There’s one essay in there this year from James where he explains defensive win shares that I found extremely interesting.
In this feature, James is basically saying that defensive responsibility is both created and assigned. It’s assigned to the player – but, defensive innings are first created by the team. When a team makes outs on offense, it creates a need to play defense. Related, James says that “if a player makes more outs, that gives him a larger responsibility to play defense, because it means that more defense must be played.” And, in a somewhat summary, James says that “…while we are in the habit of thinking of offense and defense in baseball as un-connected, they are in fact not un-connected.”
If you’re having a hard time understanding this notion, think of it this way: Pretend that Graig Nettles and Wade Boggs, by every defensive measure available anywhere were equal in terms of the fielding ability and results. Bill James is proposing that Boggs is the better defensive player because he creates less outs, while batting, than Nettles.
Now, in football, we’ve seen this type of logic applied in the past – where a strong offense, that controls the ball, kills the clock and therefore prevents the other team from having more of a chance to score themselves. And, in essence, in this football application, a strong offense is a good defense.
But, football has a clock – and baseball doesn’t. You still have to collect 27 of your opponents outs to finalize a game in baseball. And, if you need to collect those 27 outs, then you need to provide the other team a chance to make those 27 outs. In baseball, just because you delay your opponent’s inning/turn at bat by not making your own outs on offense, you cannot stop your opponent from having the right to play 9 innings and exhaust their 27 outs. Well, that’s what I’m thinking now, at first blush.
Maybe I’m wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time. Perhaps…by not making as many outs at bat, you’re creating more runs, and that makes good defensive play less critical and therefore easier to get through your innings in the field? That’s an easy concept to agree with, no? So, by being a good offensive player, you make it easier to play defense, and therefore you’re a better defensive player than an out-maker of equal fielding skills? But, then are we saying that Pat Burrell is more valuable, defensively, than Joe Rudi was as a left fielder?
In any event, I still find what James is saying here to be extremely interesting and worth more thought. What do you think about it?