Jesse Behr looks at how the position players for the Giants came together.
Call him a genius. Call him just lucky. One way or another, GM Brian Sabean put together a very unique team in San Francisco. A National League championship team that does not include Barry Bonds, but rather nine draft selections raised through the farm system, five journeymen plucked up from the depths of minor-league free agency, and one playoff hero stolen off waivers.
Okay, since Sabean had around $98 million to work with in 2010 (more like $58 million when you consider all the money guaranteed to Zito, Rowand, and Renteria), the Giants aren’t quite the storybook team. Nevertheless, it’s impressive to see a “team of scrubs” match-up against a bankrupt ballclub from Texas in the World Series. Let’s breakdown how this Gyros squad came together:
There has been a major shift in the team-wide defensive rankings this season from last, but what does this mean?
Although early sabermetrics treated defense somewhat dismissively, better metrics for estimating defensive performance have emerged over the last few years. One of the oldest metrics is Defensive Efficiency (DE), created by Bill James, and this was improved by James Click in 2003 when he created Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (PADE). This metric does a good job at evaluating team defense, and other metrics such as BP's FRAA, John Dewan's Plus/Minus system with Fielding Runs Saved (FRS), and Mitchel Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) became available to evaluate individual player defense. However, I've begun to look at DE and PADE, and I discovered a rather peculiar observation.
The Sox take a tumble in their season tallies with the leather that's reflected in the standings.
A top-shelf defense can do some amazing things for a baseball team. Look at the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, for a well-worn example. As we all know by now, in 2007 they were the worst defensive team of the modern era according to Defensive Efficiency, but the front office spent the offseason retooling in order to improve that one area of team performance, and they ended up in the World Series for the first time in their history. The Texas Rangers could turn out to be the 2009 version of the Rays, as last year they ranked lowest in Defensive Efficiency, which in combination with their home park made their starters far and away the least effective in all of baseball. This year they are sitting pretty at fifth in DER in the majors, and that reflects in the standings. They have an echo in the senior circuit-the Giants still can't hit, but their defense is among the league's best this year after sitting among the league's worst in 2008, and they are still a factor in the NL Wild Card race because of it.
Unlike the above examples, the Red Sox have headed in the opposite direction. Their front office is aware that defense is important, but knowing that is only half the battle, and it's showing on the field. The Sox ranked second in the majors in Defensive Efficiency in 2007, when they brought another World Series title home to Boston, and they ranked fifth in 2008, when they made it to the ALCS before falling to the Rays. In 2009, the Red Sox rank 29th, ahead of only the lowly Royals. Ranking directly ahead of the organization that's baseball equivalent of the kid who always gets picked last for kickball during gym is not a good thing.
Reviewing who's doing how well at which positions depends greatly on the lens through which you view their performances.
This past week has served as a mid-season review of sorts, recapping the activities-both surprising and expected-in the performance realms of teams, hitters, starting pitchers, and relievers. We conclude this series with a look at how the fielding has shaken out so far. Unlike the previous reviews, in which my colleagues were able to employ comparisons between projections and actual results, the area of fielding is generally immune to such strategies. In fact, fielding stats are really more along the lines of performance snapshots at a specific point in time rather than irrefutable truths about talent levels. The reasoning deals with the methodologies behind the systems in place, so before moving onto the leader boards, let's briefly review what these metrics are currently evaluating.
For fielding, Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and John Dewan's Plus-Minus system are generally considered cutting edge, and both work in somewhat similar fashions. Developed by Mitchel Lichtman, UZR essentially breaks up the fielding grid into a wide array of different zones, measures the overall number of outs converted by each position in each zone, and compares the individuals at the positions to the average. The various components include range, errors, double plays, and/or throwing arms with the end result translating plays above or below average into runs, with the type of batted ball and park taken into account, providing a tangible quantification of how a player performed at a position relative to the average of himself and his positional peers. Dewan's system measures performance in plays in relation to the average without the run conversion. Due to the relative nature of this system, an influx of slick fielders can lead to an improved league, paving the way for situations in which a player with identical skills from one year to the next does not measure up as well.