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Earlier this week, Fangraphs added John Dewan’s +/- defensive stats to their player pages, a major addition that gives users the two most widely accepted defensive measures (UZR and +/-) in one place. +/- is on a similar “runs saved” scale to UZR, so the two numbers can be used together to try and get an accurate look at a player’s defense. The first thing I did with the new data was use Fangraph’s “last 3 years” split to get an adequate sample, and then looked for Yankees to see if anything unique popped up. While Mark Teixeira graded out better in +/- and Curtis Granderson was second among all CF’ers over the sample, the most interesting tidbit I found regarded Robinson Cano.
While Cano was similarly situated on the leaderboard whether UZR or +/- was used, total runs saved relative to the average was much better under +/-. Take a look at his defensive stats from 2005-2009 (DRS is +/-):
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As you can see, UZR and +/- are basically on the same page until 2009, when they diverge wildly. The difference results in Cano being +16 by DRS over the 2007-2009 sample, but -1.8 based on UZR. Looking at Cano’s +/- fits with the narrative that 2008 was simply an off year for him in all facets of the game, while UZR seems to suggest that he is a mediocre fielder who has only had one positive defensive season. So who is right about Robbie?
The truth is, it is hard to tell. One year samples such as the one we have on 2009 are unreliable, and the divergence in the 3 year number makes it difficult to come to a conclusion on Cano’s defense. I would probably guess that the answer lies somewhere in the middle, which shows the value in having as much defensive data as possible. Because the samples tend to have some errors and inherent biases involved, it makes sense to use as many metrics as possible to try and come to a conclusion about a player’s defense. I’d suggest that Cano is a solid defensive second baseman, likely above average, something I was less likely to say when all I had was the UZR data.
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