I’m currently reading the “The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2011.” I always find it fascinating to read or listen to how “others” view the Reds whether it’s national broadcasters or independent analysts. Let’s face it, we’re blinded by the love for our team and we see our Reds through, uh, “Rose” colored glasses more times than not.
What’s amazing to me is that I don’t find that much about the Reds in the book, at least not to this point. That’s not necessarily bad, and probably a tribute to Walt Jocketty and company. Typically, poor decisions are easier to dissect in national publications and the Reds have made real strides in the past few years towards re-establishing themselves as a competitive team.
What has surprised to me this point was the evaluation of the Reds’ defense. Writer and defensive analyst John Dewan gives the Reds positive marks, saying the Reds finished fifth in “defensive runs saved” in 2010 with 33. (The Cardinals are rated first at 61; with their offseason moves, I see that number decreasing significantly). I thought the Reds would rate high defensively, but according to “The Hardball Times” (THT) it’s not just for the reasons we would think.
It was the outfield, not the infield, that saved the runs, no matter who actually won the Gold Gloves. THT rates 1B and 3B as neutral (0 runs saved over the average defensive player). Second base is rated as one run saved, shortstop is -2 runs saved, and the catcher position is rated as -4 runs saved. (NL Team leaders: 1st base, Mets, 16; 2nd base, Phillies, 16; 3rd base, Nationals, 31; shortstop, Rockies, 28; catcher, tie between Rockies and Cardinals, 11).
The outfield is a different story. The star of the Reds outfield was right fielder Jay Bruce. The study gives the Reds’ right field play credit for 23 runs saved (first was Marlins with 29). Reds centerfielders saved ten runs (Astros were first with 15), and Reds leftfielders saved five (Giants led NL with 21).
Additional info: the Reds placed 19th in baseball in converting double play opportunities (38.7%), were sixth in bunt defense and second in preventing the extra base on hits to the outfield.
Many pages in this 2011 THT are devoted to defensive metrics and new fielding analysis. They’re calling it Fieldf/x, similar terminology to the Pitchf/x terms currently used for pitchers. It’s a notable difference in how baseball players will be evaluated over the next several years. Baseball sabermetrics help highlight some offensive skills that weren’t always valued in the past; BABIP (batting average on balls in play) became important, especially to pitching peripherals. The next frontier is defense and advancements are being made. I believe the timing is right, especially living in the shadow of the Steroid offensive explosion. Weaker offensive players like Paul Janish would not have been given much of a chance 10-20 years ago, but may still have a chance to carve out a good career based on flashing leather. Those who long for the “small ball” days of the 1970′s may yet get a chance to see their favorite style of play return.