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  • DFence

    Quantifying value of an undervalued area..who better than Cards/A's?

    Underestimating fielding is a silly mental error

    Keeping Score
    Underestimating Fielding Is a Silly Mental Error

    Published: September 25, 2005
    In left field for the Chicago White Sox, Scott Podsednik spent the first half of this season doing a fine imitation of a Frisbee-catching dog. When a flying object came his way, Podsednik usually snared it before it could touch the ground.

    His hitting and base running got the attention, but his fielding might have been just as important. It helped Chicago's decidedly human pitching staff look otherworldly, and the White Sox sprinted to the best record in baseball.

    But with a strained groin muscle hobbling Podsednik - he went on the disabled list in August and has been at less than full strength since - baseballs have found the grass around him much more often than they once did. The White Sox pitchers look ordinary again, and the team is flirting with a historic collapse.

    Podsednik's suddenly average defense - measured by the number of balls he catches per game - is not the only cause of Chicago's shrunken division lead, but it does offer a vivid example of the often overlooked role of fielding. Behind almost every surprising team this season is a story about defense.

    Their defensive miscues yesterday notwithstanding, the Yankees have rescued their season and surged to the top of the American League East largely on the strength of newly stingy fielding. In games since Aug. 1, they have turned balls in play into outs at an above-average rate; during the season's first four months, they ranked near the bottom of the A.L.

    The Indians are making a run at the league's best record, and at the White Sox, with a group of fielders who are far better at getting to balls than last year's Indians were. The Astros have survived the loss of the heart of last season's batting order thanks in part to the fielding of Willy Taveras in center field, Craig Biggio at second base and others.

    Boston and Los Angeles are reaching fewer balls than they did in 2004 and winning less often as well. St. Louis, on the other hand, lost two good defensive middle infielders, Edgar Renteria and Tony Womack, during the off-season, but found replacements in David Eckstein and Mark Grudzielanek, who have been better at turning ground balls into outs. The Cardinals will spend this week preparing for the playoffs.

    "We look for players who can play the whole game," Tony La Russa, their manager, said in an interview. "But we don't go very often for the offensive player who doesn't have a reasonable defensive skill set and - this is the other part - the willingness to play the defensive game."

    Defense is harder to understand than hitting or pitching largely because there is no accurate and commonly used way to measure it. Box scores focus on errors, one of the game's more unjust statistics. They favor a slow-footed shortstop who fails to reach one ground ball after another over a quick one who makes lots of tough plays but occasionally bobbles the ball.

    The simplest solution is to look at how many outs - putouts plus assists - fielders make in a game. This approach treats an error as no different from an eminently catchable fly ball that the scorer counts as a hit. They both lead to a runner reaching base, after all.

    By this standard, the Indians look smart for allowing the aging Omar Vizquel, once a defensive wizard, to sign with San Francisco during the off-season. His replacement, Jhonny Peralta, has made 4.5 outs a game from the field this season, 0.2 more than Vizquel did in 2004. That is the equivalent of upgrading to a hitter with 50 more points of batting average.

    In center field, Grady Sizemore has made more putouts and assists (2.5 a game) than Coco Crisp (2.3) did last year. Crisp, now in left field, is doing a better job there (2.2) than Matt Lawton (2.0) did in 2004.

    For Houston, Biggio gets to more balls than Jeff Kent did last year, while Taveras has been just as effective in center field as Carlos Beltran was. The Yankees' improvement is more mysterious; a number of players, like Bernie Williams, are simply making more plays than they were a few months ago.

    This measure does have its limitations. A right fielder who happens to play alongside an aggressive center fielder will look worse than one whose teammate in center is more relaxed. Shortstops who play behind fly-ball pitchers will not seem as impressive as those who share a locker room with sinkerballers.

    But as long as the comparisons are restricted to players from the same team, they provide a nice window into a hidden part of the game. Whether Miguel Cabrera of the Marlins is in the outfield or at third, for instance, he does a poorer job getting to balls than teammates who play those positions at other times. The Angels' versatile Chone Figgins is the opposite: he reaches balls others don't almost everywhere he plays.

    Looking at entire teams may be even more telling. The Athletics were known a few years ago for finding inexpensive players with a knack for hitting home runs and walking, even if they were defensively challenged.

    But with more teams also focusing on on-base percentage these days, Oakland's front office seems to have decided that defense is now the skill undervalued in the baseball marketplace. This season, A's fielders have made outs out of 72.4 percent of balls hit in play against them, better than any other team.

    E-mail: [email protected][/b][/quote]
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  • #2
    They wanted to explain the importance of defense, but for a metric they didn't aim any higher than outs recorded per game? Lame.

    No, wait. NYT? LOL.


    • #3
      QUOTE(backstop @ Sep 26 2005, 03:03 PM) Quoted post

      They wanted to explain the importance of defense, but for a metric they didn't aim any higher than outs recorded per game? Lame.

      No, wait. NYT? LOL.
      Granted, not very sophisticated, but they do acknowledge some of the shortcomings and it seems to capture the essence. Sometimes simple is better.
      Official sponsor of the baseball gods and other missalaneous stuff.