Upsetting fact: Yankees have had weak defense

jeterblog040209.jpgONE MORE QUICK NOTE ON JETERIAN DEFENSE
Last year, opposition batters put 4,351 balls in play against the Yankees. They turned 68 percent of them into outs, which is a low rate. Boston turned 70 percent of balls in play against them into outs. The Rays turned 71 percent of balls in play against them into outs. These differences may seem small, but over the course of a season they can make a difference in a pennant race. Had the Yankees caught balls at the rate that the Red Sox did, for example, they would have retired an additional 74 batters. Had they fielded them at the Rays’ rate, they would have put out an additional 122 batters. The Yankees only allowed 1,170 fly balls all season long, so you can’t blame the entire shortfall on Bobby Abreu letting balls drop at the base of the wall. Their rate of line drives allowed was actually on the low side. Only so many balls were pulled down the lines past Jason Giambi or Alex Rodriguez. No one is to blame, apparently, and yet the balls weren’t caught. This happens year after year — the Yankees don’t catch as many balls as the opposition does, but no one is to blame.

This isn’t an argument. This isn’t subjective. Weak Yankees defense is a fact. You can choose not to see it when you watch a game. In the end, though, you have to account for what actually happens in those games. If the fielders weren’t at fault, then what happened? Unexpected stadium tilt? The moons of Saturn get in their eyes?

WE KNOW A REMOTE FARM IN LINCOLNSHIRE WHERE MRS. BUCKLEY LIVES… EVERY JULY, PEAS GROW THERE
The moment the Marlins bagged on former Angels’ prospect Dallas McPherson, the 28-year-old who led the minors in home runs last year, his name was circulated as a potential A-Rod sub. McPherson clearly has left-handed power, and the Yankees can use all the power they can get this year. There are two problems: First, McPherson strikes out so much that he would have trouble maintaining a .300 on-base percentage in the majors. Second, his defense at third is suspect. I’ve been skeptical of Cody Ransom’s ability to hit for average as well, but he should be able to field the position and hit a couple of home runs of his own. I figure the added defense makes Ransom a better fit than McPherson, or at least makes the two a wash. Now, you can argue about McPherson being a better bench asset than Angel Berroa or Ramiro Pena, but until Rodriguez comes back you might be forced to actually play him at third base if Derek Jeter leaves a game early, requiring Ransom to slide over to short.

It just occurred to me, reading what I just wrote in the context of our first item, above, that the Yankees worry an awful lot about defense but get very little out it.

FLESH PEDDLERS
If there’s a market for Gary Sheffield’s services, there’s a market for Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady. One also wonders if the Phillies would like to adopt Melky Cabrera — now that Geoff Jenkins has been released, their only reserve outfielder is Matt Stairs. They have rookie John Mayberry on the 40-man as well, but like Stairs he seems to be strictly corner material. Former Yankee Chad Moeller is going to back up Gregg Zaun for the O’s, at least until Matt Wieters comes up. Henry Blanco is going to be the starting backstop for the Padres. Consider those two pieces of information and feel free to speculate about a possible Jose Molina trade market. Say the Yankees brought up Frankie Cervelli halfway through the season, and… but no. 

19 Comments

I’m just ready that the games will finally begin!

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

I agree with and appreciate your objective take on the Yankee defense, but our defensive problems are far deeper than your statistics reveal. Posada surrenders far too many pass balls, which, allows baserunners to advance into scoring position. Increasingly Jeter is blamed for lack of range and poor defense, but in my view he is much more reliable and steady than A-Rod who is below average to his backhand side, and poor at charging slow rollers. Damon and Gardner can cover a lot of ground, and I like that, but their arms invite the opposition to take the extra base at every opportunity.

Continuing on the same thought, it strikes me that this team is fundamentally flawed defensively and cannot improve. The only solution is to allow many of its star players like Damon, Godzilla, Posada, and Jeter to play out their contracts and replace them with players who are equally adept on defense as they are on offense. Further, Cano has to demonstrate more desire to field his position than he has in the past – I’m sick of his lazy and indifferent attitude – or he should be traded. Nady and Swisher are not the answer in right field either. Cashman has his work cut out for him.

Hope this doesn’t sound picky, but it’s bugging me: Strictly speaking, a team can not retire 74, 122, or any additional number of batters. There are a set number of games and a set number of outs per game (27) barring extra innings. What you mean to say is that a team can, through exceptional defense, have fewer balls batted into play. Which results in less offensive chances for the opponent. Which results in fewer runs allowed. So the essence of your argument is correct- just had to point the math part of it. And yes, the Yankees have been poor in this department.

Steve, I am struggling to wrap my head around the balls put into play stat – the Yanks had 4,351 put in play aaginst them – what about Tampa and Boston’s totals? I understand they converted a larger percentage of balls put into play into outs. My thought is – if the power pitchers that the Yankees are going to rely on this year for the majority of their innnings perform at least to career averages (projection in Joba’s case) – won’t the increased number of strikeouts alone, combined with these pitchers supposedly providing more innings pitched than last year’s version, significantly reduce the number of balls in play? Less balls in play means less chances for hits, meaning less baserunners, meaning less at bats for the opposition. Less baserunners also means potentially better pre-pitch positioning for the fielders. Plus, from a fielding perspective, power pitchers are more inclined to produce pop-ups and fly balls, also better for this defense. I would think those factors could offset some of the fielding deficiency, I just don’t know how to put that stats together to build or disprove the case..
Jim M.

Thankfully Brian Cashman realized his team’s defensive shortcomings and went out and got 2 high strike out pitchers in CC & AJ! He also put a gold glove caliber player at 1st. So no worries people!

Although I agree the Yankee defense is somewhat weak, I take issue with your statement that “You can choose not to see it when you watch a game”. From your data, the Yankee opposing batters put 4,351 balls in play or about 27 per game. The difference between the Yankee and the Rays turning them into outs is 3% or slightly less than 1 per game. How is it noticable to the fan that one more ball gets through out of 27? Furthermore, defense is tough to appreciate watching on television, because you often miss how far the fielder has to range for the ball since the cameras are showing the hitter not the position of the fielders and their initial movement to the ball.

Steve,
You always present the stat “percent of balls in play that are made into outs” as your argument for good or bad defense.
I believe that is misleading. It is far more likely that a ball that is hit hard or a line drive will result in a hit than a poorly hit ball or a ground ball or a pop-up. That is why good hitters are more successful, they put the big part of the bat on the center of the ball, making it much more difficult to catch. In the same way, poor pitching will yield more hard hits, thus a higher batting average against. I would argue that the Yanks inability to turn balls in play into outs in recent years says more about their pitching than their defense. Let’s see if that stat changes this year (with better pitching, I hope.) After all, it is the pitchers job to keep the ball off the big part of the bat. That is why some guys, like Wang, can be successful despite few strikeouts.

Steve,
You always present the stat “percent of balls in play that are made into outs” as your argument for good or bad defense.
I believe that is misleading. It is far more likely that a ball that is hit hard or a line drive will result in a hit than a poorly hit ball or a ground ball or a pop-up. That is why good hitters are more successful, they put the big part of the bat on the center of the ball, making it much more difficult to catch. In the same way, poor pitching will yield more hard hits, thus a higher batting average against. I would argue that the Yanks inability to turn balls in play into outs in recent years says more about their pitching than their defense. Let’s see if that stat changes this year (with better pitching, I hope.) After all, it is the pitchers job to keep the ball off the big part of the bat. That is why some guys, like Wang, can be successful despite few strikeouts.

I see by the picture of Jeter, you are making him the cover boy of the Yanks supposedly poor defense. When are you going to realize how lucky the Yanks are to have this guy. Would you prefer Stick Michael, Randy Valarde, Bucky Dent, or even Frank Crosetti or Phil Rizzuto. Even at this stage Jeter is the best all-around SS the Yanks have ever had and still one of the best in the game. Perhaps, you would prefer Rollins, but the Yanks are not getting him. Maybe Hanley Ramirez, not an option either (by the way Jeter is at least as good defensively as he is). Would you like Reyes and his attitude and inconsistency (his fielding stats are nearly identical to Jeter’s). There just isn’t a better option and I am thankful. It has become popular to beat on on his range. Granted, he isn’t great going to his left, but he is better than most going back on pop-ups, in on slow rollers, or in the 5.5 hole. I am hoping he can stay this terrible for the next several years.

I see by the picture of Jeter, you are making him the cover boy of the Yanks supposedly poor defense. When are you going to realize how lucky the Yanks are to have this guy. Would you prefer Stick Michael, Randy Valarde, Bucky Dent, or even Frank Crosetti or Phil Rizzuto. Even at this stage Jeter is the best all-around SS the Yanks have ever had and still one of the best in the game. Perhaps, you would prefer Rollins, but the Yanks are not getting him. Maybe Hanley Ramirez, not an option either (by the way Jeter is at least as good defensively as he is). Would you like Reyes and his attitude and inconsistency (his fielding stats are nearly identical to Jeter’s). There just isn’t a better option and I am thankful. It has become popular to beat up on his range. Granted, he isn’t great going to his left, but he is better than most going back on pop-ups, in on slow rollers, or in the 5.5 hole. I am hoping he can stay this terrible for the next several years.

How appropriate that the first play of the first game (albeit an exhibition) at the New Yankee Stadium is a 100 hop ground ball that gets by Jeter? Wang to Jeter, “Thanks, buddy!”

Last year it was weak, this year it’ll be better.

Last year it was weak, this year it’ll be better.

Sorry for the duplicates. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, sounds as if this DEF stat is affected by pitching as much as defense. The Ray’s DEF improved because Rays pitching improved, and the Yankees had patchy pitching and thus a patchy DEF. I bet the Yankees’s DEF goes way up with our pitching!

This blogger is just another guy who has never played baseball at a level higher than Little League.

You can’t judge someone defensively by looking at stats. It is one of the most annoying aspects about the advent of Moneyball- type evaluations of the game.

Jeter is a sound defensive SS. I haven’t checked, but most of his errors occur on throws as he tends to get lazy and drop his arm sometimes, causing the ball to sail or dive into the dirt.

Is he Ozzie Smith in his prime? No, but you have to take his offensive abilities with his defense. I would bet 99 times out of 100, a coach would choose Jeter over Smith because his offense more than makes up for his ” lack ” of defense.

The outfield will be better this year with Nady in RF and Gardner in CF. Gardner covers a lot more ground than Melky and his arm, while not as strong, is very accurate. Anybody is better than Abreu is better in RF.

The defensive position that worries me the most is C. Posada has never been a great receiver or game caller. He has far too many balls glance off his glove and go to the backstop. His throwing looks weak this year, which is understandable. I would much prefer to see Molina behind the plate everyday but the Yankees look past Posada’s defense due to his offensive upside.

southpaw78-Not a great game caller? Posada? He called a perfect game with David Wells!

letsgoyankees, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in awhile.

First of all, David Wells was a top flight pitcher. Second, he pitched his perfect game against the Twins in 1998 when the Twins weren’t exactly a juggernaut.

Just because Posada happened to be the catcher that day doesn’t mean much. He IS a major league catcher, after all, so it is expected that he be able to call a decent game.

If you look at his track record, however, Posada has had a few pitchers during his time with the Yankees that preferred NOT to have him as their battery mate. Mussina and Clemens come to mind.

I know Posada’s offense makes a lot of people love the guy but I will never be one to want Jorge behind the plate in a big game. Too many balls glance of his glove and he has never willed his pitching staff past a team like Pudge Rodriguez did to the Yankees with the Malins in ’03 and Tigers in’06.

No matter which way you cut it, Posada has never been, and never will be, a strong defensive catcher. He is average on his best day.

southpaw78-There have been like what, 17 perfect games in MLB history? I’m sorry, but I who cares if the team wasn’t an offensive juggernaut? Who cares if Wells happened to be a good pitcher? If it was easy as you make it sound, than there should be more than 17 (if that number’s right).
If all major league catchers should be good enough to call perfect games, than Jason Varitek, who has called several no-hitters, and Pedro Martinez should both have perfect games under their belts.
I know Pedro has been tantalizingly close, I’ve just looked it up. But doesn’t that make Jorge’s feat of calling a perfect game that much more amazing?
I agree that Jorge has never been a great defender. But I don’t think he’s awful. He’s no Pudge with the glove, but who is (okay, maybe Molina).
It’s true a couple of pitchers didn’t want him as a battery mate. So? Sometimes pitchers just prefer certain catchers. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
Posada may not be great, but he’s certainly good enough!
By the way, his offense makes him far more valuable than Molina anyway.

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