Archive for July, 2006

The Deadline – How We got it

Monday, July 31st, 2006

With the trade deadline looming in the future it’s only proper that some might wonder why, and how there ever became a trade deadline. It’s hard to find the exact moment in time that the rule was instituted, but we know it occurred in 1923 and we know it occurred following the trades in late 1921 and 1922. Of course we also know that 1921 was a watermark year in the sport, it was the first season that the power of that Ruth brought to the game began to show up throughout the league. It was the first season of Judge Landis’ long tenure and it was the first time the Giants and the Yankees would meet in the last nine game series what would become a regular battle for the world’s championship and the heart of New Yorkers. This battle would rage on for 36 more years and finally the original New York team, the Giants would be the team that fled the town in search of a loving fan base as the Yankees would become loved… and hated all across America.

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Defense – Baseball’s Wallflower.

Monday, July 24th, 2006

Sitting the corner at the big dance is a beautiful girl, hidden behind her glasses and underwhelming clothes is a prize. Alas there she sits in the shadows, underappreciated and unloved by most, her name?

Defense.

The Reds have been swinging around the dance floor for the past 5 years, switching partners, losing dates, always being a wallflower towards the end of the night, tired and alone again. But in the shadows there is a partner that is not as sexy as the others, not as outrageous, noticeable or flashy… but steady and committed to success, and that my friends is defense.

Like dance defense is a rhythm, it’s an all-connecting presence of none intrusive success. Good defense usually will begat more quality defense and in its fabric we find the ying of defense matching up well with the yang of pitching. In the world of baseball a pitcher unimpressed and afraid of the defense behind him is a waste, he’ll nibble to avoid hard hit balls towards the men he questions, he’ll pick his way through a lineup, afraid of what will happen with each pitch and even more afraid when the weight of the game falls on the execution of these questionable characters who back him up on the field of play. This is where the Reds have been the last few years, wallowing in the filth of horrible pitching the Reds had fallen on the mound and in the field and hidden beneath the horrible pitching was the fact that the Reds defense was somewhat putrid, somewhat not right, and defiantly not the defense that Reds fans had become accustomed to in the past 55 years.

Around 15% of the outs made in the field are made at shortstop, 13% by second baseman and 18% by the centerfielder in 2005 the Reds pitching accounted for 22% of the outs made. This year it’s 23.75%. Either way you look at it the Reds defense like most teams is asked to a lot of the work in reducing base runners, a good defense can help the pitcher by reducing errors, hits and increasing double plays. When the defense does this it helps prevent runs and enhances the chance of winning, for as we all know the only thing that matters in the stat world is runs and everything else is subordinate to that reality.

In the past 4 months the Reds have addressed the two up the middle positions with an approach that is purely going to look at athleticism and fielding ability first, in the future I expect the centerfield position to be addressed, but currently the 500 lb gorilla out there makes that a secondary task. Brandon Phillips might be the shortstop of the future, or someone else could be the next link in the chain known as the “Power of Tradition.”

Traditionally good defense is a tool to help your team over the at least one half of the hump, the Reds as a team haven’t had less then 100-team errors since 1997 and they haven’t led the National League in the least amount errors since they last won a title of any sort in 1995. Of course with the bulk of the defense responsibility hinging on middle defense the Power of Tradition points right at the shortstop position in Cincinnati.

A position that has be discussed here before and will probably be discussed again and again over the next few years as well.

Alongside with low errors usually comes a diminished ERA, along with a diminished ERA comes less runs allowed and with that usually comes wins. But where is the line drawn? Where does the team start paying for defense, especially in a world of that can’t quantify it?

Is the game looked at in the way our fantasy baseball absorbed fan base wants it? Or is it the way that Earl Weaver described it?

“The only thing that matters is what happens on that little lump out in the middle of the field?”

Since the Reds last could boast of a season ending winning record they have they have proven that whatever has happened out there on that lump hasn’t exactly been good, and a good part of that can probably be attributed to the defense.

ERA vs. the league average

RUNS                             R       ERA      PCT
1    Rockies                    3575    -1.04     .435
2    Reds                       3456     -.70     .457
3    Brewers                    3148     -.27     .420
4    Diamondbacks               3114     -.17     .478
5    Padres                     3077     -.18     .461
6    Pirates                    3044     -.17     .443
7    Phillies                   2928     0.01     .526
8    Marlins                    2887     0.06     .519
9    Nationals                  2876     0.19     .485
10   Mets                       2836     0.17     .457
11   Cubs                       2821     0.20     .498
12   Giants                     2769     0.24     .559
13   Cardinals                  2737     0.35     .597
14   Astros                     2679     0.38     .543
15   Braves                     2647     0.50     .601
16   Dodgers                    2638     0.43     .526

Inside of this below average ERA are many factors, one of them has been targeted by the recent regime (Krivsky) and it is the shortstop position, the recent trade that shocked the Reds fan base and has further manifested this concern.

Have the Reds shot their foot off?

Or were they aware of Felipe Lopez’s limitations at short and his impending payday?

It was almost obvious that Felipe never was the chosen one to take the baton from Larkin, it was the utter failure of Dave Miley and Rich Aurilia combo that finally got him to the position, but 14 months later he leaves the team with 326 games played at short, slotting him at number 17 in games played on the Reds all-time shortstop list, right a head of Darrel Chaney and right behind Buck Herzog.

But why was he sent off, why did the Reds trade a shortstop who could hit for power, take a walk and steal a bag.

Defense is the only plausible answer, well and that and that money thing, but the combination of the two likely propelled Wayne Krivsky to move Felipe Lopez in the midst of the season and in my opinion it’s the defense that scared the Reds the most.

In the Fielding Bible by John Dewan, Lopez was ranked in the bottom five of shortstops in the National League last year. This season the Reds are currently 12th in team defense efficiency in the NL.

Since Roy McMillan first pulled on his Reds jersey Cincinnatians have had the pleasure to watch nothing but slick leather from their shortstops, however when Larkin retired this changed.

By mid season this year it was getting clearer that Lopez was having a tough year at SS, whispers of a position flop with Brandon Phillips were thrown about in the press and in cyberspace, some might say that it was too soon to worry, while others said that it was the real Lopez this year and that the last year was highlighted by the waning of Aurilia, whose shortstop play was horrendous in its limited appearance. However this years insertion of Phillips at 2nd and Encarnacion at 3rd has provide the Reds with a look at rangy young players whose play often highlighted their skill set and besides them Felipe Lopez the fielder often looked second rate.

Felipe has a .954 fielding percentage this year (.970 last year), if you were to look at the 100 worst SS seasons by NL teams since Roy McMillan became a Red you will find 3 Reds seasons in that list.

1968 #96
1987 #31
2003 #20

If you go and look at the next 100 shortstop seasons you’ll find only 3 more.

1970 #132
1986 #167
1964 #173

That’s an impressive 3% of the worst seasons put in by a shortstop since 1951, the best rate for any NL team, out of a total of 644 seasons.

What can we find in those poor seasons?, well each season aside from 1964 was a combination of rookies, or outgoing vets and journeymen filling in, and only 1970 could boast of being a successful season. The majority of those seasons were transition seasons and with transition often comes erratic performance.

1964
FIELDING PERCENTAGE         PCT       G
Leo Cardenas               .960      163

1968
FIELDING PERCENTAGE         PCT       G
Leo Cardenas               .955      136
Woody Woodward             .968       41

1970
FIELDING PERCENTAGE         PCT       G
Darrel Chaney              .941       30
Dave Concepcion            .945       93
Woody Woodward             .973       77
Tommy Helms               1.000       12

1986
FIELDING PERCENTAGE         PCT       G
Wade Rowdon                .893        6
Kurt Stillwell             .951       80
Dave Concepcion            .965       60
Barry Larkin               .976       36

1987
FIELDING PERCENTAGE         PCT       G
Kurt Stillwell             .914       51
Barry Larkin               .965      119

2003
FIELDING PERCENTAGE         PCT       G
Felipe Lopez               .928       50
Rainer Olmedo              .928       51
Barry Larkin               .962       60
Juan Castro               1.000       24

With his current fielding percentage of .954 Lopez was on his way to establishing the 3rd worst fielding performance by a Reds shortstop since Harry Truman was in office. And despite his speed, despite his power and despite his on-base skills this aspect of his game was the final measuring stick that the Reds used to measure Felipe Lopez’s game and it was the main reason that they decided that he wasn’t out the Reds shortstop to continue the Power of Tradition.

The Reds have experienced the worst team ERA since the 1890’s in each of the last 3 seasons and the team pitching and fielding have provided the Reds with nothing to cheer about, all while the hitting has eclipsed records established 50 years prior. This has its merits, but lends itself to a feeling of helplessness as the offense can’t seem to have a night off for fear that the pitching and defense can’t keep it close enough that a run or two on the offensive side will just be enough.

A pitchers ERA can be affected by four factors, the league that the player plays in, the ballpark in which the pitcher pitches ½ his games in, the bullpen that cleans up the pitchers mess and the defense that backs him up on every pitch.

The Reds recent trade, despite its warts is an attempt to fix the last two of the foursome listed above and that’s not a bad thing in the wake of five losing seasons in a row and eight of the last ten. The problem is this years shortstop log will likely end up looking like the poor years listed above, marked with spotty play from crafty veterans and uninspired play by men who probably won’t be at shortstop in two years.

Transition is a pain, and you know what they say… “No Pain, No Gain.”