Friday, September 08, 2006

Hooray For Defense

I've ranted before about how error totals and fielding percentage are pretty worthless when it comes to evaluating team defense. But in the Nationals case, last night's game, in which they booted the ball all over the ballpark, is one of the rare cases where the errors tell the story.

This is a brutal defensive team. They don't get to many balls, and the ones they do, they boot with alarming frequency. I'm not a believer in stupid cliches like defense wins championships or pitching wins championships -- those sorts of hoary old sayings that grizzled old man recite while nodding their heads to each other in approval.

But I do believe that much of our bad pitching is a function of the crappy defense. That's not to say that a gold glove defense would turn Ramon Ortiz into a Cy Young contender. But I do think that a better defense would shave half a run off his ERA. (something his FIP and xFIP -- two wonky stats that try to break out what effect the defense has on him by looking at just the factors the pitcher controls ( mostly strikeouts, homers, and walks) -- backs up)

All of which adds up to lots of runs. Lots and lots of runs. The pitching is league-worst because the defense is league-worst. The Tigers, by contrast, have an excellent defense, which greatly helps their pitching. There's a synergy there. But for us, it's a parasitic relationship, not a symbiotic one.

Now that we're both depressed, let's evaluate the defense. As he does every year, TangoTiger is inviting the fans to assess how the local 9 do with the glove. He asks fans of teams to consider the players they see most frequently to develop a 'wisdom of the crowds'-type evaluation. But for that to work properly, you need lots of results -- and he has very few from the Nats so far. You need to change that.

I filled mine out a few days ago, and it's your turn. Take 5 minutes and visit his site.

You don't need to evaluate every player or every category, but the more you do, the better.

The categories might seem difficult or something you're unsure of, but think it through. We've seen Jose Vidro try to turn a double play, only to bail out avoiding the runner, putting himself in a position where he can't possibly make a throw to first: footwork gets a 1. We saw Jose Guillen, thanks to the rib and elbow problems, lob throws from the outfield that didn't come within 15 yards of the target: throwing accuracy gets a 1. We've seen Matt LeCroy, period.

Don't look at stats. Just think of the impression this group of stiffs has made in your mind.

Then, when you're done, look back and see how many 1s and 2s you've filled out and weep.

But be sure to shed a tear for the pitchers. They're the real victims in all this.


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