Totally Zoned In
Defense is underrated. Until recently it was almost impossible to accurately measure and quantify. A player with a lot of assists was considered great. Then nobody ran on his arm and he didn't have any assists and the lower number looked bad but it meant he was that good. But it got foggy when anyone attempted to determine HOW good...
There was a time when statistical analysis was an inquisitive, underground movement. It was exciting to get a Bill James Abstract in the mail and engorge my brain in considering that the guy on the TV the announcers were raving about was actually a two-bit hack and the guy the manager put in the game as an afterthought was the true talent. It was great to feel superior. Then this thing called the internet happened. They plugged it in and every dolt who had never been on a date was suddenly gawking on and on about advanced stats. And there is no value to feeling superior to anything or anyone when the guys who share your level of knowledge about a subject prefer math homework to making out.
And so I quit the police department and got myself a steady job. Here at SBN in fact. When I got hired I told Mister Blez that I had read everything Bill James had ever published but I was covering the one team in baseball where I would bet my life not a soul in the front office or dugout had ever read a page of the greatest philosopher the sport had ever known. Representing the team here I was able to revel in division championships at the expense of those who would publish their math homework as baseball analysis, coining the phrase "Mister Sabermetric Spock" in the process.
You see, the issue was one of pursuing truth or pursuing the status of intellectual superiority. I got into the whole thing as an exercise in finding new truths. I got out of the thing when Dweeble Web and Tweedle Browser misunderstood Moneyball to the point of a one-size-fits-all anti-bunting Orthodoxy. That triumph of pseudoscience lasted a few long years until the truth seeking essence of deeper statistical analysis re-emerged. Moneyball gave way to Fangraphs and once again, FANS emerged, a sea change of consciousness perhaps best articulated in THIS ESSAY by Graham MacAree at Lookout Landing of all places.
The holy grail in all of this has been quantifying defense. You know, the half of the game that those oh-so-certain stat-men-boys were totally ignoring. One of the delights of the past few years has been seeing Rob Neyer whipping boy Darin Erstad suddenly become a sabermetric darling as his defense in Centerfield finally gets sized up and is found to be nothing short of historic during the dawn of the age of Scioscia. It was Defensive Wins Above Replacement, dWAR, that revealed Mike Scioscia's eyeballs had already surveyed the terrain that the Spockage Set was climbing, flag to be planted in hand.
Fomenting this revolution was, among others, Sean Smith (an Angels diehard who posts here at Halos Heaven on occasion as RallyMonkey5), who created TotalZone and improved it (as "TZL") by adding location data for every defensive play in the game. Because TZ uses historical data, defense can be measured and quantified over the course of an entire franchise. Translating TZ into its own Defensive Wins Above Replacement allows us to measure players over different eras and assess the impact those with limited time on the team actually contributed versus old stalwarts.
Only 26 Angels have amassed more than 1.5 Defensive Wins Above Replacement. FOUR of them are on the team right now. In fact, since WAR stats are all counting stats and more playing time inevitably leads to more WAR among the palyers that stick around, the amazing thing here is that two of these four current players have compiled 1.5 WAR in under 1,000 Plate Appearances (which although an offensive stat is as good a measure of playing time as anything over large sample sizes, especially among everyday players).
Peter Bourjos has amassed 2.4 dWAR in only 703 career Plate Appearances all of them with the Angels. This is pretty amazing for any player on any team in any era of baseball. For the Angels he is just behind Wally Joyner's 2.5 dWAR. Wally had the luxury of compiling that with the leather over 3,700+ Plate Appearances under the halo. How about other centerfielders in Angels history? If Bourjos maintains his pace, he would surpass Jim Edmonds next season, and the duo of Gary Pettis and Devon White before the 2014 All Star Break. How underrated is Peter Bourjos? Consider the flyball-heavy pitching styles of our three aces and understand how Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver are looking forward to the next two seasons in Anaheim where the Bourjos-Marine-Layer conspiracy plots to hold all missiles in the park.
Alberto Callaspo might be the most underrated feather in Tony Reagins' visor. Callaspo's reacquisition last July was the beginning of the end of Brandon Wood, the admission that 3B had to have at least league average production for the team to compete. Wood found the pine and Callaspo went to work late last year and all of this, compiling 1.9 Defensive Wins Above Replacement in the 730 Plate Appearances he has made through Sunday. That is good enough for 20th all time in Angels franchise history.
The other two current Angels with more than 1.5 dWAR as an Angel are Howie Kendrick (1.7 dWAR in 2,600+ PA) and Maicer Izturis (2.9 dWAR in 2,450+ PA), but historically, only ONE other player in franchise history compiled over 1.5 Defensive Wins Above Replacement in under 1,000 Plate Appearances. This infielder has 1.6 dWAR in only 694 PA as an Angel. Can you guess who it was? Okay, you guess and then click this link to his current website and see if you got it right... and tell him that the Rev sent you, the statistical revolution is calling and it wants him on board... LINK.