Measuring defense is really, really hard. One can criticize any of the popular defensive metrics. UZR, PMR, RZR, and TotalZone all have their warts (and don't even get me started on FRAA). Additionally, because both the sample sizes and the ranges in defensive skills tend to be small, the numbers for even the best defensive systems have to be taken with a grain of salt (that is, sabermetricians have to regress pretty heavily to the mean).
At the risk of bringing this entry down to Urban-esque levels of belligerent stupidity, we do need to get our noses out of the proverbial spreadsheets and watch some damn games. That's why we have scouts. But did you know that you're a scout, too? You watch every A's game, which means you observe the players more often than a scout does. And while your opinion by itself might be flawed or biased, we can put our opinions together and begin to come to a consensus. Our collective opinion is almost certainly better than our individual opinions. And there are lots and lots of A's fans hanging around here whose opinions are untapped.
And that's what the Fan Scouting Report is all about. Every year, Tom Tango asks thousands of fans to give their scouting reports by rating fielders in a variety of categories. Says Tom:
What I would like to do now is tap that pool of talent. I want you to tell me what your eyes see. I want you to tell me how good or bad a fielder is. Go down, and start selecting the team(s) that you watch all the time. For any player that you've seen play in at least 10 games in 2009, I want you to judge his performance in 7 specific fielding categories.
And best of all:
And, most importantly, do not, absolutely do not, look at any numbers. Don't look at his fielding percentage, range factor, zone rating, UZR, or anything else that someone else is telling you. I just want you to rely on your eyes. You are the scout. I need you to rely completely on your own observations.
Tom's been doing this every year for over five years now, so we're starting to get good historical data. In some cases the fans agree with the numbers. In other cases, they disagree. It's all very useful information, because it gathers the collective experience of you and I - the most experienced scouts of A's players in existence - to tell us what the numbers might not. The more opinions the better. As usual, the A's have one of the smallest response pools in the Fan Scouting report. For every evaluation of an A's player, there are *10* for the Rays. The Rays!
But this is important: be honest in your evaluations. This isn't a ballot-stuffing contest. This is an attempt to use the collective knowledge of the best-informed baseball fans our there to help us identify fielding skill. Thanks for helping Tango out in his project, which I think is the most creative and informative collective-wisdom projects in the blogosphere.