2013 D-backs: the case for the defense, part one

Norm Hall

If there's one aspect of team play which was significantly improved in 2013, it appears to have been our fielding. Both traditional and advanced metrics rate the Diamondbacks as significantly better here.

Overview

Starting at the most basic level, the Diamondbacks made 75 errors last year, down by 15 from last season. It was the fewest in franchise history, well below the previous mark of 84, set in 2001. That's particularly impressive, considering that, due to all the extra inning games, we logged more innings in the field than ever, and set a new record for putouts as well. This resulted in an overall fielding percentage of .988, also the best in team history, and tied with the Cardinals and Reds for the highest in the National League. That didn't quite translate into a lack of unearned runs: our 44 allowed was in a three-way tie for fourth, but it was an 18-run improvement on 2012.

When you look at UZR/150 (UZR adjusted for innings played, to balance out the fact we had more innings than anyone), the numbers are equally impressive. The D-backs figure of 8.1 blew away everyone else in the NL, with the Giants a distant second at 5.7. This was also an enormous improvement on last year, and a high-water mark for the team (though a lack of stats mean it can't be calculated for the first four years of our history). Going by this measure, defense is overall an area which seems to have flourished in recent years: the top five seasons for Arizona are the last five seasons.

Even more emphatically, The Fielding Bible's Defensive Runs Saved stat (DRS) rated the Diamondbacks at +86 runs. That's 18 better than the second-placed Pirates, 32 better than the previous best season for Arizona (2011). and a whopping 63 additional runs saved, compared to last season. Considering the overall result was still seven runs more allowed by Arizona in 2013, it certainly appears things could have been a great deal worse if it wasn't for the prowess of our fielders.

We'll go round each of the positions in a bit more depth, though stats are somewhat limited for both pitcher and catcher. I'll cover those two, along with the right-hand side of the infield today, while we'll do the left side and the outfield spots tomorrow. For each, I'll provide the available stats from F%, UZR and DRS, along with where that ranked in the NL this year, and the same numbers from 2012 for comparison. I'll also give you a highlight-reel play from the position in question, just for fun. Note, I'm not saying this is the "best" play at the position, it's more likely the first very good one I found. :)

Pitcher

F%: .973, =3rd, .933
DRS: +12, 2nd, +16

Arizona pitchers were a great deal more reliable this year, cutting the errors to less than half, from 18 last season to only seven this year. Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy were two of the 15 National League pitchers this season to record at least 135 innings with a perfect fielding percentage, while Gold Glove nominee Patrick Corbin was particularly active around the mound, his 40 assists trailing only Kyle Kendrick (43). Probably also helping his cause, Corbin led all pitchers in the majors with a DRS of +8, with Cahill and the ever-effective Brad Ziegler tied for 22nd spot at +3. Here's a good example of Patrick's range, roaming over near third-base and firing a throw to get the force at second.


Catcher

F%: .994, =6th, .991
DRS: -10, 16th, -3

There's a sharp discrepancy between the traditional and new metrics here, likely because F% doesn't take into account wild pitches and passed balls, but DRS does. As we discussed the other day, this was an area where our catchers (and Miguel Montero in particular) appeared to struggle, the D-backs' being charged with 84 wild pitches, most in the majors. DRS tells us our catcher defense cost the team seven runs compared to last season, and poor pitch-blocking is likely a good chunk of that; we saw Montero sometimes stab at errant pitches, rather than shifting his whole body over to block them. Still, he had moments: I'm sure we all enjoyed him picking-off Puig, below.


First-base

F%: .997, =2nd, .994
UZR/150: +5.0, 3rd, -0.8
DRS: +14, =3rd, +2

I don't think anyone was surprised by Paul Goldschmidt's Gold Glove nomination last week, because it's an area of his game which has come on in leaps and bounds. He was never the butcher sometimes reported, but continued to work and improve. A couple of stats stand out. We saw 14 double-plays started by Goldie - Freddie Freeman (17) was the only other National Leaguer with even a dozen. And he helped out his infield with an amazing 74 scoops, picking throws in the dirt, nineteen more than the next-placed Freeman, and the most by any first-baseman since they started counting the stat. Let's see a play which includes both (and a bonus amusing moment!).


Second-base

F%: .989, =3rd, .991
UZR/150: -0.6, 7th, +1.2
DRS: +4, =4th, -2

It may be cruel to say it, but Aaron Hill's injury probably helped the Diamondbacks, defensively if not at the plate. Neither UZR/150 nor DRS were very impressed with him this season, as he put up numbers of -4.2 and -9 respectively. The rest of the fill-ins had rather better stats: Chris Owings, surprisingly, had the best UZR of all, though we are talking about a feebly-small sample-size of just 30 innings. Still, if the team does decide to shift Hill and use Owings, he did nothing to suggest he can't handle the position. Especially if he's capable of making plays like this one.

We'll be back tomorrow, continuing our defensive review with the rest of the positions.

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