Ezi a defensive wizard

When the words came out of Corey Thurman’s mouth in spring training, I couldn’t help but laugh a little bit.

“He could be a fourth outfielder in the major leagues,” Thurman said of teammate Travis Ezi. “He has so much athletic ability and it’s nice to have him out there in center field because he can run anything down. If a fly ball goes out there, there’s a chance he’ll go get it.”

Thurman is known as a great orator. And certainly he was simply trying to pump up one of his teammates. But after awhile, I started bouncing this idea around in my head. Could Ezi really be a serviceable major leaguer? Well, the idea is not as crazy as you might think.

Sure, Ezi has never been quite good enough as a hitter. That’s the reason he’s in the Atlantic League in the first place. But everyone raves about his defense and his range in center. So I went searching for a way to prove Ezi’s worth on defense statistically. I found the Range Factor formula, another creation of the legendary Bill James. Here’s how it works.

In the perfect world, this equation would incorporate the number of innings played defensively at a position instead of simply games played (the numerator and denominator are multiplied by 9 when innings played are available). But because I couldn’t find an inning-by-inning breakdown of where guys played defensively in the Atlantic League, we’ll have to rely simply on games played.

Using this formula, Ezi matched up very favorably with some of the other outfield standouts from the 2007 Atlantic League season (I’m using last year’s stats because there’s not a big enough sample size for ’08 yet).

  1. Travis Ezi (York/Road Warriors) — 2.83
  2. Bobby Malek (Bridgeport) — 2.74
  3. Justin Singleton (Camden/York) — 2.40
  4. Keith Reed (Newark) — 2.38
  5. Peter Bergeron (York) — 2.38
  6. Jutt Hileman (Lancaster) — 2.29
  7. Norm Hutchins (Long Island) — 2.21
  8. L.J. Biernbaum (Camden) — 2.08

Ezi was the class of this group defensively and when you take out his time with the Revolution — when he played sparingly and as a defensive replacement in the late innings — his Range Factor is an astonishing 2.96. That’s great, but let me explain just how exceptional this number is.

Ezi’s Range Factor in his 97 games with the Road Warriors was better than Carlos Beltran’s mark with the New York Mets in the 2006 season (2.81). Beltran led the National League in the category that year and Brady Clark led the NL in ’05 (2.85). In the American League, Ezi’s mark was right behind the 2006 leader, Coco Crisp (3.07), and the 2005 leader, Joey Gathright (3.06).

So from looking at this analysis, Ezi would not only be a serviceable major league outfielder defensively, he would actually be one of the better fielders in the entire major leagues. He reaches balls that average fielders don’t even get to, which makes him a huge weapon for the York Revolution.

The all-time best Range Factor for a center fielder is 3.62 — by Taylor Douthit for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928. You can check the rest of the all-time leaders by position here. But it’s important to note that eight of the top 10 center fielders played before 1956 — long before the steroids era when balls started flying out of ballparks at alarming rates. Kirby Puckett’s 1984 mark of 3.55 is truly amazing when you think of it this way.

So using this analysis, you could make the case for Ezi as perhaps the most indispensable defensive player in the Atlantic League. He’ll clearly help York this year and that’s why it was great news that his recent groin injury was not more serious.

On another note, who thinks I should make a bid to be Travis Ezi’s agent?

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2 Responses

  1. Nice analysis!

    I love to see this stuff applied to the AL. I wonder if any of the baseball ops guys in this league include Sabermetric numbers in their decision-making?

    This offseason, I tried to figure out a formula to translate AA and AAA batting stats to the AL and vice-versa by compiling statistics accumulated by guys who played in the AL and in organizational ball in the same year. It proved to be too tedious and time consuming to pursue further, but something like that might be useful in a front office.

  2. I always like to think that a guy hitting say .260 in Double-A will be good for .280 to .300 in the Atlantic League. There’s a jump of 20 to 40 points for a lot of guys.

    But I’m only good with this kind of thing when using someone else’s genius. I have no idea what kind of equation could make something like you’re proposing work.

    Still, I’m sure guys in affiliated organizations take all this stuff into account. It’s their job to be as thorough as possible, and this is how you do that in the Moneyball era.

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