Saturday, October 3, 2009

Red Sox defense still an issue in some ways

It's hard to pinpoint a significant weakness on this Red Sox team. The starting pitching is tremendous. The bullpen is tremendous. The lineup is deep -- and tremendous, particularly since the acquisition of Victor Martinez.

The team's biggest weakness, in a lot of ways, might be its defense. That's not to say that the defense is bad, per se, but back in mid-May, the Red Sox certainly weren't giving their pitchers much in the way of help. (The link will take you to a snapshot in mid-May of where the Red Sox stood on the Ultimate Zone Rating and Fielding Bible Plus-Minus leaderboards.)

As the season winds to a close, though, it might be a good idea to check back and see how the Red Sox fared in some of the advanced statistical measures. (We'll use UZR/150 -- averaging the numbers across 150 games -- rather than straight UZR because rate stats, as we've discussed, give a better sense than counting stats. Plus-minus is a counting stat.)

First base
1. Travis Ishikawa, plus-13.5
2. Casey Kotchman, 7.5
3. Kevin Youkilis, 7.1
1. Albert Pujols, plus-15
t-2. Kevin Youkilis, plus-14

(In the ongoing "Kevin Youkilis ought to be the MVP runner-up behind Joe Mauer" debate, his ability to deliver terrific defense at first base and adequate defense at third base ought to be a big, big pactor.)

Second base
1. Ben Zobrist, plus-24.1
2. Dustin Pedroia, 9.1
(Yes, the gap is that wide.)
1. Ian Kinsler and Ben Zobrist, plus-23
t-5. Dustin Pedroia, plus-12

(Pedroia might not buy into advanced defensive statistics, but they sure do reflect well upon him.)

Third base

1. Ryan Zimmerman, plus-16
29. Mike Lowell, minus-10.2
1. Chone Figgins, plus-41
35. Mike Lowell, minus-23

(Were you expecting anything else?)

1. Jack Wilson, plus-15.2
6. Alex Gonzalez, plus-7.0
10. Nick Green, plus-5.3
1. Jack Wilson, plus-32
19. Nick Green, plus-1
27. Alex Gonzalez, minus-5

(There's a discrepancy between the two interpretations of Gonzalez's defense. There's no such discrepancy below.)

Left field
1. Juan Rivera, plus-14.2
12. Jason Bay, minus-8.0
1. Carl Crawford, plus-32
26. Jason Bay, minus-9

(That's still not good, but it's certainly better than you saw from Bay earlier in the year. The Fielding Bible has him at minus-14 on deep fly balls but plus-6 on medium-range fly balls.)

Center field

1. Franklin Gutierrez, plus-19.2
26. Jacoby Ellsbury, minus-12.6
1. Franklin Gutierrez, plus-42
29. Jacoby Ellsbury, minus-8

(The Fielding Bible has Ellsbury at minus-12 on shallow fly balls -- which actually should seem about right to anyone who's seen the way he reads shallow fly balls off the bat.)

Right field

1. Ryan Sweeney, plus-20.5
8. J.D. Drew, plus-9.7
1. Ichiro Suzuki, plus-22
t-10. J.D. Drew, plus-11

(As much as Drew doesn't get credit for his contributions at the plate, he really doesn't get credit for his contributions in one of the biggest right fields in baseball.)

As a team, for the season, the Red Sox rank 17th in the major leagues with an UZR/150 of minus-2.3.

It's not as abysmal as it was earlier in the season. Nick Green saw improvement as the year progressed, and replacing Julio Lugo with Alex Gonzalez certainly helped. Playing Mike Lowell at third base less has helped as well -- in infield with Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Casey Kotchman is actually a pretty impressive defensive infield.

But while J.D. Drew continues to be an above-average defensive outfielder, both Jason Bay and Jacoby Ellsbury continue to receive low marks. Fortunately for the Red Sox, neither this park nor this park feature the type of cavernous left-center field gap that could cause problems.

1 comment:

Johnny P said...

Classifying the bullpen as "tremendous" seems a bit aggressive. Aside from Papelbon, who has been tremendous since reverting back to his old delivery, the rest of the corps has serious warts.

Dan Bard: Since August 4, the flamethrower has a 6.50 ERA with 12 BB's in 18 IP. Opposing batters, specifically LHH's, have pummeled him to the tune of a .983 OPS against.

(Razor) Ramon Ramirez: Has battled command issues all season, as evidenced by his 4.15 BB/9, and doesn't miss a lot of bats.

Manny Delcarmen: Unmitigated disaster. Can't harness his fastball, relies on his change up far too often and hasn't snapped off a decent breaking ball since Cinco de Mayo (at least it feels that way).

Okajima: RHH's hammer him (.906 OPS).

Saito: Like his fellow countryman, RHH's have crushed him (.905 OPS).

Wagner: No complaints from me.

When discussing defensive acumen I think it's dangerous to rely on UZR. First, the metric doesn't adjust for The Monster, which underrates Jason Bay, at least at home. When away from Fenway, especially in the AL West's spacious ballparks, Bay is pretty solidly below average. IMO, any GM in his right mind would jettison Bay in favor of the younger Matt Holliday, who's a superior defender and baserunner, and at least as good a hitter.

Back to the foibles of UZR. From what I understand, ratings are based on a myriad of factors -- ball speed, hit type, positioning -- determined by guys watching replayed broadcasts. Clearly, there's a good chunk of subjectivity involved in the process. I prefer Dewan's +/-, though it's hardly perfect.

More importantly, I nearly fell out of my chair when I realized you're a baseball writer. An addiction to Fangraphs? Proven knowledge of practical statistics? Eschewing RBI's? What's gotten into you?

Keep up the good work.