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Strong Arms, Limited Range, Give Royals Mediocre Outfield Defense in 2011

The Royal outfield posted a cumulative UZR of 9.0 in 2011, good for 6th best in the American League. As a child of the terrible Royal teams of the 2000s, I view being in the middle of the pack in something as a good thing. Even last year, the Royal outfield defense was considerably worse, posting a -13.5 score that was 10th in the league. According to UZR the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees all had extremely good defensive outfields, and their totals are all above 20. The Royals probably weren't in their class, but were comparable to teams like Anaheim and Minnesota, who were in the next tier down. (For a UZR primer, click here.)

In evaluating the Royal outfield, we have a case where the advanced numbers match what our eyes and the reputations of the players involved tell us. The strength of the outfield was in the arms, rather than the legs. The team's ARM score of 19.3 was easily the best in the American League (NYY was second at 7.3).  Meanwhile the Royals were actually below average range-wise, posting a -13.1 score, second worst in the AL.

On balance, the formula worked, although the Royals would be well-served to have a rangy CF replace Melky Cabrera, That is, at least if they wanted to field a dynamic defensive outfield. UZR numbers aren't perfect -- although it should be stated empahtically that nothing be it a stat or a scouting system is -- but the incredible stability of the Royal outfield takes much noise out of the data. Gordon-Cabrera-Francoeur was the alignment just about every single day, and Ned Yost rarely made defensive replacements in the outfield. I can't quantify how much more confident this makes me with regard to the data, but it certainly worth mentioning. Last season, there was so much churn in the outfield, just about every defensive stat became a very small sample, which makes a difference.

(Individual numbers after the jump)

Inn ARM Range UZR
Gordon 1309 11.2 -2.1 10.5
Francoeur 1352 9.3 -8.7 0.6
Melky 1339 -2.0 -5.6 -6.7

As you can see above, the advanced stats loved Gordon's work in the outfield this season, despite Francoeur's stronger reputation. I'm willing to call their arms roughly equal. The range remains perhaps an open question, and going forward there might not be a huge difference between the two. Francoeur has posted poor range scores in multiple ballparks in multiple leagues, going back to 2008. With Gordon, we really don't quite know just yet.

As for Melky, I'm a little surprised his numbers were quite this bad, but I'm not stunned by it. Melky's bat made him playable in 2011. Moving forward however, playing three poor-range OFs might not be the best strategy for the Royals.

For what it's worth, MITCH (3.2) and Dyson (1.3) contributed positive UZRs in limited playing time (300 innings total).