• 2010: The Year Of Defense

    Posted by on July 27th, 2010 · Comments (10)

    It seems that everyone has labeled the 2010 baseball season as “the year of the pitcher.” And rightly so: offense has been down this year as a result of more dominant pitching. This is especially characteristic of the Yankees: their 3.94 team ERA would be the lowest since 2002.

    But what has been overlooked is the rise in solid defense in baseball. This has been a trend for quite some time now. In 1975, the average errors committed per game was 1.9. Now, that number is about 1.2.

    You can attribute any number of factors to that: better field conditions, better training, more strikeouts. As far as the Yankees are concerned, the 2010 season might be their best defensive season…ever. Take a look at the number of errors Yankee teams have made since 1974:

    I used this cut-off because Fangraphs only has fielding data back to 1974.

    First, a few explanations: the data for 1981, 1994, and 1995 are considerably low because they were strike-shortened seasons. And obviously, the data for 2010 is low because the Yankees have only played 98 games.

    The Yankees have made 41 errors this year, which means they are on pace to commit about 68. That would be the lowest since 1974, including the strike-shortened years.

    The infield, especially, has been excellent this season. Here are the amount of errors the starting infielders are on pace to make this year:

    Mark Teixeira: 3
    Robinson Cano: 2
    Derek Jeter: 7
    Alex Rodriguez: 10

    And this is the amount of errors the starting infielders made in 2005:

    Tino Martinez/Jason Giambi: 15
    Robinson Cano: 17
    Derek Jeter: 15
    Alex Rodriguez: 12

    But the amount of errors per season doesn’t reveal everything. A fielder could take a safer route to a ball to avoid committing an error. An official scorer can rule an obvious error a hit under a number of circumstances. Just because a team commits less errors doesn’t mean it is a better fielding team (though it does help).

    I went to another fielding stat to analyze the Yankee defense: UZR. For those that may not be into sabermetrics, UZR stands for Ultimate Zone Rating. It puts a run value to defense, so the UZR from a player or team would be the amount of runs saved or given up over a certain period of time. I don’t understand how it is calculated, but it works.

    Fangraphs has UZR data back to 2002. Here are the Yankees’ UZR totals since then:

    2002: -36.3
    2003: -61.2
    2004: -72.0
    2005: -138.0
    2006: -79.9
    2007: -22.9
    2008: -42.1
    2009: -4.7
    2010: 5.8

    Pretty revealing stuff. The 2010 season is the first season (in the UZR era) that the Yankee defense has actually saved runs. It’s a far cry from 2005, when the Yankees had the worst defense in baseball with an absurd -138 UZR.

    Based on those numbers, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Yankees struggled in the playoffs from 2005-2008 and succeeded in 2009 with significantly better defensive stats.

    But above all, the Yankees have just gotten better over the past few years. Mark Teixeira is a huge upgrade at first over Jason Giambi, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner have been much better in the outfield than guys like Bernie Williams or Bobby Abreu were (or Gary Sheffield and Bubba Crosby), and Robinson Cano has emerged into one of the best second basemen in baseball.

    There are still 64 games left, so anything can happen. But it’s safe to say that the Yankees will continue playing solid defense. And I imagine that when the season is over, the Yankees will have their first positive UZR season ever.

    Comments on 2010: The Year Of Defense

    1. Evan3457
      July 27th, 2010 | 2:14 pm

      It could also be The Year The Official Scorers Officially Stopped Trying.

      No, the improvement in the Yanks’ defense the last several years is real. The organization’s changed direction in the last several years, and has stopped playing 3 or 4 DH’s on the field as well as at DH.

      1. The departures of Sheffield, Abreu and Giambi.
      2. The promotion and insertion of Gardner.
      3. The release of Matsui and Damon.
      4. The signing of Teixiera.
      5. The trades for Swisher (a sizable upgrade on Abreu, even though overall average defensively) and Granderson.

      For the life of me, I can’t figure out who in the organization is responsible for trying to make the everyday lineup younger, more athletic, and better defensively. Circumstantial evidence points to He Who Must Not Be Named (In A Positive Light, Anyway), but that can’t be right.

    2. MJ Recanati
      July 27th, 2010 | 2:58 pm

      Evan3457 wrote:

      For the life of me, I can’t figure out who in the organization is responsible for trying to make the everyday lineup younger, more athletic, and better defensively. Circumstantial evidence points to He Who Must Not Be Named (In A Positive Light, Anyway), but that can’t be right.

      LOL, I love it.

    3. July 27th, 2010 | 3:14 pm

      Evan3457 wrote:

      For the life of me, I can’t figure out who in the organization is responsible for trying to make the everyday lineup younger, more athletic, and better defensively. Circumstantial evidence points to He Who Must Not Be Named (In A Positive Light, Anyway), but that can’t be right.

      Younger? Would that be Posada, Jeter, and A-Rod?
      Do you really think Granderson and Swisher are top notch defenders or just better than duds like Bernie and Abreu?

      Cano helps. Tex helps. Gardner helps.

      Tex came with a HUGE price tag. Cano was a gift – no one saw this coming from him. Gardner, who I always liked, was doubted by many.

      You want to give Cashman credit for lucking out with Cano, spending a fortune on Tex and doing a good job scouting Gardner, I’m fine with that…

      Oh, wait, by Cashman and Newman’s own words, they have nothing to do with the draft, so, they can’t take the credit for Gardner…

      oh, well…

      sorry if you don’t love that.

    4. clintfsu813
      July 27th, 2010 | 4:03 pm

      Sigh..why even bother Evan ;)

    5. Raf
      July 27th, 2010 | 4:30 pm

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      Younger? Would that be Posada, Jeter, and A-Rod?

      No, I think it’s the other 6 guys in the field, on the bench, or on the pitching staff ;)

      Tex came with a HUGE price tag.

      So did Giambi

      Cano was a gift – no one saw this coming from him

      Offensively, or defensively?

      Gardner, who I always liked, was doubted by many.

      Were these the same many who thought that Gardner should start in LF over Granderson? Regardless of what ‘many’ thought, Gardner was in the team’s plans for 2010.

    6. Raf
      July 27th, 2010 | 4:33 pm

      Anyway, defensive metrics (flaws and all) aside, it’s good to see that the Yanks are getting better on the defensive side of the ball. Maybe the stats are accurate, maybe they aren’t but it couldn’t hurt that they’re playing better defense :)

    7. Evan3457
      July 27th, 2010 | 4:46 pm

      I think it’s real. Yanks are tied with Texas for 2nd in Team Defensive Efficiency Rating for all MLB, a shade behind the vaunted Rays, and even adjusted for home park, they’re still 3rd, behind only Texas (who are way, way out in front) and the Reds, and just ahead of the Rays.

      (Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Used to describe how well a team’s defense performed in turning balls in play into outs, with an adjustment for the park factors that affect the baseline DER in each specific ballpark. (from Baseball Prospectus)).

    8. Evan3457
      July 27th, 2010 | 5:13 pm

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      Younger? Would that be Posada, Jeter, and A-Rod?
      Do you really think Granderson and Swisher are top notch defenders or just better than duds like Bernie and Abreu?

      Bernie was finished as a regular by 2005. Torre wanted him back. Cashman put up the wall that kept Torre from leaving him in center as the regular in 2006, and kept him from coming back in 2007. And he took a lot of heat from the fans and press for it. And he was right.

      Abreu could’ve been resigned after 2008; he was still a productive regular. Lots of folks were smoking Cashman for letting him leave. The Angels; the Mike Scioscia “speed, defense and pitching” Angels, signed him on the cheap. While Swisher slumped in May-June last year, Cashman took heat for letting Abreu go.

      Cashman traded for Swisher intending to put him at first. He then got RF after Cashman chose to upgrade the firstbase position (both ways) by going after Tex.

      Cano helps…Cano was a gift – no one saw this coming from him.

      Yes, he does help. It was Cashman who called him up to take over second when Womack (almost certainly a George move) went belly up at the spot. It was Cashman who resisted calls to trade him for a centerfielder or a starting pitcher. It was Cashman who signed him to the “premature” long-term deal at fairly big bucks, while skeptics wondered whether the “lazy and immature” Cano would handle it well. And now it’s the Yanks that reap the reward of Cano’s prime at a below marker value salary. A MVP candidate hitting secondbaseman with near Gold Glove level defense? That’s an $15-20 million player. Yanks have him for this year, and as many as three more at or below market value. And Cashman deserves some credit for that. As for “nobody saw this coming”…Torre did; he said Cano was another Rod Carew and expected him to win batting title(s), and said so multiple times.

      Tex helps…Tex came with a HUGE price tag.

      He sure did. And it was Cashman who went back to Hal, begging for the money to add Tex, against the payroll budget. And it was Cashman who made good, cheap mid-season additions to the bench and pitching staff after Hal put tight in-season budget restrictions on him, and made it all work for the title.

      Gardner helps…Gardner, who I always liked, was doubted by many…by Cashman and Newman’s own words, they have nothing to do with the draft, so, they can’t take the credit for Gardner…

      That’s true, but it’s Cashman who traded Melky “Walkoff” Cabrera, and let Damon leave for Detroit, making sure an outfield slot was there for the taking, if Gardner could take it. And Cashman had trade offers for Gardner, as well, and chose to trade Melky instead.

      oh, well…sorry if you don’t love that.

      Not a problem for me. I’m happy with the title last season, and with the best record in baseball this year. And I’m satisfied Cashman played a positive role in both those things happening.

    9. Raf
      July 27th, 2010 | 5:33 pm

      Evan3457 wrote:

      It was Cashman who signed him to the “premature” long-term deal at fairly big bucks, while skeptics wondered whether the “lazy and immature” Cano would handle it well.

      Especially after Cano’s miserable 2008 season.

    10. jay
      July 27th, 2010 | 5:55 pm

      Everything good that happens is an accident or a result of having a ton of money.

      Everything bad that happens is a result of being an idiot.

      All the good stuff that happens doesn’t count.

      All the bad stuff that happens counts three times as much.

      Lather, rinse and repeat for the next 1,000 blog entires by Steve.

      The end.

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