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March 28, 2006

The Best Defense is a Good Offense
by SG

If the Yankees hope to make any noise in the postseason this year, they'd better hope that this title holds true and they can hit their way through, because their defense has been bad recently, and doesn't look to be much better in 2006.

Scott Barzilla ran through some defensive analysis on the Yankees over the last few years, which shows just how bad the Yankee defense has been recently.

While evaluating defense is still not nearly as far along as evaluating offense or pitching, it is important. However, it's not important enough for me to spend $15,000 on play by play data, so I'll continue to use the method developed by Chone Smith at Baseball Think Factory, which uses the publically available statistic zone rating to evaluate defense.

For those unfamiliar with Zone Rating, it is the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive "zone," as measured by STATS, Inc. Since we have Zone Rating back through 2001, it is a good way to try and gather a good amount of defensive data.

First off, here is how the Yankee defense scored in 2005 using this method. The numbers below are expressed as innings played, and runs above or below the average defender at the same position. There are no adjustments for playing time. The innings for shortstop, second base, and third base are missing Mark Bellhorn's time as a Yankee, since his statistics were combined with his time in Boston.

First base

As you can see, the Yankee defense at first was 6 runs belwo average last year, although that was mostly Jason Giambi's fault. With Giambi looking like the primary first baseman this year, that is not particularly encouraging news. Andy Phillips was +1 in 67 innings at first last year, but that's not enough playing time to make much of a judgement about his defensive ability.

Second base

Another position, another below average performance. One thing that needs to be noted for both Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter is that they score much better in ZR and UZR than they do via another system, published in The Fielding Bible, so take these ratings with a grain of salt.


Despite his Gold Glove last year, Jeter was a slightly below average fielder by ZR. UZR has him as a -8, and The Fielding Bible has him as -26. There's no question the metrics see him as bad, the question is how bad he is.

Third Base

Alex Rodriguez was not good last year. It does appear to be an outlier though, and although I don't have his splits for the first half and second half, he looked much better after a rough start.

Left Field

Seven left fielders, and not one of them was above average? Ugh.

Center Field

The sample size is small, but ZR seems to agree with my observations that Hideki Matsui is better in CF than LF. Unfortunately, that's a moot point. Bubba Crosby had very impressive numbers in CF, pro-rated to 150 games he'd be around 35 runs above average, but you can't read too much from 145 innings. Bernie was slightly improved over his recent vintage, which also seems to coincide with what I saw last year. He seemed to have slightly more range by not playing every day. Since it appears he'll be getting a fair amount of playing time in the OF this year, let's hope the trend continues.

Right Field

Man. I knew Matt Lawton was shaky in the field, but -5 in 93 innings is horrendous. Gary Sheffield was not much better.


Posada rated higher by UZR, and while all defensive numbers need to be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism, I'd say catchers' number should be even more so. I still need some explanation for what purpose John Flaherty served. He certainly didn't seem to save the runs he gave up on offense behind the dish.

Add this big mess up, and you get a defense that allowed 72 runs more than average. If that seems high, compare the Yankees' team FIP to their team RA (runs allowed).

FIP: 4.28
RA: 4.96

That translates to a difference of 110 runs. I think we can credit 38 runs or so to the pitching staff.

Sadly, with many of the same pieces in place this season, it doesn't look to get much better. I'll look at the defensive history for the 2006 starters in my next entry, to see if we can expect any improvement.

Spring Training Notes
The Yankees fell to the Phillies tonight 3-0. Scott Proctor looked pretty good for five innings, allowing just three hits, one run, and fanning five. In addition to a fastball that was in the 92-94 range and touched 95, he was making good use of a slider that was breaking down very sharply. Ron Guidry's influence? Proctor's past performance does not give much confidence to how useful he'll be, but we'll see what happens with his conversion to starting. Given the age and fragility of the Yankee pitching staff, he'll get a chance this year.

Carl Pavano made his spring debut, and gave up a moon-shot HR to Chase Utley (who's a damn good player), but otherwise looked fine. He got up to about 92 mph and got three ground ball outs. I still wouldn't expect Pavano back before May.

Tanyon Sturtze has been horrendous in spring. Despite this, Torre has described him and Kyle Farnsworth as "interchangeable" for setting up Mariano Rivera. While I do think it is wise to not overwork Farnsworth, Sturtze isn't the answer.

The real games start in less than a week.