If you visit FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference during the baseball season, it's tough to avoid exposure to defensive statistics like UZR, DRS or TZ. They feature prominently on individual player pages and leaderboards. Their existence is mostly beneficial, especially in the long term. A look at the all-time TZ leaderboards at various positions jibes with historical reputations. These stats don't appear to be total bunk and information is a good thing. However, I fear -- and maybe I'm wrong -- that following the ups and downs of UZR, etc. during the season serves to bias perception of players' defensive performance. So this year I will do my best to avoid looking at defensive stats until the season ends, trusting my eyes first to judge defense.
I touched on this idea in the 2011 Center Field Postmortem. I felt that my assessments of player defense in previous seasons had been tainted by accessing defensive stats. While completing the Tom Tango Fans' Scouting Report, I knew that unsuccessfully suppressed knowledge of each Met player's UZR/DRS/TZ was affecting my desired eyes-only evaluation, like watching a movie after checking out its rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Well no more, I say. My goal is to complete the Fans' Scouting Report as its proprietor instructs:
And, most importantly, do not, absolutely do not, look at any numbers. Don't look at his fielding percentage, range factor, zone rating, UZR, or anything else that someone else is telling you. I just want you to rely on your eyes. You are the scout. I need you to rely completely on your own observations.
I have two ideas to help sidestep defensive stats on the prominent stat sites. The first entails creating a custom dashboard on FanGraphs so UZR and fWAR do not show up on player pages. Here is a before and after look at the dashboard (click to embiggen):
UZR and fWAR are omitted, but will (presumably) still be accessible after the regular season. I doubt I will miss checking Daniel Murphy's UZR in mid-May. Let's wait for a larger sample size. Click here to create a custom dashboard.
The second idea is to look at the oWAR stat on Baseball-Reference, which is the same as rWAR but with defensive value excluded. Click here for the year-by-year oWAR leaders. This should satiate the WAR junkies and anyone who enjoys a good All Star Game selection discussion. It provides a rough idea of value using stats more reliable than UZR, DRS or TZ. Adjust for defense at your own discretion.
This plan might not be feasible -- the outcome of the game you DVR'd for later always seems to find its way to your ears -- but it's worth a shot. Just eyes in 2012.