How Americans Measure The Value Of Fielding

Regular readers know that I’m generally skeptical about “fielding hype” — i.e., the notion that a team should invest in good fielding as an equal asset besides batting and bowling. Part of my problem is that I’m not sure how to measure the worth of fielding, which doesn’t fit into defined categories like batting or bowling (runs and wickets, respectively).

From the Wall Street Journal comes a few valuable insights into the Yankees and their “defensive tactics” (what baseball players call fielding, apparently):

One of the best ways to measure team defense is defensive efficiency—a measure of how often balls in play are converted to outs. It accounts for range, errors and strong fielding all at once. Last season, the Yankees were the fifth-best defensive team by efficiency, converting 72% of balls in play into outs. This season, they’re further behind—the Yankees are a middle-of-the-pack 18th in defensive efficiency to this point, converting 71% of balls in play into outs.

The four best defensive teams in baseball by efficiency rating are the Tampa Bay Rays, Anaheim Angels, Florida Marlins and Texas Rangers. Not coincidentally, all four are fighting for their division leads. Meanwhile the Yankees are making errors at an uncharacteristic rate.

Earlier this year, Simon Briggs discussed how England fielding coach Richard Halsall keeps track of his fielders:

Richard Halsall, who works with England, keeps track of four key indicators: catches, obviously, but also clean takes, successful throws and diving stops.

These statistics have some interesting things to say. When Halsall took his job, back in 2007, England were lagging behind the world’s leading teams in both close catching and diving stops (they have since caught up.) And they say that Ian Bell, rather than the more celebrated Paul Collingwood, is England’s best all-round fielder.

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