With the departure of Billy Hamilton, the Cincinnati Reds outfield defense has gone from one of the best in baseball to one of the worst — at least according to analytics data.
Baseball Savant, a website run by MLB.com. presents data based on some of the newer analytics, including a comparative measure of individual outfielders’ defensive acumen called Outs Above Average.
According to Baseball Savant:
Outs Above Average (OAA) is the cumulative effect of all individual Catch Probability plays a fielder has been credited or debited with, making it a range-based metric of fielding skill that accounts for the number of plays made and the difficulty of them. For example, a fielder who catches a 25% Catch Probability play gets +.75; one who fails to make the play gets -.25. Read more about how Outs Above Average works here.
Expected Catch Probability expresses, based on the difficulty of balls hit to the fielder, how many an average outfielder would have caught.
Actual Catch Percentage is the actual performance of the particular fielder on those plays.
Catch Percentage Added is the difference between the two, showing how much the fielder added (or didn’t) based on the opportunities he was presented with.
Here’s a visual from Baseball Savant of Billy Hamilton’s 2018 OAA performance that captures the essence of how Statcast comes up with the number:
The 385 number is his number of fielding chances. The 16 number represents the total of all of the numbers in the circular pie chart shape in the center. The small circle in the middle of the pie chart represents the player (Hamilton), and the slices represent Statcast’s measure of how the player performed, compared to average, on balls hit to spaces all around him.
In the Hamilton graphic above, the 6 represents his “Catch Percentage Added” (compared to an average player) on balls on which he had to move back and to the left (from the perspective of a fan sitting behind home plate; from Hamilton’s perspective, he would actually be moving to his right). Here are what all of the numbers in the pie chart represent:
- 6: moving back and left
- -1 moving straight back
- 5 moving back and right
- 2 moving in and left
- 1 moving straight in
- 3 moving in and right
Hamilton’s total of those numbers is 16 Outs Above Average. In essence what this means is that compared to the average center fielder, Hamilton converted 16 more chances into outs over the course of the year. Only three players in the majors had better 2018 Outs Above Average numbers: Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain (22), Atlanta’s Ender Inciarte (21), and St. Louis’ Harrison Bader (19). Adam Eaton of the White Sox matched Hamilton’s 16 number.
The Reds’ overall team Outs Above Average number for 2018 was 14. What that means is that the other players who had enough fielding chances to qualify had combined individual Outs Above Average numbers of -2.
Which leads us to 2019. There are no numbers yet for 2019 with the sample size being so small. But here are the 2018 Outs Above Average fielding figures for the players who have started the most games in the outfield so far in this young season:
So if you add those numbers together, you get a -15, or a substantial difference from the 2018 team’s +14. For some perspective, the Indians, at -16 in 2018, had the fifth-worst team number that year. The Orioles were the worst at -22.
The sudden change in outfield defensive proficiency probably comes as no surprise to fans who follow the Reds closely. If you believe the statistics, a total of 29 balls (from +14 in 2018 to -15 in 2019) that were caught and turned into outs by the 2018 outfield led by Hamilton will not be turned into outs by this year’s outfield corps. That’s one every 5.58 games.
You’ll note in Hamilton’s numbers above that his largest plus numbers were when he moved to either side. We will speculate that the reason for that is his speed (and the lack of same from his corner outfielders) allowed him to get to many more balls in play than does Schebler (the current center fielder).
The numbers presented above allow us to project what may happen in 2019, based on 2018 information. The presumption, at least this early in the season, is that none of the outfielders listed above (or any MLB outfielder, for that matter) has undergone a major improvement or decline in defensive efficiency from their 2018 performances.
At the very least, this Outs Above Average data is statistical confirmation that what many Reds observers anticipated for 2019 — a decline in the outfield defense — will manifest itself. Time will tell if the increased offensive production expected from the 2019 group will offset their defensive shortcomings.
(All screenshots above from Baseball Savant.)