September 22, 2009 at 1:15 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Defense
Thought of the Day
The Braves are 23rd in Defensive Efficiency and 24th in Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. That sucks. Think about how awesome our pitchers would look if the Braves had an above-average defense. Getting better in that department, in my opinion, is the number 1 priority for the off-season. Let’s take a look at what we’ve got defensively:
Catcher – Brian McCann, David Ross. McCann has made strides as a defender and instead of being one of the game’s worse he was merely average until the glasses thing. He’s been bad since, but I think that’s just an adjustment thing. If he plays close to average defense I can live with it. Ross, on the other hand, is an excellent defensive catcher. Some people suggest that moving McCann to LF or 1B and playing Ross every day nets the team more wins. That’s ludicrous. If the Braves lost their sanity and did that what you have is a merely average offensive 1B (and god knows how awful Mac would be defensively at 1B) and a back-up catcher starting (and thus showing you why he’s a back-up). I don’t see Catcher as a major defensive hole, though. It would be a position you start to think about improving the defense at if you don’t have a franchise cornerstone already playing there. As it stands, we can probably expect average defense from C.
First Base is uncertain. Adam LaRoche, despite all the reach arounds he’s gotten from the organization, is a below-average defensive 1B no matter how you slice it. His career UZR/150 is -4.4 and he’s only had 1 above-average year, 2007. +/- tells the same story, he’s averaged -3.67 runs per season. Although not the worst, he’d probably be really bad if teams didn’t constantly try to stick DH’s at 1B. But we don’t know who is going to be playing there. Prado seems like one of the only internal options and he’s not a huge defensive upgrade–though a decisive upgrade–over LaRoche. Barbaro Canizares is also an option. He hasn’t played enough MLB to have meaningful data on, but all scouting reports suggest every ground ball becomes anywhere from an adventure to a nightmare. If you’re trying to improve your defense, 1B is a bad place to start, anyway.
There are four internal options for second base. The frontrunner is Martin Prado. He’s awful there. In approximately a full season at 2B, he’s posted -10 runs in +/-. UZR/150 has him at -13.8 runs. Bad. UZR has never liked Kelly Johnson until this season. His career UZR/150 is -6.5, but this season it’s 1.8. +/- has always had Kelly Johnson right at average, posting 0, -1, and 0 in the past 3 seasons (2009 included). Johnson has much better lateral range than Prado, though he sometimes makes foolish mistakes. He’s especially prone to making these mistakes at inopportune times, largely influencing the public’s opinion of him. Omar Infante is about average at 2B, according to UZR/150. I think if you put him into an everyday role, he becomes average. Note, in no way am I suggesting that Omar Infante should start at 2B for the Braves, just that I think he has potential to be an above-average defensive 2B. The 4th is Brooks Conrad. See Barbaro Canizares (1B) for his defensive explanation. Iron glove.
Yunel Escobar is going to be the SS for the Braves in 2010 with Omar Infante (he’s been average there) backing up. +/- has glowing reviews of Escobar at SS. He rated +15 in 2008 (2nd in the league behind Rollins. He suffered the shoulder injury, which cost him playing time and he was limited while he was out there. He was leading Rollins before the injury and likely would’ve finished the year as the best defensive SS in the game had he not sustained the injury. That’s neither here nor there, though). He’s rated +9 this season, 6th in the majors. UZR doesn’t like him as much. He was merely 1.9 in 2008 and has been below average, -2.7, this season. I prefer +/- to UZR anyway, but I especially do when it helps my case.
Chipper Jones at 3B. Well, I already wrote about that:
What concerns me more is Chipper’s decline in defensive value. Let’s take a look at some of the advanced stats from 2004-present, starting with +/-:
Year +/- 2004 +6 2005 -2 2006 -15 2007 +2 2008 +8 2009 -13
Year UZR/150 2004 +1.2 2005 +0.9 2006 -14.8 2007 -2.7 2008 +7.5 2009 -13.0
They both pretty much tell the same story. About average in 2004, 2005, and 2007; above-average in 2008, and very bad in 2006 and 2009. The 6-year average for +/- is -2.33 runs and the 6-year average for UZR/150 is -3.48. The three-year UZR/150 average is -2.73 and the 3-year average for +/- is -1.00. So, what is Chipper’s true defensive value? He’s had bad seasons before and rebounded both offensively (2004) and defensively (2006). The 3 and 6 year samples and trends sort of lead me to believe that this year is an anomaly and I shouldn’t be concerned. On the other hand, Chipper is 37 years old and having a miserable year with the glove, so I don’t know what to think. Watching him in the field, he’s clearly not focused or has lost something, but I’m not a scout so don’t take what I have to say about watching him as anything of value.
I don’t know. Does Chipper rebound in 2010 defensively? I’m fairly confident he will offensively, but I just don’t know what to expect from him with the glove in 2010. I have, in the past, suggested that Chipper move to 1B in 2010. After reviewing the defensive stats, I am going to retract that suggestion and just say, if he’s as bad in 2010 as he has been in 2009 at 3B, he should move to 1B. But if he’s more in line with his 3 and 6 year averages, he belongs at 3B.
Martin Prado, Chipper’s back-up, has been excellent at 3B, posting above-average numbers in both +/- and UZR. Rather significantly, actually.
Left Field is perhaps the most uncertain position. It either belongs to Nate McLouth, a platoon of Matt Diaz and Ryan Church, or an outsider. Nate McLouth, despite being a below-average center fielder, would probably be an above-average left-fielder. Defensively, of course, as his bat plays much better in center. Matt Diaz sucks defensively, but with teams constantly trying to stick a DH in LF, he rates as about average there. His defensive limitations are more noticeable in right (that’s also because his skill set plays better in left than right, given his lack of an arm, but largely because of the lack of quality defensive LF’ers). Ryan Chuch is an above-average defender, even in Center. Using him in left is perhaps a mis-allocation of resources, but you know he’s going to be plus there.
There are two candidates for Center Field. Nate McLouth has played below-average defense there his entire career despite winning a gold glove (in a year that he was arguably the worst defensive outfielder in the game, not just CF’er). Jordan Schafer is going to be a plus, if not plus plus, defender in CF for years to come, but I don’t know when he’ll get here. Here’s what Baseball Prospectus wrote about Schafer this past off-season (subscription required):
He’s a 60 runner and an even better center fielder because of his outstanding instincts, with one scout adding, “I don’t think I ever saw him break wrong on a ball.” His arm is another weapon due to both its strength and accuracy.
Schafer is the long-term solution in CF, but until he proves he’s both healthy and ready, the Braves will likely have to settle for McLouth in CF. Playing Church over McLouth in center probably isn’t the worst idea in the world.
Right Field could either be occupied by Jason Heyward or the same Diaz/Church platoon I suggested for left. Heyward is an above-average Right Fielder with a plus arm. Church is the same. Diaz stinks in right.
The best defensive alignment of the pieces we have is probably, starting with outfield, going left to right, and ending with Catcher: McLouth, Schafer, Heyward, Prado, Escobar, Kelly Johnson, Chipper, Ross.
Chipper said he’s not changing positions, so I guess that’s out of the question. And Ross isn’t overtaking McCann, so we’d probably look something like this going into the season, right now: McLouth, Schafer, Heyward, Chipper, Escobar, KJ, Prado, McCann. Of course we don’t know if Schafer is going to be ready, so we can probably look forward to: Church/Diaz, Schafer McLouth, Heyward, Chipper, Escobar, KJ, Prado, McCann. And I assume the Braves plan to add a real 1B and keep KJ on the bench (or off the roster).
Basically, I think if the Braves are going to get better on defense in 2010 they have to do it themselves. There isn’t room to bring in an impact defender. Yunel ditching the mental mistakes, Chipper sharpening the ole defense knife, etc. That’s what has to happen, because this team isn’t going to be able to make a move that makes them a lot better defensively.
Perhaps that’s all the Braves need. That’s basically what we’re left to hope for. That a) everyone getting a little better and a little lucky is enough and b) they actually will get a little better. If anyone takes a step back defensively next year, this team’s defense is going to reek. But like I said, that’s what we’re dealing with. The cards are pretty much on the table.