Which are the best positioned teams in baseball?
For a long time it was hard to answer that question because the data didn’t exist.
But in 2022, thanks to the work of our Video Scouts who chart every play of every game and the availability of better quality video, we’re able to look into such things.
So we’re going to look at positioning in this article, which will focus on outfield, and another, which will look at infield positioning.
The top teams in outfield positioning this season are listed below.
|Team||OF Positioning Runs Saved|
|1. Blue Jays||17|
|2. Red Sox||12|
Before we look at each of them specifically, let’s first explain the methodology.
The way we calculate positioning value is
A) We calculate the out probability of a play using all of the variables available from our tracking. Those inputs for balls hit in the air include where the ball was hit, how hard it was hit, where the player was positioned.
B) We recalculate that out probability taking away the input of where the player was positioned and replacing it with “average positioning.”
The positioning value, calculated in both plays saved and runs saved both in totality and on a per-play basis, comes from simple subtraction: A minus B.
So for example:
A fly ball into the left center gap may have a 50% out probability for the center fielder if we don’t know where he is positioned and presume “average” positioning.
But if we know where he is positioned and can recompute the out probability to 90%, then we know the positioning value of the play to be .4 (90% minus 50%). The run value is then computed accordingly based on where and how hard the ball was hit to account for whether the ball would be an extra-base hit.
That would be an instance of good positioning.
If on that same ball, the out probability went from 50% to 20% once we knew the center fielder’s positioning, that would be an example of bad positioning. The team would be dinged .3 positioning plays saved (50%-20%).
Good teams rack up a lot of positive credits in this stat. Bad teams accumulate lots of debits.
Let’s run through each of the teams in the Top 5.
The team that best positions its outfielders, both on a per-opportunity basis and overall, is the Blue Jays. Both Mike Petriello and David Adler have written about the Blue Jays aggressive outfielding on MLB.com.
Some of that is the 4-man OF, which @_dadler wrote about recently (https://t.co/RnYppJsV1t), but most of it isn't. Most of it is just very specific changes in positioning.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) June 21, 2022
Mike’s right, by the way. The value add is likely coming in the traditional three-man outfield rather than the now 135 balls in play against a Blue Jays four-man outfield (on which the BABIP is .346).
The Blue Jays have found the right formula when using three outfielders. They’ve gotten the results they’ve sought.
If we combine the Blue Jays outfielders Runs Saved specific to range with the team’s Runs Saved for outfield positioning, that’s a combined 12 Runs Saved.
Last season, those two numbers combined for -2 Runs Saved.
They’re 14 Runs Saved better in the outfield this season specific to catching balls.
And it’s part of a larger theme here. The Blue Jays rank third in Defensive Runs Saved overall behind only the Yankees and Dodgers.
And they’re among the top defensive outfields when combining all aspects of play (making plays, throwing, etc)
Most Defensive Runs Saved – Outfields
What’s cool about the outfield info is that we can pinpoint plenty of instances in which their aggressive positioning paid off.
This is the best example:
This one’s a good one too.
Our system is such that it rewards good decision making even without the recording of an out. This play is a good example of this. George Springer would have had no chance at this ball unless he was playing well over to the pull side.
The Blue Jays don’t have outfielders with great histories of skill in the corner spots with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez, but Springer does have a good track record. And sometimes the combination of athleticism and positioning makes improbable plays possible.
This play has a 13% out probability if we don’t know the fielder’s positioning and a 58% out probability once we do. Springer still has to do considerable work on this ball to make the catch. He and the team are basically equally rewarded.
The Red Sox have taken a tumble but their outfield positioning has been on point this season. Here’s an instance of positioning and skill coming together early in the season when Alex Verdugo turned the tables on the Blue Jays and robbed Santiago Espinal on a tricky line drive.
This play had a 14% out probability before considering positioning. The Red Sox placing Verdugo where they did bumped it to 56%. And Verdugo did the rest to push it to 100% and an out.
By the way, here’s something notable related to using positioning to get results.
The Blue Jays have gotten 18 outs on the 25 balls on which positioning increased their chance of making the out by 50%.
In the Red Sox case, good positioning doesn’t always get rewarded. Their outfielders have converted 5 of 14 balls on which positioning helped by 50%.
For more on the Blue Jays specific to four-man outfield use, we suggest you also check out David Adler’s piece on MLB.com
Rockies and Tigers
Two teams in big home ballparks are doing their best to give their outfielders a chance to make plays.
In the Tigers’ case, it’s working. Overall, their outfielders have converted 63% of fly balls and line drives into outs this season, the fifth-highest rate in the majors, and up 3 percentage points from last season. Their outfielders rank second in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved.
For the Rockies, there’s only so much they can do. Even with stellar positioning, they rank 29th in turning flies and liners into outs (54%). And their outfielders rank 23rd in Runs Saved.
We could point out some examples of sound play by the Mariners outfield, but instead I want to use this one to make a different point of how positioning data factors into our stats.
Though this was a diving catch by Mariners left fielder Jesse Winker, our system calculated that the out probability on this ball increased from 25% to 93% because of where the Mariners positioned Winker.
Winker’s path to the ball was not direct. Statcast had it as 3 feet worse than average in the first 1.5 seconds the ball was in the air (in his defense, perhaps the spin on it made for a tough read).
Regardless, this becomes a play on which the team gets the bulk of the credit rather than the player, even though the player made a tough-looking catch. It’s a good example of a play that shows why we chart positioning at all.
More to come in our next piece, which will look at infields.