Answers with John Dewan

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Answers with John Dewan

Post by Michael »


John Dewan has graciously agreed to answer questions from GRB posters!

John is the author of the revolutionary book The Fielding Bible. Previously available exclusively to Major League Baseball teams, John Dewan and Baseball Info Solutions reveal their revolutionary approach to fielding analysis. In the process, they will completely change the entire perception of fielding statistics in Major League Baseball.

- Why is Adam Everett the best defensive shortstop in baseball?
- Should Derek Jeter have won two Gold Gloves?
- Do the Phillies know what they have in Aaron Rowand?
- Who are the most intimidating outfielders to run on?

The Fielding Bible includes:

In-Depth Analysis by Position – How do MLB players really stack up against each other defensively? An innovative new Plus/Minus System analyzes players position-by-position and provides top-to-bottom rankings.

Where Hits Landed – This allows a team to compare their defense point-by-point against other MLB teams.

Other Special Features – Uniquely designed analysis to determine the best corner infield defenders against the bunt, the best middle infielders on the double play and the best outfield throwing arms. Plus Bill James's brand new Relative Range Factors and John Dewan's newly designed Zone Ratings!

John has consistently broken new ground in the area of sports statistical analysis, first as one of the founders and former CEO of STATS, Inc. and now as the owner of Baseball Info Solutions. He is also currently the co-publisher of ACTA Publications. As a noted sports expert, he is heard weekly at for WSCR 670 AM "The Score" an all-sports radio station in Chicago.

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Post by Michael »

Due to the volume of responses we've received please understand John won't be able to answer everyone's questions. So here's answer #1!

1) How do you handle the specific differences in the catcher and first base positions relative to the other positions? In other words, since you keep the same ranking system for all positions, how do you weigh and convert the factors from those positions since they are so different from other spots on the diamond?

We haven't tackled catchers yet, but we have worked on first basemen. In the book I mention that the Plus/Minus System is weakest on first basemen. An important skill for a first baseman is handling errant throws by his fellow infielders. The plus/minus system doesn't address this. But since the book came out we have looked at this. Here's a link to one of my Stat of the Week items that addresses this:

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Post by Michael »

2) Often times we as baseball fans attribute fielding as a static ability(like "Scott Rolen is a great defensive third baseman"), but are more critical with fluctuations in hitting(but at the same time are willing to overlook "down" years). Do you think players are just as prone to fluctuations defensively as they are offensively? Do you think there is a progression (maybe "prime" is a better word) for most players' careers defensively like is widely accepted for hitting?

In the book we have a register section that shows that last three years for fielding information for players. If you take a look at that you'll find that there are same kind of consistency and fluctuation of performance that you find with hitting statistics. In fact, the fluctuations I exected. It was the consistencies that gave me confidence in the system. Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones have been consistent from year to year in center field. You mention Scott Rolen. He had a downward fluctuation in fielding in 2003 while his down year in hitting was last year. But overall he's a great defensive third basemen and the three-year numbers show it.

3) What do you make of positioning when doing your rankings? How do you differentiate instinct versus coaching adjustments? How much of an impact do those factors beyond the player have overall?

I look at the bottom line. Did the player make the play or didn't he? Whether a player makes a play because he got a good jump, or has great speed, or makes an incredible throw, or has great positioning, it doesn't matter. He made the play. Any and all factors which cause him to make the play go to his credit.

Having said that, it would be nice to be able to have seperate information on all these factors. Someday those things will be analyzed as well. For now, we are taking the steps that we can to move the discussion of fielding analysis forward.

John will continue to answer question thoughout the week.

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Post by Michael »

A very special thank you to John Dewan for taking the time out of his schedule to answer questions. Thank you to GRB members for their help in providing questions and to G. Keenan for transcribing the session.

As always, thank you to all of you for making such a wonderful posting community!

Please understand because of time constrants not all questions could be answered.

GRB: Is there any easy metric for comparing players? As a casual fan I'm always looking for quick and easy stats for comparing players. OPS or OPS+, for all their flaws, are pretty decent offensive stats. Is there any defensive stat that is easily readable and accurate and available to the casual fan. I used RF and ZR but those seem to have fallen out of favor.

JOHN: I don't know if RF and ZR have fallen out of favor as much as the plus/minus system takes it to another level. We designed the plus/minus system to be an easy number to understand immediately. If a guy is plus 20 he's making 20 more plays than an average player at his position. If a guy is minus 10 he's making 10 fewer plays. So you can say Magglio Ordonez is plus 7 or Joe Crede is plus 12 this year so far. You can say those numbers and you know they mean something, immediately. Even a batting average, if you didn't already know that .300 was pretty good, if you didn't have a built in frame of reference to start with, then saying a guy is hitting .313, for a lot of people, wouldn't mean anything. That frame of reference has developed over the years but we don't have that for fielding, anywhere, so we have developed a number that has a frame of reference built right in. That's what the plus/minus system does.

(Note: The Fielding Bible gives a + or - score to almost every starting postion player in baseball except catcher)

GRB: You cover this topic in the book in a little bit, but how many extra balls must a position player like a shortstop get to above league average to make up for a lack of offensive production? For example, Ozzie Smith was one of the highest paid players in the league based on his fielding. His defense, of course, was outstanding, but was it worth paying for a superstar?

JOHN: In the book I touched on estimating runs, and actually since then in discussion with several colleagues I've decided that one plus point is worth closer to about 2/3 to 3/4 of a run, as opposed to 1/2 run. Now, having said that, I'm a little bit hesitant to come up with an exact runs prevented thing because we're not counting everything. We don't have everything measured here. Maybe it's useful to count what we have measured. Some of the things we don't measure in the plus/minus system are things like the ability to handle the double play. I account for it elsewhere, but it's not measured in that system. Another would be the ability for first baseman to handle bad throws by their infielders, which we also handle separately. The danger of taking any one defensive number and converting it into runs prevented is that you're not accounting for everything, but that's probably also true for any offensive number. We've made a lot more progress with offensive numbers. If you want to use Bill James's runs created formula you're accounting for a lot of things offensively, but you're not accounting for everything, like the ability to take an extra base on a hit is not accounted for in a runs created formula. But having said that, 2/3 to 3/4 of a run would be a good rule of thumb for what one plus point is worth, so plus 20 might translate in 12 to 15 runs, and one win is 10 runs.

GRB: Shortstops are often thought of as far more valuable than second baseman. In your opinion is that the case or are they closer in value than most people think? Some of your studies highlight the importance of having a strong arm at second base as being almost as valuable as having a strong arm at shortstop.

JOHN: I don't have many specific numbers available offhand but I'll give you one specific number. Batters pull ground balls the majority of the time. When they hit the ball on the ground they pull it maybe 70% of the time. So for right handed batters the left side of the infield is going to get more grounders and for left handed batters the right side of the infield is going to get more grounders. Now, I haven't studied this but I believe that major league baseball has a higher percentage of players that hit from the left side than at any other level. As you move down in the minors you'll find a smaller percentage of left handed hitter because the left handed hitters tend to do better against right handed pitchers. There are more right handed pitchers, so as they move up they become more valuable. So I think there's a higher percentage of left handed hitters in the major leagues than in the minors, but there are still more right handed hitters, so the left side of the infield (shortstop) is going to get more grounders. Now, the key thing that makes a shortstop more valuable than a second baseman is the arm. You can't play short unless you have a good arm; you'd have to play second base. You can have all the great defensive skills that any shortstop or second baseman might have, but if you don't have a good arm then you can't really play short. You've got to be able to make that throw, so a good arm at shortstop is more valuable than a good arm at second base.

GRB: How does Jim Edmonds fare in your analysis? Is there truth to the viewpoint some hold that he exaggerates the difficulty of certain plays or contributes to their difficulty by playing so shallow?

JOHN: Well I'm sure he's not doing it on purpose. It may be coming across that way. . .

GRB: Is he kind of Hollywood in other words, a showboat? Some people, a lot of Cubs fans in particular, say he waits a step so he can make a diving catch.

JOHN: Well it reminds me of Ken Griffey Jr. In the book I talk about how for the ten years that he was winning gold gloves he never came out on our old zone rating system very well. We studied it seven ways from Sunday and basically found out that he was not getting to the peripheries of the zone, he's not making the plays, but he looks good and finishes well and people see the finishes. They're not seeing the jumps. When a ball leaves a hitter's bat most fans are watching the hitter and then the flight of the ball. They're not seeing whether or not the fielder is getting a good jump. Frankly, I haven't studied that myself, but it is clear that some outfielders get better jumps than others. Aaron Rowand is one, for example, who came out very well in our system who gets a great jump. Jim Edmonds has not come out well in our system recently and I think he's losing some. His arm remains the absolute best but he has lost some of his ability to cover center field.

GRB: Yeah, he's lost a step. I think injuries have slowed him down.

JOHN: Absolutely. It always does.

GRB: Are there any players that surprise you with their defensive ability?

JOHN: The player that surprised me the absolute most and the single most impressive number in the book is Richard Hidalgo in 2003. Now, he's not playing in the USA anymore, but I was flabbergasted by his number of base runner kills in 2003. He had the most base runner kills of all right fielders by a wide margin with 19. A baserunner kill is the homerun of a defensive play because not only are you getting an out, you are taking the most valuable runner off the base path. Usually it's the runner on third trying to score and you're taking him off the base path and throwing him out so it's a double whammy. It's the homerun of the defensive play. It's the best defensive play you can make. He had 19 of those in 2003 which was by far the largest total we had in the book. The second most was Richard Hidalgo in 2004 with 13.

GRB: Then you've got to wonder why they kept sending guys against him.

JOHN: Well we do measure the intimidation factor and he wasn't the most intimidating but they did run less often on him.

GRB: Your work sounds like a dynamic scoring nightmare. How do you account for the effect that different teammates might have on one another, for example middle infielders or Albert Pujols.

JOHN: We don't have a specific way to account for that. There are certain effects of it that happen. In Chicago here we have Juan Uribe at short and Joe Crede at third, two tremendous defensive players, and I've had discussions with them and they talk about how they can afford to let Crede play closer to the line, even though they haven't. But they can't afford it. It was actually the opposite last year. He tended to miss a lot of balls down the line and it cost him on our enhanced plus/minus which factors in extra bases. I just looked at the data for this year and he's number two in baseball so far this year. They do have an effect on each other and they can play based on their strengths and weaknesses. One of the questions I've gotten is what if a shortstop comes into the third base position and catches a pop out. If he repeatedly does that, does that inflate his statistics and deflate the third baseman's?

GRB: There was a shortstop you actually referenced in regard to that.

JOHN: Yes, Julio Lugo. The bottom line is that if that is a catchable pop up to anybody then it doesn't count for or against anybody. It doesn't matter who makes the catch. If it's a catchable pop up that's caught 100% of the time it has zero impact on whoever catches it or doesn't in the plus/minus system.

GRB: Does guarding the lines really take away as many hits as the television announcers seem to think it does?

JOHN: Well, you know I haven't actually studied exactly that, but I believe in guarding the lines. It's clear, and Joe Crede is the example again, here's a guy who was, I think, plus 12 on the basic system, but when we factored in extra base hits he dropped down to plue 2, or something like that, and that was simply because he tended to play closer to the shortstop and there are more hits that go between the shortstop and the third baseman than go between the line and the third baseman. The key is that when the third baseman lets a ball get past him to his right it is generally going to go for extra bases. So, I do believe in guarding the lines in the late innings of close games. It's something that's worth studying directly, though I haven't done so yet.

GRB: What position do you feel it is most beneficial to have a great defensive player?

JOHN: Well, you know, it's funny. I'll just give you one that in the last month I've really begun to think about. I do a radio show here in Chicago that has a segment called "Stat of the Week" and the host is Mike Murphy. He's been talking to me about the value of a first baseman versus a third baseman, and you have the same situation that we just talked about in relation to second baseman and shortstops. To play third you've got to have a good arm. You don't need an arm to play first. So, in general, you do have to have better skilled players playing third, and there are more right handed hitters so you have more balls hit down the third base line than you do down the first base line. So at third base you need good defensive ability. But, if you have a great defensive first baseman, who is particularly adept at handling bad throws, he can become more valuable than your third baseman and probably more valuable than the outfielders, not necessarily more valuable than your middle infielders. Unfortunately, the guy that is becoming that, not unfortunately for you guys, but for the rest of us, is Albert Pujols. It's just incredible! The guy is the best hitter in baseball and now he's becoming one of the best defensive players in baseball because not only did he come out very good on the plus/minus system, and by the way I just looked at first baseman this morning and he is number one among first baseman this year, so far, but not only is he great at handling ground balls, he was the best at handling bad throws from his fellow infielders. I think that that makes having a great first baseman really important. It makes it one of the most important positions at which to have a great defensive player.

GRB: That's interesting. I would have considered it a competition between shortstop and center field.

JOHN: Well, shortstop is probably critical. At first base you can get away with a poor defender. You can't get away with a poor defender at short. You can't get away with a poor defender in center. But you can get away with a poor defender at first. Now, if we compare an average defender to a great defender, I'd take the great defender at first and the average defender at short, as opposed to the other way around, if that great defender at first has that ability to really save those throws from his infielders.

GRB: I didn't expect that answer. That's for sure.

JOHN: A month ago I wouldn't have either, but I've been discussing this with Mike Murphy and in looking at the numbers you look at a guy like Mark Texiera who was plus 17 last year. That is 17 plays above the average first baseman, which by itself is good. That is right in line with the plus numbers at other positions if you look at the one year best numbers. He's making just on ground balls enough good plays to start to compare with other positions above the average first baseman, but then if you factor in a first baseman who not only can handle the ground balls above average but also handle the bad throws, now he's adding even more plays beyond what the average player might do. I think a great first baseman can be more valuable than a great shortstop, only compared to average. You can't have a poor defender at short ever, I don't think, you've always got to have at least an average defender at short.

GRB: Unless you're the Yankees.

JOHN: Well, you know, Jeter overwhelms his defense with his offense. And you know what, the bottom line is, yeah, among the top 30 shortstops in baseball he's at the lower end of that, but he's still a good defensive player relative to minor league shortstops, or relative to the right fielder if you tried putting him at short, or if you tried to put the first baseman at short, or even tried to put an average athlete at short. He's still a great athlete, he's just not as good as a couple dozen other major league shortstops.

GRB: Do you think Ozzie Smith was the last defensive candidate to get into the Hall of Fame?

JOHN: No. I think there's going to be more good defensive players who become candidates.

GRB: How about Omar Vizquel?

JOHN: I don't think he's quite there. He hasn't been that overwhelmingly good defensively. I mean Ozzie just wowed everybody to such an extent and you need someone who's going to do that.

GRB: Which findings in your rankings were most shocking to you and which would be most shocking to readers?

JOHN: I mentioned the Hidalgo thing. The Pujols thing was surprising. I didn't expect the best hitter in baseball to become the best defensive first baseman in baseball.

GRB: What happened to Derek Lee? He seemed to be pretty average in your system rankings but in your personal rankings he was a little bit higher. Why that discrepancy?

JOHN: Derek Lee is a player who has shown slightly above average defensive ability on ground balls, but he has always had the reputation of really being able to scoop throws from his infielders. When we did that analysis he came out second best in baseball, second to Albert Pujols, amazingly. I felt that that ability was important (scooping throws), and the plus/minus system didn't track it well enough, and he needed to be still among the best in my personal rankings, but I didn't think of him as the best in baseball or the best in the National League.

GRB: In my opinion Scott Rolen has been over the past five years the best defensive player in baseball. Am I wrong? I know he's had some streaky years.

JOHN: Well I wouldn't argue if you said he's been the best defensive third baseman over that time. In fact, I did rate him as number one in my personal rankings. I think in the system he was close to number one. In three years he was actually number 3 with a plus 46, Adrian Beltre was plus 71, and David Bell plus 52. I rated him number one as the best defensive third baseman in my personal rankings. Now, I wouldn't consider him the best defensive player in baseball. I would give that to Adam Everett who, at the most important defensive position, has won it three years in a row. I think Everett, and Orlando Hudson, are two guys who might be more valuable than Scott Rolen. It's just true that the middle infield are more important defensive positions.

GRB: How valuable relative to the outcome of a single game or season is an outfielder with a strong accurate throwing arm compared to an outfielder with an average arm?

JOHN: Oh, it can be huge. We just talked about Richard Hidalgo. The single most valuable defensive play is the base runner kill. If you can get 19 in a season that is huge. If you can get 13 in a season that is huge. The arm is quite important. It does prevent runners from taking the extra base if you can get the good reputation. If on top of that you can throw that many runners out it can be huge.

GRB: Okay, one last silly question: Do you drink Guinness? We have a fan club of Guinness drinkers.

JOHN: (laughing) As Saint Louis fans you'll enjoy this little story. Periodically we do this little beer taste test type thing. It's a blind taste test where you get two beers side by side. We try to get a nice variety and we do it like the NCAA tournament. Each person in this blind taste test comes up with their favorite of the beers that are on hand. The first time we did this my favorite was Michelob, so there's a Busch product, and the last time it was Budweiser!

GRB: My gosh John, you have horrible taste in beer, no offense!

JOHN: Well I felt good about Michelob, but when Budweiser won I was like, Oh my God, I don't even want to admit this!� But I have to be honest, it's what came out at the top.

GRB: Alright John, you've been absolutely fantastic and I can't thank you enough for your time and for answering our questions.

JOHN: Thank you very much. I really enjoyed it and I appreciate you taking the time to go through it.

If you haven't done so already check out our chats with Cardinals top prospect Colby Rasmus here and Cardinals statistical advisor Mitchel Lichtman here.
Last edited by Michael on June 21 06, 7:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Jocephus »

awesome. thanks to everybody who got this going, "rolen" and completed. really good stuff in that.

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Post by thrill »

Hey guys, I'm going to say something that none of you would expect...

Albert Pujols is ridiculously good at baseball.

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Post by fulldeck »

thrill wrote:Hey guys, I'm going to say something that none of you would expect...

Albert Pujols is ridiculously good at baseball.
I have heard that.

Great chat.

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Post by JL21 »

Awesome, Michael. Good job.