Using Statcast Data to Measure Team Defense

As I’m sure you all know, Statcast allows us to measure the launch angle and velocity for each batted ball. These measurements afford us the ability to estimate precisely the expected wOBA value of every batted ball. Due to the skills of the opposing defense (as well as, admittedly, factors like luck, weather, and ballpark quirks), these estimated wOBA values are often drastically different from their actual values. That is the idea behind Expected Runs Saved (xRS), a metric that I have created to measure team defense. What follows is a discussion of the xRS methodology and some results.

The methodology: The calculation of xRS is actually quite simple. I started by downloading Statcast data from Opening Day through August 29th using Python’s pybaseball module. I then created a dataset consisting of all fair batted balls (excluding home runs) during that time frame. Conveniently, the downloaded data already has the expected wOBA value (based on exit velocity and launch angle), and the actual wOBA value (based on the outcome of the play) for each batted ball. Since we want to penalize teams for making errors, I changed the actual wOBA values for errors from 0 to 0.9 (the value of a single). Then all we have to do is take the average of each metric by team, find the difference, convert that to run values, and we have Expected Runs Saved.

Note that xRS is quite a bit more simplistic than UZR or DRS, as it doesn’t include any of the defensive value derived from keeping baserunners from taking the extra base, preventing steals, turning double plays, etc. While these surely play a role in run prevention, they are less important than converting batted balls into outs, and since I have a full-time job I decided to keep it simple and ignore them.

The results: Let’s start with the most obvious question: which team has the best defense?

It’s the Angels, and it’s not particularly close. While their pitchers have allowed a lot of hard contact (.323 batted-ball xwOBA, 28th in baseball), their actual wOBA on contact is 2nd in baseball at .291, trailing only the Dodgers (.284), who, as Jeff Sullivan recently noted, excel at inducing weak contact.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Blue Jays, who have been generally good at generating weak contact (.305 batted-ball xwOBA, 5th in baseball) but terrible at converting those weakly hit balls into outs (.322 batted ball wOBA, 28th in baseball).

In both cases UZR tends to agree, ranking the Angels and Blue Jays 1st and 27th, respectively. Due to (I think) the simplicity of the model, the run values for xRS are quite a bit more extreme than those of either UZR or DRS, but it ranks the teams in generally the same order. At the very least, xRS doesn’t disagree with UZR and DRS much more than the latter two disagree with each other.

Two teams that xRS likes a lot more than UZR and DRS are the Mariners (2nd in xRS, 11th in UZR, 15th in DRS) and Yankees (4th in xRS, 13th in both UZR and DRS). Meanwhile, it dislikes the Dodgers (12th in xRS, 3rd in UZR, 1st in DRS) relative to the other metrics, as well as the Reds (28th in xRS, 5th in UZR, 4th in DRS). Why is this happening? I really don’t know. Could be some defensive components I have left out of xRS, could be ballpark effects, or it could just be that defensive metrics are weird. It remains a mystery. Such is baseball, and such is life.

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phealy48
Member
phealy48

First of all, the last sentence makes the whole article worth my time 🙂 Second, good article. Third, I have dabbled in some Statcast defense and I found Trout to be one of the best CFs according to Statcast in terms of xwoba-woba.

35th and Not James Shields
Member
Member
35th and Not James Shields

Nate,

Thanks for the research and article, especially given the full-time employment. On suggestion would be to include a table listing the results of all teams.