Taking a Look at Defense

During the broadcast on Fox Sports Midwest the other night (I think it was Friday night, but I reserve the right to be wrong) the crew showed a graphic about the Cardinals great gains in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) this year compared to last.  Currently the Cards have a healthy lead (>10 runs) on the second place Rockies in that category according to Fangraphs.  Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) a similarly designed metric has them at seventh in MLB.  Independent of your metric of choice, both show substantial improvements over last year’s squad which was ranked in the bottom 10 of MLB of both DRS and UZR.  Clearly that improvement is great, but what does it mean in the world of small samples (as this year’s numbers are)?  What type of defensive performance should we expect going forward?  With that question in mind a brought out some defensive projection generation code that I’ve  been putting together over the last few months.

Using the code I generated a set of projections, one that was essentially the projection at the beginning of this season, and one updated to use the current season data as well.  In order to get a sense for the projections I created graphs that show the defensive performance (using the average of DRS and UZR to represent performance) by position over the last few seasons, this season’s values prorated, and the two projections I mentioned previously.  The graph for the infield is


To orient you to the graph (of which you can see a larger version by clicking on it), the vertical axis is defensive runs and the horizontal axis has 2010-2013, the prorated 2014, and the two projections. From the graph, it seems like it’s a pretty reasonable bet that 2B and SS will continue to be positive contributor defensively, 3B will likely improve some although probably still be below average, and 1B is a little harder to predict. For reference I used a 75% Wong, 25% Ellis platoon to generate the 2B projection number, although there isn’t a ton of difference in their projections. As an aside, if Wong can produce offensively it seems like he can turn around the negative 2B defense trend that we’ve seen the last few years.

Now for the outfield and Yadi

Yadi is Yadi and will continue to be so. In the outfield it’s nice to see Holliday reverse a trend a little in LF, and while he probably won’t remain the neutral defender he has been so far this season something that isn’t disastrous is definitely attainable. Clearly in CF the level of defensive production is fairly reliant on how the playing time is broken out. For the projection I broke playing time out 60% Bourjos and 40% Jay.  RF is a little hard to predict since Craig’s history is largely at 1B, so those stats are punished by the positional adjustment.

All in  all the team is clearly (either using to date stats or the projections generated at either point in time) improved in the field which will prove valuable as the team continues to scuffle somewhat at the plate.

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