Been off work for a few days, health – nothing serious – with a lot of time on my hands so I got to investigating Hardball Times, Sons of Sam Horn, Redszone, Justin Inaz’ site On Baseball and the Reds (http://jinaz-reds.blogspot.com/2007/...ne-rating.html),
David Pinto’s PMR Stats (http://www.baseballmusings.com/archi...l_of_range.php)
and others, checking fielding stats and effects on runs allowed above average.

Now I’m no statistician so I’m not going to lay out a line of numbers on you, but what I did discover really opened my eyes to some things. First, defensive metrics have come a long way, baby – maybe they aren’t as definitive as offensive metrics yet but they are getting much, much better and used together, OOZ, RZR, SAFE, the Fielding Bible, BIZ, and others used together provide a pretty good look at each player’s abilities.

Now, mind you, I thought the Reds were pretty average defensively in 2007. After all they had a decent fielding season, didn’t they? Fewest errors in a long while, that sort of thing.

I figured combined with a perceived lack of range that the sum of things was well – average. Shows how dumb some perceptions can be. The Reds Out of Zone fielding was mind bogglingly (is that a word) bad. Really, maybe Cincinnati should be renamed 'The City of Statues' with this defense.

The Reds in a nutshell are a horrible defensive team. Except for 2nd and short, where the Reds aren’t bad (Phillips has good range, average reliability; Gonzalez and Keppinger exactly the opposite, +reliability with average range) just about everything else is bad or worse.

EdE continues to be horrible at third base, sub par range no matter what metric you use, and sub par on routine plays. That surprised me. I always thought of him as mostly arm problems but he has below average range, too.

First is bad, too. Hopefully, Votto is an improvement because Hatteberg is a statue. Although his numbers with the Reds were limited Cantu’s stats suggest decent range – so maybe between Joey and Jorge the Reds can at least improve things at one position.

So, the infield corners are bad? The outfield is a slaughterhouse! Statistically Dunn is the worst left fielder in baseball – depending on your stat and how you compute things he ends up losing 24 runs over replacement value with bad defense (especially with Inaz’s computation). Now his offense is so good he still winds up a very plus player overall but giving up 24 runs at one position over league average is just nuts!

Griffey in right field – well its no secret the board already knows how limited his range is. His arm is no longer a plus either but he is still reliable to balls hit in his zone, at least. He gets to nothing out of his zone anymore, and I gotta tell ya – I already knew what we call his ‘zone’ is shrinking pretty badly. Pretty much he spreads his arms and there’s his zone.

So bad at third, bad in left. Adequate to below average at first, bad in right. As long as they hit it up the middle we’re okay. Well, wait a minute. As long as Hopper is playing center (I knew you’d hate that) we’re okay. Hamilton, at least right now, is a butcher in center. Below average reliability and below average range. Heck, I knew that – the guy is a prototypical rifle armed right fielder, not a center picket. Besides after a long layoff the reliability will improve (reliability meaning handling balls in zone). Freel is below average on BIZ, though a bit above average getting to balls out of zone albeit an arm better suited for left.

Now I understand (better anyway) why Hopper got so much playing time last year. He’s the only guy beside Ellison who could catch a ball hit in and around his general vicinity. Actually Norris’ fielding numbers last summer were an anomaly – the numbers suggest he was a fielding giant, especially earlier in the year. Really, its crazy but he had terrific numbers by all the stats. Add an impossible to replicate BABIP and OBP and I can almost understand why he played ahead of Hamilton. Someone has to catch fly balls. I mean while moving. (Being fair to Junior).

All of which brings me to my real point. The Reds can add all the pitching they want but unless the pitchers they acquire obtain a large number of outs themselves (aka Strikeouts) or are extreme ground ball pitchers (conveniently hit where the SS and 2B can handle a large number of them) they won’t be terribly effective. Or perhaps that is simply reversed. They will likely be Effectively terrible.

League average BABIP is .301. The Reds pitching staff was at 3.18? BABIP is considered the ‘luck’ factor. For a pitcher too high it’s unlucky. When it’s your whole pitching staff it suggests lousy defense, a hitter’s park, or both. GAB is a home run park but generally closer to neutral all things considered. Certainly for balls in play it should be pitcher friendly. Not huge gaps or cavernous ground to cover. But if your defense stinks AND you’re pitching in a launching pad you’re going to get creamed.

Carlos Silva, for instance. He’s going to be an improvement in this park with the Reds defense behind him when he has a tendency to allow the long ball already? His BABIP will likely go up because the defense is worse, he doesn’t strike people out to help himself much, and he isn’t a ground ball pitcher. Hoy MiltHaynes!

Either sign, or trade, for a couple of flamethrowers who can help themselves out of jams (is it much wonder our best hurler tends to strike out a lot of people, and our next starter has a decent K rate, too?), or improve the defense a lot – which I think equates into Belisle magically becoming much better (decent K/9, excellent K/BB but high hits per inning which should drop quite a bit with a league average defense helping to bring his BABIP from .330 to .301). At a hit per inning, given his excellent command, Belisle is a solid pitcher. Bailey also stands a much better chance of staying confident and just letting his talent take over if the defense behind him improves a lot. Arroyo's 2007 was marred by bad luck (and bad defense) as his secondary numbers look 2006ish. Pitching, especially when a guy is young, is huge on confidence. The Reds defese canot be any young pitcher's psyche buddy, that's for sure.

I think I’ve undervalued what a bad defense can do to a pitcher or an entire pitching staff. Maybe this is something we have to face up to – it will hurt to morph into a good defensive team but as it stands how many pitchers can come to Cincy – or want to come – and expect to have great seasons? Harang has shown it can be done but that’s the Mendoza line for pitching talent. Lesser or younger, less experienced arms will likely be swallowed into mediocrity by the bad combination of factors that work against pitchers as it now stands.

Everyone wants to improve the staff. Maybe a big part of the solution is painful but necessary – finding trades for at least a couple of defensive under achievers and plugging the spots with above average defenders. It is a quandary since Dunn has such enormous offensive production, Junior is unlikely to go anywhere at least until the end of 2008 (No way I think he’ll sign off on a trade now – that ship has sailed) and Hamilton has enormous potential but is left playing out of position. Precisely why I said painful.

Sorry so long. Like I said – I’ve had a lot of time on my hands.