Your way-too-early defensive leaders

April 21: Christmas!

If Christmas was based on a small sample size.

FanGraphs released its first UZR update today much to the happiness of basement-dwelling bloggers everywhere. The leaderboard:

First base: Kendry Morales, LAA (2.6)

Second base: David Eckstein, SD (2.5)

Shortstop: JJ Hardy, MIN (3.1)

Third base: Jose Lopez, SEA (3.1)

Right field: Nelson Cruz, TEX (5.2)

Center field: Austin Jackson, DET (3.1)

Left field: Carl Crawford, TB (5.1)

And if you’re looking for a pitcher, look no further than this:

I guess Jose Lopez qualifies as the biggest surprise given that he had only played five games at third base before 2010, so there’s no track record to refer back to.

Eckstein is the only one of these players who scored low (get it? It’s because he’s short!) in UZR last year, clocking in at -3.5 at second base. Austin Jackson has rated “average to below average” in the minors, so he may be due for a regression as well.

Morales, Hardy, Cruz, and Crawford all scored well in UZR last year, so seeing them at the top of the leaderboard isn’t surprising.

But here’s the obvious caveat: to truly evaluate defensive talent, you need three years of UZR data. A hundred or so innings of data is nowhere near enough to make a good evaluation on a player’s defense. Evaluating defense on 100 innings of data would be like telling everybody a movie is good based on a 30-second trailer that has like two funny Vince Vaughn lines that promise to be the only mildly comical lines in the entire movie.

So now that I’ve rendered this post completely worthless, I guess I should leave you with some sort of value to take away.

Plate discipline numbers are reliable this early in the season, and as a team, the St. Louis Cardinals are the biggest hackers in baseball, swinging at 47.6 percent of pitches. But the Cards don’t swing at a ton of bad pitches—they’ve swung at 25.8 percent of pitches out of the strike zone, putting them right around the middle of the pack.

Instead, the Cardinals’ in-state counterparts have had the worst pitch selection. The Royals’ lineup has swung at 30.7 pitches out of the strike zone, a tick above the Astros at 30.6 percent. The Rangers, Mets, White Sox, and Marlins have all swung at over 30 percent of out-of-the-zone pitches as well.

Finally, this has no connection to defense or hacking, but I mean…this might be the greatest thing to hit the internet since stealth cat.

Sorry, Panda.

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