Thursday, August 11, 2016

Turn Down the Runs: Is Justin Turner the Best Defensive Third Baseman in the National League?

If you've been following baseball for the past few years, you probably recognize the talent the game has at third base across the nation. Last year's MVP in the AL for the Blue Jays in Josh Donaldson, last year's NL Rookie of the Year for the Cubs in Kris Bryant, perennial gold glove winner for the Rockies' in Nolan Arenado, the list goes on and on. The Dodgers have had a low key superstar at the hot corner for the past few years in Justin Turner who came out of utility role obscurity from the New York Mets to become an integral part of the Dodgers' offense. Offense has been the big highlight for Turner's success the past 3 years with the Dodgers but 2016 is highlighting a different part of Turner's game: his defense.

Justin Turner so far in 2016 is giving the Rockies' Nolan Arenado a run for his money for the Gold Glove in the National League.  If this is coming as a surprise to you, let's take a look at the numbers so far.  Fangraphs has a Defense metric they use to weigh into their WAR calculations that is a "combination of two important factors of defensive performance: value relative to positional average (fielding runs) and positional value relative to other positions (positional adjustment)."  Justin Turner is currently leading all National League third basemen in this statistic (11.3) by a whole 3 points over second place Nolan Arenado (Turner is 3rd in the entirety of MLB behind former Dodger Adrian Beltre of the Rangers and Manny Machado of the Orioles).  The stat measures a 0 as average so the +11.3 Turner holds is an easy to see measure that Turner has been about 11 runs better than an average third baseman.  Also noteworthy is that "every ten runs (approximately) in each direction is a win above or below average."  

If you dive into the more in depth side of defensive metrics, UZR is also favoring Turner this year.  Among qualified third basemen in the majors, Turner is second overall and first in the National League.  Fangraphs' UZR/150 which measures UZR over a 150 game span has Turner tops in the MLB at third base.  There is one important defensive statistic that Turner has not been at the top of the NL and that is Defensive Runs Saved (DRS).  Turner is 2nd in the NL at a 6 while Nolan Arenado has been spectacular in this category sitting 1st place at 14 defensive runs saved.  If you're curious as to why Turner has been leading in DEF and UZR but lags way behind in DRS, it's because there are slight differences in the way UZR and DEF are measured.  Fangraphs' breakdown of DRS states "Defensive Runs Saved uses a rolling one-year basis for the Plus/Minus system, while UZR uses several years of data to determine each play’s difficulty level."

With all that being said, there's no denying that right now Turner has a strong case for the Gold Glove in the National League.  Nolan Arenado has won it every year he's been in the majors which can mean either voter fatigue or the Molina effect where he's the clear choice every year.  Arenado also currently has almost 100 more innings played in the field although it still stands that Turner has been more valuable in his innings according to DEF and UZR.  Defensive metrics have a tendency to fluctuate from year to year so while Justin Turner may not keep up this newfound elite defense in the coming years (his highest UZR was 2015 at a 2.6, 7 below what he's at now) he might not have to travel to Rio to get his share of gold in 2016.

No comments:

Post a Comment