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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

April 21, 2011 at 10:04 AM

Newer stats showing Mariners defense has been worse than offense so far

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ADDITIONAL NOTE: We’ll have Geoff Baker Live! from FX McRory’s tonight at 6 p.m. If you missed the last show, a viewer asked what I thought about how Eric Wedge has handled his players. I say there’s been good and bad. Another wanted to know if the M’s will re-sign Ichiro. I think they will, but only if his salary comes down. A viewer asked about overseas money Ichiro brings the M’s from Japan, which is largely a myth since it actually goes to the larger MLB foreign revenue pool to split amongst teams evenly. Somebody else asked why I haven’t ripped Chone Figgins for his hitting numbers and I explained how Figgins, Miguel Olivo and Jack Cust should have better numbers than they do.
On to this morning’s post…
Been meaning to get to this for a couple of days, but was flying from Kansas City on Monday, wanted to focus on something different Tuesday, then yesterday was an early start, so here we are.
We’ve trumpeted how good the Mariners defense has been for the past couple of seasons, almost to the point where we start to take it for granted. Well, the first batch of Ultimate Zone Rating results were released on FanGraphs on Monday and wow, was that ever a change.
The Mariners ranked dead last in all of baseball at minus-16.1. Even the offense hasn’t ranked that poorly so far.
So, yeah, the M’s have fallen from their previous lofty perch with the glove.
Now, before we go further, the requisite qualifiers: UZR is not really meant to be looked at in small samples. Best to view it over entire seasons when it comes to individual players and over several weeks, if not months, in terms of teams.

Then again, when the M’s were the best in baseball two years ago, nobody complained about showing off the UZR stats in April. Besides, while it may not tell us where things are going to wind up, it does offer a snapshot of where they’ve been the first two weeks of the season.
It’s sort of like a credit rating that way. Credit ratings are like snapshots of a moment in time. They aren’t particularly useful in telling you anything long-term (unless you really go back and study trends over time), yet it doesn’t stop every two-bit company in this country from using them to make a decision on whether to sell you a pack of gum (which explains why we’re still in the economic mess we are, often forgoing common sense in financial decisions in favor of quick, easy computer readouts, but I digress).
Anyhow, we’re going to look at the UZR stats. Because I said so, that’s why.
Cleveland leads the majors at +10.3 while the Rangers are the next closest AL team (fourth in the majors) at +7.1. The Oakland A’s team that booted the ball around for three games versus Seattle in the season’s opening series? Sixth-worst in baseball and third-worst in the AL at minus-5.7.
So, some of what’s gone on early seems to be showing up in the UZR results.
I was quite anxious to see them this year because there were certain things I’d been seeing from the M’s on the field, beyond the obvious errors, and I wanted to know whether any of the advanced metrics were picking up on them. I thought the M’s were looking quite strong on the left side of the infield, but that tons of balls seemed to be dropping in to all three spots in the outfield. More than usual.
And yes, the stats did pick up on that. So, let’s see who did what in UZR.
Photo Credits: AP


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Leading the pack is third baseman Chone Figgins, scoring a +2.6. The next highest score is from Michael Saunders as a left fielder at +0.9. Problem is, Saunders has only played 26 innings at that position. As a center fielder, he’s at minus-0.9 over 76 innings.
None of the other positive scores are really worth mentioning at the moment because they’re so close to the zero-line that — with the margin for error — they could easily be on the negative side of the equation.
But we’ll look at them anyway. Because I said so, that’s why.
There are four scores of +0.2 and two belong to Adam Kennedy — at first and second base — one is for eight innings of Jack Wilson at shortstop and the other for 18 innings of Luis Rodriguez at shortstop. In fact, those scores all involve so few innings that they are just about insignificant. But I included them just to be a bit positive. Because all the rest to come is in negative territory.
The three worst scores on the team all involve the players who’ve spent the most time at the three outfield positions. This should not surprise anyone who has seen fly balls drop between outfielders, or two feet in front of them as they slow up, or two feet over their heads after initial hesitation.

Ichiro has the worst score at minus-4.6. Ryan Langerhans and Milton Bradley are next at minus-4.5 at center field and left field, respectively. Ichiro has played 162 innings, Bradley 128 and Langerhans 87, so we’re dealing with a bit of a bigger sample in all three cases.
Justin Smoak is at minus-1.8 at first base, Wilson is at minus-1.4 at second base and Brendan Ryan is at minus-1.2 at shortstop.
So, there you have it. A snapshot of the team’s defense after two weeks and change. The next update, I believe, comes on Monday at FanGraphs.com. So, we’ll see whether anything changes after the M’s kept the Tigers from blowing them apart in two of the first three games this week.
But no, I’m not surprised by what we’ve seen so far. There’s a reason Eric Wedge lost his patience with the team last Saturday and some of it had to do with his team’s poor efforts in the field.
And if you cross-reference UZR with some of John Dewan’s DRS (defensive runs saved) scores, you see pretty similar results with Figgins in front and the three outfielders lagging behind — especially Langerhans on that particular chart.
So, like I said, it’s only a snapshot. But it did not surprise me. The M’s really miss Franklin Gutierrez in the field and are paying a price. Not just because of what’s happening in center but also what isn’t happening in left and right field. Gutierrez covered plenty of ground in right center and let’s face it, Bradley, is never going to be any good team’s answer to a full-time left fielder.
In the infield, you’ve had a guy playing out of position at second in Wilson, followed by some backups.
So, no, it has not been a banner April for the M’s defensively. Nor on the mound bullpen-wise, or at the plate. I think the starting pitching has been OK. There’s a reason Felix Hernandez has an ERA up over 4.00 and it isn’t all him. The guys playing behind him have not been catching the ball enough on non-error plays like they did in the past and that’s bringing him and the rest of the staff down.
So, this is something to keep looking at as we go forward. I don’t expect the M’s to finish dead last in UZR. But they need to start climbing a bit higher if they want to avoid another 100-loss season.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins

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