So, guess who’d leading the AL in Ultimate Zone Rating amongst shortstops?* Keep in mind that UZR is a counting stat, so it does depend on playing time. It’s not renowned glove-men such as Jason Bartlett (-5.8 runs), or Orlando Cabrera (-15.3 runs; yikes), or Yuniesky Betancourt (a hilarious -17.3 runs). It’s the Orioles’ very own Cesar Izturis! Izzy has only played in 87 games this year, but his 8.8 UZR is tops in the AL, just ahead of Toronto’s Marco Scutaro (really). His UZR per 150 games (11.8) is actually far and away the best among shortstops with even 30 games at the position, with Cliff Pennington of the A’s at 9.0 UZR/150 in his 30 games and Roberts Andino at 8.8 UZR/150 in his 55 games**. So should Cesar Izturis be making some room on his mantle for a second Gold Glove award?
* I think I might have given it away with the title. Or by asking this on an Orioles blog. Maybe.
** Andino, by the way, is 6th in the league in total UZR as a shortstop at +4.0. The Orioles overall (Izzy and Andino, plus cameos by Wigginton and Salazar) are tops in the Majors in UZR at +12.5 runs. The Rangers, with Andrus being backed up Omar Vizquel are second at +12.1. The O’s beat them in range by 2.5 runs though, 12.6 to 10.1. Last year the team was last in the majors in shortstop defense, at -22.8 runs. That’s a swing of almost 4 wins (!), just from defensive improvements at one position. That’s huge, and yet the team is still losing. Amazing.
Izturis only has 735 innings at short, which is going to hurt his candidacy. Looking at only the shortstops with at least 700 innings, Cesar is at the bottom of the group of 10 in playing time. He is third in fielding percentage though, at .985 – behind Cap’n Jeter (.987) and Scutaro (.990). The error component of UZR has him fourth at +3.2 runs, behind Jeter, Scutaro, and Erick Aybar (who’s 4th in fielding percentage). Range-wise, Izzy’s comfortably in second at +6.1 runs. He’s way behind 21 year-old Elvis Andrus of the Rangers (+7.2 runs) but ahead of Adam Everett of the Tigers (+5.6 runs). When it comes to turning the double play, Cesar has been only middle of the pack (-0.5 runs). The combination of great range and great hands/fundamentals/what have you puts Izturis at the top in UZR.
Looking at other defensive metrics, Izturis is third according to The Hardballs Times’ Revised Zone Rating. His .826 (“the proportion of balls hit into a fielder’s zone that he successfully converted into an out”) is behind Andrus (second place), with (surprise!) Derek Jeter taking the top spot. Cesar is fifth in plays made outside of his zone with 33, but that has a lot to do with having less opportunities. While it’s not complete yet, Tango’s Fan Scouting Reports for 2009 has Izturis third (with a rating of 4.3 out of 5) in the AL behind Andrus (4.5) and Aybar (4.4).
Despite definitely being one of the best shortstops in the league – and it seems like it might be very easy to argue that he’s #1 – I don’t know if Izzy has a real shot at the award. He plays for the Orioles, so he’s not getting a ton of attention. He’s not the flashiest guy around, making tough plays look easy and generally doing a fantastically steady job. He missed some time due to injury. He has neither the reputation of an elite defensive shortstop (as opposed to a really good one – small difference in degree, in my opinion), nor is he having a breakout season of some sort (like Andrus as a rookie helping turn the Texas defense around and move them into contention, or Scutaro coming from out of nowhere to post a great overall season). If I had to vote right now though, I know who I’d give it to. (Izzy)