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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 FRA data (AL rank)

20003.457 (3)1.0533.283 (3)
20013.100 (3)1.0243.027 (4)

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).

Minnesota Twins


2000/2001 FRA data (AL rank)

20004.105 (12)1.1463.581 (5)
20013.366 (4)1.1133.025 (3)

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.&nbsp

Doug Mientkiewicz and Luis Rivas were the big additions in 2001; Torii Hunter established himself as one of the premier defensive CFs in the league. The Twins sure needed his glove: their pitchers led the league in lowest GO/AO (Ground Outs/Air Outs) ratio, meaning of course that they were predominantly flyball pitchers. Joe Mays put up great numbers last year and he should definitely thank his defense for that. Eric Milton is one of the more extreme flyball pitchers in the league. The Twins should be looking for more offense - I’ll be rooting for Bobby Kielty to win a spot in the outfield in 2002.


The defense should be just as good, which means the Twins should
be in the running for a playoff spot, especially if they can get some
lumber in return for Rick Reed when they eventually trade him.

Chicago White Sox


2000/2001 FRA data (AL rank)

20003.580 (5)1.0263.488 (4)
20013.441 (5).9783.520 (5)

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:


White Sox 2001 pitchers, 50 + innings

Keith Foulke66/1000.75
Bob Howry76/900.89
Gary Glover114/1141.05
Rocky Biddle149/1441.08
Mark Buerhle268/2581.13
Todd Ritchie (PIT)275/2151.36
Jon Garland158/1241.44
Danny Wright91/671.48


Not returning:

James Baldwin110/1310.91
David Wells117/1161.07
Sean Lowe173/1331.40
Kip Wells173/1231.54

Note: data from 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.

Detroit Tigers


2000/2001 FRA data (AL rank)

20003.937 (10)1.0243.845 (9)
20013.893 (10)1.0383.751 (8)

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.

Cleveland Indians


2000/2001 FRA data (AL rank)

20003.920 (9).9734.028 (11)
20014.514 (14).9894.564 (14)

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.

Kansas City:

Gregg Zaun961002179.0

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.


A.J. Pierzynski129812766.7

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.


Mark Johnson1251154560.9

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.


Brad Ausmus140803852.5

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.


Einar Diaz1951887062.8

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).


Robert Dudek Posted: March 11, 2002 at 05:00 AM | 8 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Charles Saeger Posted: March 11, 2002 at 12:25 AM (#604947)
You should note KC's excellent DP rate. That team has good infielders.
   2. Chris Dial Posted: March 11, 2002 at 12:25 AM (#604951)
KC *had* Rey Sanchez. He's da bomb.
   3. John Posted: March 12, 2002 at 12:26 AM (#604962)
Yeah, because what are the numbers except a record of what actually happened on the playing field. Vizquel catches the ball with his bare hand sometimes! And if the White Sox try to keep Valentin out of the IF, he must stink. How the Chisox ever make a bad decision?
   4. Robert Dudek Posted: March 12, 2002 at 12:26 AM (#604963)
For the record, I never claimed that Valentin was better defensively than Vizquel. I said that Vizquel's defensive abilities are in serious decline. In view of his age, I don't think that's a huge leap.

Valentin is a third baseman now so he is not directly comparable to Vizquel (who is now the most overrated defensive player in baseball).

The Sox hated Valentin at third so much that they've given him the starting job for this year.

News flash: teams do not always make correct decisions about where to deploy their players.

   5. Mike Emeigh Posted: March 13, 2002 at 12:26 AM (#604970)
If you believe Jose Valentin is a more "solid" infielder than Omar Vizquel, you need to get your nose out of the numbers and watch a game or two. Valentin's team did everything possible to keep him *out* of the infield!

Most teams are obsessed by errors, to the point where they'll take someone with limited range who makes all the plays that he is supposed to make over someone who gets to more balls but also throws more of them away.

In 2000, Jose Valentin made 36 errors at shortstop. Omar Vizquel made 3. But Valentin was superior in turning balls in the SS vicinity into outs.

Ground balls hit to SS ("6" zones):
Valentin 198 BIP/179 PM, .904
Vizquel 160 BIP/144 PM, .900

Ground balls hit in SS hole ("56" zones):
Valentin 147 BIP/75 PM, .510
Vizquel 160 BIP/74 PM, .463

Ground balls hit up the middle ("M" zones):
Valentin 277 BIP/139 PM, .502
Vizquel 298 BIP/141 PM, .463

Vizquel makes all of the routine plays; at this stage of his career he doesn't make many more than those. Valentin doesn't make all of the routine plays, but he makes quite a few plays on balls that Vizquel doesn't touch.

-- MWE
   6. Walt Davis Posted: March 14, 2002 at 12:26 AM (#604972)
Vizquel still comes out ahead though. Adjusting his numbers to match Valentin's BIP distribution, we get:

Valentin: 179 (6 zone), 75 (56 zone), 139 (M zone): 393 total PM
Vizquel: 178 (6), 68 (56), 128(M): 374 PM

So Valentin makes 19 more plays but 33 more errors.
   7. Robert Dudek Posted: March 14, 2002 at 12:26 AM (#604973)

I believe that errors are counted as balls in play and are treated the same as base-hits. That means that Valentin's errors are already accounted for by Mike's numbers.
   8. Mike Emeigh Posted: March 14, 2002 at 12:26 AM (#604974)
I believe that errors are counted as balls in play and are treated the same as base-hits. That means that Valentin's errors are already accounted for by Mike's numbers.

Actually, my numbers include 28 of Valentin's 36 errors; he made six throwing errors after force plays, dropped one foul popup, and dropped a throw on a steal attempt. All three of Vizquel's errors were on ground balls.

-- MWE

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