"As Mr. Sloan always says, there is no "I" in team. But there is an "I" in pie. And there's an "I" in meat pie. Anagram of meat is team... I don't know what he was talking about." Thus spoke the great philosopher Shaun; he probably wasn't meaning baseball defense, but it is somewhat applicable. Teamwork is something which isn't really relevant - the occasional relay from the outfield and, of course the double-play, but otherwise defense is the sum of its individual parts. Over at Baseball Think Factory, Chris Dial produced this article, which lists the Defensive Runs Saved [DRS] at each position for each team in the majors this year. What does it tell us about Arizona?
Overall: +15 Despite being 'above average', Arizona's overall defense ranked only eighth in the league last year. That's because two horrendous fielding outfits [Florida at -70 and Houston at -61] dragged the overall bar down significantly. The best-fielding team in the National League overall was, perhaps surprisingly, San Francisco. Bet you didn't see that coming. Their figure of +36 was entirely due to the left-side of their infield, where Omar Vizquel and Pedro Feliz vacuumed up balls, even as they redefined the term "light-hitting". Colorado were second-best at +30, though second-base, occupied largely by the now-departed Kaz Matsui, was responsible for more of that than Troy Boy on the other side of second. San Diego were sunk by the remarkable -22 performance of their catchers, surpassed in ineptitude only by Houston's left-fielder Carlos Lee.
First-base: -3 This would seem to agree, to a large degree, with our generally-perceived perception of the position - barely adequate. Jackson finished dead-last in the majors among qualifying first-baseman for fielding percentage (.988), though Zone Rating and, particularly, Range Factor, viewed him more kindly. Measured by Fielding Runs Above Average, from Baseball Prospectus, he merited a -10 and Tony Clark a -2, so neither exactly covered themselves in glory there.
Second-base: +4 I was surprised by how low this figure was. After all, didn't Orlando Hudson win his second-consecutive Gold Glove at the position last year? But the figures don't lie...or, at least, are less likely to be impressed by flashy glovework and last-minute dives. By these stats, Hudson's performance was only the third-best in the division, trailing both Matsui and the Padres duo of Giles and Blum. Certainly, he failed to stand out in any of the main fielding stats. He scored +13 on FRAA, but that is less than half the figure he posted for Toronto in 2003, so it looks as if Hudson's value is increasingly tied to his bat.
Third-base: -2 That's a pretty credible performance from Mark Reynolds, who arrived from Double-A with a bit of a dodgy reputation as a glove-man, but didn't do all that badly. His stats, while certainly towards the bottom of the pile, were not bad for someone who didn't turn 24 until after the All-Star break. Don't forget, he was seeing the ball coming towards him as the result of major-league bat-speed for the first time. There did seem to be a significant improvement in Reynolds as the season wore on, and it'll be interesting to see if that keeps going in the coming year too.
Shortstop: -9 Ah. The best thing you can say about Drew is that his 2007 was better defensively than the reigning AL Gold Glover at shortstop. The bad news is, that was Derek Jeter. But was Drew, as this article implies, the worst fielder on the Arizona Diamondbacks? Ouch. I can't say it felt that way, even though we heard the line "Past a diving Drew" rather more often in the commentary than I'd have liked. Most of Drew's stats fall into the somewhat-below average area, rather than at a level which is significantly ahead of only a couple of shortstops in the league.
Left-field: +12. There's a credible case to be made that Eric Byrnes was unfairly overlooked for the Gold Glove this year (though Matt Holliday perhaps had an even better argument). First, the Fielding Bible called him the best at his position, and now this - as with his base-running skills, discussed previously, his defense is an element of Byrnes' game that doesn't show up in the box-score, but has to be taken into account when assessing his value. On the other hand, his political and social views... I think I'll pass on those!
Center-field: +2. Chris Young was a mix of the brilliant and the infuriating; for every Play of the Year-level catch, there was a gaffe - he trailed only Bill Hall for errors at his position. With most of his stats below-average, and an FRAA value of -7, it's a surprise to see a positive value here. However, center-field at Chase is notoriously difficult to play, and I suspect Young will be more comfortable with its nooks, crannies and overhangs this season. If he can cut back on the lapses of concetration we saw last season, this is another figure I expect to improve in 2007.
Right-field: +1. It's difficult to analyze the results from here, and what they mean going forward, as the main occupant of the position last year was Carlos Quentin, and he will not be of concern to us in the upcoming season. Instead, it will be Justin Upton who will be located there - and the signing of Trot Nixon earlier today, will likely not affect that. Upton made five errors in only 315.1 innings, which would equate to more than twenty over a full season. Those are middle-infield numbers for error, not corner-outfield ones. He's got the raw tools to succeed, there's no doubt about that, but as with Young, needs to ensure he keeps his head in the game.
Catcher: +6. Snyder has proven himself among the best defensive catchers in the league - the top score here was only +8. In almost nine hundred innings behind the plate, Snyder made only one error - in contrast, Montero made six in just over five hundred innings of work. Chris also threw out 36% of base-stealers, a better number than Gold Glove winner Russell Martin (33%), and sufficient to make it a losing proposition for our opponents [compare the Padres' Josh Bard, who nailed just 7.6%!]. The Republic reports Snyder is emerging as a leader, and with the loss of Tony Clark, that could be an important position this year.
How do those numbers fit with your analysis of Arizona's defense over the past season? What do you see as our strengths and weaknesses, in the field, for the coming season? Can Byrnes keep it up? Can our young players improve? And how important is good defense, compared to offense and pitching? Discuss...