Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Look at the Giants Defense


To start off the young season the Giants defense has looked rather poor. This is a pretty big departure from the last few seasons where even with considerably less athletic teams the Giants have been above average defensively (since 2009 they have averaged +11.3 defensive runs saved [DRS] and a +47.76 in UZR as a team).

So what is the matter this year and should we expect this team to turn it around?

I’m inclined to say that this team is much better than they have shown so far and as the season plays out the defense should be a net positive. For the fun of it let’s take a look position by position to compare what the team has now compared to what they have had in seasons past.

Catcher:

Buster Posey is by all accounts at least an average defensive catcher, it is hard to quantify catcher defense but what has been reported seems to point that over a full season he is probably in the range of a plus 5 runs saved defender. If you look at the stats complied at Beyond the Boxscore he ranked 12th in 2010 and 16th in 2011 in less than a full season of work.

His backup Hector Sanchez probably isn’t as good defensively as Chris Stewart was but again from the reports he seems to be at least somewhere around league average and to this point he hasn’t really logged all that many innings behind the plate.

Overall the catcher defense should be a strength for the Giants.

First Base:

According to scouting reports Brandon Belt should be an above average defensive first baseman, but so far the very early stats don’t back it up but this is really far too early for anything definitive, according to both UZR (-1.2) and DRS (+1) he is right around average. I would say that as he gets more innings at first base his numbers should improve but I feel pretty safe going with that he is average at first base.

For Aubrey Huff at first base he has been above average with the Giants, for his career he has a negative UZR and DRS but that could be partly because he only played first base part time. As with Belt I would feel pretty comfortable saying that he is at least an average defensive first baseman and might be slightly above average when playing first base as a regular.

Overall the defense at first base should be about average.

Second Base:

Emmanuel Burriss is probably not a great defender but he is again not a bad option at second base. In his 1081 innings in the big leagues he has a positive UZR (+0.7) but a negative DRS (-5). From what I have seen of him and the scouting reports of his minor league career I would say that he is probably below average but not to the point that he would be a defensive liability. With his weak bat he probably shouldn’t be starting in the Major League’s but the Giants options are pretty limited.

Ryan Theriot at second base is not a bad choice but keep him away from short stop where he would bring back bad memories of the Miguel Tejada/Orlando Cabrera era. For his career Theriot grades out positively in both UZR (+7.8) and DSR (+4), he isn’t going to win a gold glove but he will make the plays you would expect an average second baseman to make.

Freddy Sanchez is a bit of a question mark here; with his shoulder still bothering him when he throws his past numbers probably don’t tell us all that much about what we should expect if he is able to come back. For his career he has been above average according to UZR (+16.9, 4.5 UZR/150) while DSR sees him as below average (-5). Taking the shoulder into account I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling him above average defensively so he is probably below average with the best case of being average.

Overall the defense at second base isn’t great and is probably below average.

Shortstop:

Brandon Crawford’s calling card is his defense. The scouts all seem to be in agreement that he should be above average. While his fielding percentage isn’t pretty right now (.933 with 4 errors) both UZR (+1.5, +28.2 UZR 150) and DRS (+3) think that he has been a very good shortstop this season. This backs up what the scouting reports say, and I think watching him play that he has been a net plus defensively getting to balls that would have been through the infield the last few seasons with guys like Tejada, Cabrera and Edgar Renteria manning short.

Overall Crawford should be one of the best defensive shortstops the Giants have had in a long while and should be a strength of this team defensively.

Third Base:

Pablo Sandoval who is another infielder with an ugly fielding percentage right now (.886) but like Crawford he hasn’t been as bad as that would suggest. According to UZR (-.01, -3.1 UZR/150) and DSR (-1) he has hurt the team with his defense but not by as much as the fielding percentage would suggest. In addition last season Sandoval was one of the best defensive third basemen in the National League so it is possible that he could bounce back to that level. Right now I would feel comfortable saying that over the course of the season he will at least be average defensively and could be better than that. What we are seeing now is probably the absolute worse you could expect and that would only make him slightly below average.

Overall, third base should be another position where the Giants are average and if Sandoval bounces back from his early mistakes could be above average.

Outfield:

Melky Cabrera has played all over the outfield in his career but in reality he is best suited for a corner spot defensively. In centerfield he is a liability but in the corner spots he is an average defender. Both UZR and DRS have his numbers hovering around 0 for the last few seasons in both right and left so it is pretty safe to assume that he is an average corner outfielder.

Angel Pagan in his career has shown that he is a good defender in the outfield. The only outlier appears to be 2011 and the start of 2012 where he has posted well below average numbers according to UZR and DSR. It might be the start of a new trend where his defense is slipping or it might just be the issues with defensive metrics where looking at single season numbers give you some pretty wild swings in the numbers. From what I have seen I am disposed to say that he is still a good defender but for this I will error on the conservative side and say that he is an average centerfielder.

Nate Schierholtz has the reputation as being one of the best right fielders in baseball and both DSR (+8) and UZR (+15.7, 10.1 UZR/150) back that up for his career. I don’t think I would be going out on a limb by suggesting that he is an above average outfielder.

Aubrey Huff will also be logging some time in the outfield for the Giants this season and that really hurts the teams defense. For one when Huff is in the outfield it most likely pushes Shierholtz to the bench and also that he is just plain not a great defender in the outfield. For his career in the outfield (both left and right combined) both UZR (-25.2, -12.2 UZR/150) and DSR (-10) suggest that he is hold your breath when a ball is headed to him bad. The Giants think he is a better option than Belt in the outfield but it probably still leaves whoever is out there as below average.

Gregor Blanco who is the Giants 4th/5th outfielder who for his career has played a little bit of each outfield spot and done pretty well in all three. There isn’t a huge Major League track record to go off of but I would feel comfortable saying he is an above average defender. In the end Blanco’s defense probably matters the least because he will most likely see the fewest innings barring someone above getting injured.

Overall the outfield defense can be good or bad depending on the lineup that Bochy puts out there. If it is Cabrera, Pagan, Schierholtz it is probably above average. If it is Huff, Pagan, Cabrera it is probably below average. With Bochy’s ability to put in defensive substitutions in late game situations I would say that on net the defense is probably around league average but that might be generous.

All together now:

Taking the team as a whole we have above two average spots, 3 average spots and one below average spot. The outfield defense is the biggest uncertainty that can range from above average to below average.

All in all with the Giants high strike out pitching staff, the defense isn’t called on to make a huge bulk of the outs and even with a below average defense this team should still do a good job at preventing runs. If the defense gets better like I expect they should be just fine going forward.

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