Comparing the Defensive Ranges of Dexter Fowler and Jon Jay

The 2016 Cubs might have been one of the best defenses, well, ever. Although defensive metrics currently lag behind common convention, the Cubs had the best park adjusted defensive efficiency (PADE) of all time. Not many imagined the Cubs being that good defensively largely because Dexter Fowler was seen as a below-average defender before the Cubs signed him.

Fowler proved critics wrong by producing approximately league-average defensive value, at least according to his UZR/150 marks of -1.9 and 1.0 in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Jon Jay faces similar criticism, given that his UZR/150 of -7.0 as a Padre suggests he is an aging, bottom-tier defender. But how do the two compare using more up-to-date measures?

Quantifying defense is fraught with limitations, but I do think fans will have much better access to more accurate defensive valuation soon. With full understanding that we still don’t have the optimal tools, I have made an attempt to compare the gloves of Jay and Fowler.

This was done by incorporating new defensive data from Baseball Savant that normalizes a defender’s starting point in the field — one area of improvement critics of UZR consistently discuss –when an out is recorded.

Note on how to interpret the above graph:

  • Dots represent the outermost boundaries of potential outs that were not caught.
  • Shapes represent actual outs recorded.
  • Shapes that engulf a dot suggest that a player has better range.

The main difference we see is that Fowler is better at running down fly balls to his left side. This is evident in the way the red polygon extends into right field and engulfs a couple black dots. Though Jay’s shape extends much farther into left field, Fowler simply didn’t have the same chances. Maybe Jay is slightly better than Fowler at chasing down fly balls to his right, as there is a red dot near the edge of his range. Even so, I’m not confident we can say Jay is actually better than Fowler going that direction.

Based on the above data, Fowler has better range. He was able to chase down hard-hit fly balls to his right side, the same balls Jay couldn’t retrieve. This doesn’t mean Jay is going to be a negative defender, per se, but it shows that he has less room for error.

Now Albert Almora‘s range, that’s a whole ‘nother story.

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