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Measuring the Diamondbacks defense: Second base

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Unlike the monolith which was the first base position, second was more of a grab-bag of alternatives, with Chris Owings not managing really to stake his claim to an everyday spot.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Basic metrics

Chris Owings was the main incumbent, starting 101 games, with Aaron Hill getting the bulk of the remainder, making 38 starts; also filling in were Phil Gosselin (12 starts), Cliff Pennington (7) and Brandon Drury (4). The issues for the Diamondbacks here were, very clearly, much more on the offensive side: our 2B combined for a line of .220/.266/.340, with the resulting .605 OPS being the worst in the league by 18 points, and ahead only of the White Sox in the majors. But defensively, the position was pretty solid, with only nine errors being made over the season, two below league average at the spot, and one fewer than last season.

Breaking the errors down a bit, we find one was on a catch, two on throws, with the remaining seven all being fielding gaffes such as bobbles. Owings made four and Hill two, giving the former the slightly better fielding percentage of .991, compared to .989; both were above league individual average, which was... lower. [Baseball-Reference has different numbers in different places, citing league average as either .985 or .986, depending on where you look. I think the "team error", charged not to a specific individual, may come into play, because adding up the individual errors for the Arizona 2B, you get nine, while the overall total is ten]

The team was middle of the pack in most other metrics, though were involved in fewer double-plays than I'd have expected. Our second basemen took part in 97, below league average of 108, perhaps a surprise, given our overall DP numbers were better than average. One curiosity:despite playing the second-most number if innings in the league, the number of chances for the Diamondbacks at second-base was ahead of only the San Diego Padres. We faced an average number of right-handed batters (58%), and the percentage of PAs that ended with a ground-ball in play was also right at league-average, 33%. Maybe Goldie's range reduced the balls fielded by 2B?

Enhanced metrics

There are some sharp discrepancies about what the advanced metrics have to say, in regard to the second-base position for Arizona this season. Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), both look fairly favorably on the Diamondbacks, rating than fourth-equal and fifth respectively in the league, both giving us positive scores, of +5 and +4. However, Ulimate Zone Rating (UZR) is basically throwing tomatoes at Owings, Hill et al, giving us the worst score in the entire National League, way down at -10.2.. This may be linked to the low number of chances mentioned above, as the range component of UZR is clearly to blame, sitting for Arizona at -11.1.

Breaking them down to an individual level, the differences become even more stark. If we look at Hill and Owings, the only two with somewhat "meaningful" numbers of innings, there is at least some agreement between DRS and UZR on Hill, who comes in at +1 DRS, with a UZR of -0.1 [FRAA remains an outlier, at +4] Owings, however, is liked an awful lot more by DRS, rated at +5, which is solidly respectable; considering that only three NL second basemen score higher (Dee Gordon, Danny Espinoza and Addison Russell). Owings does particularly well in the rGFP [Good Fielding Plays] component, where his +3 is tied with Neil Walker for best in the league.

Range is a different matter, and the figures do seem to bear this out. Owings successfully made plays (RZR) on 75.3% of balls hit into the second-baseman's zone this year. Among regular 2B (250+ innings), only Walker had a lower rate at 75.1%, with league average being 78.5%, and going all the way up to Russell at 85.5%, Yet, curiously, Owings made more out of zone plays (OOZ) than Russell, even adjusting for playing time. Those may well factor into his decent rGFP figure. Not sure I can think of many cases where a player has had poor range in the zone, and good range outside of it!

Anyway, as I did for first-base, here are all the metrics for both Owings and Hill, along with those for the three NL Gold Glove nominees at the position. U/150 is UZR per 150 games, so takes playing time into account. Do not ask me why Aaron Hill has a positive UZR, and a negative U/150, for the resulting shrug of the shoulders and an "I dunno" may offend.

Name IP E F% FRAA DRS UZR U/150 RZR OOZ
Aaron Hill 342.1 2 .989 4 1 0.1 -0.4 .800 12
Chris Owings 918.2 4 .991 1 5 -6.8 -10.8 .753 44
Dee Gordon 1270.0 6 .992 3 13 6.4 6.0 .765 59
D.J. LeMahieu 1284.0 9 .988 6 3 0.6 0.8 .786 75
Brandon Phillips 1228.0 6 .991 4 5 2.0 2.1 .789 53