View Full Version : Thoughts about infield defense

09-03-2008, 06:10 PM
We talk a lot about infielders and their flaws, but I wonder if there's a way to organize the thinking into something that compares the various kinds of bad defense.

At one end is Hands of Gold, Feet of Lead, who is aging, slow-moving and steady. He won't bobble the ball, and has an accurate but weak arm. He won't embarrass himself, and managers love him for that. But he might allow as many baserunners as ...

Ranges Widely, and So Does His Arm. I've sometimes wondered: Do you really have all that range if you can't make the throw when you get there? Is there such a thing as throwable range? There's a certain number of times a fielder like this will keep a ball from reaching the outfield (and then throw it into it the seats).

Is there a way to compare the damage these fielders do?

09-03-2008, 06:30 PM
We usually have at least one of each at all times.

09-03-2008, 08:17 PM
I think if they played like it was the play offs every game, intensly, they could be in the running. But they don't. They are a decent bunch of players but like other teams they don't get into it until the last 20 games. Reminds me of Pro Basketball. Might as well just play the last quarter.

09-03-2008, 10:59 PM
This is one of my favorite aspects of baseball. On the delivery, I watch the infielders' movement, especially the left side. There are those who move instinctively/reactively and those who move simply reactively. There is a difference. Also, there are the hands. Soft hands create that beautiful smooth, fluid motion.

09-03-2008, 11:32 PM
I think BCubb brings up a great point--many defensive metrics have come up short because they lose the power of description. . . One can look at Troy Glaus' and Luis Castillo's offensive stats and clearly point to how they are very different players. It's much more difficult to make those distinctions between them as defenders, and infinitely more complex when you consider that they play different defensive positions.

I think many of the more advanced metrics seek to provide the power of description, but there is still a long way to go. In John Dewan's The Fielding Bible, Bill James provided a wonderful description of Derek Jeter's and Adam Everett's defense by reviewing each player's 10 best and worst defensive plays. Unfortunately, we don't have more elements that move us in that direction.

To get to this point, defensive plays must be broken down to their component parts, and then one could build a bottoms-up construction of a players defense. For instance, a ground out to third doesn't merely consist of a hitter hitting the ball to third, and the 3B throwing to the 1B. For that play, the 3B must move to the ball, get his feet set, field the ball cleanly in his glove, transfer the ball to his throwing hand, square his shoulders, perform a quick release, and accurately hit the 1B target. The 1B must move from his defensive position, ensure his foot is on the bag, and lunge for/ stretch off the bag for errant throws. The trajectory and speed of the ball hit and thrown are also important. (I'm sure there are many important nuances of defense I'm missing, but you get my point.)

To do this kind of bottoms-up analysis, it would require an extensive amount of resources, and so far teams haven't invested in it. . . The only way around this is for baseball to invest in a "pitching f/x"-like automated defensive tracking system. And, of course, there would be no guaranteee that the data would yield anything interesting. Although I suspect they would.

Just brainstorming the possibilities--you could determine the commonalities of among players that successfully moved off their positions, identify the components of a given player's defense that are likely to improve and regress over time, identify unexplainable randomness, better assign value to good defenders (and vice versa), exploit the inefficiencies of the defensive skill market by targeting those skill sets that really provide value or differentiate vs. those that don't, etc.