Kouzmanoff’s fielding

Websoulsurfer compares Kevin Kouzmanoff’s fielding to some great all-time third basemen. He also makes the case that Kouz has been better with the glove this season than Ryan Zimmerman.

I just don’t see it. If we look at THT’s advanced fielding stats, we see that Zimmerman has a substantial lead over Kouzmanoff in plays made. He also has more in-zone chances. If we give Kouz the same number of opportunities in his zone as Zimmerman has, Kouzmanoff would indeed be 3 plays better than Zimmerman. However, Zimmerman would still have 45 more out-of-zone plays than Kouzmanoff. So, they are similar with balls hit in the BIS-defined third base zone, but Zimmerman makes a bunch more plays outside of that zone.

By the way, Zimmerman’s UZR is at +16 runs, while Kouzmanoff is at +6. Kouz has had a good season in the field by most measures, and his fielding percentage is impressive, but I’m not really sure that he’s anything more than an average defensive third basemen.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. I agree with you 100%. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Kouz has not been the best fielder in the N.L. this season. That honor goes to Ryan Zimmerman, and frankly, it is not even close.

  2. I did not want to post a 2000 word answer here so I posted it at my blog.

    Here is the link.

    http://websoulsurfer.blogspot.com/2009/09/more-on-how-good-kouzmanoffs-defense.html

    I will say two things here:

    Total Chances have as much to do with the pitchers as with the so called range of the fielder.

    The number of chances that Zimmerman has more than Kouzmanoff was to a huge extent based on % of ground balls to fly balls the pitchers induced. Nationals pitchers induced 1.6% more ground balls with Zimmerman at 3B than Padres pitchers with Kouzmanoff at 3B. Since we are talking about 5400+ PA that is a big number.

    And the total percentage of RHB that Zimmerman faced was 6% higher, or about 356 PA.

    Since 74% of the time those additional plate appearances by RHB the ball was put in play and 41% of those were hit to what THT defines as the 3B zone, then 108 additional balls were hit to the 3B zone against the Nationals than against the Padres. Zimmerman has 106 more total chances than Kouzmanoff.

    I simply do not see any benefit that came from Zimmerman’s supposed greater range.

  3. Posted by Tom Waits on September 8, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Daniel and Myron are both perfectly right. This isn’t a question with any more validity than asking whether dinosaurs walked the earth once. Kouz has a strong case to be the second-best fielding 3b in the National League this year. He’s nowhere near first place. Making plays on balls that other fielders typically miss is the clear separator. If turning what are normally base runners into outs doesn’t benefit a team, I’d be interested in learning what would.

    You can’t punish Zimmerman because he plays a terrific third base behind a ground ball staff. If you take that approach, Kouzmanoff should be downgraded even further for playing behind a fly-ball staff in a home park that rewards pitchers who give up fly balls.

    The nature of plays outside of the zone is that they’re very hard to turn into double-plays. Balls that would go for extra-bases down the line, and balls hit into the hole, do not lend themselves to DP. Besides, of all the plays made by fielders, the DP is the most dependent on factors beyond their control. 99% of the time, you’re not turning a DP unless there’s already a man on first. The DP is also dependent on the pivot and the first baseman. Suggesting that Zimmerman is overrated because he’s only turned one more DP than Kouz is a case of improperly valuing something largely unrelated to player performance.

  4. Posted by Tom Waits on September 8, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    A few more things in regard to websoulsurfer’s analysis of the two fielders.

    1. The important relationship isn’t between unearned runs “caused” by Zimmerman’s errors and losses. Because those plays were out of the zone, they were almost all going to lead to baserunners anyway. Some runners certainly advanced more on an error than they ordinarily would have on a base hit, but not all of them. The truly important relationship is how many times a Zimmerman error cost his team runs that wouldn’t have scored had he not attempted the play, which is not the same as the tally of 27 unearned runs. A great number of those runs would have simply shifted over to the earned category. Kouzmanoff “knowing his limits” and watching a double down the line is not better than Zimmerman making a two-base throwing error on the same play. In either case the hitter ends up on second and any existing runners probably advance the same number of bases. The number of runs “caused” by Zimmerman’s error is likely to be much less than 27.

    2. As for the number of RHB faced, well, the devil is in the details. LH pitchers have started 49 games for Washington (app.325 innings worth) and their LH relievers have thrown about 115 innings. Their LH pitchers have faced RH batters 1274 times, and overall their LHP have 1810 plate appearances against them. Our dearth of LHP means that other teams don’t seek that kind of platoon advantage. Our LHP have only faced 425 batters, total, in about 95 innings. I expect that Kouzmanoff has been protected this year by playing behind a lot of RH pitchers far more than Zimmerman has been helped by playing behind lefties.

  5. Posted by Myron on September 8, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    Web, I’m reading your response now …

    First off, I looked at THT’s numbers becuase they show how many balls were hit into each players zone. Zimmerman has had more balls hit into his zone. And Kouzmanoff has made a higher percentage of in-zone plays (only slightly higher). However, Zimmerman has made like 40-something more out-of-zone plays.

    Now, you’re right, we don’t know exactly how many OOZ chances each player has. What most people do is use BIZ as a proxy for OOZ chances, and go from there. If you did that, you’d find that Zimmerman would rate quite a bit higher by those BIS numbers.

    Again, I cannot say for sure that Zimmerman is actually having a better year. You never know, really. But I also looked at UZR because it separates the field into much smaller slices, and gives you an even better idea of chances/opportunities for both players. Again, Zimmerman comes out better, and his career track record is also much better.

    You’re right that my math was off … don’t know how that happened. Anyway, those 51 more balls Zimmerman has got to OOZ are actual plays made, so there’s no need to subtract errors.

    You’re right that you have to account for Zimmerman’s higher error total. I think you could just do it by penalizing him a certain run value for each runner that advanced an additional base due to one of his errors. I don’t think it would close the gap all that much, but it would to some degree.

    With the data we have at hand, I just can’t give Kouz the nod over Zimmerman. Sure, he may have had a better year; there’s always that possibility. But looking at the basic stats, the advanced stats, scouting reports, fans’ opinions, and my own eyes, I have to go with Zimmerman.

  6. I’m not going to say Kouz deserves it because I haven’t looked closely enough at the numbers. But I can offer an observation: when the Nationals were here a couple of weeks ago I saw Zimmerman botch two plays….two plays that I ordinarily see Kouz make. Just an observation.

  7. [...] just three errors this season. Don’t get me wrong, that is some kind of freakish, but as Myron notes, a shiny fielding percentage doesn’t make Kouz a great third baseman. For my money, Kouz is a [...]

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