Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Comparing the Giants and Phillies Defensively

I just can't get over what Buster Olney said on Bill Simmons' MLB Playoff Podcast, which I listened to yesterday. Basically, I came away with four things:

1.) The Tampa Bay Rays Have the Best GM in baseball (probably true).
2.) The Red Sox are hurting in terms of the money they owe to contracts next year (true, but unnecessary considering the Red Sox aren't in the playoffs).
3.) The Mariners made a mistake by taking Justin Smoak from the Rangers instead of Jesus Montero in the Cliff Lee trade (very, very true when you consider Montero's a catcher).
4.) The Giants have no chance against the Phillies because of their offense (true) and defense.

(You can find the BS Report Podcast between Simmons and Olney here.)

The defense part kills me. Olney remarked to Simmons that the Giants had "one of the worst defenses in baseball." For a baseball writer, and one who likes to follow modern trends (e.g. some sabermetrics), I can't believe Olney would put his foot in his mouth like this.

So, to prove my point over Olney's, let's look and compare the Giants  position by position (on UZR and UZR/150 basis) to the Phillies who apparently are "better" defensively than the Giants.

Left Field: Pat Burrell vs. Raul Ibanez.
2010 OF UZR and UZR/150 for Burrell: 4.9 and 10.7.
2010 OF UZR and UZR/150 for Ibanez: minus-6.9 and minus-8.4.

The positive UZR and UZR/150 information is probably an aberration. Burrell is a career neagtive-39.7 outfielder defensively. This positive UZR and UZR/150 is the first instance in his career since 2004. That being said, Ibanez has been atrocious in the field this year and has been so in the past (career negative-20.4 UZR). At the very least, it's a wash, but I would give the benefit of the doubt to Burrell mainly because he has been better this year, while Ibanez has taken a dive after posting positive UZR numbers a season ago.

Edge: Giants.

Center Field: Andres Torres vs. Shane Victorino.
2010 OF UZR and UZR/150 for Torres:  21.2 and 24.8.
2010 OF UZR and UZR/150 for Victorino: 2.6 and 3.3.

Victorino has traditionally been a solid outfielder (career 30.5 UZR). But what Torres has done has been unbelievable. And it's not just a fluke either. Torres still posted very good UZR numbers a year ago (8.2) despite playing a sparing amount of games (his UZR/150 translated to 33). Torres can save runs and he can save runs in bunches, particularly helpful considering the Giants pitchers are primarily strikeout-flyball pitchers. You don't want to discredit Victorino and what he has done in his career, but the past two years, he can't hold a candle to what Torres has done defensively.

Edge: Giants

Right Field: Cody Ross vs. Jayson Werth.
2010 OF UZR and UZR/150 for Ross: 2.9 and 3.4.
2010 OF UZR and UZR/150 for Werth: negative-6.9 and negative-7.2.

This may be the toughest position to judge for both teams. Ross isn't incredible defensively, but at the very least he's average to above-average (career 3.5 UZR in OF). Werth has actually been great over his career (career 43.8 UZR in the OF), but has struggled this season. If you judge Werth against Jose Guillen (negative-23.1 UZR for his career in the OF), then the Phillies have this won outright. But then you consider Nate Schierholtz (6.4 UZR this year in RF), and suddenly the Giants have more depth (Ben Francisco, their backup right fielder posted negative UZR numbers). I'm just going to call this one a draw, mainly because I don't think Werth is as bad as his stats this year indicate, and Ross, while solid, is nothing special (though he certainly is a heck of a lot better defensively than Guillen).

Edge: Push.

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval vs. Placido Polanco.
2010 3B UZR and UZR/150 for Sandoval: 1.2 and 1.5.
2010 3B UZR and UZR/150 for Polanco: 10 and 11.3.

No doubt the Phillies have the edge here. Polanco has been stellar this year, and has been over his career (21.8 career UZR at third). Sandoval performed much better this year (he had a negative-3.6 UZR last year), but he has regressed in the second half, and he still has problems with his throwing accuracy at times. Even if Mike Fontenot starts at third, the Phillies still have the advantage with Polanco. Fontenot's career UZR is negative-4.2 at third base.

Edge: Phillies.

Shortstop: Juan Uribe vs. Jimmy Rollins.
2010 SS UZR and UZR/150 for Uribe: 2.1 and 3.3.
2010 SS UZR and UZR/150 for Rollins: 6.9 and 12.3.

This one is another matchup that clearly favors the Phillies...though not as much as people would like to think. Olney was pretty clear in calling out Uribe as a poor defensive shortstop. Now is he a gold glove candidate? Probably not, but he is better than his pudgy frame would suggest (career 18.5 UZR). Rollins of course is a better athlete and hence, a better defensive player (career 44.5 UZR), and the Phillies have the advantage in this department because Rollins is so great. They don't have the advantage though because Uribe is so poor, like Olney would like to think.

Edge: Phillies.

Second base: Freddy Sanchez vs. Chase Utley.
2010 2B UZR and UZR/150 for Sanchez: 5.9 and 9.3.
2010 2B UZR and UZR/150 for Utley: 10.3 and 12.9.

The Phillies take it again here, but it's closer than one would like to believe, especially if you look at UZR/150. I think when you take into consideration that Sanchez has been hurt most of the year, Sanchez's UZR numbers look a whole lot better (hence, the drop in difference in UZR/150 between him and Utley). Utley is one of the top second basemen in the game both offensively and defensively, so on just position alone, Utley is the clear favorite. But Sanchez is no slouch, and Fontenot has proven to be a more than adequate backup at second as well (8.6 career UZR at 2B).

Edge: Phillies.

First base: Aubrey Huff vs. Ryan Howard.
2010 1B UZR and UZR/150 for Huff: 5.4 and 9.7.
2010 1B UZR and UZR/150 for Howard: negative-12.8 and negative-11.6.

Olney also said in the podcast that Huff "probably should be a DH." Well, Buster, you haven't been watching the Giants season that closely if you think that. First all, Huff is significantly better than Howard at first. Second, in addition to better UZR numbers than Howard, Huff has also played three positions this year (left field and right field) and held his own (he only posted negative numbers in right field, but his UZR/150 was only negative-7.2, which isn't bad considering how hard it is to play right in AT&T Park). Huff not only showed that he can field adequately at first, but he showed that he can be mixed in the field and not be a complete disaster.

Edge: Giants.

Catcher: Buster Posey vs. Carlos Ruiz.
2010 stats for Posey: six errors, one passed ball, 37.1 CS percentage.
2010 stats for Ruiz: six errors, four passed balls, 28.6 CS percentage.

No question Posey is a better athlete than Ruiz. However, Posey showed great defense behind the plate this year for the Giants. His 37.1 CS percentage was fourth in the National League this year, not bad considering it is his first year. Furthermore, he was tied with Ruiz in terms of errors committed (4th best in the NL). Sure, Ruiz isn't much worse, but I'm giving this one to Posey, mainly because he's done all this as a rookie, and he has the better CS percentage.

Edge: Giants.

Team UZR in 2010:
Giants: 56.4 (2nd in MLB).
Phillies: negative-5.8 (17th in MLB).

Edge: Giants.

The Giants have the better outfield and catcher. The Phillies have the better infield (sans first base). On terms of count alone in the breakdown, the Giants beat the Phillies 4-3-1 (with the one draw being right field). Are the Giants much better than the Phillies defensively, probably, but not by much. That being said, I think this effectively refutes Olney's point on Simmons' podcast that the Giants are a lousy defensive team. They're not, and the numbers back it up.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The 2010 San Francisco Giants: NL West Champions

Those eight words haunt me. They give me shivers. In June, if you would have told me the Giants would be NL West Champs, I would have laughed. Not because I didn't believe, but because it just didn't seem possible. Not with Aaron Rowand patrolling center field. Not with Bengie Molina playing catcher. Not with Freddy Sanchez on the disabled list and Edgar Renteria rotating between shortstop and the disabled list.

But it happened...and what can I say. I couldn't be more shocked and happy as a Giants fan.

92-70. Four wins better than last year. You wonder what made this team different. Sure you could look at stuff like wRC and wRAA and say "The offense was better" and you certainly would be right. The offense was better this year, a whole lot better (over 10 points better in terms of wOBA). The Giants weren't a playoff team according to the numbers last year, and it made sense why the Rockies bounced them. You could argue that they aren't this year, but there would be an argument. Giants fans didn't have that luxury a season ago.

It was a funny regular season. The guy we expected to be money in the bank offensively (Pablo Sandoval) was far from it. The local guy we all had hope for (John Bowker) came manifested in another form (Burrell). The vets whom Bochy seemingly couldn't bench last year (Rowand and Renteria) were finally put on the bench when it mattered the most. And the guy we thought we wanted (Nick Johnson) tanked, while the guy we thought was a mistake (Aubrey Huff) proved to be everything we did want and more.

2009 was a great year. No doubt. But 2010 was special and special in a way that you just can't explain. How could you explain Sabean holding his guns at the trade deadline when everyone was telling him to trade Jonathan Sanchez for whatever bat he could? (Cough...Cody Ross...cough). How could you explain three washed up relievers (Santiago Casilla, Ramon Ramirez and Javier Lopez) suddenly become late-inning studs? How could you explain a rookie catcher (Buster Posey) not only handle one of the league's best staffs, but help make them better?

No doubt about it. The Giants took risks in 2010. Much more risks than 2009. And you know what? It paid off. I didn't think they would. I'm a pessimist by nature when it comes to Giants baseball. Game 6 haunts me. Playing in Miami in October haunts me. Livan Hernandez haunts me. Steve Finley haunts me. And after the Giants dropped two in a row to start off this series, I was thinking "Great, these ghosts simply won't go away."

Yet the Giants believed, and helped pessimistic and agonizing fans like me believe. There hasn't been this kind of attitude about a Giants team in well...a long time. I don't even think 2002 had this kind of fan fervor. I went to a Giants-Dodgers game in September at Dodgers Stadium and the Giants fans were rowdier than the Dodgers fans. They owned the place and guess what? They won.

The Giants are onto something special, a special that is far and beyond what happened in 2009 (and you know what? That was pretty darn special).

We've seen teams play well one year and tank the other (ask Seattle fans about that). And the Giants had all the ingredients for a similar kind of collapse. And not only did they not, but they were better. Sabean, for all his faults, did the right things. Bochy, for all of his faults, stayed on the right track (though he could have played Jose Guillen a lot less). Brian Wilson, for every naysayer out there, slammed the door again and again. Tim Lincecum, enduring a down year, came up big when the Giants needed him the most in September. Juan Uribe proved that just because you look bad statistically, it doesn't mean you can't have impact (the 2005 Chicago White Sox can testify to this).

I could go on and on. The Giants are in the playoffs. And I still am in utter shock/disbelief/elation. I haven't wrote a post on this blog for almost three months. Work caught up with me, but the Giants started winning when I stopped posting and I didn't want to jinx them. That's how irrational I've become. For every post I write about how Andres Torres can't be judged on his past MLB numbers, I do things like not posting because I fear I might blow the Giants playoffs chances.

And now it's over. The Giants did it and I feel, as a fan, I can speak up again, now knowing that the tension is behind me...though only momentarily. After all, there is still the playoffs. I don't want this feeling to end.

Before the season in 2008, the Giants were actually being talked about as a candidate to break the '62 Mets record for most losses in a year. Eugenio Velez was heralded as one of their "Top" prospects. Rowand was expected to be their team leader and run producer after they signed him to a $60 million contract.

And look where they are now. 92-70, NL West Champs and in the playoffs for the first time in 2003.

Thank you God.

I can feel Bobby Thomson watching out over us as we speak.