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January 14, 2009

Fantasy Beat

Indefensible

by Marc Normandin

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Last week, we looked at the top five defenses from 2008, trying to assess how they might perform in 2009 based on the shifting makeup of their rosters. This week we'll take a look at the bottom feeders from last year to see if you still need to be wary of drafting their pitchers, or if the teams have taken the steps needed to boost their win totals as well as their players' fantasy value.

The Seattle Mariners were lucky to win as many games as they did in 2007 with that defense, and though they were slightly improved in 2008, it's not surprising that they lost 100 games and then hosed out their front office. They converted just 68.2 percent of balls in play into outs, and they were 23rd in the majors in strikeouts; with a staff like that, they needed to upgrade their fielding to begin the healing process.

New general manager Jeff Zduriencik made defense a priority with some of his first few moves. The non-transaction that let Raul Ibanez walk came first; despite his production at the plate, he was really just a DH patrolling a corner spot. Then Zduriencik traded away Jeremy Reed and J.J. Putz in a three-team swap that netted him two of the best defensive outfielders in the game today, Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez. Neither player is an accomplished hitter, but both of them field at a level that makes their acquisition worthwhile.

Jeremy Reed was a solid enough defender in center field last year, but Franklin Gutierrez comes in as the best defensive outfielder on the Mariners, even better than Ichiro, who will be flanking him in right field. Endy Chavez is known for his epic catch during the playoffs, but unlike Gary Matthews Jr., the praise thrown his way following that single moment is well-deserved. He's capable of playing all three outfield positions, and though having him in left is a head-scratcher-he only has one season with an above-average EqA to his credit-there's no question that the Mariners are a better team with those guys around than they were beforehand. Erik Bedard (1.2 career G/F, 0.9 last year) will be thankful that they're in town, as will Jarrod Washburn (0.9, 0.8, and 0.9 the past three years with the M's), and anything that helps speed up Carlos Silva's innings can't be a bad thing.

The Pittsburgh Pirates should also field a better defense than last year, though the change may not be enough to make their pitchers more attractive on draft day. Not having Jason Bay around all year will be a plus-that he's an upgrade over Manny Ramirez for the Red Sox doesn't mean that his glove is anyone's preference for the position-and Nate McLouth is still patrolling center; not a good thing, especially without any great defenders to back him up out there.

The infield defense-the Brothers LaRoche on the corners, Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez up the middle-is the high point for the club, but they aren't a good match for most of the pitching staff. Paul Maholm (1.9 career G/F) can and does utilize the infield (.289 BABIP last year) in order to pitch more effectively, and Zach Duke also induces more grounders than fly balls, but Ian Snell (1.2, 1.2, 1.0 the past three years), Ross Ohlendorf (1.3 for his short career), and Tom Gorzelanny (1.1 average G/F in his four years with the Pirates) need a better outfield than the one the Pirates deploy if they intend to succeed. Make note of that on draft day, as the team also lacks a great offense, so it's going to be a challenge for their pitchers to generate any value for you.

The Cincinnati Reds converted a paltry 67.3 percent of balls in play into outs, which, given their personnel, was not a surprise. Not all of the blame belongs where you might think it does however-for example, Adam Dunn was an average left fielder last season; John Dewan's RZR had him ranked fourth in the majors at .899.

Jay Bruce wasn't very good in right-his .884 RZR would have been one of the worst in the league among qualifiers had he logged enough innings in the field-but it was just his first year in the majors. Chris Dickerson, who's capable of holding his own, will be patrolling left, and while Willy Taveras isn't going to help this team win any games with his wittle bat, he's a great glove to have in center and will do much to help Bruce and Dickerson in the corners. Though the departed Dunn may have improved on his poor play afield, these changes are an upgrade overall, and one that the Reds needed to make given the tendencies of their rotation.

Aaron Harang has been leaning towards being a fly-ball pitcher for his entire career, so any improvements in the outfield will give him more value. Edinson Volquez has been essentially neutral both last year and in his time with the Rangers, but given his high walk totals, extra plays made on the balls that do make it to the outfield should help cut his runs allowed. Bronson Arroyo (0.9, 0.8, and 1.2) should have more value this year because of the changes, as will Johnny Cueto (1.0 G/F, 1.5 HR/9). The fifth spot is still up for grabs between Micah Owings and Homer Bailey, but both are pitchers who give up too many home runs and fly balls for their own or anyone else's good, so the changes should affect both of them positively regardless of who wins the job.

The Texas Rangers had the worst defense in all of baseball last year, which went a long way in helping their miserable pitching staff to produce even less. They converted a mere 67 percent of balls in play into outs, though any improvements won't necessarily make their pitchers any more attractive as fantasy options.

The Rangers also ranked 28th in strikeouts, and were one of just a seven teams to miss the 1,000 K mark. They allowed the sixth most walks in the league, giving them a team K/BB ratio of 1.5, which by itself would be damaging, but let's remember that their park is the American League's version of Coors Field; along with their being tied for the sixth-most home runs allowed in the majors with 176, you just have to avert your eyes. If the Rangers pitching staff's stats were tallied for a Three True Outcomes hitter, we would be praising him for excellence.

There are some subtle changes to the Rangers' defensive alignment. As long as Ian Kinsler stays healthy, the defense at second should improve slightly; the replacements at the position last year were less than ideal. First base will be patrolled by Chris Davis all year, which, based on early returns, may not be a good thing for their defense; had he qualified, he would have been one of the worst in the league via RZR, and his Rate of 91 shows that without some improvement he's going to cost the Rangers with his glove.

Having David Murphy in left all season will be an improvement, as his bat was a disappointment in the minors, but his glove was considered a reason to keep pushing him through the levels. He's another player who didn't qualify for the leaders at his position, but his RZR would be among the game's best if it had; whether that's all small sample size is something the Rangers will find out this year.

Fielding systems still do not agree about Michael Young; RZR says he was one of the better shortstops in the league last year, as does FRAA, but according to Plus/Minus, Young was 27th at shortstop since he still cannot move to his left effectively. That's where he used to rank when Plus/Minus was first unveiled to the public, and Young had publicly vowed to improve on his defense. Based on both the way that the Defensive Efficiency ratings shook out, and the Rangers' own insistence that Young was moving down the defensive spectrum, it's safe to assume that for Young, the reality leans more toward the Plus/Minus score than Dewan's system. If a trade does occur, you may see some additional improvement from the pitching staff, however slight.

Related Content:  The Who

14 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

SC

Tavares a great glove to have in center? All the advanced defensive stats have him providing negative value for the last two seasons, though Coors Field may have something to do with that, but he's definitely not strong enough defensively to make up for his anemic offense.

Jan 14, 2009 11:25 AM
rating: 0
 
Brian Kopec

A fantasy baseball article about defense? My brain...it asploded.

Jan 14, 2009 12:17 PM
rating: 1
 
John Carter

Why not? Try playing Scoresheet.

Jan 14, 2009 13:55 PM
rating: -1
 
harderj

Interesting that this year's Strat-O-Matic cards will have McLouth rated as a cf-1, lf/rf-2...I wonder what they were looking at in rating him so highly.

Taveras gets a cf-3 (but a 2 in the basic game).

Just wish the Strat ratings were less of a black box...

Jan 14, 2009 12:31 PM
rating: 0
 
Jim Ferguson

I'm a long time Strat player, and have just resigned myself to the occasional head-scratching ratings. The method they employ involves ~4 guys who sit in a room and establish ratings via debate. They do use statistics at hand, including (we're told) modern measures, but also rely on some 'sources' (scouts, media, club officials) that each of them have contacts with. SOM Founder Hal Richman has the final say if there is no consensus, I'm sure.

Jan 14, 2009 13:37 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

Lets see - Dewan has Jeter as the worst fielder in the majors - and Adam Dunn as fourth best LF in the majors. Simply indefensible. Completely discrediting. Just another example of fielding metrics gone MAD. Dunn was lucky he didn't hurt himself or others out there.

Jan 14, 2009 13:14 PM
rating: -3
 
DWrek5

What? Over the last 3 season they have Dunn at a -58. Thats 3rd worse for left fielders. In the Fielding Bible Awards Dunn didnt get any votes, from Dewan or anyone.

Over the last 3 season Jeter has a -68. Thats not a "ranking", they're just telling you what they saw. But if you want to rank them, thats last for short stops.

Where are you getting your info from? Are we looking at different things?

Jan 14, 2009 15:15 PM
rating: 1
 
hmamis


Would someone please explain what "plus/minus" refers to. I have seen it mentioned many times, but can find no reference as to what it represents.

thank you, Harry

Jan 14, 2009 13:45 PM
rating: 0
 
swarmee

Plus/Minus rating refers to a group that compares film of every MLB play and says whether or not "the average MLB player" at that position would have made the play.
If the player made the play and was expected to make the play, he's given a zero. Same as if the player did not make the play but was not expected to.
If the player made the play and was not expected to, he gets a +1 (think racing to a ball in the gap and firing to first before the runner gets there). If the player failed to make the play, but was expected to, he gets a -1. Add up all the pluses and minuses on the entire season and you have a couple of guys who watch WAAAAAY too much video and a semi-qualitative ranking of defense.
Fielding percentage is faulty as a total defensive metric because it doesn't take into account balls the player didn't get to. Plus/Minus takes that into account.

Jan 14, 2009 14:17 PM
rating: 1
 
swarmee

http://www.billjamesonline.net/fieldingbible/summary.asp

Jan 14, 2009 14:21 PM
rating: 0
 
nicholj

Any opinion on which defenses will be the worst in 2009? My guess would be Texas, Cincinnati, ChiSox, Florida and Milwaukee.

Jan 14, 2009 16:44 PM
rating: 0
 
ufoboy90

Braun, Cameron, Hardy, and Kendall are above-average defenders - I don't see how the justification in predicting Milwaukee to be a bottom 5 defense.

Jan 14, 2009 19:48 PM
rating: 0
 
Chad Moriyama

UZR and Plus/Minus use advanced systems. FRAA (to my knowledge) and RZR do not.

I'll take the more complicated and precise methodology.

Jan 16, 2009 02:31 AM
rating: 0
 
IvanGrushenko

How much does Andrus at SS help the Rangers? How much would Byrd or Borbon in CF help? Cruz's bat has to put him in LF, right?

Jan 16, 2009 02:47 AM
rating: 0
 
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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Q&A: Chaz S... (01/13)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Defense ... (01/08)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Picking ... (01/22)
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