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..
“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…
A Few Days of Reflection.
With the season on the line, and all hopes dashed, seemingly, the Boston Red Sox made the greatest comeback I have ever witnessed in a postseason game.
I was glued to my tv the night the Cleveland Indians made THE most incredible comeback I have ever seen in this sport. Down 14-3, I think, to the Seattle Mariners, they somehow came back to win that game. That was a truly unbelievable event in the world of sports. That same night, over on ESPN 2, Sammy Sosa tied the game up against the Dodgers or someone, with a two run home run in the ninth, two outs too I think. This may have been the greatest night of baseball I have ever seen.
But that night I had no personal stake in either game. A great night of baseball nonetheless. But I am not a fan of any of the four teams that competed. I am a fan, however, of the Boston Red Sox. I am not going to lie, I was keeping my eye on the game, but I was flicking between other tv shows as well. South Park being one of them. But I never truly gave up… altough things looked about as dim as they could get. It was basically finished, and basically finished in my mind, but giving up completely was not something that was done. And then I flicked back, missing a half inning, what was a very important half inning. One in which David Ortiz actually had a good swing, and one in which three other players had to come through, all with two outs.
So I was “suckered” back in. I had hope once again. Thinking to myself, I was, why did they do this to me? I still knew it would be very difficult to overcome a three run lead in merely two innings of play, but it was something. And without this something, there would have been nothing else to the season. Papelbon retired the Rays in the top of the eighth, and the 5-6-7 hitters were coming up for the Red Sox. Still, a victory was a longshot. Bay walked on four pitches, something that is simply inexcusable, from a pitchers standpoint. Then Drew rocketed a ball into the right field stands, something he does well when he is seeing the ball well. Jed Lowrie and Sean Casey were disposed of. Then Mark Kotsay laced a ball just out of the reach of Upton’s glove, actually hitting his glove, but falling in for a double. Coco stepped to the plate. Coco is a player, that when at the plate, I don’t have much faith in. There are plenty of ways to get him out, and there is a reason he isn’t a full time outfielder for this team. But as Francona stated, Coco had a truly great at bat, and smoked a single that allowed the game tying run to score from second in the form of Kotsay. Coco was thrown out at second, which as my Dad said, wasn’t a bad play. It was an errant throw that happened to be right to Carlos Pena, and with two outs, trying to get in scoring position is a good idea. Outs are bad, but this was a “less bad” out.
The Rays threatened in the top of the ninth, only to see Pena get duped into that inviting two seam fastball that Masterson uses to induce ground balls. Inning over.
And then, then came the ninth, which started rather meekly. Two quick outs. Then Youkilis had a very good AB, something he does quite frequently. But the end result was a routine ground ball to Longoria. And this play symbolizes the game in my opinion. Whether or not blowing a bubble matters or not, I don’t know. It probably makes little difference, but while Longoria makes a nice play, he blows a bubble, then makes a low throw that Pena cannot scoop. Man in scoring position, two outs. Evan Longoria is a very good player, already. And I am not necessarily getting on his case for blowing a bubble in the middle of a crucial situation, although it really doesn’t look good. If I am going to get on someone’s case for taking it easy, it will be BJ Upton. Those nonchalant prances in center, as talented as he is, come off as very arrogant to me. He has actually misplayed a few of them in my opinion because he approaches the ball like he already has it caught. But back to the play, it kind of showed me that the Rays maybe weren’t all there at the end of this game. That they thought they had sealed the deal, and were off to the World Series.
…Up to the plate steps trade deadline acquistion Jason Bay. Four tough pitches to take…and Bay is intentionally walked. Buster Olney is right, when Drew is “locked in” he is among the best in the game. But knowing he was locked in simply because he belted a home run two innings earlier, is not completely realistic for an opposing manager. And 4-7 is a small sample size, but one could look at it either way. Drew doesn’t exactly kill lefties, Bay however, does. Bay has been good against both lefties and righties over the course of his career though. Drew then smoked another ball that had enough juice to end up over the head of the right fielder. Whether he was playing in too much or not, hitting the ball hard, more often than not, results in good things. And this time it was a very good thing. The game was won, and all was good in the City of Beantown for a few more days.
With all that emotion felt, the Rays are a very good team. And they are still only one victory away from a trip to the Series. The realist in me knows that it will be extremely hard to win the next two games. But anything can happen, and if the Rays win, then congratulations! They were the best team in the American League. But the Red Sox are still alive, and still have a chance. And win or lose, it will not change what happened in game 5 to all of the people that care about this Red Sox team.