Statcast's new infield metric forgiving to White Sox

Tim Anderson painting
Tim Anderson (Carl Skanberg)

While MLB Advanced Media has posted its Outs Above Average metric for outfielders for the last couple of seasons, the Statcast crew finally presented an OAA evaluation of infielders on Wednesday.

Just like the outfielders segment, the results are largely what a general awareness of metrics and eye test would tell you, but with enough deviations/nuances to make one wonder if it’s telling you something you don’t know or weighing the wrong things.

(I’m still not entirely buying a metric that says Ryan Cordell had a better year than Adam Engel.)

With OAA for infielders, there are bound to be some disagreements between it and the other main metrics, Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating, because it makes the boldest attempt at addressing the shifting conundrum.

As useful and effective as they’ve been over the years, DRS and UZR use either the eye test via video scouting or zone-based systems. The Statcast technology allows us to know exactly where each fielder stands, which is helpful in a baseball world where shifting and out-of-position defenders are commonplace.

What that means is that every tracked play is accounted for, regardless of if the third baseman is standing in his regular spot or at shortstop or in short right field. It allows you to know exactly “how far” and “how much time,” regardless of shifts. (In 2019, about 35% of pitches, or over 255,000 pitches, came with fielders either in the shift or otherwise not in their standard positions. That’s a lot.) UZR has generally ignored shifted plays entirely; DRS hasn’t included them on a player basis, though a forthcoming update may change that.

While some of the disagreements with other systems could be due to suboptimal weighting, it’s possible that OAA’s reliance on its own tracking technology means it’s going to be describing something different, and so it’s to be used with other metrics, and not in their place.

I spent some time poking around the leaderboards and player pages, and I’m inclined to want to like it, because it’s fairly generous to an imperfect White Sox infield.

Checks out

Jose Abreu’s place among first basemen: At -3 OAA, it fits in with DRS (-4) and (-1.9), none of which seem that bad. But at -3 OAA, only Josh Bell, Luke Voit, Eric Hosmer and Pete Alonso are worse among 40 qualifying first basemen.

I’m guessing the lack of shifting makes it easier for a bad first baseman to hide, but gives the more athletic guys a chance to stand out. Abreu is not one of those more athletic guys.

Yoan Moncada’s metrics as a second baseman: When you look at the 2018 leaderboard for second basemen, you have to scroll all the way to the bottom to find Moncada, who occupied the cellar at -14 OAA. He was absymal on balls coming in and balls to his right, which jibe with my impression that he wasn’t comfortable making plays that required creative body control.

Better than expected

Yoan Moncada’s metrics as a third baseman: Because Moncada’s play at second set such a low bar, I couldn’t tell how much I should like his defense at third. After the release of OAA, I’m still not positive how I should rate it, but the Good Scores now hold a 2-1 lead.

  • OAA: 5
  • DRS: -7
  • UZR: 4.9

I’m comfortable with him somewhere in the 2-to-5 range. He’s nowhere close to the Nolan Arenado/Matt Chapman tier, but his first season back at third serves as a nice floor for future refinement.

Tim Anderson: Considering he led the league in errors despite missing some time with an injury, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he finished toward the bottom of shortstops by Statcast’s metric. Instead, he placed 21st with a -1 OAA, which is still bottom half, but nowhere near disastrous.

That hasn’t been the story told by the other metrics, making OAA seem like an outlier.

  • OAA: -1
  • DRS: -9
  • UZR: -11.7

But in the context of its three-year history, OAA’s evaluation follows the same trajectory as the other metrics.

  • 2017: 1
  • 2018: 5
  • 2019: -1

OAA seems to give Anderson a higher starting point for his talents, whereas DRS and UZR have never considered him a plus defender. OAA strikes me as high because of all the plays Anderson left on the field last year, but maybe he gets credit for degree of difficulty? He was terrible on grounders coming in and decent everywhere else, so maybe he’s getting the weighting correct, akin to a Jeopardy! contestant who gets one right, gets one wrong, and still comes out $1,600 ahead.

Worse than expected

Yolmer Sánchez’s ranking as a second baseman: Sánchez won the American League Gold Glove at second base, and it wasn’t purely for his artistry. He also scored very well in the SABR Defensive Index, an aggregate metric. According to OAA, he’s merely OK.

  • OAA: 2
  • DRS: 11
  • UZR: 4.9

Only D.J. LeMahieu rivaled him in SDI, but a handful of other AL second baseman had him beat in this column.

According to FanGraphs, Sánchez was baseball’s best second baseman when it came to turning two, and it wasn’t even close. If OAA doesn’t factor in double plays, it’s missing Sánchez’s most noticeable defensive attribute. There isn’t a second baseman who gets rid of the ball faster, but if the metric doesn’t count balls that weren’t hit to him, it might miss the one thing that makes him special.

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So reading this, I feel like this is just saying Yolmer makes all the plays he is supposed to make but not much more than that which kinda jives with how I think of him as a defender. Timmy is the opposite end of the spectrum like you said where he has trouble with the routine but makes up for it with more flashy plays than average.


Are there monthly breakdowns? I remember Yolmer being bad defensively last April. 


Do any of the different stats properly weight when Timmy leaps 15 feet straight up into the air and robs a liner with his outstretched glove? Because that’s my favorite Anderson play, and I think it deserves the admiration of the sabermetrics community.

John SF

I don’t know. 

I would think most stats estimate vertical based on launch angle and exit velocity and calculate expected catch probability from there.  

But I’ve never seen a graph show someone with any catches in the top portion of the graph, which makes me think those are not being logged for some reason.   


Thanks Jim. This just seems to reinforce the idea that the more variables there are to influence a measurement, the less confidence you should have in the reliability of the measurement. I still love how baseball attempts to describe play scientifically, but it helps to be mindful that stats are often inherently flawed.


Don’t worry, everyone – St. John, IN is on it:


Will he be assigned the full time duty of tweaking Mazara’s swing?


Any relation to the guy from Styx?


I think we’d be crazy not to assume so.

As Cirensica

Styx is a band that I kinda like 3 or 4 songs and hate, I mean, really HATE all the other songs

lil jimmy

The more successful they got, the worse the music got. Local guys. I knew three of the guys. John Curulewski , and the Panazzo boys. Good people, every one.


First album I bought with my own money – Paradise Theater. Listened the hell out of that. Recorded at Pumpkin Studios in Oak Lawn, IL!


My first one was Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. As an impressionable 12 yr old going to buy his first album and having no idea, I get to Rose Records in Schaumburg, look at the WLS top albums and top singles list posted in the store, and see Rumours at number 1 for 200 weeks or some ungodly number.  And with many songs from the album in the top singles chart also , I think, this must be a pretty good album. 

Then I go to get the album and look at the album cover and especially Stevie Nicks on the back cover and whoo boy, sold!

I get home, put it on the record player, and immediately recognize most of the songs because they were being played on WLS while I was at the public pool that summer.  

I still have the album.  

Right Size Wrong Shape

The first album (cassette) that I bought with my own money was Easy-Duz-It in 6th grade (the edited version). I still expected a mall cop to jump out and arrest me the entire time I was in the store.


Isn’t that the typical career arc of bands?  Once successful they become less inspired and / or are no longer writing for themselves but writing to meet others’ expectations.   


My favorite gif of all time.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Sox DFA’s Medeiros to make room for Encarnacion. This is a little surprising, no?

Right Size Wrong Shape

Actually, after looking at the 40 man it’s not that surprising.


Yeah… he was the most likely candidate among pitchers, for sure. Maybe Seby Zavala if they had gone with a position player?

Eagle Bones

Would they really DFA Zavala? I know he’s looked completely overmatched (even in AAA), but he’s one of three real catchers on the roster (Collins and Mercedes being catchers in name only).


I think the Sox have more faith in Collins and Mercedes succeeding as catchers than you do. Hahn even alluded to Mercedes’ defensive “skills”. Zavala seems the least likely to be claimed.


The Sox can prob find a decent journeyman AAAA catcher to stash at Charlotte.


As a fan who was rooting for the Hilo kid to make my favorite team, I am disappointed. As a fan who has seen the lack of progress Medeiros has made with his control the past two seasons, I am not surprised. Maybe he’ll go back to Birmingham and turn it around, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see another team take a chance on him.


Not surprising since he hadn’t even made AAA. The bigger surprise will be whoever gets dropped for Cishek; it will likely be someone who played in Chicago last season (unless a trade is forthcoming).

Yolmer's gatorade

Good bye Dylan Covey.


I’d guess the three guys on the bubble are Covey, Zavala and Ruiz. I agree with yolmers, Covey seems the most likely to get droped. It’s been a while since the Sox 40 man roster consisted of 25 or more average or above major league players and prospects actually good enough and experienced enough to need rule 5 protection. No wasted spots.


Covey seems most likely, but I wouldn’t rule out Fulmer.


First round draft pick v. Rule 5 draft pick?  
Fulmer wins


I agree that you keep Fulmer over Covey, but after looking at the numbers it is closer than I originally thought.

Covey is only two years older (28 v. 26) and they both equally stink in MLB, but Covey has been a much better pitcher in AAA. He was also (somehow) worth 1.3 fWAR in 2018 and Steamer projects him to be slightly better in ERA, FIP, xFIP, and fWAR in 2020. 

That said, Fulmer’s prospect pedigree presumably gives him the higher upside and he’s been much better than Covey at all levels at striking dudes out. So I guess you keep him…

As Cirensica

I called it


A couple of thoughts:

1. Defensive metrics have come a long way, but the variance in methodology and in results make them more of a fun academic exercise, rather than the be all end all for defensive performance. That said, I’m inclined to trust statcast the most since I think their methodology makes the most sense, and what they say about individual players seems to match the eye test the best. They still need to find some way to grade players for things outside normal plays, like turning two.

2. Tatis at -12 OAA and Machado at -3 just goes to show that ability to make flashy plays /= good overall defensive performance.

karkovice squad

3. The lack of peer review/open source should be greeted with cynicism. I think I’m coming around to the anti-black box wizardry POV even if it’s for different reasons.


Don’t forget my favorite irrelevant statistic, FRAA. It’s my favorite because it says Sox are good so that means the stat is good tbh.


Also, regarding why it seems Cordell is better than Engel, perhaps Engel being much better in chasing down balls behind him at the wall rather than charging in makes his plays more noticeable.


Engel’s arm is lacking, also. I could see a lot of first-to-thirding on singles to right field on his watch. 


Is that kind of thing showing up in OAA? My sense was that for OF this stat amounted to catch vs. no catch and not much else. But am not entirely sure.


I definitely felt like other metrics have given Cordell an undeservedly bad reputation. He always looked pretty solid by my eye test, so I’m not shocked that at least one metric liked him.


I think the most pressing concern regarding the Sox infield defense for the upcoming season involves Anderson’s ability to deal with a high number of grounders when Gonzalez and Keuchel are on the mound. My sense is that TA7 is a much better fielder in games where the Sox aren’t trailing by a 1/2 dozen runs by the 3rd inning. A part of Andersons’s reverting to poor technique seems to me to stem from a loss of focus in lopsided games.


Or, like… fury.


“No matter how thin you slice it, it’s still bologna.” — the other Al Smith