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Raul Ibanez Is Absolutely Correct

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Says Raul on the unflattering statistical evaluation of his defense:

"And the way they come up with the defensive measurements, or ratings, is flawed. It's as flawed as the Gold Gloves. One of the reasons is, they don't consider things like ballpark factors, defensive positioning or allignement[sic] for certain hitters.''
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It's not just the location of batted balls that has to be judged, Ibanez said, but also the speed and angle at which they are hit.

So, okay, the good statistics do take park factors into account, but Raul's spot on with the rest. We don't have positioning information. We don't have alignment information. We don't have batted ball angle information. And while we can group batted balls by speed (soft, medium, hard, etc), we don't have exact numbers, which means we have to rely on observational subjectivity. These are all real and legitimate problems with advanced defensive analysis, and they cause there to be a certain degree of error in the numerical results. The stats aren't as flawed as the Gold Glove voting process, but they are flawed nevertheless.

Here's the thing, though - so what? We know that the stats are flawed. We've always known that. That's why, for example, we don't say that a guy is a +5 defender - we say that he's a 0 < x < +10 defender. Because there's error in the result. But that doesn't invalidate the whole system. The same stuff goes for every player in baseball, and unless Raul thinks that the defensive metrics are rather uniquely conspiring against him in an effort to make him look worse than he really is, pointing out their sundry shortcomings doesn't make for much of a defense. Over a sample size of two or three years, things tend to even out. And over a sample size of the last two or three years, Raul Ibanez has been a statistically lousy defender.

Raul comes off sounding kind of like a guy who Googled "why UZR bad" and repeated what he found without really thinking about how it applied to him. What is it that he wants us to think? That he positions himself poorly? That he faced an inordinate amount of line drives that were classified as more catchable balls? The former is hardly a helpful argument, and the latter...it's possible, but it's unlikely that any scoring error would go in one direction only. A hard-hit ball should be mistakenly scored as a medium-hit ball just as often as a medium-hit ball should be mistakenly scored as a hard-hit ball. So those should cancel each other out.

Look, Raul Ibanez has every right to defend himself against his critics, and I respect him for providing a better defense than the recycled nonsense you usually get in situations like this. It's not every day you hear a baseball player go into moderate detail in discussing the problems with modern analysis. But at the same time, the evidence is what it is, and while UZR and PMR and +/- and all that stuff may not provide proof in one direction or another, they're good at what they measure, and they very strongly suggest that Raul Ibanez is simply not a good defensive player. And that means a lot more than Raul would like to think it does.