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One year of Cheslor Cuthbert's defense

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Defense is hard

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

If you've read my prospect lists the past few years, followed me on Twitter, or participated in the daily Royal Rumblings you probably shouldn't be surprised about my stance on Cheslor Cuthbert's defense. I've probably been the biggest critic of him at third base.

July 2015

23. Cheslor Cuthbert - AAA 89 wrC+

It's been a couple years since Cuthbert has been a hitter in any league. While he has been young at each level really, he doesn't have the raw tools to prop him up necessarily (like say Mondesi). I've always been underwhelmed by him and this year he's continued to not hit and has no defensive position.

March 2016

30. 1B/3B Cheslor Cuthbert - Age 23

.277/.339/.421 11 HR 51 RBI in 438 PA in AAA ball

I just don't see it with Cuthbert. I never have. There is some power but he is not good enough to play third base and the arm is wasted at first base, and his power is not good enough at that position. I'm happy to be wrong.

I'm not the only one who has been pessimistic of his ability to stay at 3B. Baseball Prospectus' annual pages have information on Cuthbert dating back to 2011, constantly questioning his ability to stay at 3B.

Cheslor was never impressive in the minors defensively. Fielding percentage has it's flaws and the lower the level, the less it matters but he put up some bad numbers at 3B.

Year Tm Lev Ch E Fld% RF/9
2010 2 Teams Rk 64 7 0.891 2.14
2010 Idaho Falls Rk 23 1 0.957 2.1
2010 Royals Rk 41 6 0.854 2.17
2011 Kane County A 186 13 0.930 2.25
2012 Wilmington A+ 268 20 0.925 2.18
2013 2 Teams AA-A+ 301 25 0.917 2.47
2013 Wilmington A+ 133 11 0.917 2.23
2013 Northwest Arkansas AA 168 14 0.917 2.71
2014 2 Teams AA-AAA 200 21 0.895 2.57
2014 Northwest Arkansas AA 174 19 0.891 2.75
2014 Omaha AAA 26 2 0.923 1.84
2015 Omaha AAA 183 7 0.962 2.47
2016 Omaha AAA 62 7 0.887 2.69
2016 KCR MLB 309 16 0.948 2.41
Total - - 1264 100 0.921 2.37

Several seasons with low-.900's and a career MiLB fielding percentage of .921. The farthest right column is range factor on a 9-innings basis. Cuthbert's career RF/9 is 2.37, which in the major leagues this year would be something like 300th overall and ~30th best among third basemen with 300+ innings at the hot corner.

This same minor league defensive struggles carried over to the major leagues this year. Through various metrics, Cuthbert rated poorly defensively (rank among the 18 qualified 3B in parentheses):

Defensive Run Saved: -12 (18th)

Out of zone plays made: 19 (18th)

Double Play Runs Above Average: -0.4 (t11th)

Range Runs Above Average: -7.9 (16th)

Ultimate Zone Rating: -9.3 (17th)

Defense: -7.4 (17th)

Here are the UZR and DRS ratings for each qualified Royals 3B since 2002:

Mark Teahen; woof. Cheslor wasn't even close to the worst but nobody was close to being the next worse than him by UZR/DRS.

Now these are the more quantitative methods. Ones that rely more on statistical calculation perhaps than a qualitative approach. Thankfully now we have Inside Edge data provided by FanGraphs. Inside Edge uses both batted ball data and real people grading the play to judge whether or not a player should/shouldn't have made that play, and assigning it a probability. To the left of the below graph are the plays Cuthbert has made, and to the right are those he missed.

There are a decent bunch of plays in the 40-60% and 10-40% bucket that Cuthbert did make, as well as a nice size of the dark green 90-100%. On the right you'd expect to see a bunch of red (just like a lot of dark green on the left) as those plays are extremely unlikely to be made. There are though several dark and lighter green dots that Cuthbert missed (more likely to be made plays).

Unfortunately those exact plays are proprietary data to Inside Edge and subscribed to by FanGraphs so we don't know exactly what happened in those plays. We do know that many of those look like reasonable plays to be made, and they were graded as very high percentage chances by Inside Edge.

For reference here is Nolan Arenado, the MLB leader in DRS among 3B this year:

We see two reds (low percentage plays) and a lot of yellows on the left. On the right he's mostly just missing the low percentage plays but there are some dark greens in there he missed too. There aren't any dark greens though on plays in front of him, while Cuthbert has five.

It seemed like every time Cuthbert made a play like this:

He'd follow it up with plays like this:

Sometimes it seemed to be throwing errors. Cuthbert has a really strong throwing arm but it's as inaccurate as it is strong.

Sometimes it's due to issues with his hands too.

Now I don't mean for this article to be an I told you so or anything, though Cuthbert appears to not have the ability to play 3B full time. This season didn't appear to be an anomaly or bad year by the defensive metrics, and his true talent level at third base seems to be a below average one. The team is of course toying with the idea of moving to Cuthbert to second base (which by the way he has 2 errors in 12 chances and a .833 FLD% there in the minors) that doesn't seem like a viable spot for him.

The Royals are in a weird spot with Cuthbert. He's out of options so he either needs to be on the MLB team or be DFA'd, but Moustakas is clearly the better player and incumbent at 3B. It's unlikely that he'll be capable of playing second base but he doesn't have the bat to play 1B either (where his arm strength would be wasted) as he has a career 92 wRC+ and .140 isolated slugging. He could maybe be a platoon DH option but a) he doesn't exactly kill lefties (career 112 wRC+ vs LHP) and b) that's the weak side of the platoon - traditionally where it's filled by a player that plays another position in the field. Nobody carries a left handed platoon hitting DH really.

Maybe there is a team out there that thinks they could work with and improve Cuthbert at 3B or project his bat to be viable at first base perhaps. Maybe somebody would give him a shot in right field where his arm strength would play (he doesn't have any room in the Royals outfield right now). Of course winter moves could change all this entirely.

But for now I'll ask you to grade Cheslor Cuthbert's defense at 3B in the poll below.