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…    





If Abreu Accepts…

     If Bobby Abreu accepts the one year, $8 million deal from the White Sox, then the White Sox will have some flexibility.

     Bobby Abreu is an above average player, poor defensively, but solid offensively.  At this point in his career, Abreu is not to be built around, as he could have been in his earlier days.  So if a team understands that Abreu is now a solid role-player–and they definitely seem to understand that given his lack of contract offers–then the team will be acquiring a helpful piece of the puzzle. 

     Bobby Abreu was a great player for some time.  His defense must have been overrated, because I find it hard to believe that he was a legitimate Gold Glover.  But his offense, was very, very good for a period of time.  Ten of Abreu’s last eleven seasons have been of OPS+’s 120 or greater.  There was a seven year period, 1998-2004, where Abreu posted nothing lower than 136.  Abreu is a career .300 hitter, with a .405 OBP, and a slugging percentage just two points short of .500.  But if he does give in, and accepts a one year deal, the White Sox will be receiving a solid player, but understand that this is not the same Bobby Abreu that Phillies fans remember. 

     A one year deal is very good for the White Sox organization.  2009 should be Abreu’s best remaining year, definitely the best opportunity for his best remaining year, as he will only get older.  And I think that Abreu could very well post an OPS+ of around 120, again, as he did in 2008. 

     This would also create flexibility as I mentioned.  And although there is no established big league player to play center, yet, Jermaine Dye could possibly be moved in order to begin the replenishing of the farm system.  Kenny Williams seems mostly bright, but there is a serious lack of quality down below.  And if the White Sox want to be contenders in the future, then this will need to be addressed.  Abreu won’t surrender a draft pick, and Abreu won’t tie up a bunch of money in future years.  Dye probably won’t bring back any stud players, but he might bring back a few nice pieces.  Dye will turn 35 this year, so the club shouldn’t count on him being a part of the future.  And this could be his last season under contract (mutual option in 2010) so again, the club shouldn’t count on him being a part of the future.

     They don’t have to trade Dye, even if they sign Abreu.  But if they want to compete in 2009, having Abreu would allow them to make a trade, and the team wouldn’t suffer too much this season.  Both Dye and Abreu are considered among the worst RF’s in the game according to Dewan’s Plus/Minus.  And offensively they are pretty close, giving the edge to Dye, maybe.  Jermaine had a great year in 2006, but the surrounding years are nothing special.  There is no reason to think that Abreu should not be roughly what Dye is as an all-around player next season. 

     So signing Abreu would be wise.  The White Sox would get him for a very reasonable price, no long term committment.  Really, not even much short term committment.  And then they could make a trade including Jermaine Dye if they wish to pursue that direction, as they have been rumored to have been interested in that route.  Of course, if they do not trade Dye, then there may be a problem getting everyone their AB’s.