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…    





Professor Xavier.

Professor Xavier Nady that is.  Circa 2008, the mutated version.  Mutated slugging.  Mutated average.  Mutated OBP (resulting from an increase in batting average).  Mutated OPS+. 

In every single category, The X-Man enjoyed career highs.  Including another positive statistic; LD%.  But perhaps a negative statistic though, in this case, a high BABIP. 

Xavier Nady is not the answer to the outfield dilemma, not in my mind anyway.  But I have been proven to be wrong before. 

Nady appears to be roughly average defensively (although I am having trouble locating numbers that include Nady in a listed format).  Luckily, for any RF in Yankee stadium, they will have less ground to cover. 

And X isn’t a putrid hitter by any means, never has been.  But his career numbers at the plate indicate slightly above-average, rather than 28% better than average, as he was in 2008.

Since he and Ryan Ludwick have similar, but not exact cases, since they both had career years in the same season, it got me thinking about the both of them.

The one argument that I have considered when thinking that maybe Nady has a decent chance to duplicate last season is that Nady hasn’t always been given a consistent amount of AB’s.  But it isn’t like Nady rotted on the bench either.  The RF has had plenty of AB’s the past three seasons at the ML level.

One huge reason why I pencil in Nady for around an average year at the plate this season is the transition to the more difficult league, and the most difficult division in baseball.

His chances to drive in runners will increase.  His chances to score runs will increase.  And any defensive deficiencies that Nady has, should be hidden for approximately half the season.  But Nady is probably due to come down some, reagardless of his opportunity based stats.  His numbers were never even close to as good as they were in 2008, and that typically leads to the “aberration” being a “fluke,” rather than the start of a higher or lower level of performance (whatever degree of performance the outlier is). 

However, while Nady will most likely experience a drop-off in his production, he will most likely not be the reason that the Yankees fail to reach the postseason, if that were to be their destination.  They have enough talent to disguise a few slight weaknesses, if they do end up having them.  Center field and Right field seem to be the most likely positions for the team to experience below-average production (although who knows?)  

But this is why the numbers aren’t everything.  I don’t believe Nady will be good, not bad, but not good.  Yet, he may have learned something that I cannot see in the numbers.  So I stay open-minded on a subject like this, as a player can become better, later in his career, on rare occasions.   

Derek Jeter in the city…another city…

Rob NeyerI’m sure the Steinbrothers would love to see Derek Jeter wearing
pinstripes forever, but I believe they’re even more infatuated with winning,
and in two years it’s going to be terribly obvious that spending $20
million on a 37-year-old shortstop who can’t play shortstop may be
tantamount to
losing. So I think we can dispense with the
speculation, because I’m ready to tell you right now: It’s just not
going to happen. The Yankees will have a younger and better shortstop
in 2011.

The inevitable ending.  The ending that involves Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees ending their incredibly rewarding relationship.  An ending that will almost definitely leave mixed emotions, and leaving some crushed emotions all over the table.

Is Derek Jeter a 20 million dollar player at this stage of his career?  No.  In all that is quantifiable, Jeter is no longer that caliber a player.  Derek, however, is still a capable player.  So with that being stated, Derek Jeter will be worth even less when his contract is to be renewed.  He will fall well short, and will not be worth even close to that $20 mill, when 2011 arrives.

The unfortunate aspect of this is that what is the best for the club, will be very disheartening to the fans.  The Yankees have to do a better job cutting ties with aging veterans than they have in past seasons, either that or not signing so many extra long deals when they bring a player in.  Because what they end up with is a few overpaid players running around, players that the Yankees would gladly move, if someone else would absorb their salaries.

But Neyer’s conclusion is that the Yankees don’t have to necessarily let Jeter walk, if they and Jeter could come to reasonable terms on a deal.  But is that likely?  Does Jeter want to take a significant paycut to stay within an organization that he has does so many great things for?

This is when some fans may feel differently about their favorite player.  Maybe the Yankees offer him a reasonable contract for the value that Jeter actually has, and maybe Jeter doesn’t feel that offer is enough.  Maybe he feels that the offer is underappreciating all that he has accomplished wearing pinstripes.  So maybe Jeter leaves, goes to another team.  Some fans will always love Jeter.  But some fans will probably turn on him, at least with their minds, saying he was greedy, saying it was all about the money.

But maybe, MAYBE, in Jeter’s mind it was about how the Yankees valued his dedication to the team all those years.  Maybe it wasn’t too much to do with the extra 3-4 million dollars, but more to do with the fact that Jeter feels like his “family” wants to move in another direction.  In a direction where their shortstop can actually get to balls up the middle, and can still hit with the best SS’s in the game.

Remember this is 2011.  Right now, Jeter can still swing the bat with a lot of the top SS’s in the game, outside of a few truly great ones.  But in 2011, after Jeter’s bat speed declines a little more, when his range becomes unbearable, when his body aches a little bit more, then all of that will add up to Derek Jeter probably being a liability at SS.  And can anyone blame the Yankees for not wanting to spend an insane amount of money on him?  Can anyone defend that position?

I have repeated myself numerous times on how much respect I have for Jeter.  And to be honest, it isn’t painful at all to praise him even though he does in fact wear Pinstipes.  To reiterate, it does not pain me at all, as it does a very large part of the Red Sox fan base.  But this situation has the making that maybe it doesn’t end fan friendly.  Is everyone in Yankee-land prepared for that?  Because there are few players that I have watched in my day that it would be more difficult to part with than Derek Jeter, from a fan and organizational standpoint.  A player that has been a more than an “adequate” piece to four World Championships.  A more than “capable” player during a run of 12 straight postseason appearances. 

But don’t think purely pessimistic thoughts.  There is a possbility that the Yankees and Jeter agree on a deal.  That Jeter accepts his ability and/or the Yankees pony up the money. 

Jeter may very well be in the same city in 2011 also. 



The Annual Joba Debate.

     Joba Chamberlain will never, ever, be as dominant, per inning, as a starter, than he was as a reliever.  If that is what you are searching for, a reliever that can throw 98-100 MPH for an inning or two at a time, while striking out 12.75 batters per nine innings, then fine.  If you are searching for those same numbers as a starter, then, Good Luck!  But there is a reason that Joba appears more dominant in the pen, it’s because he can max out and increase his velocity to its fullest, because its easier to do that over a shorter period of time.  It doesn’t mean that he is “better,” or more “valuable” in the bullpen. 

     This is a debate that the media salivates over.  Bloggers all over, experts everywhere, analysts around, they all debate this.  Joba Chamberlain HAS ALWAYS BEEN A STARTER.  Why not give him a shot at the Major League level?  It isn’t as though Joba started 12 games, and had an ERA over 5.00.  Or that Joba struggled some in the minors in the beginning games.  Joba has had success starting at every level, that he has ever played at, ever, ever, ever.  His Minor League numbers indicate pure dominance:  88 innings, 135 K’s, 27 walks, 2.45 ERA.  Ok, that is the minors.  So what about the Majors?  65 Innings, 74 K’s, 25 walks, 2.76 ERA.  Pretty good, right?  It is a small sample, Joba did give up sixty hits, so it wasn’t as though he was “unhittable.”  But do you remember this past season when Joba dominated the Red Sox and threw a shutout against Josh Beckett?  Well, that is an indicator of what he is capable of.  Learning to throw in the Big Leagues is a process, there is time that it takes to make the transisition, especially since the Yankees placed him in the bullpen first. 

     Believe me, I understand when people consider him to be a better option as a dominant reliever, because they have seen him do it at the Major League level.  But what I saw last season, and what I see in the numbers, Majors and Minors, is that Joba can be a good starter, maybe even great, although I don’t want to label anyone great, those expectations are ,well, great.  He just needs the chance to prove it.  If he gets the chance, pitches well, everyone will forget about Joba the reliever.  And as far as I am concerned, Joba the starter is > Joba the reliever.