How Good Will The M’s Defense Be?
Last year, we saw the power of what a great defense can do for a team. Led by Death To Flying Things, the M’s ran out an historically great defense, catching everything that was put in play, and leading the league in ERA despite a so-so pitching staff. It is no secret that the M’s have put an emphasis on defensive value, and their off-season acquisition of Casey Kotchman, as well as the re-signing of Jack Wilson, continue to push that trend forward.
A year ago, the Mariners had the best UZR in baseball, at +85.5. Here’s how that broke down by position:
First Base: +3.4
Second Base: +2.4
Third Base: +20.9
Left Field: +17.0
Center Field: +33.3
Right Field: +11.7
The M’s outfield defense was one of the best of all time. The infield was carried by Beltre/Hannahan, while the other three spots were just about average. The team made upgrading the infield defense a big part of their off-season, so can we expect the team to be even better defensively in 2010?
No. Realistically, we probably can’t even expect them to come close to matching last year’s totals.
We talked about this with regards to Gutierrez at the end of last year, but regression to the mean is a powerful force, and history shows that it is almost impossible to have the kind of season that he just had two years in a row. Gutierrez is a great center fielder, but he’s not a +30 center fielder. They simply can’t expect to get the same kind of value out of his glove as they did a year ago.
It’s not just Gutierrez, either. The Mariners won’t be getting +21 defense from third base again (the dropoff from Beltre to Lopez is going to be hard to watch, honestly), nor should we expect the Bradley/Byrnes platoon to put up anything near a +17 in left field. Here is how I would project the M’s expected defensive value in 2010, position by position:
1B: +5: Garko drags Kotchman down a bit
2B: +5: Figgins will eventually adjust to 2B and play well, but it might take a few months
SS: +5: Wilson’s a really good glove guy, but he doesn’t play 150 games a year.
3B: -5: Lopez will be okay at third, but probably a bit below average.
LF: +5: Bradley’s okay, but nothing special. Byrnes should be pretty decent.
CF: +20: The best projection we can give anyone. +30 won’t happen again.
RF: +10: Ichiro will eventually slow down. I don’t think it’s going to happen this year.
The total for those positions: +45. The Mariners, after adding Kotchman and bringing back Wilson, should be expected to lose nearly 40 runs of defensive value from their 2009 squad. You can quibble with some of the numbers if you want, but you’re not going to be able to come up with a projection much different – maybe you’d have them at +30 or +60 if you’re really optimistic or pessimistic, but it’s going to be in that range.
The M’s are going to be a really good defensive team, but last year, they were historically great. You can’t expect that again, even with a revamped infield. Don’t consider it a letdown if the M’s don’t match last year’s amazing UZR numbers – it’s just not a realistic expectation.