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Should Ben Revere play center?

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Before the spikes have even hit the turf at Hammonds Stadium, manager Ron Gardenhire has gone on the record as saying Denard Span is his 2012 center fielder.
"[Span's] going to lead off and be my center fielder. That’s my expectations. If somebody were to tell me that he’s not able to do that, then we’d have to ad lib. But if Denard comes in healthy, then he’s my center fielder, there’s no questions to me about that."
Apparently, Ben Revere, who performed admirably in center in Span’s absence, was just keeping the position warm for the incumbent.

There is probably little doubt that Gardenhire is basing some of his decision on the fact that Revere has a substandard arm. From the wisdom of the crowd, Fangraphs.com polled their readers to compile a collective scouting report on all players. Their contingency gave Revere’s Arm Strength a 4. This was by far the worst rating among all center fielders and a 90-point difference between him and the leader, Rick Ankiel. Also viewed critically was his release: the Fangraphs.com crowd said that his release rated as a 28, the third-lowest mark in that category too.

It doesn’t take advanced metrics to recognize that Revere has a weak arm. It takes a bit more scouting acumen to see that he has a long arm throw which delays his release. Combine these two factors and it equates to extracurricular activity on the base paths.

The question is what did Revere’s skill set cost the Twins and does it preclude him from being the starting center fielder?

According to BillJamesOnline.net, the website which warehouses a vast majority of the Baseball Info Solution’s defensive data, they peg Revere’s arm as the worst among qualified center fielders in 2012 (minimum 700 innings) – adding data to the fan’s observations. He managed to accumulate 3 kills (throwing out runners) but allowed 63.9% of runners who had an opportunity to advance to the next base did so during his watch.

Here’s what we know about Revere: He’s fast. Because of this, we might also assume that he gets to many balls quickly, even those that fall to the ground. If he can get to more balls quicker than slower center fielders like, say, Rick Ankiel, one would think it would have some effect in preventing coaches from sending runners around the bases. Until we have other data available like how quickly an outfielder gets to a ball or how much velocity someone throws or how quick their release is, we are simply not going to have a comprehensive overview of how to judge someone’s arm. Still, looking at how many times opposing teams have had the opportunity to advance a base on him (89) versus how many times they decided to move up (56), you have to reach the conclusion that Revere’s lack of an arm has an adverse affect even if he is able to get to the ball quicker than the rest.

Allowing runners to move up has been the crux of the argument for those wanting to keep Revere out of center. After all, in addition to patrolling the deepest part of the field, a center field has one of the longest throws to home plate among the three outfield positions and has a hefty chore when throwing to third base as well. In Revere’s case, opponents took note of his arm strength last year and used it to their advantage, wheeling around second-to-third or third-to-home. Understandably, if opposing teams recognize this opening, they will like walk through it at a high rate and put themselves in scoring position whenever possible.

That idea certainly makes a manager cringe but, ultimately, it might be the wrong thing to focus on when deciding who should man center field.
Moving Revere to left field definitely cuts down the distance on the throws, giving him an opportunity to cut off runners advancing to third or home. On the other side of the coin is the fact that Revere can cover ground like no other. Last year, Revere finished tied for third in Plus/Minus among center fielders with a plus-twenty (+20) mark. That means he was 20 plays better than the average center fielder which added up to 11 runs saved.

What this boils down to is that by the Plus/Minus system, it is much more valuable to prevent hits than it is to allow the opposing team the opportunity to move into scoring position.

In terms of his arm, Revere has spent the offseason trying to improve in that area. Revere told 1500ESPN’s Judd Zulgad and Joe Anderson that he has been throwing “long toss with a football” to build strength. And while he may be able to add a few MPHs, his long arm action still needs to be pared down to shorten his release time. Additionally, there are no real precedence set to say how much a player’s arm can develop over an offseason so there is no way of telling how much Revere can improve his arm.

To be sure, Denard Span is no slouch in center himself, especially in his 500-plus innings there last year. While he was not quite at Revere’s catch ‘em all caliber, he managed to save six runs which ranked him as the 11th best center fielder according to the P/M system. In the end, moving Revere out of center may play towards his lack of arm strength however it might wind up costing the Twins some outs when he is no longer patrolling the spacious center at Target Field.
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  1. Josh Johnson's Avatar
    Some days, Ben Revere's arm will cost the Twins a run or two and some days his range will save a run or two. The problem is that giving up a run because of a lack of arm strength is typically easier for fans to see (than saving a run because of great range).

    I honestly think that with a larger left field at Target Field, I think Revere's value as a defender won't be completely lost if he plays there. And, obviously, his arm better suits him there than anywhere else. My bigger concern is that Ron Gardenhire will from time to time put Revere in right field. That makes me cringe.

    One thing that I cannot help but look forward to is a potential outfield that consists of Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks, Denard Span, and Revere. Hicks and Benson are premier defenders, both capable of playing in center field in terms of range and arm strength. That could be a real treat if everything works out for both of them at the plate.
  2. Parker Hageman's Avatar
    I honestly think that with a larger left field at Target Field, I think Revere's value as a defender won't be completely lost if he plays there. And, obviously, his arm better suits him there than anywhere else.
    I'm not quibbling over how he would play in left field - I'm certain he would be a very much above average left fielder. The difference is that - on average - a center fielder gets 100 more balls hit in their direction over the corner outfielders. My preference would be to have the best fly catcher of the two in that position to create more outs. So far, that person is Ben Revere.
  3. Bill Parker's Avatar
    Diamond Mind Baseball, the simulation game, teaches me that center field is the most important position not only for range, but for OF arms. I don't know for sure that that carries over to real baseball, of course, but it makes sense. You have to make some pretty long throws -- many about as long as your typical throw from RF -- and you have to make a ton more of them. In that game, a bad outfield arm can cost you something like 10-12 runs per year (vs. 2-3 runs from a left fielder, 5-7 from a right fielder), and as I think about it, that seems about right to me.

    I'd put Revere in left for that reason. There are a lot of teams on which Revere would be the best defensive option in center, but I don't think this Twins team, assuming Denard Span is healthy, is one. Span himself has excellent range, and an averageish arm. By my reckoning, to make it worth putting Revere in center, his range would have to be 7-10 runs a year better than Span's, and Span is good enough that I just don't think there's anybody who would reliably be that. I think the balls Span doesn't get to that Revere might have will be more than outweighed by the extra bases Span's arm prevents. It helps, of course, that you've got Revere's range in LF, not dragged down (to nearly the same degree) by the bad arm.Then you free Span up to kind of cheat toward right-center, minimizing the impact of having Willingham (or, gulp, Doumit) out there, and when he makes the plays a good RF might have, you don't have to cover your eyes when he winds up to throw it back in...

    I think it's extremely close, but that Span in CF is just barely the better option.
  4. Parker Hageman's Avatar
    Without knowing the ins-and-outs of the Diamond Mind runs saving accounting systems, I can't speak to the strengths and weaknesses of it. I do know the Plus/Minus system and Stats Inc's methods so I can rely on that. I will say this, Plus/Minus does not think outfield arms costs nearly as many runs Diamond Mind seems to think - even from the worst CF arms - and I tend to agree with that, even factoring in the distances of the throws.

    What's more is that Span's arm hasn't been substantially better than Revere's to even merit the consideration of pushing him out of center field a given. P/M finds that Revere's arm - although rated one of the worst - was only 3 runs below average. Span, whose arm was also fairly bad last year, was 2 runs below average - making him at the bottom of the list - and he was run on at about the same frequency as Revere.

    In his introduction to center field and Target Field in 2010, Span struggled with (1) the leadership role of center, failing to call off corner outfielders and pulling up to allow a Cuddyer or Kubel to attempt to get a gapper when he had the ability to get to it and (2) the wind effects of Target Field. Now, Span did improve in both areas in 2011 but Revere, in his first year, was much more poised at the position and carried a bit of that Carlos Gomez catch-it-at-all-costs attitude when patrolling center. As I said before, there's a 100 additional plays in CF each year versus the corners so I would prefer to have the better fly-catcher out there and, so far, I believe that is Revere.

    It helps, of course, that you've got Revere's range in LF,not dragged down (to nearly the same degree) by the bad arm.Then you free Span up to kind of cheat toward right-center, minimizing the impact of having Willingham (or, gulp, Doumit) out there, and when he makes the plays a good RF might have, you don't have to cover your eyes when he winds up to throw it back in..
    I've seen this scenario outlined before and I can't recall if Span cheating towards right this was mentioned by Gardy in the winter caravan or not. Here's the thing, I don't believe this will play out in reality. While you would want to have that alignment, the majority of hitters in baseball are right-handed and thus Span will likely cheat towards left. Of course, I'm sure the outfielders will be positioned on a case-by-case basis depending who's hitting, pitching, and what the runner and outs situations are.

    In the end, I don't think it is a bad decision to go Revere-Span-Willingham in the outfield. That's still a very above-average defensive alignment 2/3rds of the way through.
  5. Bill Parker's Avatar
    I just don't trust any of the metrics that have attempted to measure outfield arms. (The obvious response is they're better than a computer game, and that's true, but I'm relying more on what I think is common sense, which the computer game got me thinking about.) I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the general consensus is that Span's arm is considerably better than Revere's.

    I mean, of course you move back and forth according to whether you've got a left- or right-handed hitter up there. But with a RHB, expect Span to cheat less toward left than he would if, say, Delmon Young were in LF. They'd have to be incredibly stupid not to play it that way, and I don't think they're incredibly stupid.

    I agree with you. It's pretty good either way -- we're probably talking about a couple of runs either way over the entire season. I just think Span in center probably gives you the better chance of saving those couple runs.
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