Tagged: RAYS

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…    





Two Observations, While at a Party, Watching the Game.


     Two managerial decisions that puzzled me while watching Game 3 of the World Series last night.  Both touched up on by ThePrinceofNewYork, in his daily blog. 


     Why not pinch hit for Gabe Gross in the ninth inning against JC Romero?  Gabe Gross is a lefty, JC Romero is a lefty.  At the time of this, I thought to myself that Baldelli should be pinch hitting.  But I didn’t have any numbers handy, even though I assumed that Baldelli against a lefty would make a lot more sense than Gross against a lefty.  Excuse me for not knowing Gabe Gross’ splits off the top of my head while away from my computer.  But I would have known this, and known it by heart, had I been managing the Rays last night.  This was a bad managerial miscue in my opinion. 


     Why walk two batters to load the bases?  I understand what they were trying to accomplish by walking the bases loaded.  But the downside to doing that is having nowhere for the hitter to go.  And “The Prince of New York” makes some good points as to why this may have been a poor idea.  My opinion?  Grant Balfour walked 24 hitters in 58 innings this season, which happens to be the only season worth mentioning.  His career numbers indicate that he has had more trouble allowing free passes than one would like.  But in the postseason, Balfour has eight walks in ten innings, and has displayed at times an inability to control where the ball is going.  Now, I don’t know that I agree with walking the bases loaded with anyone on the mound, especially someone who knows how to stike batters out.  But to make the decision to walk the bases loaded with a guy on the mound who may very well walk a batter on his own, may not have been the best decision.  But Balfour gave up a weak grounder that ended the game anyway.  However!  That weak grounder may not not have scored that run, because the runner on third was forced home, and would not have been forced home with no one occupying the other two bases.   

A Phillies/Rays World Series.


     No, this format of comparing two teams is not some original blow-your-mind type concept, but it will do.  Position by position analysis, mild analysis, but it is something.


1B  Advantage: Toss-Up

     Ryan Howard is a big time bat, but Pena had the better year each of the last two seasons.  Howard may be the most overrated player in baseball at this point.  Good, but overrated.  Pena’s defense is superior, and as a hitter, in what is most likely the best division in baseball….in a very long time, Pena actually performed better, overall.  One reason that Howard hits so many homers is because A)  He is good  B)  He is playing in a park that benefits his power numbers.  Granted, this matchup is very close, and either one could come through, but just bring in the lefties and both should be under control in the late innings.


2B  Advantage:  Phillies by a large margin

     Chase Utley is the best second baseman in the game of baseball.  Utley may end up going down as one of the better ones to ever play if he keeps this up.  A very good defender, and a great hitting second baseman.  Iwamura is decent.  An ok hitter, with a solid glove, they say.  But this matchup is very favorable to the Phillies.


3B  Advantage:  Rays by a large margin

     Evan Longoria is already showing the league why the Rays gave him that extension early in the season.  Talent galore.  Solid defender, and already a very good hitter.  Superstar shall come easy if he wants it to.  If Feliz plays all the time, then there is a true void in this lineup.  I don’t know, maybe he has some great Series, but as great as his glove is, he is that bad with the bat at this point. 


SS  Advantage:  Phillies

     Jimmy Rollins is a good, all around SS.  Jason Bartlett is good defensively, but can’t hit much.  I prefer that guy that can do well on both sides of the ball, even though Rollins wasn’t exactly dominant at the plate this season.


C  Advantage:  Rays

     No, I cannot quantify what either does behind the plate.  But Carlos Ruiz is a liability when standing at the plate, while Dioner Navarro is not.  Navarro wasn’t as good as he was early in the year, but he is a better hitter than Ruiz, by far.  Another black hole in the Phillies lineup. 


LF  Advantage:  Phillies

     Pat Burrell works the count, draws walks, and hits for power.  Carl Crawford hits for average, plays defense and steals bases.  I will take the patient hitter who can do real damage.  Crawford is a nice player at this point, but Burrell is a bat that belongs in the middle of a good lineup.   


CF  Advantage:  Rays

     Shane Victorino is a nice complementary player.  I suggested he be moved down in the lineup earlier in the year, and I think I might stand behind that even though he turned it on after he read my blog.  But he is definitely worthy of a starting job, and is an entertaining player to watch.  But BJ Upton has the real talent of the two.  Upton turned it on in the postseason, and even though I think I dislike the way he plays the game, we cannot deny the talent that he has.  If one of these guys is going to go off, I think I like Upton’s chances a little more.


RF  Advantage: Phillies

     If Rocco Baldelli were actually Joe Dimaggio, then the Rays would have won 106 games or so.  But Baldelli has been sidelined his entire career it seems.  If it’s Gross or whoever else out there it really doesn’t change it.  I think Baldelli is the most talented option, definitely, but I will take Werth because he is more of a known quantity at this point.


SP  Advantage:  Rays

     James Shields, Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir, Andy Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson.  All 26 or younger, and all about average, and three are well better than that.  Jackson is only a bullpen option at this point, but the other four that are going to pitch are all solid.  The Phillies really only have one pitcher I would be very confident in, and that of course would be Cole Hamels.  Hamels may be slightly better than any one starter on the Rays, slightly.  But the Rays have three guys that are significantly better than any of the Phillies other starters.  Jamie Moyer overachieved and seems to have run out of gas.  Brett Myers is ok.  Joe Blanton is ok.  And the Rays lineup has the ability to work the count and get some of these guys out of there.  And that same lineup has the ability to knock the 2-3-4 starters out simply because they should be able to hit them.  But it is a short series, so who knows? 


Bullpen Advantage:  Phillies

     If Joe Maddon uses David Price as much as he can, then I think this is closer.  Price could be used like Papelbon was in 05.’  And I understand a manager’s hesitance in using a 23 year old pitcher who has been in the majors for a very short amount of time, in crucial situations.  But Price is nearly unhittable right now, and if used properly, he could pitch multiple innings against a lineup that has two good left-handed hitters.  But overall, the depth of the Phillies pen is greater, and they have a set up man and closer who have been pitching very well all year. 



     I think the Rays are a far stronger team, but then again I thought the 06′ Tigers would roll over their competition too.  The Phillies lineup is top heavy, while the Rays have guys up and down the lineup who are at least capable of swinging the bat, outside of Bartlett who isn’t exactly a difficult batter to retire.  Cole Hamels will probably have to win both his starts if the Phillies even want to take this seven games.  But the problem with that is, as good as Hamels is, he will be opposed by a good starter on the other side.  Defensively, the Rays are better.  Offensively, the Rays are a little better.  The starting pitching of the Rays is better.  The Phillies DO have the better bullpen, but I like the Rays if they have the advantage in those other areas.  But after all, this is just a prediction, and doesn’t hold much water.   





Only Two Remain…


     The Rays deserve to win and were the best team in the American League this season, and most likely the best in all of baseball.  I don’t agree with Sean Casey staying on the bench in the seventh inning, as he could have batted for either Varitek or Cora.  I also would have pinch run Ellsbury for Ortiz in the 8th.  Buck Martinez stated that the reason they didn’t was because of the chance that the game might go into extras.  “Extras” do not come without a tie game in regulation.  The seventh inning move may or may not have mattered, the 8th inning did not, ultimately.  But the Rays were the best team.  They had a good run differential, won 97 games, and won the American League with a tightly contested, seven game series.  By the way, there is no one that scared me more out of the pen than David Price, and that was before he retired four of five batters with truly electric stuff.  Number one starter is his if he chooses to grab it in the next few seasons.  Congratulations, Rays.

The Aftermath.


     The Red Sox were the better team, period!  John Lackey, Torii Hunter, you are both entitled to you opinion.  But you are wrong. 


     The Angels won 100 games.  The Red Sox 95.  That is where a lot of the “Angels being better” argument lies.  And the fact that the Angels beat the Red Sox 8 of 9 times this season.  Wins are wins, the most important stat of them all.  But there are other circumstances.  The Angels played in an absolutely pathetic division.  A division that contained three teams that were much, much worse than the fourth best team in the American League.  The best run differential in the AL West for a team outside of the Angels was -44 (Oakland).  The AL East consisted of four teams that had RD’s of +62 or better.  So the Red Sox played in the toughest division in baseball, and the Angels played in what was most definitely the worst of the three in the American League.  Any of the first four teams in the AL East would have easily won the AL West had they been drawn that division in place of the Angels.  


     The Angels win with “pitching and defense.”  Great, good for them.  But the Red Sox ERA+ was 5% better as a team.  Against better competition, the Red Sox actually surrendered three fewer runs.  Three runs is irrelevant, but the Red Sox play in a “hitters park,” while the Angels play in a neutral park.  But both teams had good pitching, it was pretty close in that department.  But the defensive battle goes to the Red Sox.  Boston had the fifth best “DefensiveEfficiency” in all of baseball, while the Angels were 14th.  So the Red Sox were clearly better at turning balls in play into outs than the Angels were.  But even this wasn’t as clear cut as the playoffs made it look.  The Red Sox looked far superior on the defensive side of the ball in this series then that of the Angels, but even if the Angels are not quite as good defensively as the Red Sox, it wasn’t as big a gap as the ALDS seemed to suggest.


     The one thing that was a large difference between the two teams, outside of Jon Lester giving up zero earned runs in 14 innings, was the quality of at bats the Red Sox had.  Up and down the lineup, the Red Sox have “tough outs” as the BPS likes to refer to them as(outside of Varitek).  But even Varitek doesn’t lack TOO much in his approach, he simply cannot hit very well anymore.  Ellsbury (to a lesser extent) Pedroia, Ortiz, Youkilis, Drew, Bay, Kotsay (somewhat) and Lowrie all approach their at bats well.  And if a pitcher is going to have success against the Red Sox, it is not going to be because the Red Sox fail at the way they go about their at-bats.  The Red Sox, whether it because of Magadan or the talent the team withholds, probably some of both, know how to go about an at bat.  They are patient, they know how to take a walk, and they are great at looking for a pitch that they can hit.  They still fail a lot, as does every team, but they aren’t lacking in the way they come up to the plate and execute.  Now one can enjoy their team of free swingers, I on the other hand will take this approach any day of the week (unless one could have the success Nomar did).  Mark Teixera was very good in his approach, but he was one of the few that did it consistently well in the Angels lineup (Vlad is of course an exception).    


     Statistically, the Red Sox offense was far superior to that of the Angels to begin with.  The Red Sox OPS+ was 108, while the Angels was 96.  96!  That is below average.  And they were 10th in runs scored too, so they didn’t have some magical ability to score runs from not getting on base.  They somehow won many games, but they didn’t get on base (11th in OBP) and they didn’t score runs.  Mark Teixera made the offense better, statistically or not.  It gave them an overall upgrade at first base over Kotchman, a bat that could make the opposing pitcher work, and make that same pitcher pay too.  He is one of the better hitters in the game.  But Kotchman was average, maybe a little better, so to upgrade to a good hitter can only do SO much.  I think the Tex acquisition was the right one, guys like Kotchman can be found elsewhere, with more ease.  But the Teixera’s of the game are not easy to come by, and he gave them a better shot to win it all than Kotchman did.   But the team, with or without Mark Teixera, did not get on base enough.  If they want to swing at every pitcher and get on base a lot over a large sampling, then so be it.  But they didn’t get on base, and the runs didn’t fall into their lap.  I prefer the higher OBP than the ability to bunt and swing earlier in the count, but maybe that is just me. 


     I know I sound confident now, I am.  I felt the Red Sox were the better team going in, but I couldn’t truly tell if it was the objective stats I rely on, which are in the Red Sox favor.  Or maybe because I happen to root for the Red Sox and have seen them win a championship in the past year.  That being said, I kind of left the playoffs to declare who the best team was.  I thought the White Sox were the fourth best of the field, but I wasn’t as sure who the best was, and still are not.  After all, the Rays were basically tied for the second best run differential in the game, they had a slightly better defensive efficiency then the Red Sox.  Had the same ERA+, and were 5% worse in OPS+.  Those numbers are pretty close.  Whoever wins this series was and is the best team in the American League this season.