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The Fielding Bible Volume II - Book of Revelations

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com

March 19, 2009

When John Dewan's Fielding Bible was published early in 2006, it easily represented the biggest leap forward in defensive metrics ever.  Michael Lichtman had the right idea with Ultimate Zone Rating, but the methodology was a little overly-complex, and the data wasn't available in a convenient  mainstream format.  Still, UZR held one advantage over Dewan's Plus/Minus system in that Lichtman converted his metric into runs saved for you, while Dewan made the reader do that work.

Three years later, in The Fielding Bible Volume II, Dewan has gone the extra mile, not only converting his Plus/Minus rating into runs saved, but also adding in bunt runs saved (for corner infielders), double play runs saved (for middle infielders), outfield arm runs saved, earned runs saved (for catchers), and stolen base runs saved (for pitchers and catchers).  No longer do we need to wonder whether Bobby Crosby's excellent work at turning the double play outweighs his poor range: last year, he was the best in the business at turning the double play, but his four GDP Runs Saved pale in comparison to his 10 Plus/Minus Runs Allowed.  Conversely, Alfonso Soriano's underrated arm made him the most valuable defensive left fielder in the game: despite having saved just nine Plus/Minus runs over the past three years, his whopping 33 runs saved via his throwing arm puts his total of 42 runs saved well over the speedy Carl Crawford's three-year total of 22 (19 Plus/Minus, 3 arm).

How does Dewan convert things like double play percentage, outfield assists, and bunt defense into runs saved?  He uses the same 24-states charts that we use to determine the value of a walk, a double, or a home run in our linear weights analysis.  It is possible now with the in-depth play-by-play situational data gathered by Baseball Info Solutions.

How does he convert pitcher and catcher caught stealing percentage and catcher's ERA into runs?  Those familiar with Linear Saves will understand immediately.  With Linear Saves, we compare a reliever's save total to how many saves a league average closer would have converted had he the same number of opportunities as the closer we're examining.  For the example of catcher's earned runs saved, Dewan uses a pitcher's actual ERA as "league average" and compares how many earned runs a catcher allowed with that pitcher to what the pitcher would have allowed with that actual ERA over the same number of defensive innings.  He then adds up the totals from every pitcher that catcher worked with.  I must say, I find Dewan's methodology here to be fantastic validation of my Linear Saves concept.

This only scratches the surface of the unique information found in The Fielding Bible Mark II.  Bill James calculates Universal Fielding Percentage across baseball history using an adaptation of the Linear Saves methodology.  This is a more precise method of simply eyeballing a fielder's career fielding percentage as compared to the league average at that position on Baseball-Reference.com as I have been doing for years.  Bill Freehan may have thrown his hat back into Top 200 consideration based on his 4th-best UPF all-time for catchers.

One feature that has been invaluable for my team previews thus far is the Team Defensive Runs by Position section.  You can easily see that while Orlando Hudson isn't quite the defensive whiz he once was, that he's going to improve on the -17 net runs the Dodgers endured at second base last season, thanks in large part to Jeff Kent.  The same goes for the A's getting Orlando Cabrera at shortstop, the Reds getting Alex Gonzalez back at shortstop, or the Cubs replacing Jim Edmonds in center.

Baseball Info Solutions now tracks Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays.  These are not awarded at the discretion of a scorer, but rather are tangible observations based on set criteria that Bill James explains in excruciating detail.  Mark Teixeira had 71 more GFP than DME (defensive misplays plus errors) in 2008, easily the biggest net result in baseball.  We are also provided with Defensive Misplays Per Touch to award part-time fielders and players who have poor range, but who make the most of the plays they do get to (The Michael Cuddyers of the world).  Hopefully, by the time the next Fielding Bible is published, someone will have figured out a way to approximate run values for this new Plus/Minus rating of good plays versus miscues.

Actually, this current iteration of The Fielding Bible isn't perfect.  The layout doesn't make intuitive sense, making the book somewhat difficult to navigate.  You don't always know whether the information you need is in the six-year register, the scouting reports, or the leaders/trailers section.  Rather than have the methodology and results for pitcher stolen base runs, catcher stolen base runs, catcher earned runs saved, bunt runs, outfield arm runs, and double play runs all in consecutive chapters, they are spread throughout the book.  There is simply so much information in there that it isn't always easy to have what you're looking for at your fingertips.  Post-it notes are a must.

Also, while the book is usually more than willing to crunch the numbers and walk you through the methodology of just about every calculation, it glaringly omits that calculation when mentioning that the run value for a stolen base is .19 while the run value for a caught stealing is -.43.  Earlier in that section, Dewan mentions that for pitchers' runs saved, an opportunity is defined as "the number of times a runner was on first base with second base open."  So, for their calculation of the value of the stolen base, are they also ignoring double steals, steals of third, and steals of home?  They provide us with the 24-states chart for 2008 at the beginning of the book, but as usual when someone publishes that chart, they failed to publish the frequency with which each of the 24-states occurred, making it impossible for us to check their calculation ourselves.  Frustrating, that.

(Seriously, for any traditional baseball analysts who want to rid the world of Sabermetrics, here's what you do.  Infiltrate the next SABR convention and ask what the run values of a stolen base and caught stealing are.  Get out, lock the door, and return in three days.  There will be only one Sabermetrician left alive, which will be a victory for traditional baseball analysts, and there will finally be a definitive run value for stolen bases and caught stealings, with no one left to argue.  Everyone wins - well, except perhaps for the families of the slaughtered Sabrmetricians, but I expect most Sabermetrician's spouses have warned that baseball analysis would be the death of them.  But I digress...)

There are also a couple of random articles that go nowhere, most notably Bill James' examination of how much Tim McCarver helped Steve Carlton as a pitcher or Dewan's essay comparing Juan Uribe to Troy Tulowitzki.  They aren't bad articles, but unless you're a fan of McCarver (come on, there must be a couple of you out there) or a fan of shortstops with unusual last names (of which, I am one), you're left wondering why they were included in the tome rather than, say, an expansion of the paragraph describing how Jason Kendall went from having one of the worst arms in baseball to one of the best in the course of one season.  Or those elusive percentages for the 24-states!

Still, the book would be indispensable even if it had an article about whether or not to put ketchup on your hot dog.  This is information you cannot get anywhere else, information you need to fully understand the game of baseball.  Without The Fielding Bible Volume II, you might wonder why the Athletics signed the 31-year old Mark Ellis to a 2-year, $11 million deal after he batted .233 last year.  But at the end of the book, there is a chart adding up players' runs created on offense, runs created on defense, and baserunning runs and using a nifty positional adjustment created by Bill James to compare the players across the diamond.  We find that Ellis was a more valuable player overall last year than Alfonso Soriano, Garrett Atkins, Carlos Lee, Jim Thome, J.D. Drew, and a host of other players who each  make way more money than Ellis does and each of whom the average fan would consider a better player than Ellis, hands down.

That is the advantage that the Fielding Bible gives you: the ability to understand an integral part of the game of baseball that had remained hidden for so long.  Don't analyze baseball without it.

The Fielding Bilbe Volume II is available at local bookstores or directly from ACTASports.com.




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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