Though I think the new defensive statistics are very cool to play with, the skeptic in me can’t help being… well… skeptical about how accurate they really are. How important is defense, really? Fangraphs’ UZR/150’s have a guy like Jason Bay consistently costing his team between 11 and 18 runs every year. That’s a LOT of runs, especially for a guy who’s pretty athletic and moves really well. Is defense really THAT important?
Two items I recently noticed brought this conflict into my crosshairs:
- As Pete Abe said in his blog the other day, the Yanks have not made an error in twelve straight games and are an impressive 23-6 in games where they are errorless. Wow! That’s pretty stark. Is it a coincidence that the Yanks began their winning streak at the same time they began their errorless streak? Is it possible that A-Rod’s stabilization of the atrocious 3b defense has been the TRUE key to the Yanks going on their run?
- The worst defense ever? Give this tremendous Fangraphs’ article a quick read. It talks about the worst defenses in the UZR era, stating that the post-championship era Yankees were clearly the worst defensive teams in the league, with the 2005 Yanks dwarfing all others with a stunning -130 runs. The chief culprits of that team were Bernie Williams and Gary Sheffield, costing the Yanks more than 28 runs apiece!
As someone who has often wondered why the Yanks have come up dry in the past 8 years, despite all their star power, I can’t help but wonder if defense is the reason, or at least one of the biggest reasons why they have always come up dry in the big spots.
If that is truly the case, and not just a coincidence, can the recent spate of stellar defense continue? I’m even less sure of this. In terms of range, the Yankees rank right about dead average with the rest of baseball (-1.8 UZR/150). In terms of runs cost by errors, they are also pretty average (+0.8). The scary thing is is that average represents a great improvement over recent defensive squads. By these numbers, if the Yankees can just be an average defensive team, their chances for making a deeper run in the playoffs are greatly enhanced.
Where is this improvement coming from? Mainly from Gardner in Center, who is in the +20’s UZR, the addition of Teixeira at first, and improvements from Melky and Cano, who are among the top Yankee UZRs this year. I guess there are two big questions, then.
- Have the Yankees greatly improved their defense to the point where it is at least in the average range (this is largely dependent on whether you feel Robbie and Melky have become plus defenders for good).
- Do you feel defense is really that important anyway? Is it right up there (or close to being up there) with hitting and pitching in terms of things we should be monitoring or do you feel the recent emphasis on defense is somewhat overblown? Should the Yanks be mainly concerned with acquiring pitching and hitting, and allowing the defense to take care of itself.