Early UZR Check: Royal Outfield Looking Surprisingly Bad

Let's get this out of the way: 1) it's early 2) small sample 3) defensive stats are sure crazy aren't they?

This year's defensive outfield can help us understand why the Royals have had so much trouble getting to .500.

Over at Fangraphs you can look at the UZR numbers for an outfield as a whole. It's a nifty feature because it makes sense that at some level we should consider the OF as something of a team. So how are the Royals doing in the very early season check thus far? Not super great, it turns out.

The Royals rank just 8th in the American League in OF UZR at the moment. Sure, this is the Royals, so being close to average means things are actually not bad, but I was a little disappointed to see a ranking that low. (For something like this, I personally like to look at UZR rankings rather than digging too much into the specific numbers. The rankings convey a general sense fairly well, without distracting us with details that may or may not be terribly meaningful.)

Considering that this might be the team's most logical OF from a defensive perspective in many years, only being in the bottom-of-the-middle of the pack is a bit of a letdown.

Here are the leading players at each OF position:

  • LF: Podsednik 90.8% of the innings
  • CF: MITCH: 65.3%
  • RF: DeJesus: 86.2%

So the Royals have a fast guy who used to play CF in LF, a real CF out there in MITCH, and a generally well-regarded COF in RF... and 8th?

So what might be going on?

  • Jose Guillen has played just 39 OF innings this year, but his numbers are insanely bad. Like, worst OF who ever lived bad.
  • Willie Bloomquist has played 92 random OF innings and UZR isn't a huge fan of what he's done either.
  • And rounding up the part-timers, Dick Ankiel's 140 innings aren't highly praised by the system either. So in sum, all the backups/part timers have been bad. Those 271 innings of negative UZRs have dragged down the number, and, in reality, also cost the Royals runs in real life.
  • As for the regulars, MITCH and DDJ have been pretty good. DDJ's posted a 2.5 UZR, which has unfortunately been nearly entirely erased in the short time that Guillen and Bloomy have "patrolled" right field. MITCH has been one of the better CFs in the AL, but as noted above, he's only played 65.3% of the innings out there.
  • Which finally brings us to Scot Podsednik. Pods has a decidedly meh UZR thus far of -0.1. I think this mostly jives with what we thought about him coming into the season: he wasn't going to kill us out there, but he also wasn't really going to help.

You may have found this a terribly boring post, but I think it highlights some of the problems the Royals have had during the last decade. Because of the nature of the game, to have a good baseball team, you have to have a number of really good players. You can't funnel your offensive "touches" to one or two good players and you can't really scheme anything to hide your flaws. The bottom of the order sucks? Tough, they're still going to bat 95% as often as the top of the order. The bullpen is terrible? Well, unfortunately, they will have to pitch nearly every game. And so on. Just having Zack Greinke and Joakim Soria isn't going to give you a good pitching staff. To have a good staff, over a 162 game season, you have to have a good staff. Period.

We can see this in the Royal outfield. The Royals have a good starting point with David DeJesus on one of the corners. And, they even caught some dumb luck when Ankiel went down, allowing a plus CF to become the starter. Wow, 2/3rds of the OF is good! We must have a good OF!

Not quite. Pods is a classic Dayton Moore miscalculation: an over-priced, over-rated player who isn't really providing the Royals with what they think he is. Coupled with the negative contributions of Guillen and Bloomquist, the details of roster construction once again doom the team. Nearly all the runs DeJesus has saved in RF have been canceled out by what the backups have done in much less time. If Willie Bloomquist can't hit and can't actually field multiple positions, then why is he on the roster?

The little misses add up. It's hard to be good. Until we get to a point when Dayton Moore's minor players, guys like Pods and Bloomy and Dick are actually assets and not sinkholes, the Royals are never going to win.

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