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3.18.2004

Pedro, Pitching and Defense

The last two years, Brian Sabean has stressed that the Giants need to be built around pitching and defense to succeed in their spacious ballpark. There are parameters to such statements, of course. Barry Bonds' offensive value far outweighs his declining defensive skills; an outfield full of Barry Bondses would surely make up for its defensive shortcomings with unheard-of offensive firepower.

But other than Barry in left, the Giants' 2004 outfield is following Sabean's diktat: Grissom is very highly ranked-- 7th -- in 2003 defensive win shares for NL outfielders, although Kenny Lofton and Craig Biggio are also highly ranked, so I wonder how reliable these stats are. (Caveat: I understand there are many sabermetric ways to measure defensive prowess and each has proponents and detractors. If someone wants to convince me of the superiority of one method over the rest, I'm willing to be converted.)

Moving right along: Mohr and Tucker ranked 25 and 26 in defensive win shares among AL outfielders last year, quite good considering they each played roughly half to two-thirds of a season. (Hammonds played very little in 2003 and barely made the NL OF rankings.)

So other than Barry, the Giants OF philosophy is tilted toward defense...but hold on. According to the same chart, Bonds was ranked 19th in NL OF defensive win shares and merited 3.02 shares per 1000 innings, better than Juan Pierre, Preston Wilson, Shawn Green, Gary Sheffield and many others. Even better than Vlad. I'm not sure what to say, other than let's move to the infield...

The biggest test of Sabean's P-D Credo should come with the playing time of Pedro Feliz, whom Alou yesterday dubbed a "one-man utility infield." The more Feliz subs for Snow at 1st and Neifi at SS, the more Alou will be blowing the pitching-defense axis out of the water. Snow ranked 8th among NL 1st basemen last year, which I take to be a function of his lack of playing time (812 innings, compared to, say, Richie Sexson's 1452 innings). I think we can all agree that Snow is one of the top three defensive 1B'ers in the NL, if not in all of MLB. Feliz is not.

At short, Neifi is the best in the NL based on win shares per 1000 innings. No one who played on at least a part-time basis last year came close. Feliz has played one inning as a major league shortstop.

At third, one can only assume that Feliz will see significant time only if E-Alf is significantly injured. For what it's worth, last year Alfonzo had 2.92 def. win shares/1000 innings, Feliz had 4.99. Rumors had it that Alfonzo struggled in the field, too, not because he was homesick for his family and for New York, but because his back wasn't completely healed. He did look slow and heavy to my untrained eye.

Unless Feliz turns out to be a closet defensive genius at short and first, "pitching and defense" will go out the window when he starts at those positions. Which means he better produce enough with the bat to make up the difference between his defense and Neifi/JT's defense.



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