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Thread: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

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    nothing more than a fan Always Red's Avatar
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    Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    John Erardi, writing on Fay's blog, posts another well thought winner (and kudos, really, to Fay for recognizing it):

    http://news.cincinnati.com/apps/pbcs...cincinnati.com

    Posted by johnerardi at 1/27/2009 3:39 PM EST on Cincinnati.com



    Another interlude, this one not quite so brief...

    First, though, check out Fay's most recent post from his teleconference call with Sean Casey.

    I'm looking forward to the Hot Stove League tonight being hosted on WLW-AM by Thom Brennaman at 6 p.m., and Walt Jocketty with Doc at 7 p.m. It should be a lively couple of hours, coming as it does right after the winter caravan, and Bob Castellini's clarifications about the Reds plans and what Reds fans can expect this season.

    I believe it would take quite an alignment of the planets for the Reds to contend this year, but I don't believe it would be mathematically impossible.

    Among the necessary alignments would be Chris Dickerson and Jerrry Hairston Jr. repeating what they did last year (when they both played above expectations) over a full season...and shortstop Alex Gonzalez having at least an "average" year by his standards...and Jay Bruce showing significant improvement (very feasible, given his age)...and the Reds finding a consistent fifth starter. (Last year, Matt Belisle, Homer Bailey and Josh Fogg were 3-17; that is practically GiVING away every fifth game).

    One question I've been hit with from some of my colleagues is, "How many pundits correctly predicted going into last year that the Tampa Bay Rays would make the World Series --and why can't the 2009 Reds be the 2008 Rays?"

    LAST winter, Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus correctly forecast a dramatic turnaround by the Rays:
    "Baseball Prospectus is not prepared to call the 2008...Rays the best team in the AL, but (the) projection system (we used)...forecasts an 88-74 finish for baseball's perennial bottom-feeders, a 22-win jump from 2007."

    And, now, the key passage from Silver, because I believe it has relevance for answering the question, "Can the 2009 Reds be the 2008 Rays?" (After all, isn't that what Reds management is selling us, with all the "speed and defense" talk?)

    "It's in the field, though, that the Rays will make their biggest gains. According to (Baseball Prospectus)...the Rays gave up 72 more runs than an average defense last season. Of that total, 56 resulted from poor middle-infield play...

    "(The Rays moved second baseman B.J. Upton to center field and acquired) slick-fielding shortstop Jason Bartlett (in trade, and moved) sure-handed Aki Iwamura from third to second (to make room for Evan Longoria to stablize) the infield.

    "As a result, the Rays' defense projects to be 10 runs above average this year, an 82-run improvement, which will allow the improved rotation to work through its innings more efficiently."

    Therein, I believe lies your answer.

    I believe the Reds are two years away. Right now, the Reds don't have the young talent of the 2008 Rays. But I also believe that IF the Reds make good long-term decisions, the short term will care of itself.

    Tampa Bay had more room for defensive improvement than the 2009 Reds do. The 2008 Rays changed players in five positions, everywhere but catcher, first base and left field.

    So far, the 2009 Reds have changed four positions: left field, shortstop, catcher and center field. The lattter two cannot be viewed as defensive upgrades. Having Bruce in right field for a full season, and Dickerson/Hairston in left field, and Gonzalez at short, are upgrades. But it's not quite the upgrades the 2008 Rays made.

    I am a huge believer in the contribution that defense makes in run-differential. How well your team -- in this case, the Reds -- turns batted balls that stay in the park into outs is one of the most accurate barometers for team success.

    A great defensive team (like the 2008 Rays) turns 71 percent of batted balls in play into outs (best in major league baseball). A bad defensive team turns only 67 percent of batted balls in play into outs (the 2008 Reds, worst in the National League)..

    Poor defense has been a huge problem for the Reds since Ken Griffey Jr.'s second year here (2001). Going backward from 2008, here's the Reds' defensive acumen: 68%, 69%, 68%, 70%, 70%, 70%, 70%, 71% (2000) and 73% (1999).

    It's no coincidence that the 2000 Reds were the last Cincinnati team with an above average defense (and the last with a winning record). The 1999 Reds were the second-best defensive team in major league baseall in the last decade (exceeded only by the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won 116 games).

    The 2007 Rays turned only 66% of the balls that stayed in the ballpark into outs. That they were able to raise it to 72% last year had a huge impact on their success.

    The Reds don't have as much room for defense improvement as did the Rays, but unless the Reds, too, can make a dramatic improvement defensively, I don't believe they can contend -- because their offiense is so suspect.

    Keep that in mind when you listen to tonight's disccussions...and maybe even raise the question yourself. "Will the 2009 Reds' defense be 2008 Rays' good?"

    It's a hard-core number, that 71%.

    It basically requires that everybody to be able to "go get it."

    I have my doubts about the Reds defensively at catcher, third base and -- to only a slightly lesser degree -- center fielder and shortstop (mainly because of questions about Gonzalez' endurance coming off his injury; the fielding services say he's merely an average shortstop defensively, albeit better than Jeff Keppinger and Hairston Jr.).

    Yes, for the Reds to duplicate the Rays' turnaround, everybody must be able to "go get it," not just four or five of the nine guys. And that is what makes me question the "speed and defense" claim. I don't think the Reds are as good in that department as we're being told.

    What do you think?



    MORE ON RUN DIFFERENTIAL:

    Unless the Reds are incredibly lucky (see Arizona Diamondbacks, 2007), they will need to score more runs than they allow in order to contend this year.

    Typically, for every 10 runs more a team scores than it allows, that's one victory (82-80) above a .500 season. So, to win 88-90 games, the Reds probably need to score 70 or so more runs than they allow.

    Run differential is usually within three games of being dead on. But it's not an exact predictor. Last year, for example, the Tampa Bay Rays won five more games that their run differential wouldl have predicted.

    Going back even farther, the unlikely 1961 National League champion Reds won 93 games (and like the Rays made it to the World Series), even though the Reds' run differential would have normally projected them as an 83-win team.

    So, yes, things can happen.

    For a team to contend while scoring only 700 runs (which is based on a fairly generous assumption that the Reds can match their runs scored from last year) requires leading the league in pitching/defense. It worked last year for the Dodgers (winning a really weak division with 84 wins, although they projected for 87). The Blue Jays finished 4th but projected to 93 wins, but they led the league in pitching/defense. The Reds would have to chop another 150 runs from their 2008 total to lead the league. That requires everything going right with the rotation, bullpen and defense. And as noted, the defense may be better, but it still isn't great.

    Still, the 2009 Reds could be an entertaining team to watch. But, as presently constituted, the offensive composition of this club suggests that anything more than about a .500 season is unlikely.
    What do I think? I think that with money being tighter than last year, the FO (as a whole) has decided that they have already shelled out a lot of money for the pitching, and rather than pursue more bats that cannot field, have decided to maximize the defense. I also think this staff has a lot of promise, but it will take some hope and luck for it to improve from last years numbers (with essentially the same pitchers). I also think it will be very interesting to see how this approach will play in GABP. We have not seen the Reds get outslugged in Cincinnati for some time, but it might just happen in 2009.
    Last edited by Always Red; 01-27-2009 at 09:03 PM.

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    GR8NESS WMR's Avatar
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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    The defense will be slightly better, but nowhere near good enough to make up for the offense in terms of creating the necessary run differential.
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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    John Erardi is a crystal blue oasis in the endless desert that is generally the local media's coverage of the Reds. He and C. Trent give me hope for better days from the locals. Thanks for posting that bit of goodness...
    Last edited by membengal; 01-27-2009 at 09:21 PM.

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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    That was a darn good read. Thanks John, John, and Always for posting it.
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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    This FO appears to be "maximizing the defense" in the same way WK did when he brought Juan Castro back.

    Honestly, it's like they wouldn't know good defense if it walked up and bit them.
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    nothing more than a fan Always Red's Avatar
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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny Footstool View Post
    This FO appears to be "maximizing the defense" in the same way WK did when he brought Juan Castro back.

    Honestly, it's like they wouldn't know good defense if it walked up and bit them.
    And yet I would argue that the current defense is better (maybe even much better?) than the one that started the 2008 season.

    C, RF, and LF are all improved on defense. SS? maybe? probably? who knows.

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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    I don't have the numbers in front of me, but if I recall correctly the Reds' Defensive Efficiency Ratings in the last two months of the season (after Dunn and Griffey left) were not any better than the prior months.

    I don't see how the team has improved now compared to the last two months of 2008. Taveras is a downgrade from Patterson. Hernandez is not an upgrade from Bako/Hannigan. Bruce was in RF and Dickerson was in LF already. An older, gimpy Gonzalez will be an upgrade over Keppinger, but not a whole lot.

    So I would expect the 2009 Reds to have a very similar DER to the 2008 Reds.

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    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    Quote Originally Posted by Always Red View Post
    And yet I would argue that the current defense is better (maybe even much better?) than the one that started the 2008 season.

    C, RF, and LF are all improved on defense. SS? maybe? probably? who knows.
    Are we enough better to not just offset the loss of our most productive offensive players but also improve our differential by another 100 runs?

    I think that's the bigger concern. We're not really any better. We're just a differently composed mediocre.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    Quote Originally Posted by RedsManRick View Post
    Are we enough better to not just offset the loss of our most productive offensive players but also improve our differential by another 100 runs?

    I think that's the bigger concern. We're not really any better. We're just a differently composed mediocre.
    Well said. I completely agree.
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    nothing more than a fan Always Red's Avatar
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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    Quote Originally Posted by RedsManRick View Post
    Are we enough better to not just offset the loss of our most productive offensive players but also improve our differential by another 100 runs?

    I think that's the bigger concern. We're not really any better. We're just a differently composed mediocre.
    Oh, I would definitely agree with that. Erardi's article just concerned defense.

    As is said here on occasion, it's a different kind of suck.

    As you say, this is still a mediocre team.

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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    Reds need a 170 run improvement over 2008. Seems to me they basically have to max out offense, defense and pitching
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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    LF and especially RF will be HUGE improvements defensively when comparing the '09 Reds to the '08 Reds. Then if Gonzo can stay somewhat healthy and eventually knock off the rust at SS, I think we could be looking at a significant overall improvement. The Big Red Elephant in the room is whether Encarnacion will be an error machine again, or if he can show steady improvement on the routine plays (while continuing to make the occasional spectacular play as usual). That's a lot to fall into place, but just judging by the fact the Reds won't have a statue playing most of the games in RF this year, I think we're going to see a much-better defense. And then Dickerson/Gomes/Hairston will be a big improvement over Dunn in LF. Not as big as Bruce over Griffey in right, but still substantial.

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    Pitching is the thing WVRedsFan's Avatar
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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    We're playing in a bandbox, guys. Teams will get the cheap home run and it looks like that might be the opposition this year. I cannot figure out a lot of things going on, but I do know that to win you must hit and field. He used to be able to hit, but field? Not so much. Did we improve defense? We're somewhat better in right field (surely, Jay won't have the mental lapses like he did at times last year), shortstop (if Gonzo comes back at even 90%), and that's about it. Right field is a question mark and third base is a disaster (sorry all you EdE fans, but unless he does a complete 180, he simply is horrible if not worse than that). We didn't replace the bats of Dunn and Griffey (yet) and have become, or at least it seems, a smallball team? Give me a break.

    I'm very optimistic this time of year, but this article tends to bring me down. We have the pitching apparently, but we still can't field and our hitting has regressed. Is that improvement?
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    Member Ron Madden's Avatar
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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    Quote Originally Posted by Always Red View Post
    John Erardi, writing on Fay's blog, posts another well thought winner (and kudos, really, to Fay for recognizing it):

    http://news.cincinnati.com/apps/pbcs...cincinnati.com



    What do I think? I think that with money being tighter than last year, the FO (as a whole) has decided that they have already shelled out a lot of money for the pitching, and rather than pursue more bats that cannot field, have decided to maximize the defense. I also think this staff has a lot of promise, but it will take some hope and luck for it to improve from last years numbers (with essentially the same pitchers). I also think it will be very interesting to see how this approach will play in GABP. We have not seen the Reds get outslugged in Cincinnati for some time, but it might just happen in 2009.
    Thanks for post Always Red, Very good read.

    I'm 100% in agreement with your opinion of the situation.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again John Erardi is The Best Sports Writer in Cincinnati. I may not agree with everything he says but unlike the beat writers and sports talk host who only repeat Martys opinion, John Erardi works at his job.


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    Re: Erardi- "Speed and defense": Is the defense as good as we're being told?

    Sabermetricians, do you think it would be fair to say that going from one of the five-worst defenses to one of the five-best defenses would result in your pitchers allowing 30-50 runs over the course of a regular season?


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