As a fan of the game of baseball first, I love to watch a great pitching matchup with great defense. One game that comes to mind right off the top of my head is Game 2 of the ALDS between the A’s and Tigers. Sonny Gray vs Justin Verlander. Every pitch matters, every play matters. That includes defense. What about Pete Kozma making errors all over the place when the game is on the line or hanging in the balance? Defense matters. That brings me to Bryce Harper and his defense. You may be a little surprised by what I am about to tell you if you don’t watch the game all that closely, but if you do, you might already know this. Either way, keep reading to find out.
Bryce Harper played over 800 innings in left field last season and came away with a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), which calculates a player’s arm, range, errors made, and defensive positioning, of -2.0. He finished 32nd on the team in that stat for that certain position. We have to remember that he plays all three outfield positions at times. So let’s look at center field. He had a UZR of 1.2 in center field in 61 innings. That ranked 8th on the team. While right field, was 3.4 which is tied for third, in just over 130 innings.
UZR goes right along with Defensive Runs Saved. In this stat Harper saved a total of five runs in 2013, coming off of saving 14 in 2012. Does this have a correlation connected to it? I don’t know, but we will soon find out. UZR and DRS aren’t all about fielding, they have to do with his arm as well. He has a great arm, possibly top five in the National League, but it is not always accurate. That also comes into play when calculating these stats. That is something special about baseball, everything is calculated and stored for future knowledge. He only made three throwing “errors” per say, but how many cut off men did he miss?
So if we take that all into account, is Harper in the right position in left field? I don’t think so. He should make the switch to right in my opinion. Well, before you say Jayson Werth is the better right fielder, let’s look at the numbers. Werth in right field had a UZR of -3.3 and a combined -12.4 UZR in right field the last two seasons. He has hurt the team tremendously on defense the last two seasons. Werth has had a lot more innings in right field than Harper but what will it hurt if you make the switch? Harper has a strong enough arm and can make the switch rather easily.
That would move Werth to left field, where in his career if given significant innings has been a very good defender. He has a combined 12.4 UZR in left field when playing more than 50 innings in a season. He hasn’t played there since 2009, but I believe it would be a good switch for the team.
Harper having a 3.4 UZR in right is the third best on the team, where Span leads with 10.2, making the switch would save the Nationals a good amount of runs in 2014. The Pirates saved an extra 86 runs in 2013 and look what happened, they made the playoffs. Saving runs matters. It is something that will probably never be brought up between Matt Williams, Harper and Werth but if you look at the numbers it should be.