M’s defense so far

DMZ · April 8, 2008 at 7:39 am · Filed Under Mariners 

For all of the talk about how the defense will come around, that it’s a strength of the team (please note I don’t believe either of those things, but they’ve been mentioned in the broadcast over and over), the M’s right now are in the middle of the pack in terms of overall, raw balls-in-play-into-outs, at .716, 17/30. Last year a normal team ran about .695 — but the season’s early, obviously.

And last year on the year the M’s were 27 of 30, at .678, with essentially the same defense except Ibanez was a year less gimpy and RF swaps out. So there’s pretty good reason to expect that despite predictions from Blowers & Co., you’re unlikely to see this level of defense, absolute or relative, sustained for the rest of the year.


46 Responses to “M’s defense so far”

  1. excalabur on April 8th, 2008 7:56 am

    DMZ: 27/30 != .676. Looking at old charts it looks like the fraction is the error, not the result: proabably a typo.

    Also: wow, the M’s defence is going to be bad.

  2. billT on April 8th, 2008 8:11 am

    Since two of the few decent defensive players are on the left side of the infield, is there any chance that more ground balls out of Bedard and Silva – at least compared to Weaver/HoRam/Baek – might at least get us up to league average?

  3. msb on April 8th, 2008 8:12 am

    I have found it interesting how few people (locally & nationally) seem to have noticed that the Mariners are not running the same defensive team out there that they did … um … 7 years ago.

  4. stripesjr on April 8th, 2008 8:18 am

    #1, I’m pretty sure he meant 27th out of 30 teams and allowing a .284 BABIP is pretty unsustainable for this team. It will creep up rather than down.

  5. DMZ on April 8th, 2008 8:18 am


  6. excalabur on April 8th, 2008 8:21 am

    Aha. That’s what I get for attempting to use math to read blog postings. I see two number seperated by a slash and assume that it’s a fraction.

    Thanks DMZ.

  7. zeke5123 on April 8th, 2008 8:30 am

    Well, I don’t think this will make this team good on defense, but I disagree that we are running the same defensive team out there. I expect Yuni to improve. Even if his range stays the same, if it wasn’t for those dastardly throwing errors, he would have turned more balls in play into outs last year. I don’t know how large of an impact elimanting those are, if its negligible or somewhat significant, but it should be an improvement.

  8. Jeff Sullivan on April 8th, 2008 8:44 am

    The league average BABIP so far is .284 (.280 in the AL).

    THT has the Mariners’ defense at -3 plays. Main culprit, once again, has been the outfield, which has the worst OOZ in the AL and second-worst overall.

  9. marc w on April 8th, 2008 8:57 am

    Why exactly are we unlikely to see this level of defense sustained? Simply because it was *really* terrible last year?

    Wouldn’t you expect some regression to the mean here, or do you believe that the 2007 M’s defense was historically terrible? They may have been 27/30 in DER, but based on the batted ball types, they were 29th ahead of only Tampa Bay, who actually WERE historically terrible.

    To me, they’re not a great defensive team, but they underperformed their true talent level in 2007. Right now, sitting a bit below average, the stats look a little more like what I’d expect. I don’t know that the DER will sustain itself the whole year, but I’d guess they finish near the middle of the pack to slightly lower.

  10. pygmalion on April 8th, 2008 9:07 am

    9 I don’t know – it seems like “regression” is only applicable if there is a sample size issue. The larger the sample, the less the expected regression. I don’t know how many balls in play there are over an entire season, but it seems like there would be an awful lot of them – so many that significant regression isn’t likely. Maybe I’m wrong, but it looks like a big sample size.

  11. diderot on April 8th, 2008 9:15 am

    Question on the ‘right field swaps out’ statement.
    Does Wilkerson historically grade out as about the same as Guillen…or only because Guillen limped around right field all last year?
    Also, is there any way to judge the potential of Wlad as an outfielder in relation to either of the above?

  12. Kunkoh on April 8th, 2008 9:21 am

    Question, is defense now the undervalued skill? (at least by the M’s)

    Reading Moneyball, they implied that a large part of the A’s success was finding an undervalued skill (OBP), and buying that low. It seems like over the past several years people have put a lot more stock in OBP and OPS, where they used to put more value in BA, speed and defense. Could this have lead to defense being undervalued?

    It seems part of the reason for wanting to keep Jones was his potential for “gold glove” defense; and in a large park like ours – that would be a great asset; effectively making every pitcher better. It just seems like the M’s went all in for pitching without even considering the defense; which makes up a good portion of a pitchers all important [said with irony folks] ERA.

    It looks like while our pitching may have gotten better; our defense could have decreased – nullifying a lot of the gains we should have made on the mound.

  13. Tek Jansen on April 8th, 2008 9:21 am

    So why do so many people, including the M’s broadcast crew, think that the M’s have an excellent defensive team? To be sure, Yuni, Beltre, and Ichiro are good to exceptional defensive players. Lopez and Johjima are at least average. Is this alone enough to provide fodder for the perception of the M’s defensive excellence, or do people honestly beleive that Wilk, Ibanez and Sexson are good defensive players who contribute positively to the M’s defense?

  14. Choska on April 8th, 2008 9:25 am

    Based on your (correct) observation that Ibanez is a year gimpier, along with Sexson and Wilkerson who has taken over Guillen’s spot, shouldn’t we expect that over the course of the year the M’s defense will revert back to the bottom of the league rather than maintain its current position in the middle?

    Wait, sorry, just re-read your second paragraph. Yes, you are right. As more balls are hit to the OF I would expect that we’ll see a regression to last year’s performance. In fact, not only are Ibanez, Ichiro and Wilkerson a year older, but so are Yuni and Lopez. Young guys gain power and experience as they get older, but they don’t gain speed. Also, it is only 7 games in but we’ve already seen Yuni throw one away (unless I missed some). At his current rate he’ll commit 23 throwing errors over the course of the season.

    Also, number 9, my guess is that 2007’s stats ARE reflective of the team’s “true talent level.” A season’s worth of numbers is an awfully big sample size. Throw in the 2006 numbers and the sample size gets even bigger.

  15. peterm on April 8th, 2008 9:25 am

    i know that it’s a little early. but are you guys still on the antonetti bandwagon?

    “they are who we thought they were”

  16. JMHawkins on April 8th, 2008 9:32 am

    Question, is defense now the undervalued skill?

    I think defense is undervalued by teams that are lagging a decade or so in their use of statistics. Defensive metrics are still kind of rough (the various range systems seem to disagree a lot, for example) and ten or fifteen years ago they were even worse. If you’re just getting started with this whole statistics thing, you might be stuck in the past.

  17. marc w on April 8th, 2008 9:32 am

    Wilkerson graded as an above ave. LF last year by PMR, and a roughly average LF in years past. RZR has him about the same in 2007.
    Guillen was fantastic in 2000-2003, but RZR had poor ratings for him as a RF in 2004, 2005 and 2007 (though he was great in 2006).

    So yeah, it wasn’t completely out of the blue that Guillen would be bad, but think the magnitude surprised me.

    On the regression thing, no, I don’t think the sample’s big enough. As Jeff points out, a big area of concern in 2007 (and 2008) is the outfield. For OF balls in play, we’re not talking about a huge sample – the M’s starting OFs had 864 ‘chances’ in 2007. Yeah, other people played there, and that’s not a terrible number, but it’s not like that’s a gigantic sample that wouldn’t need regressing.

    Further, look at some of the variance in RZR or PMR or whatever defensive metric you choose – they’re flying all over the place. Using RZR, Raul went from .640 as a LF in 2005 (really, really amazingly bad) to .868 in 2006 (in a larger sample). Then the next year he was down to .810. Even Ichiro varied from .708 as a RF in 2004 to .938 as a RF in 2006. The samples clearly aren’t big enough in any one year to get a handle on ‘true talent.’ You can take multi-year samples and get a better idea, but then the year-to-year variance is still going to be so huge that the error bars on any projection are going to be pretty damn far apart.
    So even with new metrics and even with multiple years of data, I think you’d need a really good theory to *explain* why 2007 was ‘correct’ and the 2006 DER, or the 2008 DER or whatever, was a variance from the ‘true’ level.

  18. _David_ on April 8th, 2008 9:35 am

    Concerning defense and our upcoming opponent…Much was said last year about the Rays being one of the only worse defensive teams than us, and that Upton at 2b was a major problem…How good is he in CF?

  19. JI on April 8th, 2008 9:37 am


    Our terrible fielders don’t make a lot of errors.

  20. Mike Honcho on April 8th, 2008 9:52 am

    Where can one find these stats?


  21. Logger on April 8th, 2008 9:53 am

    They may not make a ton of errors but Ibanez and Wilkerson fail to catch or get to a lot of balls.

  22. HamNasty on April 8th, 2008 9:54 am

    Can we talk about Ponies? I am getting depressed.

    Orioles were -14 runs last year and M’s -49. Ouch. But with Bedard being a strikeout pitcher that would minimize the effect of him moving from a not so good defense to an awful defense I assume.

    Small sample size of course but some positive ones, they have the MLB lowest BABIP at .227 which cries regression and are averaging more runs then NYY, BOS, and DET. And sadly those are the only two stats I could pony pick from small sample size to make me feel better.

  23. Mike Honcho on April 8th, 2008 9:54 am

    Never mind – found it.

  24. Mike Honcho on April 8th, 2008 9:56 am

    21 – Perhaps to a certain degree, but I don’t think Bedard’s Ks make up the entire difference (I could be wrong). As such, doesn’t that mean the advantage of moving from Camden to Safeco is lessened?

  25. fetish on April 8th, 2008 10:04 am

    I think we’re early enough in the season to make a superior QUALITATIVE analysis rather than relying on numbers.

    In relation to the outfield; have they prevented any runners from taking extra bases (ie, held a runner at first on a hit to the gap/corners)? Have they allowed runners to take any extra bases? Have they allowed any balls to fall for hits that could have been caught by a typical outfielder?

    For the infield, how many double play opportunities have they converted/failed to convert? On “bang-bang” plays at first base, how many outs have they recorded? How many “friendly” hits [ie, probably errors] have they allowed?

    I’m sure the team has had opportunities to convert some outs that they haven’t. I don’t know (I haven’t watched enough) to say that they’ve done so at a better or worse rate than other teams.

    But my intuition is, from ready game threads/reports/etc, that other than Richie Sexson, we’ve not really had any defensive problems.

    Anyhow, qualitative when we can, quantitative when we must.

  26. marc w on April 8th, 2008 10:06 am

    “A season’s worth of numbers is an awfully big sample size. Throw in the 2006 numbers and the sample size gets even bigger.”

    Yes, if only the 2006 numbers matched 2007 at all. They don’t.
    In 2006, Seattle was 13th out of 30 teams – quite a bit different from 27th.
    In 2005, they were 11th.

    Look, Raul sucks, but he’s not getting enough chances to take the team DER from 13th to 27th in one year simply because he got older. Unless the idea is that Yuni fell off a cliff due to age, or due to missing delicious Cuban food, or that Beltre sucks, etc., I just don’t see how the team’s disastrous 2007 should be thought of as ‘true’ and any deviation from it is just statistical noise.

    Dave’s made some very good points on here that you don’t build a projection by looking at last year’s results and then tweaking them. We *get* that for hitting or pitching; why is it hard to ‘get’ for fielding?

  27. HamNasty on April 8th, 2008 10:08 am

    23- I agree it wouldn’t completely lessen the blow, but just to a certain degree compared to a contact pitcher like Silva. That is a good point about the outfield defense vs park factors. I guess some of those HR’s just end up as doubles at Safeco. If we had a good OF defense maybe they would be fly outs instead though.

  28. joser on April 8th, 2008 10:39 am

    Concerning defense and our upcoming opponent…Much was said last year about the Rays being one of the only worse defensive teams than us, and that Upton at 2b was a major problem…How good is he in CF?

    I haven’t seen them play (that’s going to change shortly, of course) but you might ask Wilson Betemit, who Upton threw out as he trying to go from first to third on a hit in the 3rd innning on Sunday. He also apparently made some nice catches, including a diving catch of a Jeter flare. (I have no idea how much of an upgrade Akinori Iwamura is a 2B, though.)

    Plus the entire TB team is a year more experienced and perhaps a little more of a team. They have the potential to improve a lot, and if the M’s slide back to their ’07 ways… ruh roh!

    I really think this “the M’s are a good defensive team” idea got started in 2001-2002 and has been circulating ever since — by the national media, which stopped paying attention to how the team actually plays when they were no longer a post-season factor — and among the local media, which values received wisdom over independent thinking (and certainly doesn’t look at defensive stats) and doesn’t want to rock the boat. The broadcasters are mouthpieces for the team of course, so things have to get pretty bad before they mention anything — and even a bad defense still makes outstanding plays (in some cases they may be forced to make more of them, cf Raul’s sliding catches and Ichiro’s comments) so that’s what they’re going to focus on.

  29. Dave on April 8th, 2008 10:39 am

    I agree with Marc in this thread – the defense is bad, worse than the M’s think, and certainly not an asset, but I don’t think we can say that they they’re a lock to be even worse than they’ve been so far.

  30. Steve T on April 8th, 2008 10:49 am

    @13 – most Mariner fans think that Richie Sexson is the best defensive first baseman in baseball. Because he’s tall, you see. Wait; they will be appearing here on USSM all season long, bringing with them their outrage and disbelief that we think he’s the worst.

  31. HamNasty on April 8th, 2008 10:55 am

    I think partly the reason people believe the M’s defense is good is because the 2 gold gloves and Yuni’s past amazing plays. They must think it makes up for poor defense in LF, RF and 1B. Which of course is poor thinking.

  32. Tek Jansen on April 8th, 2008 11:09 am

    #s 30 and 31 – You guys are probably right. While I rarely hear people say that Ibanez or Wilk or terrific defensive players, I often hear this about Sexson.

    As for Ibanez, you can tell a guy is a bad defensive player if people first and foremost say “he works really hard on his fielding,” which is what is said about Ibanez (and Jeter). This rule can also be applied to a worthless catcher (Rene Rivera). If the first thing they say about him is that “pitchers like throwing to him,” you know that he is all but useless.

  33. fetish on April 8th, 2008 11:18 am

    most Mariner fans think that Richie Sexson is the best defensive first baseman in baseball.

    First base deals with more routine plays than any other position (unless you count “catching a pitch”) so minimizing mistakes there is more important than at other position. Most fans view stopping hot smashes down the line, or diving to the right, or making the correct decisions on bounders into the hole at second as “gravy”, plays they dont expect the first baseman to make. Throw in the fact that Sexson probably takes a few hits away each year with his height, and it’s easy to see why a casual observer would be perfectly happy with Sexson’s defense.

    I am presuming, of course, that the difference between Sexson and better defensive first basement is the amount of gravy they’re serving.

    All that being said, I don’t watch any other teams, but even I can see that Sexson looks bad out there this year. The indecision on his face is visible even on standard definition TV.

  34. the other benno on April 8th, 2008 11:36 am

    I think the “average fan” has trouble believing one player is bad defensively because even bad MLB players are making the plays the vast majority of the time. And watching on TV, you just don’t get enough of the action to be able to tell what kind of routes outfielders take to the ball or what was going on elsewhere on the field that might cause a player to be out of position, if there was a good reason. As well, first base skills like catching the ball on off-line throws are not as evident in a negative sense. If Sexson misses a catch that he should have had, how often can you see on a TV broadcast just who was to blame – Sexson or the other player? It’s only as defensive metrics have improved that we have begun to see these things more clearly without being at each game specifically watching for these subtleties.

  35. Jay R. on April 8th, 2008 12:28 pm

    Throw in the fact that Sexson probably takes a few hits away each year with his height

    I would be absolutely stunned if he took even a single hit away due to his height. He might catch 2-3 errant throws all season with his reach.

  36. Librocrat on April 8th, 2008 12:51 pm

    Oh Hooray. The team is 2-5 and their defense has been lucky. **Sad Emoticon** – I have noticed, while watching the games, quite a few fly balls that the announcers said some variation of “pop up to deep left field, Ibanez tracks in and it drops in!” I’m wondering if they are starting to notice the trend.

  37. jlc on April 8th, 2008 1:09 pm

    35/Jay R. – Seems like I recently read an article on first baseman height and preventing errors and they came up with a tiny number (I’m thinking single digits) of differences between regular and extra large 1B. Can’t find the article though.

  38. Jeff Nye on April 8th, 2008 1:20 pm

    I think that tall first basemen snagging errant throws is something that people take as baseball “common knowledge” based on one or two plays they’ve seen that seem to corroborate it.

    I can’t imagine there’s any real measurable advantage, since taller players will generally move slower.

    I’d say that being a lefty (so glove on right hand) would be a much bigger advantage at first.

  39. JMHawkins on April 8th, 2008 1:35 pm

    Speaking as a somewhat tall guy who used to play first, footwork and hands are more important the pure height. Most bad throws are in the dirt or off-line. Getting your feet in position lets you catch the off-line throws (and, in the worst cases, come off the bag to catch it so that even if the batter reaches first, he doesn’t go to second when the ball goes into the dugout). For throws in the dirt, the real problem is the short-hop. If the ball hits far enough away, you just catch it on the bounce (assuming it doesn’t take a bad hop). For balls that bounce six inches out of your reach, you just smother them with the mitt. It’s the in-betweens that are difficult, the ones that bounce between six inches and, say, five feet, out of your reach. Height doesn’t eliminate that in-between zone, it just moves it. But it’s still there and it’s still the toughest play for the 1B to make on a throw from another infielder.

    Now, a six foot five inch 1B with good hands and good footwork (c.f. Olerud, John) will be better than a five foot eleven 1B with equally good hands and footwork, but the five-eleven guy will be a lot better than a six-foot, um eight guy with bad hands and bad footwork.

  40. HamNasty on April 8th, 2008 2:43 pm

    37- I remember that article to and at best they said digging balls from another infielder from best to worst was about 5 runs. If I remember correctly.

    I grew up watching Helton at first. Sexson is atrocious compared to Helton. Sexson’s range is only his wingspan, somewhere around 7 feet.

  41. Eleven11 on April 8th, 2008 3:34 pm

    JM has it right(39). Size is nice as a target but also as a first baseman I know that a rushed throw is usually down or wide. Ability to move and good hands is a must. A huge statue is still a statue.

  42. HamNasty on April 8th, 2008 3:37 pm

    41- An add on to your throws comment, Beltre and Yuni are not over the top throwers, making their throwing mistakes horizontal at most times and rarely to high.

  43. John D. on April 8th, 2008 4:45 pm

    For throws in the dirt, the real problem is the short-hop. If the ball hits far enough away, you just catch it on the bounce (assuming it doesn’t take a bad hop). For balls that bounce six inches out of your reach, you just smother them with the mitt. It’s the in-betweens that are difficult,

    Is there a bench-mark on this ?
    W/R/T: I once read that VIC POWER’s manager told him that he had saved his shortstop forty-seven (47) errors. (My guess is that forty-seven of the SS’s throws were wild, and might not have been caught.
    What percentage of high, low, wide throws is a 1B expected to catch ?
    [Is there such a number ?]

  44. fetish on April 8th, 2008 10:37 pm


    I remember a Rob Neyer column (2001 vintage?) about defense at first base, especially the perception of many fans across the nation that their first baseman was tops defensively.

    Neyer counted that ALL first baseman make tremendous defensive plays, and are tremendous defensive players from any type of objective viewpoint; but that because we’re talking the major league level, it’s only relative defense that matters.

    So yeah, a good first baseman might save an infielder 47 errors on the season with good plays, but a poor first baseman is still saving 35-40 errors as is. The fact is, pretty much all major leagues are exception fielders, hitters, and athletes, and its only in marginal differences do some players appear so much better than others.

  45. firemane on April 9th, 2008 9:53 am

    2006 – Ms ranked 13th in DER.
    2007 – Ms ranked 27th in DER.

    Defensive changes from ’06 to ’07

    800 innings of Reed/Morse in CF go to Ichiro, (who actually had 338 innings in CF during ’06).

    Guillen replaces Ichiro in RF.

    Ibanez ages a year.


    Ichiro actually had a significantly HIGHER RF in CF in ’06 compared to Reed/Morse. With the rest of the defense constant (except for Guillen), the aggregate DER for ’07 appears a little suspect.

    HOWEVER, the team replaced THREE starting pitchers as follows (with ’06 and ’07 BABIPs)

    Moyer ( .282) — Batista (.313)
    Meche ( .297) — Weaver (.329)
    Pineiro(.327) — HoRam (.350)

    Did the defense REALLY get all the much worse, or did the pitchers at least contribute to the DER swoon?

    Well, let’s look at the two SPs who pitched both seasons for the Ms.

    Washburn (.281) – (.288)
    Felix — (.313) – (.337)


    My assessment would be that the defense did get slightly worse – but that the DER plunge was at least PARTIALLY fed by two significantly below replacement level pitchers. It doesn’t seem a reach that if you exceed the ‘normal’ boundary for major league competence, that a pitcher’s results may actually become a significant drain on DER-expectancy.

    Note: Bedard dropped from a BABIP of .312 to .284 with Baltimore from ’06 to ’07, as they rose from 26th to 18th in DER. The only significant change for THAT defense was Conine getting replaced by Payton.


    So – the blame for ’07 defense might be laid directly at the feet of Guillen – who by MANY defensive measures was the defensive anti-christ of 2007. Guillen posted a .794 ZR in RF in 2007. Wilkerson, in limited time, posted a .962 ZR in RF in 2007. His career ZR is .856 in RF.


    If Baltimore can jump from 26th to 18th by replacing an aging incompetent corner OF with a mid-career competent one, then so can Seattle.

    Additionally, the rotation is far superior in 2008, which may add some additional gains DER-wise. I mean, from a logical standpoint, which pitcher are you more apt to be hungry to give 110% behind – Bedard or Weaver: Silva or HoRam?

    It’s not simply a regression to the mean – but a logical progression by improving both the Right Field disaster of 2007 AND improving the rotation.

    The fact that Washburn, who has a LONG history of sub-.300 BABIPs allowed was still comfortably below the bar indicates to me that the defense was not “inherently” dreadful in 2007 – but selectively dreadful – and the WORST select cases of bad defense behind, (Weaver and HoRam) are both history.

    I think it is quite logical to expect improvement in DER – probably maxing out as average (15th).

  46. marc w on April 10th, 2008 3:55 pm

    45 –
    The awful DER may indeed be a result of bad luck and truly abysmal pitching working in tandem, but in any event that’s all the more reason to think it’ll regress towards the mean.
    Even if the defense stayed the same, you might get some of that because I’m just not convinced that Guillen really is a defensive anti-christ. That is, the right field disaster itself should’ve probably regressed towards the mean somewhat. I also think that, as bad as the pitching staff was, what happened in 2007 was still anomalous. Adjusting the DER for batted ball types should make the M’s look better (crappier pitchers = more LD, more LD = lower expected DER, ergo the M’s might look better once you adjust for having crappy pitchers). Instead, the M’s look even worse. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s how The Hardball Times does its team +/- system, which is adjusted for batted ball types using BIS data. There, the M’s are 29th and far below every team but the D-Rays. Chris Dial’s work showed the same result.
    To me, that probably couldn’t continue. Now, even regression to the mean couldn’t have made HoRam or Jeff Weaver look GOOD, but something sort of odd happened last year I think.

    As to the conclusion (M’s DER in the 15th-20th range), I’m with ya.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.