Saturday, August 20, 2011

Defence Wins Championships

Isn’t that the old saying that if you have a strong defence you will win. Now yes that’s term used widely in football but I feel that it can be applied to baseball as well. There has been a strong emphasis on defence in the last few years. Team have begun to realize the value having a strong defence. Defence really started to take off when the Rays had their magical run to the World Series in 2008. That’s when I really started to take a serious interest in defence. I started looking into defensive stats like ultimate zone rating (UZR).
I was looking through UZR leaders on fan graphs and I noticed that all three of the Diamondbacks outfielders, Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Gerardo Parra all rank in the top 3 of UZR at their outfield positions. Arizona has the best outfield defence in the league this season because of this. They have a cumulative UZR/150 of 51.2. This means that over 150 games Arizona’s outfield defence is saving about 51 runs. This is a huge improvement over last season when with the same 3 outfielders they posted a combined UZR/150 of 42.9. That improvement of 8.3 is a crucial reason that Arizona is in first place. That difference may not seem like a lot but consider this; an outfield defence would be the most beneficiary for pitchers who give up a lot of fly balls. An outfield may be excellent but if all the pitchers give up groundballs then that great outfield defence goes to waste.
This is why Arizona is in first place in the NL West. In 2010 Diamondback pitchers wasted their great outfield defence by giving up groundballs that went to infielders who were inferior defenders to the outfielders. The pitchers who are having the most success with the D’backs this season (ERA under 3.5) are the ones who are giving up the more fly balls than ground balls (min 50 IP).
J.J. Putz
David Hernandez
Micah Owings
Ian Kennedy
Josh Collmenter

Kevin Towers the GM has gotten tons of credit for rebuilding the D’backs bullpen. The 2010 D’backs had the majors’ worst bullpen ERA at 5.74 and this season it’s down by almost 2 runs to 3.76. That’s why many experts say they’re having success this year. That is true but the one thing that the experts fail to explain is why these new relievers are having success. That chart right there is the reason.  Of the 5 guys listed above 3 were brought in by Towers to fix the bullpen, Putz and Owings were acquired via free agency Hernandez was acquired in a trade with the Orioles. Collmenter their fourth starter is a rookie who is getting his first opportunity in the majors and their ace Kennedy was already here when Towers took over the team.  
Is this success sustainable? I say yes because defence doesn’t slump. There is no scientific way to prove this but you don’t hear announcers on TV saying things like “he’s in a slump defensively right now.” Some factors like age and declining speed can lead to defence declining, but Towers doesn’t need to worry about that for a long time. Upton (23), Young (27) and Parra (24) are all under 30 and are not close to losing speed and having diminished range. All Towers needs to do is add more fly ball pitchers and Arizona with these 3 gifted defensive outfielders will not only be fighting for championships this year but in future years as well. 
Comments are appreciated let me know how I’m doing and what I can improve on. Thanks

1 comment:

  1. We do have an outstanding outfield defense, but I don't know that it is true that they have been better because the pitching has given up more fly balls than last year. I am quite certain, but do not have the statistics on me, that the pitchers have just been making better pitches as to give up fewer home runs and extra base hits. Which if the fly balls are not being hit out of the park then the above average defense should be able to make more plays and provide more UZR value.

    I don't know though, if there is any correlation between the increase in this years UZR and a decrease in home runs, or even what the comparative BABIP on fly balls from this year to last. As well as what the new (better?) pitchers have done to help.

    This is all very interesting to me, but I have just begun learning about it and don't have the experience or knowledge to figure all this out.