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A visual comparison of outfield defenses in the National League Central

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After reviewing three-season averages of available defensive metrics, for fun, let's look at a visual comparison of some National League Central outfield defenses as well.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With the acquisition of Jason Heyward, arguably the best defensive right fielder in baseball, the outfield defense of the St. Louis Cardinals is vastly improved for the 2015 season. Oscar Taveras (may he rest in peace) was not going to wow anyone with his glove out there, and though Randal Grichuk, a long-time center fielder, flashed the leather a handful of times last season, he is pretty clearly not ready for an everyday spot in a big-league lineup. Statistically, how does it compare to some other teams in the National League Central? How about visually?

Single-season defense metrics are volatile and subsequently tough to use when analyzing players. Thus, for comparison purposes, I used the last three seasons of defensive data for the included players and collected a whole-number average for each statistic. UZR and DRS were found on Fangraphs, and TZ was found on Baseball-Reference. Here are the respective primers for the defensive metrics included below: UZRDRS, and TZ.

As you will see, I have italicized Khris Davis (LF), Ryan Braun (RF), and Gregory Polanco (RF) in the tables as we do not yet have three seasons worth of data at their current positions. Davis had a limited amount of experience in left field in 2013 (265.0), so I reworked his numbers a little bit to include that. For Braun, I went ahead and included his left field metrics from 2012 and 2013 since LF (-7.5 runs) has the same positional adjustment as RF (-7.5 runs). Polanco has what I will consider one season at his current position (RF), so I left his data alone. Given that he is an ex-CFer, one would reasonably expect his numbers to improve over the course of a full season.

Projected 2015 Cardinals Holliday Jay Bourjos Heyward
Total Innings Played 3743.2 3028.0 1566.0 3352.1
UZR -4 1 8 20
DRS -6 -1 5 22
TZ -2 0 4 19

versus

Projected 2015 Brewers Davis Gomez Braun
Innings Played 1421.1 3423.0 2986.0
UZR 2 12 -1
DRS 4 14 1
TZ 11 0 3

versus

Projected 2015 Pirates Marte McCutchen Polanco
Innings Played 2320.0 4028.0 619.0
UZR 6 -4 -3.2
DRS 12 -3 -3
TZ 4 4 0

For those wondering why the NL Central suddenly has only three teams, don't worry, there are still five teams. I did not include the Reds or the Cubs in this post, but I will be more than happy to do so in the future. For the Reds, we do not know who their left fielder will be next season as they chose to move on from Ryan Ludwick. For the Cubs, we do not know what their outfield arrangement will be just yet either. Plus, given the youth of their roster, viable three-season defensive data is virtually nonexistent.

So what can be gathered from the information included in the tables above? Well, the best outfield alignment, in terms of defense at least, would be Marte in left, Bourjos in center, and Heyward in right. To be frank, not many balls would land in the outfield grass with that combination at the ready. Thankfully for the Cardinals, they will likely have two of those three players on their 25-man roster going into 2015 (barring any trade "rumor" becoming true). Yet, as we know, Mozeliak stated that Jay will be the team's primary center fielder going into 2015. Whether that is Mospeak or Cardinal truth, no one can know for sure just yet.

As shown by the numbers and reinforced by the visuals below, neither center fielder will need much help going to their left as Heyward has pretty much everything (this may be a slight exaggeration) covered. However, going to their right will be extremely important as Holliday, who is about to turn 35 years old, is the worst defensive outfielder included in this post. Though I will admit that the graphs are extremely crowded, you can still see that there is a pretty defined white backwards "S" between Holliday and Jay in the first graph. In the second graph, with Bourjos in for Jay, that white spot is no longer present as Bourjos's range extends to cover some of Holliday's ground. The graphs are mainly included as eye candy and as a supplement to the data included in the tables, but either way, I look forward to discussing them in the comments.

First, I must credit Wes Keene and Ed Chapman for sending me their renditions of the first graph, and then Ed Chapman for graciously taking the time to make the final three graphs as well. I spent roughly an hour trying to make them on my own and after failing numerous times, I called in the experts. In case you are unfamiliar with these graphs, they are layered versions of the Fielding Location Spray Charts on Fangraphs.

Cardinals with Jon Jay in center

Range Jay Heyward Holliday

Cardinals with Peter Bourjos in center

Range Bourjos Heyward Holliday

Brewers

Range Brewers

Pirates

Pirates Range