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2014 MLB Capsule: The FUBAR All-Defensive Team

Felipe Melecio hands out XN’s FUBAR award for the best 2014 MLB defensive players at each position.

Juan Lagares

Earlier this month, the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were announced, rewarding the best defensive players in both the National League and American League. In years past, the awards were clouded with controversy as the best defensive players were not always rewarded for their efforts as voters would sometimes lean on offensive categories to help make their selections. However, with defensive analytics becoming a more prominent part of the game, per SABR.org, this will be “the second consecutive season, the SABR Defensive Index” will be used to determined this year’s winners, making up roughly 25 percent of the vote. Managers and coaches make up the rest of the voting and they cannot vote for their own players.

Nevertheless, we now present our purely, number-centric awards, beginning with our All-Defensive Team. As the name suggests, only the top players, regardless of league, will be recognized as the best in our awards. We will be using Felipe’s Ultimate Baseball Advanced Rankings (or FUBAR for short) to determine the winners. But first, let’s take a closer look at the metrics being used for our defensive team: Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).

This is our final, 2014 update for defensive players. Be sure to check out our original list from August.

DEFENSIVE RUNS SAVED (DRS)

To read about the differences between DRS and UZR in full detail, check out Chris Cwik’s explanation on the subject matter. Both stats are metrics used to evaluate defensive prowess by utilizing “runs above average” as the unit of measurement. It’s worth pointing out that the at its most elementary, the biggest difference between both stats is that DRS uses only one year of data to compare fielders, while UZR uses multiple seasons when evaluating players.

The following were among the best in each “sub-category” of DRS:

ULTIMATE ZONE RATING (UZR)

Now let’s take a closer look at the UZR defensive “sub-categories.”

  • Best Outfield Arm (per Outfield Arm Runs or ARM): Cespedes
  • Best Double-Play Duo (per Double-Play Runs or DPR): Schoop and Hardy
  • Best Range (per Range Runs or RngR): Heyward
  • Best at Minimizing Errors (per Error Runs or ErrR): Kyle Seager
  • Best Outfielder: Alex Gordon
  • Best Infielder: Chase Headley

The calculations are complex, but the names mentioned should satisfy both SABR and traditional (“eye test”) camps. When one looks back at 2014, these players should personify the best in glove from this past season. We now focus on our FUBAR All-Defensive Team. FUBAR ranks the top players at each position based on DRS and UZR. A points system is used to reward the top players from both statistical categories. The higher a player’s ranking in each metric, the more points that player gets.

CATCHER

Gold Glove Winners: Salvador Perez and Yadier Molina

FUBAR Says: Salvador Perez

The catching position is different when compiling our rankings. UZR does not measure catcher performance so we lean heavily on DRS. But very few people will argue against Perez as the top catcher of 2014. He has a great arm and his work behind the plate is fun to watch. It’s also safe to say that Perez’s handling of the pitching staff helped the Royals make it to the World Series.

As far as the National League goes, FUBAR preferred Lucroy over Molina as the latter finished tied for fourth in our rankings. It would appear that Molina winning the Gold Glove this season was based more on past achievement than actual results, but then again, who can really argue against Yadier Molina and the intangibles he brings to his team?

FIRST BASE

Gold Glove Winners: Eric Hosmer and Adrian Gonzalez

FUBAR Says: Justin Morneau

Not the flashiest of players, but Morneau rated high in both DRS and UZR. Gonzalez got the edge in DRS, but where Morneau got the advantage was in the UZR sub-category of errors, where Morneau was valued more for limiting his errors over Gonzalez. Gonzalez played about 200 more innings at the position than Morneau so that may have hurt Gonzalez, but Morneau deserves recognition for his steady glove.

Always known for his glove, Hosmer would finish 11th in FUBAR, behind other players in the AL like Albert PujolsChris Davis, and Mike Napoli.

SECOND BASE

Gold Glove Winners: Dustin Pedroia and DJ LeMahieu

FUBAR Says: Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia

First of all, in the National League, it wasn’t even close, LeMahieu rated as the best second baseman in the league. However, as FUBAR goes, LeMahieu would finish a distant third to Kinsler and Pedroia. Pedroia deserved the accolades, but Kinsler also impressed, showing that despite his advanced age at the position (32), he still has elite-level range at second.

SHORTSTOP

Gold Glove Winners: J.J. Hardy and Andrelton Simmons

FUBAR Says: Andrelton Simmons

In our first installment of our All-Defensive Team, Simmons’ name was nowhere to be found and Zack Cozart had usurped the position while Simmons was recovering from an injury. At the end of the season, however, the hierarchy at the position has been restored. To Cozart’s credit, he did finish second in defensive FUBAR. Hardy finished third, but as mentioned before, he was part of the best double-play duo in baseball this year.

THIRD BASE

Gold Glove Winners: Kyle Seager and Nolan Arenado

FUBAR Says: Josh Donaldson

Harold Reynolds of MLB Network was not a proponent of Donaldson winning the Gold Glove this season. It is a shame because Donaldson had the much superior range this season. The errors were a problem, but Donaldson made up for it by getting to as many batted balls as possible and DRS and UZR acknowledged his efforts.

Headley would finish as the best infielder in UZR and probably would’ve won the NL Award had he not been traded to the Yankees. Arenado finished third in our rankings. Seager finished about 100 points behind Donaldson in fourth.

LEFT FIELD

Gold Glove Winners: Alex Gordon and Christian Yelich

FUBAR Says: Alex Gordon

Gordon and Yelich finished at the very top of the FUBAR rankings. It’s not surprising that both players were awarded Gold Gloves this season. Yoenis Cespedes, the one with the howitzer for an arm, finished a solid third.

CENTER FIELD

Gold Glove Winners: Adam Jones and Juan Lagares

FUBAR Says: Juan Lagares

Back in August, our own Igor Derysh proudly proclaimed Lagares as the “most underrated star” in baseball. Lagares winning the Gold Glove and taking the top spot in FUBAR justifies that proclamation. It’s highly questionable Lagares would’ve won this award five or 10 years ago. But thanks to the inclusion of advanced defensive metrics, a player like Lagares gets a lot more recognition than he could have ever imagined. Billy Hamilton would finish second at the position.

Jones would finish a distant fifth in our rankings as Leonys Martin and Jackie Bradley Jr.  rated much higher in defensive FUBAR.

RIGHT FIELD 

Gold Glove Winners: Nick Markakis and Jason Heyward

FUBAR Says: Jason Heyward

It’s not even close. Heyward might just be the best defensive player in all of baseball. Giancarlo Stanton would finish close to 130 points behind Heyward in the NL.

Markakis would finish 110 points behind Heyward in defensive FUBAR, but the Orioles’ right fielder did not even finish as the best at his position in terms of these rankings. Edging him was the Angels’ Kole Calhoun.

So here’s a recap of our 2014 FUBAR All-Defensive Team:

  1. (No Pitchers)
  2. Salvador Perez
  3. Justin Morneau
  4. Ian Kinsler/Dustin Pedroia
  5. Josh Donaldson
  6. Andrelton Simmons
  7. Alex Gordon
  8. Juan Lagares
  9. Jason Heyward

As advanced stats become more important in evaluating defense, there should be less arguments as to who got shunned and which players did not deserve to win the award. There are players who won it this season that probably would never have won the award in years past. So in that respect, the game is going in the right direction as players’ fates in respect to these awards are not solely based on the subjectivity of managers and coaches.

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com.

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