracy. In the case of Inge he rated as follows:
First Step: 83
Arm Strength: 91
Throwing Accuracy: 62
To give you a feel for the scale, an average player rates as 50 and one standard deviation is 20 points meaning that two-thirds of the league fall in between 30 and 70. If a player is above 70 he’s in the top 16%.
As you can see, and it’s no surprise, Inge rates as a top flight defender in most categories and his overall position neutral score is 77. Inge’s rating was across 53 ballots making for a decent sample size. Tango also provides an agreement score to see how much variation there is in ballots. Inge’s score was .75 and the norm was .71 meaning that most fans thought along the same lines.
But given Inge’s skill set, where is he best suited to play? Applying the weightings to Inge’s scores it shakes out like this:
First Base: 76
Second Base: 80
Third Base: 78
Left Field: 77
Center Field: 77
Right Field: 77
Basically he has the skills to succeed anywhere on the field. I’m a little surprised to see second base come on out on top, but the differences are so small it doesn’t really make too much of a difference. The fact that Inge doesn’t really rate poorly in any area provides for the remarkable consistency at each position. He only really gets penalized at first base where his strongest trait, his arm strength, doesn’t carry much weight.
Now some caveats on the fans survey, it’s all subjective. It’s clearly not a perfect system but as more data is gathered the more I tend to trust it. There are other limitations, like the fact that the intention is that the ratings should be observation based and not stat based. It’s tough to separate the two, and many of the people going to the site are at least stat-aware. So don’t view this as the be all, end all because it’s not. It’s just one more attempt at getting a better understanding of defensive value.
As an aside, I also ran Miguel Cabrera’s numbers through the weighting. Keep in mind that there were only 9 ballots turned in (not a lot of Marlins fans out there which is why he and Dontrelle Willis are Tigers in the first place). Interestingly enough, Cabrera’s skills have him best suited as a third baseman with a score of 49. As an outfielder he only rates as a 38.