Out of Range: A Look At Jason Bartlett's Downward Defensive Trends

While scanning Fangraphs last night looking for something to post in this space (thanks West Coast games for making us work harder during the day), I decided it had been a while since I looked at Jason Bartlett's defensive numbers. We all know Bartlett was un-Bartlett-like defensively last season. Most of us agreed that knee injuries probably limited his defensive abilities and he would regress upward in 2009. In the beginning of the season this was true as Bartlett had a 3.0 WAR through early May. Remember UZR isn't a predictive tool and by June, Bartlett had slipped down to 1.9, but was still 5th in the AL among shortstops.

After the ankle injury, Bartlett has been in a UZR free fall According to the latest update, his UZR was a -4.0. Yes, a negative 4.0, or the third worst total in the AL. The good news is MVB is far from the worst as Yuniesky Betancourt has earned a -12.9 UZR and the latest man to try to replace Bartlett in Minnesota, Orlando Cabrera has a -11.4. However, a -4.0 is pretty startling. Errors have not been his problem as his ErrR of 0.6 is around the middle of the pack. Where Bartlett is hurting is range and turning double plays

His RngR of -2.8 is the bottom third of the league only ahead names like Cristan Guzman, Miguel Tejada as well as Betancourt and Cabrera. When it comes to double plays, his -1.8 DPR is tied for dead last in the major leagues with Derek Jeter. Speaking of Jeter, after years of taking abuse for his defense, the Captain is experiencing a defensive surge. His 5.0 UZR is nine runs better than Bartlett. Of course, if you look at the last three or even five years of defense for Jeter you'll quickly realize that at age 35 this season looks like the definition of a fluke.

If Bartlett's defensive numbers hold true through the end of the season, we will be staring a disturbing trend right in the face. Since 2005, Bartlett's UZR has dropped by at least two runs in each season. Since 2006, the peak year of his range, his RngR has dropped three runs or more each season. I know all short stops are created differently, but Tom Tango found their defensive abilities begin to decay between ages 24-28. Add in multiple leg injuries over the past two seasons and this could be a real problem for a player who is about to turn 30 in the offseason.

 

UZR

Rngr

2005

14.4

12.5

2006

11.5

14.9

2007

7.8

11.9

2008

2

4.8

2009

-4

-2.8

 

Once again, I'll remind everyone that UZR is not a predictive tool. Bartlett could suddently regain his 2006 form and go defensive gangbusters over the final 50+ games. Additionally, defensive metrics are hardly perfect. I would suspect that the Rays (looking at you James Click) might have a little something better than UZR on their hands, but if you look at the data available for the last three seasons, and in this case four or five, the trend does not favor Bartlett.

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