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Fielding Statistics
Discussion started by Bobstan , 20 February, 2017 21:09
Fielding Statistics
Bobstan 20 February, 2017 21:09
Interesting article by Tim Wigmore in this month’s Wisden Cricket Quarterly, The Nightwatchman. Wigmore apparently writes on cricket for cricinfo, the Telegraph, the New York Times and the Economist!

It is a fairly closely argued piece about the use by coaches of statistics in cricket and baseball. The gist of his argument is that in both sports fielding is the poor relation. Numbers are endlessly crunched for batting and bowling/pitching, but that there really are very few measures of fielding prowess for teams or individuals. Catches taken - yes, but that’s about it. No measure of catching percentage success rates – catches v drops - or their economy rate – runs saved v runs cost. Fielding, he says, is the last bastion of the game that still prefers gut feeling to empirical data.

Wigmore points out that it was not until the 1990s that fielding coaches became common, and that the role was normally combined with other positions and was seldom full time. Two of the pioneers, were former baseball coaches which was no coincidence, as baseball began to take fielding figures seriously well before cricket. He makes the evident/obvious point that T20 has been very important in the improvement in fielding in recent years. However, he says, there are still areas of fielding which have lagged behind: the number of direct hits has not improved (How does he know that if the statistics are not available?). Certainly nobody since Colin Bland has equalled his astonishing ability to hit the top of the stumps from the outfield, mostly Cover. He also bemoans the fact that there has been no attempt to train cricketers to be more nearly ambidextrous in the field.

The statistician, Charles Davis has recently compiled a log of dropped catches in Test Cricket. He found 25% of chances were spilled, which is exactly the same as in the 1990s – which does indicate that somebody was compiling fielding statistics back then.

Wigmore maintains that because of the lack of emphasis on fielding, the wrong team selections are often made. Selecting a batsman with an average of 35 over one with a 40 average goes against all cricketing wisdom, but if there is a significant gap in fielding ability between the two it might well be the wise thing to do.

About half of counties employ a full-time statistical expert, but still fielding is the poor relation. Interestingly the Associate nations are in the vanguard of fielding improvement. They clearly feel that this is one area in which they may be able to out-perform Test countries. They recognise, of course, that there is no conceivable way that they can match batting and bowling.

Tim Wigmore’s article is lengthy and far more nuanced than I have room to make it appear, and he makes many points that I have not touched on. I don’t agree with everything he has written, but it is certainly cause for thought.

I receive Nightwatchman to read each quarter second hand as it were from No 2 son, an avid Somerset supporter.

Re: Fielding Statistics
Farmer White 21 February, 2017 00:52

IF Wigmore is right about this, and as you say one has to wonder from where he derives some of his fielding statistics, then there is an opportunity here for a team to steal a march on the rest. It fits with the focus on marginal gains which was so crucial in transforming British Olympic Cycling from an international irrelevance to world dominance.

If you follow the logic of marginal gains through, which is basically what this seems to be, it is not just that more catches may be taken, run outs achieved and runs saved it is also that as a result of this the morale of the side taking this approach would rise whilst the morale of sides on the receiving end would drop.

The approach could in turn lead to the knock on of an improvement in batting and bowling because the ability to keep identifying the opportunity for and then making marginal gains would transfer across to the other skills in the game.

Ray Illingworth used a similar approach, though more doing everything right and to the best of the team's ability all the time than specifically identifying individual marginal gains, but the effect was the same in a less scientific more laissez-faire age of cricket. Leicestershire, previously no-hopers, repeatedly found opposition teams wilting under the constant pressure and won five trophies in five years including their first County Championship.

Now there's a thought!

Re: Fielding Statistics
Bobstan 21 February, 2017 07:34
Good morning, Farmer White. You are Sir Dave Brailsford, and I claim my £5.

One certainly can't lay scorn on the idea that a 'marginal gain' in fielding might make all the difference to a county with good batting and bowling if that county is already one of the best sides in the country. I wonder to which county that might apply.

Because of the lack of statistics I have no idea how our fielding compares with that of other counties. We may all have an impression, especially those lucky enough to be able to attend more often than I, but who knows?

Re: Fielding Statistics
chunkyinargyll 21 February, 2017 07:51
Whilst there may not be any official fielding stats to hand (in terms of runs saved or conceded) I think coaches and fans have a pretty good idea of a players worth.

They always used to say you could add six to Derek Randall's batting average, because near certain boundaries to anyone else would be intercepted by him, and a four would only be two- or a miraculous dive at cover would prevent any runs at all- or maybe just a single.

At the other end of the scale non Middlesex fans might think Scott Newman's career batting average of 38.18 was more than respectable (plenty of batsmen have career averages around 31-33) but you should really knock six off that average, because he was such a donkey in the field. Thus his batting average suggests he was more use to his team tan he really was.

Re: Fielding Statistics
Shepton Paul 2 21 February, 2017 09:44
There was, I vaguely recall, an item about this on the radio last year - maybe an interval in TMS or similar. Talked about Chris Taylor producing stats for the England fielders and how they had targets to reach and could be scored at the end of each day in terms of positive or negative contributions, runs saved, catches, etc..

As I think I've demonstrated, my recall of it is poor (I think Graeme Swann may have been in in the discussion), but it certainly seemed that Taylor was involved in producing some statistical benchmarks for fielding performance.

Re: Fielding Statistics
Loyal of Lhasa 21 February, 2017 11:20
Jim Foat played as many as 91 matches for Gloucestershire in the Seventies and ended with a career batting average of only 18.60 (and he never took a wicket).

We all know why he survived so long.

I was amazed to discover that he is now 64 years old. That must make me 106.


Seventy-two Seasons a Somerset Supporter

Re: Fielding Statistics
Farmer White 21 February, 2017 12:39

I have no statistics but I do think we could improve our rate of direct hits from the inner ring compared to some of our competitors unless it just feels that way. It often seems to me they hit the stumps more than we do.

I exclude from that three of our team. Roelof van de Merwe who seems a natural. Tom Abell who has that hallmark of a great player - time that others do not have. I have seen him take that split second which seems an age to line up a throw on the run and hit where others throw and miss. The third is Marcus Trescothick, in my view the best direct hitter of the stumps we have on his occasional sojourns in the inner ring. It is not much remarked upon because he spends almost all his time in the slips perhaps all of it for most of his career. I have seen more than one startled batsman depart run out to a direct hit from Trescothick at cover when the ball shattered his stumps probably as he was chuckling at having sneaked one past the old man.

One of my most cherished memories of Trescothick in the field is of an edge through slips down towards the Botham stand. The ball did not look particularly interested in reaching the boundary. Trescothick set off after it at the pace of a steam engine trying to get up speed. The batsmen looked as if they had decided to take a breather by ambling three. They were just getting up to cruising speed for the third when the steam engine bent down a few yards short of the boundary, picked up the ball, turned it into a guided missile and shattered the stumps and the batsmen's illusions in a nanosecond of sheer brilliance.

The next batsmen had had his illusions shattered before he left the pavilion. Almost immediately he edged past slip, the ball retained its aversion to reaching the boundary, Trescothick gradually got up a head of steam and to cries of, "Run Out! Run Out!" from the Botham and Trescothick stands, the batsmen settled meekly for two as the more leisurely missile thwacked into the keeper's gloves just above the stumps. It is not just the wickets from direct hits it is also the subsequent runs they stop and the pressure they build. It would make a difference over the course of a match and a season.

As to Sir Dave Brailsford, Bobstan, I imagine he would advise that next time you aim for £5.01.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 21/02/2017 20:35 by Farmer White.

Re: Fielding Statistics
Bobstan 21 February, 2017 20:10
Lovely memories and thoughts, FW.

Re: Fielding Statistics
RadstockRob 21 February, 2017 23:23
Keep us Brailsfords out of this!


Re: Fielding Statistics
Tom Seymour 22 February, 2017 09:23
No measure of catching percentage success rates – catches v drops - or their economy rate – runs saved v runs cost. Fielding, he says, is the last bastion of the game that still prefers gut feeling to empirical data.

How can it be anything other than subjective to the casual watcher? What determines a dropped catch? Did the ball carry to the fielder? Did the fielder do well to get his finger tips to the ball? Would it have been a truly great catch had it been held or was it a half chance? Was the fielder impeded by someone else when going for the catch?

These are surely considerations to be taken into account before saying we dropped x catches today. Dolly catches OK, but unless you analyse everything with the hindsight of super slow mo recording, then I would have thought you are no further forward in assessing any shortcomings.

A glass half - empty or a glass half - full?
Regardless, both glasses need filling up.

Re: Fielding Statistics
Farmer White 22 February, 2017 13:44

I agree with you to a point. Any onlooker assessment of fielding successes or failures will to a degree, quite possibly a significant degree, be subjective for the reasons you give. Perhaps to the extent that the data gathered would be too unreliable to be of use. However the players involved, if honest with themselves and their colleagues,in their assessment and self-assessment, can be more objective if they choose to be so.

For example a player will usually, if not always, know if they have dropped a catch they should have caught as will their colleagues on the field. Neither should it be too difficult to work out in practice, albeit without the added dimension of match pressure, the difference in hit rates of throws on the run that are aimed as Tom Abell seems to do it and those that are thrown more instinctively. If there is a significant difference for individual players then they could be coached to use the technique which for them is more effective.

Monitoring in this way would be more effective too than observer monitoring because performance monitoring directly involving those being monitored normally gains more ownership of the results and leads to more effective and owned plans to improve. It can also increase confidence because there is a sense of taking control of an issue rather than reacting to or having no influence on it. There can be very few players in the first class game who would not take an opportunity to improve an aspect of their game if they believed it might work. And as I said in my earlier post IF it were effective then the positive impact on performance and confidence would be cumulative and in a division of narrow margins it might make the difference.

By way of anecdotal illustration of the effect of working on fielding even for a top fielder and how top class fielding can have a major impact I found this in an old Frank Keating article. A link to the full article from which it is copied follows it:

It was on the Saturday afternoon of the 1965 Lord's Test, a glorious high-summer English day, when we in the old carousing Tavern crowd, in convivial fettle and good voice, were stunned into two successive and awestruck eruptions of unbiased acclaim when Colin Bland, from midwicket, announced himself with two breathtaking direct-hit run-outs of England's Ken Barrington and Jim Parks. In two blinks, those swooping throws on the run changed the course of the match and the series. One-day cricket was in its infancy then and that sort of run-out was a revelation. Mind you, Bland's strikes were no revelation to me - living briefly in what used to be called Salisbury (now Harare) a few years earlier, I had watched Bland practising obsessively for hours at the local sports club by throwing at a single stump placed inside a hockey goal-net. Afterwards you'd say 'Wow!' and Colin would mutter, sheepishly, something akin to golfer Gary Player's 'The more I practise, the luckier I get.'


Whether all this is worth a hill of beans I don't know and in particular whether systematically monitoring it would be worth more than instinctively judging it I don't know. But if it were worth anything I would rather we won the Championship because we were the first to have investigated and picked up on this idea than lost it because another team got there first.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 22/02/2017 14:48 by Farmer White.

Re: Fielding Statistics
chunkyinargyll 22 February, 2017 16:31
Most teams these days have team analysts or team statistitions- call it what you will. They don't need to be former players. All they need to know is how to log every single ball bowled as half volley, yorker. legside, whatever, and every shot played by the batsman. They do that for the opposition too. So and so scores most of his runs with these three shots- so make sure you don't bowl to his strengths. And whilst the stats might not be freely available to the general public 'You really should have caught that' are definitely logged too.

But, in the same way most front line batsman don't bowl, and most quick bowlers aren't capable of scoring a hundred, provided a fielder is considered to be 'first class standard' that is good enough. Probably completely unrealistic to expect every fielder to be as exceptional as Jonty Rhodes, but nothing wrong in asking him for advice. Would you want a brilliant fielder who could neither at nor bowl to first class standard? Loyal mentioned dear old photo (so called for the number of times the scorecard read J C Foat 0) and it's a tribute to him that many supporters remember photo with affection to this day- but it's not as if Gloucestershire had any better batsmen at the time who he was keeping out of the side.

And would you sooner have Panesar (when at his peak) who could even bamboozle great players like Tendulkar in you side- or a spinner who was a better fielder, but would only take the odd wicket here and there when the conditions were in his favour? Sooner have Panesar myself. I would always have the best keeper in the side though. Miss a stumping when someone is on 0- sit back and watch them make 150. The batsman/keeper then has to make 150 to atone for his error!

Re: Fielding Statistics
Tom Seymour 22 February, 2017 16:54
But then we keep Max Waller on the books year after year on the oft suggested basis that he is the best outfielder on the staff. Not only does he not take wickets in CC cricket, but he is never picked on the basis of either his bowling or batting.

The T20 circus is different though.

Re: Fielding Statistics
chunkyinargyll 22 February, 2017 17:13
There is probably room for one Max Waller at every county.

Most teams play two spinners (sometimes even 3) in T20- but only one in championship cricket. I suppose if you want to be a force in T20 cricket you don't want your 2nd spinner to be inexperienced if you can help it. So, if he is considered a good role model for the kids in the 2's, and does a good job for the first team in T20 his place on the staff is probably safe.

Funnily enough most supporters don't seem to bothered if it is the other way round (senior player plays 4 day cricket, but can't get in T20 side) Will Beer at Sussex is another one who the club seem quite happy to retain, even though his 4 day appearances are almost as rare as Waller.

Re: Fielding Statistics
old boy! 22 February, 2017 21:04
For our 20/20 XI Max would always be the first name on my list when picking the team. IMO the best and quickest fielder in the country. Pity about his lack of 4 day cricket. Unless he can get in and prove otherwise, it will always be assumed that he is no good in that format!

Re: Fielding Statistics
Scrumper 23 February, 2017 00:37
Robot fielders will be the way forward.

Re: Fielding Statistics
Bagpuss 23 February, 2017 09:21
Fielding statistics may eliminate a degree of the subjectivity. A dropped catch will be a dropped catch whether it is a dolly in the slips or point just getting fingertips to a middled drive.
But that is to some extent true of batting and bowling statistics too - a hundred is a hundred whether it's scored on a shirtfront against a depleted bowling attack, or at Sabina Park against the Windies in the 80s. A wicket is a wicket whether its the ball of the century or a wide long hop that snares the batsman.

Re: Fielding Statistics
Clarence Parker 23 February, 2017 09:43
You have missed the point - and I don't mean the fielding position of that name.

When is a chance a chance? The fingers on a fully outstretched hand may just have made contact with the ball, but there would have been no possibility whatsoever of a fielder holding on to it. That doesn't constitute a drop in my opinion.

We all know about batting and bowling statistics, but not fielding apart from catches made. That would appear to be the whole point of Tim Wigmore's article.

Re: Fielding Statistics
chunkyinargyll 23 February, 2017 10:56
Of course sometimes it is very much a matter of opinion if something was a catch, or not. How often on the online commentaries do you hear the two commentators say to each other, 'Do you think that carried?' Maybe those are 4/10 type catches that are wonderful if they are taken, but you can't have too many complaints if they are not.

It's fairly rare these days for a fielder to be below what is considered 1st class fielding standard- which is why I mentioned Scott Newman earlier. He was only 32 when Middlesex released him. With a batting average of 38 (mostly Division one runs) you would have thought Division 2 teams would have been queuing up to sign a player with about 5 years left in him. No offers came.

The other day there was a report on the tv that scientists have invented some kind of special coating that means in future toothpaste will never get stuck inside the tube, and tomato ketchup will easily flow out of the bottle without getting stuck. Whatever this invention is, they must have trialed it on Scott Newman's hands! Fans who had downed a pint or two taking one handed crowd catches whilst he dropped absolute sitters on the boundary! People pay to watch people who are better than them,- not worse than them!

There, I feel a bit better now I've got that off my chest!

Re: Fielding Statistics
Tom Seymour 23 February, 2017 11:32
Yes, it is pretty obvious that getting a finger or two to the ball does not always mean that it is a chance. Sometimes, it could be but more often than not it isn't.

No chance = no drop.

A glass half - empty or a glass half - full?
Regardless, both glasses need filling up.

Re: Fielding Statistics
Grockle 27 February, 2017 06:38
Max Waller by any set of stats you want to use IS our best fielder - how long his flexibility and eye keeps him in that position I have no idea but wherever you put him on a pitch you have pretty much sown up that avenue for runs and he does do some spectacular things.

Does that justify his job on the staff? In T20 it is an asset and he is difficult to pick in 4 overs so I suppose he has two skills out of the 3 in the short format.

Above that? I've seen so little of his batting in first team matches that I have no idea whether he could hold a position as a batsman but I doubt it. As a bowler in longer formats he is too much of a risk - though he was saying in the winter that he is spinning the ball more so who knows.


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