The defensive play of Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Pedro Alvarez have been points of contention at Bucs Dugout this season. The latest Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) numbers will further add to the discussion.
If you're not familiar with UZR or have any questions about it, this piece at Fangraphs.com contains just about everything needed to understand it and answer most questions. The introduction reads:
UZR is an advanced defensive metric that uses play-by-play data recorded by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) to estimate each fielder’s defensive contribution in theoretical runs above or below an average fielder at his position in that player’s league and year. Thus, a SS with a UZR of zero is exactly average as compared to a SS in the same year and in the same league. If his UZR is plus, he is above average, and if it is minus, he is below average.
Essentially, it measures runs saved above average for the player's position in several categories (Arm for outfielders, Double Plays for infielders, Range and Errors for both).
I'll add my thoughts after the jump.
-P- Jose Tabata had a solid defensive season, saving 8.2 runs compared to the average right fielder. At this rate, he would have saved 12.5 runs over a full season. Most of his value came through excellent range and avoiding errors. Out of left fielders with 500 innings, Tabata ranks fifth in both UZR and UZR/150. Even though he hit for a .746 OPS as a rookie, Tabata was a plus overall left fielder due to sound range and fundamentals in the outfield.
-P- Ronny Cedeno appeared to finish very poorly in the field, but UZR is much more complimentary. He was only a -2.5 runs saved shortstop, which isn't a disaster. However, Ronny's overall package of a poor stick and slightly below-par fielding isn't very interesting to me. I can see why the Pirates want to resign him, though, if they think he can at least hold down the fort defensively (and not bleed runs like a Bobby Crosby-style free agent would).
-P- Pedro Alvarez ended up with -5.7 runs saved at third base, with a full season rate of -8.0. That's ... not bad, compared to expectations. In fact, that mark is quite good for the type of player he is. If Pedro hits 30 home runs, we can live with a run given up every 20 games at third.
There's certainly a question of whether he can keep this up. Because of Pedro's body type, he'll wage a constant battle of the bulge during his career. He's looked poor on the field for much of the season as well. But if he's above -10 per year, it's a bit harder to move that bat off that position until he plays his way off. I think you take a smaller defensive hit if the bat plays way up.
-P- Neil Walker put up a -10.4 UZR, which comes out to -16.8 over a full season. That's not good, but there's been some improvement over the course of the year. Earlier, his UZR/150 was worse than Aki Iwamura, and now it is much better. We have to be hoping for better glove work out of Walker next season, because -15 up the middle doesn't really work on a contender.
-P- Andrew McCutchen, perhaps the most controversial case, has a -15.5 UZR, which is a rate of -14.8 runs saved over 150 games. This is a disappointment after he put up a -1.3 UZR last season.
Mostly, Cutch has struggled in PNC Park. If anyone has some reasoning for these splits, I'd like to know.
Whether or not you fully buy into Cutch's UZR, which is among the worst in center field, he has a lot of room for improvement on defense. Given his defensive tools and good stats in 2009, Cutch gets the benefit of the doubt for now. If he has another year like this, though, a mess could be created in the outfield. It's not unthinkable that in 2012 or 2013, a strong outfielder in the system, perhaps Starling Marte, could push McCutchen to a corner spot (similar to Carl Crawford on the Rays).
Summary: Yes, the team is currently weak defensively, and I've previously proposed some position changes that would save more runs in the near term. But I can at least see why the front office doesn't want to move these guys around.
Pedro's defense, according to the numbers, isn't prohibitive. Walker's defense is poor, but he is new to second base and we can see some improvement over the course of the year. McCutchen's D rates poorly, but he has the defensive tools to succeed and looks great out there to the naked eye. Also, extreme flyball pitchers James McDonald and Ross Ohlendorf had a ton of success with Cutch patrolling center.
Next year will be critical for these players, and we'll hope to see a lot of improvement from Cutch and Walker, along with Pedro continuing to bear some resemblance to a third baseman.