Monday, April 12, 2004

In, I believe, the second game of the Texas series, a Ranger batted a ball up the middle. Adam Kennedy got there, but bobbled the ball and could not make a play. Physioc and Hud were unanimous: this should be an error. Why? Because (paraphrase): Kennedy usually makes that play.

The implicit suggestion is that, if Kennedy did not usually make that play, then it should be scored a hit. In this case, the scorer demurred, and the Ranger received the base hit. But isn't this a common thought? If this particular player doesn't make a play he usually makes, it's an error, whereas this guy, over here, who never makes that play, we won't charge an error to him.

Therefore a good defender, by this logic, is more likely to be charged with an error than a lesser defender -- on the exact same play.

Just Exhibit 1,230 in the case against fielding percentage, when you get down to it.

But this is a springboard: how does the Angels defense look so far this year?

In terms of Defensive Efficiency Record (the percentage of batted balls converted to outs), they have done quite poorly: their .621 ranks dead last in the majors. This isn't necessarily the fault of the defense; DIPS teaches us that pitchers have less control over the batted ball than we thought, but this is over the course of a season or a career, not one week. Our pitchers have been drilled, and many of the balls put in play have been uncatchable. This is the sort of thing that evens out as a season progresses.

Still, it's clear that balls are not being turned into outs, and it may well be in large part due to the fielders. Let's look at the Angel defense more closely. Richard at the Pearly Gates has some strong words for our outfield defense, which he says "might as well be rooted to the ground." Is this visual observation (which I share to some degree) accurate?

Thankfully, the rate by which outfielders convert flyballs to outs is easy to determine. Simply divide outfield putouts by the sum of flyballs less home runs allowed. The Angels have allowed 59 flyballs into play (66 flies less 7 home runs), and have 31 putouts.

This is a rate of .525. Where does this rank in the majors?

Dead last.

Last year, by contrast, the Angels scored a .694 in this category, good for sixth in the majors. And in 2002? Their .697 led the league and was one point short of the Cardinals MLB-leading .698.

Now, of course not all flyballs are created equal, and this is a small sample size. The New York Mets rank next-to-last in this measure (.550), and they have a fine centerfielder in Mike Cameron. However, Cameron has had an off-week, with an .818 Zone Rating -- about 100 points below his norms. Many of the pitchers are just getting drilled out there, which is a big part of it this early in the season.

However, as there was already a risk moving Erstad from the outfield, this is a problem the Angels need to keep their eye on. If we've played about a month or so and the Angel outfield is still struggling to catch balls (trailers in this category are in the .590 range, so it will come up), the Angels will need to reconsider their defensive alignment.

This will not happen.

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