Wednesday, December 8, 2010

...And Far Away

Watching the internet grab hold of an idea, shaking it until death, really is a sight to behold. A current meme among Blue Jays fans which continuously irks is the "Move Aaron Hill to Third Base" movement. The arrival of the Langley Bard this week seems to say, to most people, that Aaron Hill should shuffle his out-making bones to the hot corner because, well, Brett Lawrie is shinier and newer.

Too many people in our Getting Blanked chats this week closed the book on Aaron Hill's time at thirdsecond base. While some part of this line of thinking could be construed as a compliment to Hill's versatility, I highly doubt it. People either undervalue the impact of defense (at your peril!) or don't appreciate how good Aaron Hill actually is with the glove.

While UZR doesn't love Aaron Hill, nearly all other defensive systems and rankings do. Over the last three years, Hill ranks 4th among second baseman in Dewan's +/-, third in revised zone rating. He ranks 5th in Fangraphs fan scouting report runs in addition to winning two Fielding Bible awards (2007 & 2009). Hill ranks well again this year in the panel vote, picking up first place consideration from the Baseball Info Solutions video scouts a.k.a. guys who watch an insane amount of video.

In other words, Aaron Hill is really good defensively at second. Why take away from that? Why add variables to the defensive mix? Alex Anthopoulos doesn't think much of that idea either:
"Right now, [Hill] is our second baseman," Anthopoulos said. "The only scenario that we would talk about moving him is if we felt that it was someone that was a significant piece."
If you'll permit me to read between the lines/graft my own opinion onto an Alex Anthopoulos quote; I take "significant piece" to mean:
  1. better than Hill or
  2. so bad at every other position as to present no alternative.
As this relates directly to Brett Lawrie, AA himself had a lot to say on Prime Time Sports earlier this week. Many have pointed to Brah-lie's poor footwork as proof of his positionless status, but AA insists The Player is such a strong athlete with great instincts and reflexes. Basically tailor-made for the hot corner.

But this isn't (yet) about finding a defensive home for Brett Lawrie. This is about the value of having a plus defender on your club. As it stands, Aaron Hill is one of a select few. Moving Aaron Hill is silly, because Aaron Hill is good.

While We're On the Topic

With the real Age of Field F/X Enlightenment just over the horizon, I noticed a real uptick in debate over the merits of defensive stats in the darkest, nerdiest corners of the blogoverse. Discussions of range bias skewing video-based metrics and the vagaries in batted ball information punch increasingly large holes in UZR and the like.

It is my view that these numbers, all of them, have value if used correctly. For me, UZR/150 works only when taking a large number and making it small. It is not an accurate or fair way to extrapolate tiny numbers. If you say "over the past three years, Player X has a UZR/150 of Y", you'll get my attention. If you say "in 10 games, Player Z has a UZR/150 of 40", I'm clicking away.

You won't see me use decimals in UZR numbers as that indicates a level of precision the metric simply cannot support. These numbers of course work best when paired with observed skills by your lying eyes.

It is important for all of us to use these tools fairly and honestly if we expect buy-in from the greater baseballing population. Which, I hope, is the goal. For a lot of us, advanced stats aren't anything by themselves, they simply deepen our appreciation and understanding of the game. Which leads to more informed people having more entertaining and interesting debates. Which is what brings most of us here in the first place, right?

Image courtesy of flickr user mittsuniverse via Renaissance Man Matias.


  1. Nice post. When I hear KLaw call Lawrie's swing one of the best RH swings in the minors, I get visions of Paul Molitor. I have no idea how close this is to, well, anything. But if the kid can hit in the Bigs, then put him at 3rd in March and keep him there, in Toronto all year and let's save the discussions about about his D for the next offseason.

  2. Hill's incredible suckage at the plate clouds the discussion. He was so bad at the dish that you almost forget, or overlook, what he's able to do in the field. I think that's why people are overanxious to see him moved either to a new position, or to a new team entirely.

  3. I think that ball that he couldn't come up with on Morrow's 1-hitter left a pretty indelible mark on the fanbase, because I keep hearing about how he bobbles lots of balls or doesn't get to as much.

    As a footwork fetishist, I have to say that Aaron Hill has just about the best middle infield footwork I've seen. (Well, him and Johnny Mac.)

  4. Damn cannibals. Jays fans would eat their young if it did poorly when they were expecting greatness.

  5. Jose Bautista played in right and hit a million home runs. He can play anywhere. Maybe him and Hill should trade positions so Hill can hit a million home runs, too.

  6. Bravo, Drew. Bravo.

    And Chili - Molitor. Yes. Lawrie is the next Molitor. Love it.


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