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.)

12 Responses

  1. James Bozian

    I have definitely noticed the slack in outfield defense. Hamilton being gone is obviously a factor but it seems beyond that. Schebler is fine as is Puig but Winker and Kemp are slow upon slow. Seeing balls fall in that wouldn’t before. Also, it seems like runners are stealing bases with abandon. So far, this team seems to be a perfect storm of bad. Looks like another long season. The return of Senzel will, no doubt, help and of course, Scooter. Can only hope things turn around.

  2. Big Ed

    I didn’t really need oodles of Baseball Savant data to know that the outfield defense would be much worse this year without Hamilton. Kemp is worse than that data reflects.

    DFA Kemp; replace with Ervin.

    • Roger Garrett

      Good observation about Kemp.Of course he just got traded or given away from a team that wins and is in Hollywood to a team that hasn’t won and is in Ohio.He adds nothing except a start here and there against a lefty or a pinch hitter that may run into one.He still chases the breaking pitches and now must cheat on the fast ball but he was really good at one time.Father time gets us all.

  3. $$

    It was still the right decision to cut Billy Hamilton. His terrible offense more than overshadowed his great defense. And for whatever reason despite his great speed he was technically a poor base stealer.

    • Mark Lang

      Led the league in caught stealing once, barely above the 75% mark for his career (which is the break even point). He wasn’t a good base stealer.

  4. Eric Wormus

    All you need to know about the Reds offseason “plan” is this:
    The 2018 Reds began the season with 3 corner outfielders, traded one (Duvall) and went into 2019 with two starting corner OFs (Schebler and Winker) and one good defensive CF (Billy). From that point on, the front office cut their center fielder and added TWO MORE CORNER OUT FIELDERS to the roster.

    To paraphrase Moneyball, there are good front offices and there are bad front offices. Then there’s 50 feet of crap. And then there’s the Reds.

  5. Tom Mitsoff

    Perhaps not. The article idea came when I saw the Outs Above Average graphics on Baseball Savant game preview pages, and wondered, what in the heck is this? This apparent defensive deficiency is certainly exacerbated by the current poor hitting and sketchy relief pitching. If those two aspects of the team perform as past performance would indicate they should, then the defense may become less of a glaring issue.

  6. Scott C

    I think that Winker can up those numbers to at least close to average. I am guessing that +1, 0, and -1 is about average. Puig too, should improve. He makes some pretty good catches and has a pretty good arm, he just takes such poor routes to the ball or else he is reads the ball off the bat poorly. Kemp is is the one that runs like his feet are in cement. So if you can get three that field about average and all hit above average that should work out oK. I know right now that is a big IF, but lets give it some time to get a larger sample size. One thing that has impressed me so far this year as far as defense goes is that the outfielders are making good throws to cut off men that are positioned well. If someone wanted to research the number of runners thrown out this year as opposed to last year, that would be a pretty interesting study. Of course Billy had a pretty good gun out there.

  7. Michael Smith

    CI3J, Castillo has looked amazing….. and that’s about it

  8. Mark Lang

    We got a bench player who leads the team in about every offensive category!

  9. Big Ed

    They aren’t wearing those God-awful Old English “C” hats in games.

  10. TR

    Except for the breakdown on Sunday, the starting pitching has been a bright spot.