Defense! Defense! Defense!

Defense is perhaps the largest reason that lumbering-corner outfielders are not getting any love this off-season. 

And defense may be underrated by many surrounding the game..

…Including myself.

“Defensive Efficiency” is the “percentage of balls in play that are turned into outs.”  This statistic does not include home runs, nor does it include strikeouts or walks, obviously, for those are not balls in play. 

Some may say that this stat is dependent upon the quality of pitchers that are on the mound for the club.  I don’t disagree, but it seems like the correlation is less than one might think.  The percentage of line drives that teams surrender don’t vary all that much from the top tier to the bottom tier (although I need to be educated how much a 3% line drive increase/decrease actually impacts a team over 162 games). 

For example:  Last season, the Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff surrendered the highest percentage of line drives at 21.7%. 

The Tampa Bay Rays, however, allowed the lowest amount of line drives in relation to the amount of balls in play, 18.4%.

The two teams happened to meet each other in the World Series, which doesn’t really have any correlation to what I am talking about now. 

But the defensive aspect was a reason why each of the two teams had success, and ultimately went further than any other teams in baseball.  Not solely defense, but more so a solid enough defense not to lose ballgames, not to cost them anything significant.  And if they lacked anything, it could be made up in other areas, if what they lacked was impossible to make up–which it was not. 

But in this case, both defenses were actually above average. 

The Rays had the best “defensive efficiency” in the game, as the media beat into our brains throughout the course of the season.  Stating over and over that the Rays significant defensive turnaround played a large part in the teams significant turnaround.

The Phillies were not too shabby in this area either, finishing tenth in the game in tracking down batted balls.  Again, both teams were adept as a whole in this area, and it was a reason why they achieved success, part of the reason anyway.

As a matter of fact, 7 of the top ten teams in “defensive efficiency” finished with a winning record.  5 of those 7 earned a postseason berth.

But it is interesting.  And there is a very good reason that General Managers have been ignoring the asking price of players that have trouble fielding the ball during the current off-season.

Back to the “Defensive Efficiency” numbers…

In 2007, the Boston Red Sox were the best team in baseball, and finished second in the “DE” category. 

Coincidence?  No.  Great defense helps a team perform better.  But of course, there are other variables; pitching, offense…and maybe even intangibles  🙂

But the Red Sox were great on defense and it was part of the reason why the end result was the best record in baseball and a bunch of manufactured World Series rings.

Boston, in addition, allowed the second lowest percentage of line drives, and were 8th in Major League Baseball in home runs allowed per nine innings played.

Again, I am not ignoring that other factors play into a defense’s success.  That different factors play into run prevention.  And that different factors play into a team’s ultimate destination in the standings.

Now let us take a look at the World Series winner from 2006…

Possibly the lowest quality of team that one has ever witnessed from a World Series champion.  And that is not meant as disrespect to the fans of St. Louis, it is simply the way this knowledgeable fan feels.

But they were 7th in “Efficiency.”  Something I must have overlooked while being disappointed that the Tigers were collapsing before everyone’s eyes.  A team that I defended for their overall quailty. 

The Wild Card isn’t all that bad to have around, but in seasons like 2006 it can be made to look disastrous.  And yes, I am aware that the Cardinals won their division, but am also aware that had there only been two divisions, then 83 wins just wouldn’t have cut it.  And it wasn’t as if they did NOTHING well.  They had arguably the best player in baseball.  They had an ace, a very good all-around 3B.  And as mentioned, could flash the leather.  It was just that the overall talent level was inferior when compared to other World Series winner’s that I have personally witnessed.

2005: A great Chicago White Sox team that meshed together for a year wins the World Series.  Aside from what the BPS thinks, Chicago was the best team in baseball that season.  🙂

And they were no different on the defensive side of the ball, maybe ranked differently, but ranked high, more importantly. 

They finished second in “DE,” and finished in the middle-of-the-pack in terms of LD% (line drive percentage).  And yes, strikeouts are not being ignored by this writer.  Retiring batters without the help of the defense is the most logical way to record outs. 

Another championship team, another quality defense included.

Okay, 2004, a Red Sox team that wasn’t exactly great on defense, merely average.  But one point that I am trying to make as you are reading/I am writing, is that I don’t believe the defense has to be great, just “adequate.”  Capable.  Enough to not destroy a teams hopes.  Enough to let other aspects of the game make up the difference. 

And this was an incredibly underrated Red Sox team in terms of historic comparisons.  Sure, they finished a few games out of the division.  But they had the best run differential in baseball, scored the most runs in the AL (along with only a percent less of OPS+ than the Yankees and Indians), and the second highest ERA+ (again only 1% lower than the lead leader-Twins).  And if one wants to argue that they are not best team ever, then, you win!  I strongly agree if that is the opinion that you hold.  And I will go a step further in saying that the arch-rival Yankees had the best team ever.  The 98′ squad of course.  That team had the best offense, the best pitching, AND the best defense.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

The 2003, “take everyone by surprise Marlins” were merely average in defensive efficiency, too.  Like that of the 2004 Red Sox.  But again, I stress, they were not porous on defense.  Not horrendous.  Not terrible.  If a team surrounds an average ability with very good abilities, then odds are that the team will end up being good overall.

The Marlins weren’t really great in any area though, so this may be an exception (although the team—once developed—was pretty darn good).  But they put the pieces together at the end of the season.  And the roster was star-studded, just somewhat unknown at the time.  It is likely that many of the players were still developing as the season progressed.

The 2002 Anaheim Angels may have finished behind the A’s in the standings but they finished ahead of everyone in Defensive Efficiency.  And as we all know, they came back from the depths of being down to earn the crown as baseball’s “best” team that year. 

And that is why they probably have ignored a lot of the offensive issues that they have had since.  Because they WITNESSED a great defense and great pitching result into a World Series championship.  And I do not mind their reliance on preventing runs.  I do mind their hesitance, t
hough, to actually put a legitimate offense out there though, currently.

Maybe the greatest World Series ever played (2001)…

Included a team in Arizona that had the fourth best ability of running down balls off the bat of opposing hitters.  Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling had a lot to do with it, but the ability to field the ball was an integral piece as well.  And the conclusion was happiness in the desert.  Happiness for relatively new fans.

This will be my last team to address in regards to DE…

The 2000, 1999, and 1998 Yankees teams all fielded above average defensive units.  A reason, part of anyway, for their dynasty of the late 90’s.  But of course there was talent all over the field, in every area of their game.  That was the largest reason, not just the fact that they played defense, but that they did everything well. 

The 98′ team was probably the greatest team ever.  I mean leading the league in both offense and defense is incredible.  Plus, the theory that I personally hold about players of today evolving into better all around athletes/players than that of teams from the 20’s and 30’s.  Just a theory I have held for a while, as there is no proof.  But over the last 20 years there was definitely not a better team than that 98′ team.  And I am confident to say, in my opinion anyway, that there has never been a better team than that 1998 Yankees roster.

So basically, after all that, defense helps.  But it helps more than the average fan might think.  Probably more than I originally thought.

The “Defensive Efficiency” stat may not be perfect, as no stat is actually “perfect.”  But it is an indicator of the ability of defenders to make plays on batted balls. 

And I wish that I had the ability to create graphs so that it could be easier to find the correlation between LD% and Defensive Efficiency.  Because obviously the amount of balls hit hard will impact the ease in which defenders can catch up to those batted balls.  But it seems like the balls that stay in the park will not vary to any significant degree from one team to another.  Nevertheless, they do vary, so I wish that I had a little more information to this.

Glancing over it though, it seems that some teams had great defenses even while the pitching staffs allowed more hard hit balls.

And that some teams had below-average defenses while their pitchers allowed fewer hard-hit balls, in relation to the average team.

Defense has been underrated by many, including myself.  By how much?  I am not sure.  But if a team fields poorly, then it is obvious that it will probably catch up with them.  Whether that be in the regular season or the postseason, it is unknown.  But eventually, a deficiency so great, will cost a ball-club their preferred destination–The victory Parade, the height of greatness, a ring that is a symbol of the teams accomplishments. 

And having a good defense definitely makes it a little easier to extend one’s season, to end it with the greatest satisfaction…    





What should be expected of Ryan “The Stud” Lud-wick?

As you may of heard, Ryan Ludwick was pretty awesome last season. 

As some may know, Ryan Ludwick hasn’t accomplished much as a Major League Baseball player. 

Ludwick has spent the majority of his career in the Minor Leagues, and several partial seasons in the big leagues.  Four partial seasons, one half season worth of plate appearances, and another full season which stands out like that is exactly what Ryan Ludwick is as a baseball player to some.

We sometimes pull for a guy that spends a lot of time in the minors, and this is no different.  If Ludwick continues to perform, then good for him.  Most players don’t become good baseball players at the age of 30. 

There are exceptions of course:  Carlos Pena was nothing much, then all of a sudden applied all of his natural skills and has become a great hitter.  David Ortiz of course was an average hitter and cut loose by the Twins, only to become great once he hit his prime (of course Ortiz was 27 at the time, not 30).  And Xavier Nady could be an example of this because he has lacked full time AB’s most of his career (but Nady is 30 and I would assume average is more realistic than good, but we never know).

I know that I do not refer to BA/BIP that much on this site, but when a player is not much of a Player, then has a great year with an unsually high BA/BIP.  Then I must question how good the player actually is. 

The thing is that I have heard a scout say that Ludwick had a lucky year.  Luck, it may be.  It may be skill too though, as I am not ruling that possibility out.  But at the age of 30, with many signs pointing to Ludwick having a career year in 2008.  Wouldn’t it have been better to sell high?  Or won’t it be better to sell high I mean?

Ludwick and the Cardinals are going through their little arbitration process right now, so eventually the two parties will come to terms.

And after that is done, should the Cardinals trade Ludwick? 

I just can’t bring myself to admit that Ludwick will be all that close to his 2008 performance.  And I know that there were discussions earlier in the off-season that included Ludwick’s name floating around, but nothing resulted of it.  Now they have a player that should only come down to Earth (although shouldn’t be bad by any means).

Again Ludwick will be turning 31 in 2009.  31, not 35.  But not 25, either.  And aside from the PED/steroids era, players are supposed to decline after the age of 31 or so. 

And what does that mean for Ludwick?   A player that should naturally regress because he probably isn’t that good.  And a player that should be declining in a few years anyway.

If Ludwick continues to play great in 2009 and beyond, the Cardinals will have to pay him big bucks, something they probably won’t do.  And if he doesn’t play well, then they lose out on a few prospects or another player they could be acquiring.  Of course, if Ludwick IS great, then he will help the team win, which is obviously the objective that any baseball team has.

It would be very surprising if he continued to hit great, however.  And the Cardinals may be missing an excellent opportunity to bring back a few decent pieces to help them win in the future–if they choose to keep him. 

But who knows.  Maybe the scouts have picked up on something that indicates that Ludwick will be a great player in 2009.  Maybe he has made adjustments fiddling around with his approach while in the minors for most of his career.  Ludwick did hit the ball hard last year, so that is a positive thing. 

But I still have a strong belief, that a high BA/BIP, a career year, and a very late surge in his career, will lead to a 2009 season that is more average than great.



Trade Albert Pujols?

Am I really suggesting that the Cardinals trade Albert Pujols? 


But not to the degree that you may have initially thought.

Pujols is the best player in the game today.  Arguable, it is.  After all, Pujols is fending off National League pitching.  And we are confident that the AL is at least slightly stronger than the NL.

Should the Cardinals trade Pujols?  No, they don’t have to. 
Albert sells tickets.  Albert kills the ball.  And for my money, Albert
helps his team win games as much as anyone in baseball–and helps as
much as most that have ever played this fine game.

But it isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound the first time you read it. 

The Cardinals seem to avoid spending money.  They don’t seem like they
want to bring in anyone to help Pujols, and the rest of the team, via
free agency.  Kiss the division goodbye, not technically, but I cannot
see the Cardinals giving the Cubbies a run for the division title.

And I do believe that the Cards have the ability to sneak up on us and
remain competitive throughout the majority of the year.  But it seems
realistic that the Wild Card winner will need to earn 88+ wins. 

Can the Cardinals do this?  Can they win 88 games or more?

I don’t believe that they will be that good.

And that is short term of me, to only think about 2009.  Because Pujols
is under contract for the 2010 season, too.  And the Cardinals have a
$16 million team option for 2011, that will definitely be exercised
(unless Pujols floats away from the planet he has been on by himself
for the past few seasons). 

The St. Louis Cardinals have a strong Farm system.  So shooting for
contention, serious contention, is not unrealistic either in a year or
two.  After all; Colby Rasmus, Brett Wallace, and Daryl Jones shouldn’t
be too far away from joining the Big League club.  And all three of
those young guns are in Keith Law’s Top 50 prospects.  So offensive
help is on the way.

But the Cardinals cannot force those players to develop faster.  It
wouldn’t be the right approach, and of course very well may hinder
their development. 

Pujols has concerns, injury concerns.  And as far as I know, those
injuries haven’t subsided.  If my facts are correct, Pujols may need to
have surgery to completely repair the problem.  Hitting .355 last
season is a good sign that Pujols can play, but the injury is a reason
that the Cardinals are going to think twice about extending the
superstar’s contract to 6 or 7 seasons. 

Simply put, it just seems interesting to me, thinking about the kind of
package Pujols could bring back.  What kind of return?  How much
talent?  The return for Pujols, assuming that a team surrenders minor
leaguers, could potentially give the Cardinals the best farm system in
baseball.  Law has them ranked sixth as of now, so acquiring 3-4 more
prospects, with a few very good ones, could give this team loads of
talent in, say 2011. 

I don’t think Pujols should be traded, I simply think it should be
explored.  I often wonder how much the organization could benefit in
the long haul, if they did, in fact, entertain the idea. 

The Cardinals are against spending it seems, so they must rely on the
strength of their homegrowns/prospects going forward.  And this move
would certainly strengthen what could be a very strong, young core for
the future. 

But he IS Albert Pujols…