Unlimited Zone Rating, otherwise known to the baseball cognoscenti as UZR, is my favorite defensive statistic. It’s the stat I will usually reference on this website when attempting to ascertain a baseball player’s fielding prowess. If you were to randomly pick players from this past decade who are universally regarded as “good fielders” or “poor fielders”, UZR will typically confirm those opinions. (You can go ahead and try this on Fangraphs.com).
Now, why is it that Jacoby Ellsbury, a guy who appears to be at least slightly above average, is second to last in UZR/150 among AL center fielders (-14), ranking ahead of only Vernon Wells’ bloated poutine-filled carcass. Did Jacoby run over UZR’s dog? Does UZR’s wife parade around the house in an Ellsbury t-shirt like every other New England female under the age of 35?
|MLB Center Fielders||Team||UZR/150|
|Jacoby Ellsbury||Red Sox||-14|
|Vernon Wells||Blue Jays||-19.3|
If you happened to see last night’s game, you witnessed Ellsbury single-handedly save multiple runs from scoring with two excellent catches in center field. While the catches were outstanding, they certainly were not unbelievable, since Ellsbury has been prone to make plays like this in the past. Does anyone, anyone, who has watched the majority of 2009 Red Sox games opine that Ellsbury has been even below average in the field this year (never mind one of the worst defensive CFs in the game)?
The only flaws I can think of are his throwing arm (poor, but certainly not atypical for a center fielder), and his shaky play on the wall/warning track (which is improving). In my perhaps biased opinion, neither of these flaws are glaring enough to warrant a net negative defensive rating, and certainly not one as extreme as -14 runs per 150 games.
I realize I probably sound like an insufferable fanboy here (“Jacoby’s sick, dude! The stats must be wrong!”). Am I just suffering from rose-tinted tunnel vision, or are we seeing a crack in UZR’s armor?