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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Monday, March 11, 2002
Rating the Defenses: AL Central
The Royals can play defense and the Indians can’t? Find out who can handle the leather in the AL Central.
This is the second in a series of 6 articles. I’ll be looking at team defense, grouping the teams by division. The foundation of these articles is FRA (Fielding Run Average), a measure I developed last year to look at how successful a given team’s fielders were in terms of preventing runs.
For a detailed explanation of how it works, please read my article Measuring Team Defense.
To evaluate team defense, I used each teams’ raw FRA, adjusted for park (note that the park factor I use is not a general one, but a park factor for the FRA stat itself) and averaged together 2000 and 2001. Keep in mind that there is evidence that particular pitchers can influence FRA, so it can’t be considered a pure measure of fielding prowess. However, I am confident that a large majority of a team’s FRA can be safely attributed to the fielders.
A typical FRA is in the neighborhood of a run better than ERA. In 2001 the AL average was 3.596; in 2000 it was 3.754.
Kansas City Royals
2000/2001 ranking: 2nd in the AL
Surprise, surprise, the Royals are good at something. That 2nd place finish in adjusted FRA over the last 2 years was not far behind the Anaheim Angels for best in the league. Kauffman Stadium is a great place for hitters when the ball doesn’t leave the yard - The Royals’ park had the second highest FRA PF in the AL over the 2000-2001 period. The Royals featured an outfield of Beltran, Dye and Damon in 2000 and only Beltran remains. They also replaced a great defensive shortstop (Rey Sanchez) with a good one (Neifi Perez - at least that’s his rep) mid-season last year.
I think the Royals’ defense is due for a decline in 2002, which might inhibit the development of the young pitchers a little bit. With Beltran out there, it’s still a good defense, but Chuck Knoblauch is certainly no Johnny Damon.
I don’t predict great things for the Royals this year: whatever they gain on offense they’ll likely give back on defense. Even so, an above average defense should be a help to the Royals’ young pitchers (who don’t strike out a lot of batters).
2000/2001 ranking: 4th in the AL
The Metrodome has had the highest FRA PF in recent years (edging
KC) in the AL. You can usually count on the Twins to put together a
fast outfield. In 2000, the raw ranking had Minnesota at 12th, but
after park adjustments, they rose all the way to 5th.
The defense should be just as good, which means the Twins should
Chicago White Sox
2000/2001 ranking: 5th in the AL
I sure hope Frank Thomas doesn’t play too many games at 1B (he’s only played 33 at the position over the last 2 years). I have a feeling that the pitchers are going to miss Chris Singleton in CF. The key infielders, Valentin, Clayton and Durham, seem to be a solid group.
The outfield D might be a bit of a problem this year: I’m not convinced that an aging Lofton can cover as much ground as the departed Chris Singleton. If I’m right, the logical thing to expect would be for the Sox’ flyball pitchers to be less successful in 2002. Let’s see who the flyball pitchers on the staff are:
Note: data from mlb.com. The listed ratio is not based directly on the GO/AO totals provided.
Like Safeco, Comiskey helps the defense get outs (mostly because of the large foul territory area).
The White Sox had the 8th highest GO/AO ratio in the league as a team, but none of their returning starters are flyball pitchers. That doesn’t figure to change much, since Ritchie had a fairly high GO/AO ratio last year and the 4 men who have departed were a mixed bag of flyballers and groundballers.
2000/2001 ranking: 9th in the AL
The Tigers were the busiest fielders in the AL in both 2000 and 2001. Not striking out many batters puts a lot of strain on your fielders and if you’re going to take that approach, you’d better have some ballhawks out there. The Tigers haven’t done well on that score, as their #9 ranking indicates. No team in the AL needs to address their defensive weaknesses more than Detroit. Have they done that?
The answer is a resounding NO on that count. Out goes Juan Encarnacion, their centerfielder, in comes Dmitri Young - someone Tigers fans hope doesn’t see the outfield too often. Deivi Cruz and Roger Cedeno have also gone, but they were hardly what you’d call great glove men last year.
The Tigers had the 4th highest GO/AO ratio, so the priority would seem to be to find a very good defensive shortstop. Rey Sanchez was available, but will now be manning the second sack for Boston.
I don’t see good things ahead for the Tigers: In addition to their offensive problems, they might have one of the worst defenses in the league in 2002.
2000/2001 ranking: 13th in the AL
There’s little doubt that the Indians were one of the worst defensive teams in 2000 and 2001, but they may not have been quite as bad as these numbers suggest. Power pitchers, and the Indians certainly have a lot of those, likely have a tendency to post worse FRAs that control type pitchers (who usually are good at getting the GIDP and holding runners on).
The defensive reps of the up the middle defenders have not been reflected in the FRA department. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the defensive skills of Vizquel, Alomar and Lofton are in serious decline. When we add Russ Branyan and Jim Thome into the mix?
Matt Lawton should be an improvement in LF and Milton Bradley, the likely CF has speed to burn, but it remains to be seen if he has the polish of a quality centerfielder.
“Progression” to the mean is likely applicable here: the Indians may still have one of the worst defenses in the league, but they shouldn’t be as bad as 2001. The news is not all bad: the Indians were 2nd in 2001 and 1st in 2000 in lowest BIP PCT (Percentage of batters putting the ball in play against). With Sabathia, Finley and Colon in the rotation, they are likely to remain among teams with the lightest workload for their fielders.
Throwing out base-runners
What I like to do is compare a catcher’s throwing performance to the other catchers on the team. This is not a perfect approach, since in some cases particular catchers are in the lineup when particular pitchers are on the mound. As well, the backups themselves differ in their ability to throw out baserunners so we can’t really make firm conclusions looking at this data. All the same, it is interesting to look at. The data given is for both 2000 and 2001.
Stability was noticeably absent in this division over the last 2 years at the catching position: only 1 of the 5 teams in this division (Cleveland) has had the same regular catcher in 2000 and 2001.
note: I couldn’t find pitchers only CS for 2001 so I lumped all CS together instead of segregating them into “normal” and the 1-3-6 kind.
Zaun is no longer with the team. - the Royals appear to have settled on Brent Mayne as their #1 catcher. Kansas City led the majors by having 6 catchers start 35 or more games over the last 2 years. Opponents stole at a .723 clip against Mayne during his time with the Royals last year.
Will Lecroy win the backup catching job? In limited trials, he’s had some success cutting off the running game (33 attempts, 48 starts, 10 caught). Tom Prince (.571 pct against) was Minnesota’s top throwing catcher over the last 2 years.
Ramon Castro of Florida might be most deserving catcher of a #1 job of those who don’t have one, but Mark Johnson might be next. Sandy Alomar swooped in and seems to have parlayed his “proven veteran” status into a #1 job. Johnson has cut down baserunners at an impressive rate, and his bat isn’t bad either.
The departed Ausmus was replaced by prot?g? Inge. If Inge (.545 stolen base pct against) could hit like Ausmus, he’d be an easy choice as the number 1, but he’s a long way away from that. Meluskey will likely take over #1 duties this year with Inge the backup.
Is Einar the best all-around catcher in the division? It looks like it to me. His caught stealing pct is pretty good,, especially considering the Tribe’s collection of power pitchers (though Colon is good at holding runners on).
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