Old-school baseball minds have started, gradually, to embrace the concepts of statistical analysis of offense -- on-base percentage, strikeout percentage, OPS+. They've been a little slower to come around on the idea of statistical analysis of defense.
A cover story in Sports Illustrated this spring brought the idea into the mainstream a little bit, but "UZR" still might as well be the Swedish word for "amusement park" for all the credence old-school baseball minds want to give it. (UZR stands for "ultimate zone rating," a measure of how many runs a player saves on balls hit into his zone of the field.)
And it doesn't get any more old-school than Dustin Pedroia.
How do you feel like you evaluate defense?
"It’s just errors. If you make all the routine plays and don’t give the other team more outs, that’s the biggest thing. If you’re giving major-league-caliber hitters more than 27 outs, you’re not going to win many games doing that. A lot of teams are focused on making all the routine plays and getting themselves back in and hitting. That’s the most important part because it’s tough enough pitching, especially at this level."
Do you incorporate some of the new ideas about defense, the zone ratings, the plus-minus, that sort of thing?
"No. I don’t think anybody really believes in that stuff. I don’t really know how they do that. My biggest focus is, if the ball is hit to me, pick it up and throw it and get an out. You don’t need zone ratings or anything like that to tell who’s a good defensive player and who’s not. You can pretty much look out on the field and tell who can play defense and who can’t."
Do you feel like good defense -- aside from not making errors -- contributes to the success of a pitcher?
"Yeah. You’ve got to position yourself right. If a guy’s dead pull, you shouldn’t play him the other way. You’ll give him more hits. Positioning is huge, playing defense, and if you position yourself the right way, you’re going to make more plays and get more outs, so pitchers’ ERAs are going to go down."
When you look at a game like that game two weeks ago against Tampa Bay, the game where Jon Lester got burned on ground balls that found holes in the infield, does that give you more confidence in some of those pitchers who have high ERAs?
"We always have confidence in our pitchers. Sometimes you run into those days where everything finds a hole. That’s just baseball. Our thing is, we just try to prevent that. We try to prevent those days from happening. Sometimes you look up and a team has 13 or 14 hits, and eight of them are ground balls that find holes. You just try to position yourself the best way you can to get those outs."