Yesterday, the always excellent Ben Jedlovec of Baseball Info Solutions (also the commissioner of my Ottoneu league, ironically), wrote a piece about the Blue Jays defense so far this year for ESPN.
Baseball Info Solutions, the organization behind the must-read Fielding Bible series, uses a particular defensive metric known as Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), which incorporates every aspect of a player’s defensive contributions to his team, and measures said contributions in runs above average. FanGraphs has a nice description of exactly what goes into the metric and SI’s Joe Posnanski describes it thusly:
“…as I understand it, the numbers determine (using film study and computer comparisons) how many more or fewer successful plays a defensive player will make than league average. For instance, if a shortstop makes a play that only 24% of shortstops make, he will get .76 of a point (1 full point minus .24). If a shortstop BLOWS a play that 82% of shortstops make, then you subtract .82 of a point. And at the end, you add it all up and get a plus/minus.”
Using this metric, Jedlovec suggests that a big part of Toronto’s early-season success has been due to their excellent defense, which has been helped demonstratively by the creative shifts being used by the team. According to DRS, the Blue Jays sit first in baseball having ‘saved’ 33 runs above the average team. The next closest are the Rays at 25, then the Diamondbacks and Cardinals at 13 and 12 respectively. For more context, the Rockies are last in baseball at -30 and the Tigers (big surprise) are the worst in the AL at -20.
I am by no means an expert on defensive metrics, but I do know that although they do represent the best known way of measuring defense, they are also not perfect. On top of that, there are several different metrics including Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Retrosheet’s Total Zone (TZ/TZL) and although they agree more often than not, there are some discrepancies.
For instance, although the Blue Jays rank as by far the best defensive team in baseball according to DRS, they rank only 15th according to UZR where the Dodgers and Rangers rank as the top teams.
Still, players like Brett Lawrie and Kelly Johnson seem to be performing at higher levels than previously thought capable and although some of that likely has to do with creative shifting, it’s still encouraging. The Rays lead baseball in runs saved on the shift with 12, but the Blue Jays rank second with 8.
Lawrie is the wildcard here. Before his call-up to the Majors late last season, he was widely regarded as a terrible defensive infielder. The metrics (both DRS and UZR) have been kind to Lawrie since his arrival as he ranks among the very best defensive third basemen in baseball, although it should be noted that it is a very small sample size and defensive metrics are subject to them just like all other numbers.
Lawrie has bricks for hands which cause him to boot balls on a regular basis, and he also doesn’t have the most accurate of arms, which leads to a high number of errors. What he does have is terrific range and a ton of arm strength and his raw tools and athleticism allow him to clean up his own messes effectively and should allow him to continue to improve. If ultimately it doesn’t work out for Lawrie at third base, his tool set would suggest he could be a highly effective corner outfielder.
I digress, but the Blue Jays’ defensive start has been just as encouraging as the rest of their play and if they can continue to get the pitching they’ve received so far (still a big ‘if’), there’s no reason they can’t make more noise than some of us anticipated heading into the year.
And the rest:
Look out, World, here come the Astros. Yesterday’s grand slam by third baseman Chris Johnson propelled baseball’s proposed doormat to their fifth straight win and second straight over the defending champion Cardinals [Brian McTaggart, MLB.com]. The world-beating Jose Altuve currently owns a .401 wOBA and the team as a whole is now just one game under the .500-mark, third in the NL Central. Enjoy it while it lasts, Houston.
Albert Pujols didn’t play in last night’s win over the Blue Jays [Marcia C. Smith, Orange County Register]. We all know he’ll eventually figure things out, but he currently sits ahead of only Marlon Byrd and Brent Morel in wOBA among qualified players. That means Freddy Galvis has been a better hitter than Pujols this season.
Today in gross: Former Major League outfielder Chad Curtis has been suspended by the high school in which he volunteer coaches for allegedly “inappropriate touching involving four students” [John Tunison, MLive.com]. Curtis has denied the allegations and has reportedly not been charged with a crime [Tom Gage, Detroit News].
The Brewers have had a particularly troubling bout of bad luck recently [Tom Haudricourt, Twitter].
After yet another terrible outing, the Marlins have removed Heath Bell from the closer’s role [Drew Silva, NBC Hardball Talk]. Silva speculates that Edward Mujica, Ryan Webb or Steve Cishek are most likely to assume the role going forward. The Marlins will also have Juan Oviedo (a.k.a. Leo Nunez) back from suspension at some point in the coming weeks.
The Common Man speculates that the Twins lack of pitching success can be traced back to a seeming hatred of strikeouts…or love of lack of walks [The Platoon Advantage].
Ryan Sommers of Crashburn Alley would like his fellow Phillies’ fans to change their attitude toward “Natitiude Weekend.” I think all of us thought it rather silly for the Nationals to outright ban Phillies’ fans for their weekend series in order to “take back the park,” but the resulting attendance numbers would suggest that they’ve tapped into some real anxiety of Nats’ fans. After an average home attendance of 23,516 heading into the weekend, the Nationals have drawn almost 74,000 fans in the first two games of the series, including almost 40,000 yesterday. Some of that likely has to do with Bryce Harper’s first home weekend in the Majors, but still.
Sam Miller looks at the apparently magical Age 27 season and does a little myth-busting.
Biomechanics expert Kyle Boddy thinks he’s discovered why Cleveland pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez has seen a drastic drop in velocity over the last two seasons [Hardball Times].