John Grochowski is at least trying, so I will cut him some slack.
Balls a defender doesn’t reach that an average fielder would mean extra hits charged to the pitchers. You can see that in the early numbers for Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana. All have been inconsistent, but all have FIPs — fielding independent pitching — stronger than their ERAs when you filter out defense.
Are the 2015 Indians the worst-fielding team in modern major league history? There’s a lot of season left before they can claim that dubious distinction, but with the first month in the books, their play in the field has been poor enough to argue that they very well could.
Fielding is, of course, extremely difficult to measure, but it’s a bit simpler to sort out on a team level than it is to figure out the value of one fielder from the man next to him on the field. The blunt instrument here is defensive efficiency, which measures the rate at which a team’s fielders turn balls in play (except for home runs) into outs. Thus far this season, Cleveland is dead last in the majors in defensive efficiency, converting just 64% of its opponents’ balls in play into outs. That number may look bad, but put into historical context, it looks a lot worse.
Comparing that raw figure to the full-season numbers from the last century of baseball, the Indians’ defensive efficiency (.641 to be precise) is the worst since the 1930 Phillies posted a .631 mark, which is the game’s lowest figure since the start of the twentieth century. Within the context of their respective times, however, Cleveland has been even worse. In 1930, 67% of the balls in play in the major leagues were converted into outs; this year, that figure has been 69%. Compared to league average, then, the 1930 Phillies turned balls in play into outs at 93.8% of the league-average rate, but this year’s Indians have done so at just 92.5% of the league-average rate.
In Milwaukee during his first two big-league seasons, Aoki spent most of his time defending batters straight up, without much shading in either direction, Kuntz explained. Aoki preferred to charge in, rather than charge back, and glued himself to the same spot before almost every pitch.
The Royals operate a more fluid defense. Kuntz does not just ask his defenders to adjust from batter to batter. Sometimes he calls for shifts from pitch to pitch. Aoki was an “analytical” player, Kuntz said. He required an explanation for instructions. Kuntz would flash a signal and Aoki would hesitate before moving.
During games, Kuntz only had a brief window in between innings to communicate, because his presence was required to coach first base. Soon after a sign was sent to the outfield, Kuntz would often receive a visit from Aoki’s translator, Kosuke Inaji.
“Nori wants to know why we don’t play everybody straight up,” Inaji would say.
Kuntz had to remind Inaji: “At times, I don’t have time to explain it to him. He just has to get there.”...
During that first workout, when Rios asked for advice, Kuntz suggested he alter his mechanics when chasing drives over his head. Like 90 percent of players, Kuntz said, Rios executed a drop-step as his first movement, which elongated his route to the ball. Kuntz counseled him to swivel his hips instead and straigthen his line.
Two days later, as he swatted fly balls, Kuntz watched how Rios hunted for balls and noticed the difference.
“Just like that, he’s got it,” Kuntz said. “But he’s an athlete. And he’s coachable.”
I liked the Semien comment. A lot of people don’t think Semien has the chops to handle shortstop on a regular basis. When you look at it from this perspective, though, it doesn’t seem to be a stretch to have him stay there.
Man, so many changes to this roster in such a short time. But attention to detail on defense is a constant. Brett Lawrie, if healthy (that’s always the “if” with Lawrie), is a major defensive asset at the hot corner. Ben Zobrist can handle seemingly every position on the field with aplomb, which is why he’s so valuable. Marcus Semien will be an upgrade over Jed Lowrie at short. Between Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp and whoever plays left field—Sam Fuld or Craig Gentry - the outfield is well-situated from a defensive standpoint.
Take it from Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who sees the data work against him at the plate and for him behind it.
“I think [the shift] is a tough thing to blame for the decline in offense,” he said in a text. “ERAs are down [0.12 points between 2013 and ‘14 and 0.72 points over the past decade], so that means pitching is better. Why is pitching better? The wealth of information we have when calling games is a very large amount. If they wanted to increase offense, then they should take away the information we get. That won’t happen, because teams use this same information in trades, free-agent signings, etc. Honestly, I can think of times when the shift works for us and times when we were burned by them. So I don’t think they are the issue.”