A lot has been made out of the Giants’ defense in the coming years as a key component to their success. It’s a good idea in theory, as the offense looks to be bad for the ’08 season and maybe beyond. Any positives gained on the defensive front will be critical to the team. As of now, the Giants’ bats look to be a bottom 5 offense in the entire majors — in 2007, only the Nationals scored less runs than the Giants — the Giants won’t be able to lose runs on defense and get them back by hitting homers.
I think if you asked the average baseball fan, and even the average Giants fan, what they thought about the defense in 2007, they’d most likely say something negative. After all, you had a creeky-knee’d Bonds bumbling around LF, a 40 year old shortstop still defying age, an overweight catcher who tied the league lead for passed balls, and Ray Durham who’s days of being an adequate defender at second are long gone. Here’s the thing…
The team defense was actually pretty good in 2007.
Judging the team by THT’s Team stats page and using their plus/minus system for defense, the results are shockingly positive. As a team, the Giants’ fielders rated as a +27 for team defense. The much publicized Rockies’ defense tied for the lead in the National League with a +58 along with the Braves. The Padres also had a strong defense at +55. The teams that did the worst were the Marlins -102, the Pirates -64, and the Brewers -48. The average NL team was a +5 and sported a Revised Zone Rating of .818, the Giants once again were at a +27 and had a RZR of .829, 10 points above the average NL team.
How could this be? The Giants got great defense out of 3B (Feliz), SS (Omar), and RF (Winn). By the Fielding Bible, one of my favorite defensive metrics, Pedro Feliz was the best defender in baseball at the hot corner with a score of +27. Omar was a +20 by the FB and Randy Winn was a +13 by the FB. The Giants got good defense out of 1B, Klesko with a +8 from the FB. The team got bad defense from 2B, C, LF and awful defense from CF. Durham was -10 by the Bible and while I haven’t seen Bonds’ stats from the bible, I’m betting that they aren’t great. I think his defense has been overstated the past few years, he’s not great but he has tended to hover around replacement level. For what it’s worth, UZR hated Bonds this year and gave him a -22, somewhere between Pat Burrel and Carlos Lee defensively. Molina was a poor defender and Dave Roberts was the third worst CF in the majors with a score of -19 according to the Fielding Bible. UZR had Roberts at -26, at this point in his career, he’s a left fielder.
Some of this stuff is repeated from the Rowand post but let’s go through it and some other stuff.
Why the Defense Could Improve
- First and foremost is getting Dave Roberts out of center field. At this point in his career he has no business in center and especially not in the large outfields of the NL West. Aaron Rowand’s defense should help the Giants save some runs. A lot of people are split on Rowand’s defense, opinions range from good to overated. This past Friday, Dan Fox of BP, held a chat centered mostly on defensive questions. I submitted the following question to Dan and got an answer:
Chris (Harrisonburg, VA): I seem to hear a lot of chatter on the defensive abilities of newly acquired center fielder for the San Francisco Giants, Aaron Rowand. I’ve heard everything from he’s overrated to he’s pretty good, what gives?
Dan Fox: I was thinking about that one myself. I have him at -6.8 but I know UZR has him as the best CF in the NL at +14. This could be a case of those “out of zone” type plays making a big difference. I’m hopeful that in making some adjustments we’ll figure out whether this is the case or not.
UZR loved Rowand but Fox’s system still has some questions about him. The Giants don’t necessarily need Rowand to be the “best CF in the NL” but if he can play slightly above average, it’s going to help out. I’ll be anxious to watch Rowand in CF with my own two eyes.
- Moving Roberts into LF and replacing Bonds’ defense is going to help as well. In 2006 Roberts was rated as the best LF in all of baseball by the Fielding Bible with a +16. LF will hide Roberts poor arm and help use some of his speed which just isn’t quite enough for center field now. I’m not sure what the Fielding Bible has Bonds rated at, but if you gave him a conservative estimate of -15, it’s possible to see a +25 point turn around by defense alone in left in ’08.
- Durham is traded and Kevin Frandsen is given the starting job at second base. Alright, this one is a little bit of a fantasy scenario right now as Durham is still on the team, but if he’s moved the Giants will see their right side of the infield improve from a defensive standpoint. Durham was -10 in ’07 by the Fielding Bible and if Frandsen can play around 0 or above, it’ll help. Frandsen struggled throughout ’07 but so did Durham, it’s possible that he could both out-hit and out-field Durham in ’08. I expect Ray to bounce back with the bat some but it’s hard to tell at this point.
Why the Defense Might Get Worse
- Losing Feliz will hurt the left side of the infield. He’s simply the best defensive third baseman in baseball right now. If they replace him with someone like Ensberg, who’s been a above average fielding third baseman in his career, the dropoff might not be enormous.
- This might seem unfair, but can Omar keep it up? He’ll be a 41 year old shortstop in 2008. 41-year-old shortstops are rare enough — Limited to guys like Smith, Wagner, and Apling — but 41-year-old defensive masters at shortstop are even rarer. I can’t think of anyone outside of Ozzie Smith who was defensively great at the number 6 position at age 41. We all saw how fast Omar’s bat left him and if his glove starts to leave him the same way, look out. The potential for the left side of the infield to run into some problems is there.
I think the outfield defense is looking pretty good so far in 2008, whether or not they’ll be able to contribute offensively is a whole ‘nother post, but on paper they look good. The team essentially has three CF’s (well, maybe not Roberts these days) playing the three outfield positions. A outfield of Roberts-Rowand-Winn looks like it should be able to get to a lot of flyballs hit by the opposition.
The infield is another question. To me the infield defense hinges on a few questions. Will the Giants trade or bench Durham? Will Omar still be able to field like a 26-year-old? And, how the team replaces Feliz’s glove. I’m not optimistic for Bengie’s “gold glove defense” to come back, his age and weight tell me that he’s only going to get worse. First base isn’t a concern either because it’s the least demanding of the defensive positions, I’d rather the team focus on someone who can hit at that position, but thats just me.