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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Yankees can't get any glove

The collective heart of baseball fans all over the Midwest goes out to the long-suffering fans of the New York Yankees.

There have been no World Series titles for the beleaguered Bronx Bombers since 2000. Last season, they watched as the archenemy Boston Red Sox walked away with a title for the first time in the post-spitball era.

Through Sunday, the Yankees were 4-8 and, worst of all, Boss Steinbrenner got mad. Really mad. That'll happen when your $200 million Hindenburg bursts into flames. Not since Michael Jackson allegedly offered a million dollars for the bones of the Elephant Man have we seen such a misappropriation of funds.

Poor, poor Yankees.

In scanning the frenzied panic emanating from the New York media, it appears the bulk of the blame is being heaped on the pitching staff.

That's not surprising, considering the Yankees' 5.33 team ERA ranks ahead of only the Royals in the AL pecking order.

Nevertheless, the New York media may be looking in the wrong place.

The Yankees' pitching staff has, indeed, underachieved, ranking in the middle of the pack in all of the most important pitching categories: home runs allowed, strikeouts and walks allowed.

But the unit that stands out in its ineptitude thus far is the Yankees' defense.

Through Sunday, the Yankees had committed six errors and were tied for second in the AL with a .986 fielding percentage, numbers that won't raise any red flags with casual baseball fans and mainstream scribes.

Those numbers should only reinforce one thing: Fielding percentage is virtually useless as a measure of defensive performance.

The Yankees' defense has been mind-numbingly, catastrophically bad so far this season. With a lineup made up mostly of players born during Nixon's first term, perhaps that's not surprising.

Entering Monday's game, the Yankees' team defensive efficiency record is .639, last in the league.

The league average is .702, and the next-worst team is the Orioles at .680. The Royals are at .686. What this means is that on balls hit into play, opponents are hitting .361 against the Yankees.

Another way to look at the issue is by examining the total bases allowed on the balls-in-play, a method that further penalizes teams with poor outfield defense. We'll call his stat $BASE.

Using $BASE, the picture is even more grim for the Yankees, who have allowed 153 total bases on balls-in-play. That computes to a $BASE of .449. Next worst in the AL is Texas at .390. The league average is .354.

So not only are the Yankees allowing more hits to drop in than other teams, they are allowing more damaging hits as well.

The Yankees rank near the bottom of the league in zone rating at a few positions, including the key defensive position of center field, where Bernie Williams is holding court. At third base, Alex Rodriguez's zone rating is about as bad as it can get for a player who is actually trying.

For those who root against the Yankees, this is all encouraging news. Unfortunately, the reality is that only two weeks have been played.

While it's interesting to look at the reasons why the Yankees have struggled, the fact of the matter is that there aren't nearly enough data to suggest anything like an actual trend.

In fact, it's far more likely that these extreme numbers will move back toward league levels. That's the nature of statistics. As the numbers normalize, the Yankees will begin to win again.

Don't go mailing those sympathy cards to your friends who are Yankees fans just yet.

However, when you are dealing with results this extreme, you have to wonder whether the decline and fall of the Yankees are finally at hand.

Keep an eye on these defensive numbers.

If they don't improve, the least of the Yankees' worries will be overtaking the Red Sox. They'll be fending off the Orioles and Blue Jays as well.

Off $BASE

Here is a look at the American League rankings in $BASE, which measures total bases allowed on balls-in-play, ranked from worst to best:






TEAMBIP$TB$BASE
Yankees341153.449
Rangers398155.390
Angels339129.381
Royals356133.373
Red Sox327121.370
Tigers327120.367
Orioles333119.356
Devil Rays340118.348
White Sox317106.334
Blue Jays346114.329
Indians340109.320
Mariners342106.310
Athletics31196.309
Twins31195.307
AL AVG.338120.354
***

NOTES:
I couldn't squeeze in everything that I wanted to in the print version of the article. What I've done the piece is to analyze the Yankees' run-prevention platoon from the opposite pole of most of the 'analysis' I saw in scanning the New York papers. Instead of blaming the pitching staff, I've blamed the defense - which isn't something I've seen in the other articles. And I think that the reason for this oversight is that the team hasn't made many errors.

Don't forget: you can't make an error on a ball you never get to. For the Yankees, there have been a lot of those. A good test of this would be to compare team zone ratings to the DER rankings. They should pretty much be linear with one another, in the long run. But with a small data set like these early 2005 figures, teams that have a large number of balls hit into the 'unmeasurable' zones left out of zone ratings would stand out. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that ESPN is going to publish zone rating info this season. CNN/SI publishes it at the individual level but not the team level. Alas.

As for the pitching it has been pretty lame. Besides the middle-of-the-pack peripheals, check out the pitching stats over at The Hardball Times. The Yankees are last in line-drive percentage allowed and pop flies induced - by a wide margin. This can't be helping the defense. In fact, I suspect this explains why the defense, which would likely be at the bottom of the league anyway, ranks so far below everybody else.

The Royals, by the way, rank pretty well in these categories.

History of DER

Check out the following numbers:

YR

LG

DER


YR

LG

DER

1982

AL

.7061


1993

AL

.6952

1982

NL

.7021


1993

NL

.6948

1983

AL

.7005


1994

AL

.6891

1983

NL

.7030


1994

NL

.6897

1984

AL

.7004


1995

AL

.6923

1984

NL

.6993


1995

NL

.6908

1985

AL

.7049


1996

AL

.6849

1985

NL

.7069


1996

NL

.6896

1986

AL

.7000


1997

AL

.6864

1986

NL

.7026


1997

NL

.6903

1987

AL

.6988


1998

AL

.6876

1987

NL

.6974


1998

NL

.6925

1988

AL

.7039


1999

AL

.6850

1988

NL

.7101


1999

NL

.6898

1989

AL

.7001


2000

AL

.6856

1989

NL

.7114


2000

NL

.6903

1990

AL

.7009


2001

AL

.6907

1990

NL

.7029


2001

NL

.6944

1991

AL

.7019


2002

AL

.6967

1991

NL

.7071


2002

NL

.6971

1992

AL

.7043


2003

AL

.6964

1992

NL

.7069


2003

NL

.6959

TOTAL

82-92

.7032


2004

AL

.6901





2004

NL

.6950





TOTAL

93-04

.6914


Between the 1992 and 1993 seasons, there was a precipitice drop in DER. And it's not just an aggregate change either - virtually every yearly league figure in the '82-92 period is higher than virtually every league figure from 1993 through last season.

I have no explanation for this but, then again, I haven't looked for it, either. Any theories out there?

1 Comments:

Blogger Steve said...

I wonder how much Colorado joining the NL in 1993 has anything to do with defensive efficiency. Of course, that would account for the NL drop at most. I also wonder how much the change in team philosophy emphasizing power at the expense of everything else for position players has affected these stats.

4:20 PM  

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