Comparing Eric Young and Juan Lagares with Inside Edge data

Juan LagaresEvaluating defense has always been imperfect. Primitive statistics, such as number of errors or fielding percentage, were very flawed. Newer statistics — such as UZR and DRS — are better, but still are flawed. It takes three years for UZR data to become a reliable sample, and three years is a good amount of time for a player to completely change. DRS also has its flaws because it is partly a human calculation, and humans tend to make mistakes. However, MLBAM recently rolled out a new system of data that will enable more accurate data evaluations.

This system is still a couple of years away from being publicly accessible, but it will allow us to evaluate players better based on their defense. In other defensive data news, FanGraphs recently released new data by Inside Edge Data which you can read about here. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the third outfielder battle between Juan Lagares and Eric Young Jr. through the lens of Inside Edge Data.

David Appelman of FanGraphs explained that Inside Edge scouts every play and then decides how easy or hard it is to make the play based on this scale:

-Impossible (0%)
-Remote (1-10%)
-Unlikely (10-40%)
-About Even (40-60%)
-Likely (60-90%)
-Almost Certain / Certain (90-100%)

Obviously, this evaluation of players is flawed because — like DRS — it involves human judgment which can be arbitrary and therefore inaccurate. However, even though it may be inaccurate, it’s a new way to look at defense. Below is a table that shows how many plays players received within a specific rating on the scale, and the percentage of times they made the play in that rating on the scale. Here is how Lagares and Young are graded by Inside Edge Data:

Player # 0% # 1-10% 1-10% # 10-40% 10-40% # 40-60% 40-60% # 60-90% 60-90% #90-100% 90-100%
Lagares 63 8 12.5% 8 25% 11 54% 10 70% 267 99%
Young 64 5 40% 3 100% 5 80% 6 83% 168 99%

It’s worth noting that Lagares had more playing time last year than Young, and therefore the number of plays he has been a part of is higher. The new data pretty much agrees that on routine plays Lagares and Young are pretty much equal. However, from then on out the data actually favors Young on the tougher plays, which is pretty surprising considering Lagares had a UZR of 21.5 last year, compared to Young’s rating of -1.9.

This comparison of Lagares and Young may be a good reason why comparing players with the new data is not a good idea. The sample size is different for every player. Some players play a full season in the field, while others — like Young — only started to get regular playing time two or three months into the season. The other flaw with the new data is that it really only measures how well a player can cover his ground, doesn’t necessarily take into account how good a player’s arm is or whether or what he is doing after he fields the ball.

It’s likely that if Young got as much playing time as Lagares did then his percentages on the more difficult plays to make would decrease. This new data favors Young as the better fielder, but when you compare it to UZR and DRS, it clearly favors Lagares. This data is probably not a good way to decide how a player can add value through defense. It can indicate which players can make a lot of difficult plays, which is useful. From the Inside Edge Data point of view, Young is a better defender than Lagares. However, we know that is not really the case.

12 comments for “Comparing Eric Young and Juan Lagares with Inside Edge data

  1. NormE
    March 9, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Spencer,
    I appreciate your attempt to find a better metric for defensive evaluation. It’s like looking for the Holy Grail.
    In comparing Lagares and EYJr. you have to realize that one played mostly CF and one mostly LF. Not quite the same thing.
    Young comes in well on balls in front of him as does Lagares. Young’s arm appears fairly accurate but not too strong. Lagares
    has an accurate arm that is stronger (not Ankiel-like) and possibly a quicker release than Young. Both move well laterally.
    A big difference is that Lagares appears much better on balls hit over his head. Young has not mastered that skill. On the whole,
    Lagares is the better outfielder playing a more demanding position. Any metric evaluation that does not reflect this is
    suspect in my opinion.

  2. Name
    March 9, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    As NormE pointed out above, Lagares and Young played different positions. There’s no denying CF covers more area than LF, and therefore is probably a reason why Lagares had lower percentage numbers. Also, a lot of Lagares’s value came from his arm, which is not factored in this statistic. Therefore, it’s not that this stat favors Young, but rather your analysis of the stat is a bit flawed.

    • Jerry Grote
      March 9, 2014 at 3:23 pm

      Not to be argumentative … but

      Empirically we’d all agree that CF “covers more area” than a LF, but from simply a logical point of view this seems ill-supported by geometry.

      There are three fielders and each should take 1/3 *of the playing field*. However, a corner OFer also potentially covers all the foul territory from roughly 60 feet behind 1B/3B.

      How then does a CF cover more, if he is simply taking 33% of the playing field? Yes, he makes more plays, but is that just because more balls go up the middle and roughly to the sides than down the line?

      • Name
        March 9, 2014 at 3:46 pm

        I don’t believe that the OF is spread out evenly like you think.
        For Citi Field, the distance from 2nd base to the CF wall is 280ft, the distance from 3rd base to the LF pole is 245 ft. The CF has to cover more vertical distance.
        I don’t have the exact numbers but i’m pretty positive the CF also has to cover more lateral distance as well and overall this would lead to a bigger area of coverage that the CF is responsible for.
        Also, in non-shift situations I think the middle infielders are usually closer to the corner outfielders than the CF. Regarding the foul territory, at least for Citi Field the area is quite small, probably just 5-10 feet horizontally?

      • Chris F
        March 9, 2014 at 4:44 pm

        The other thing is as the general of the OF, the CF commands more s

        • Chris F
          March 9, 2014 at 4:47 pm

          pace and catches more balls the border left and right.

          Nevertheless, that was an amazing throw by Lagares today! It would be a crime if he’s in AAA, especially as he has been hitting well.

  3. Metsense
    March 10, 2014 at 7:39 am

    John Harper has a nice pto Lagares piece in the daily news :http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mets/harper-lagares-center-article-1.1716209
    The first challenge is who should start, Eric Young or Juan Lagares? They are both challenged offensively. Eric Young is the slightly better offensive player and an elite base runner. Eric Young has 1140 major league plate at bats so his career is more predictable of outcome. Lagares has more power and still has raw offensive skills that have more potential to develop. Let’s remove the argument of who is the better player since both players have similar offensive numbers. Instead, let us determine how the manager can maximize each player’s strengths.
    Lagares’ strength is his superior defense. Eric Young”s strength is his superior base running.
    Which does a manager have more control over, base running or defense? In base running, as long as a player is on base, a manager can choose to steal. This speed weapon can be very beneficial late in a game. The manager can choose when he wants to pinch run and when he wants to steal. The manager’s decision can influence the outcome of the game. The manager can control this.
    A great defensive play can occur in any inning and a manager can’t control when a defensive gem will occur that might influence the outcome of the game. An outstanding catch in the second inning or a throw that cuts down a runner in the third inning will reduce the pitch count of the starting pitcher allowing him to remain the game longer. In order to maximize the odds, a manager should have his elite fielder playing the most innings. If both players remain offensively similar throughout the year then I would start Lagares over E Young for this reason.

    • jmhammer
      March 11, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      But Lagares isn’t showing that offensive punch he needs to show. In which case, Lagares doesn’t become the 5th or 6th outfielder because he will need more at bats and they will likely send him down. he’s young, there’s time. Lagares has to prove he can hit MLB pitching. His fielding is not in question but it is not enough for him to make the team right out of ST.

      • Chris F
        March 11, 2014 at 6:00 pm

        2014 Spring training. Lagares is showing more offense than either Young. He’s the best defensive outfielder we have and saving runs. He had a great Winter League season, and is learning to hit MLB pitching. He will be a Met for some time, why on earth bench him to put in someone who wont even be here next year?

        Lagares: AB 22 avg .318 OBP .348 SLG .364 OPS .711
        C Young: AB 22 avg .227 OBP .261 SLG .318 OPS .579
        E Young: AB 17 avg .294 OBP .333 SLG .294 OPS .627

  4. Patrick Albanesius
    March 10, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    I like your thinking Metsense. Defense wins out, unless you need Young, Jr.’s speed, then you sub him in.

  5. March 11, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    I have a hard time believing that EY made 5 plays that fewer than 10% of other fielders would make and JL only made 8. I can believe either of those numbers in isolation; I cannot comprehend them compared to one anothe

    Edit: OK, I think I read the chart wrong. Now I’m thinking that EY had 5 opportunities that fewer than 10% made and he made 2 of them (40%) while JL had 8 opportunities that fewer than 10% made and he made 1 of them (12.5%).

    If this is true, I guess the takeaway is that there are some real sloths playing LF.

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