Improved defense helps Yanks get to the top

An eighth inning solution: Alfredo Aceves
Report: Wang to start tomorrow

When the Yanks’ streak of 18 consecutive games without an error ended on a Jorge Posada errant throw last night, it ended a fun little streak, but not one that tells us much of anything about the Yanks defense. You can’t make an error on a ball you can’t get to, after all. But as Peter Gammons notes, the Yanks took off when Alex Rodriguez returned not because of the extra offense, but because the pitching staff finally righted itself.

Recently, the Yankees have gone on a big-time roll and taken first place in the AL East, all after the return of Alex Rodriguez. However, the key difference hasn’t been offense, although the tandem of A-Rod and Mark Teixeira is similar to what David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez once were with Boston. With A-Rod and Teixeira in the order, the Yankees’ runs per game have only risen slightly. The Yankees’ ERA, though, has dropped by more than two runs, as CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain and Co. have come together as a power rotation.

The Yankees’ rotation is made up of hard throwers who get minimal hard contact, and put little pressure on the defense. Teixeira, the owner of two Gold Gloves, has made the infield much better, and Melky Cabrera‘s defensive matrix is the best of any major league center fielder. Last year, the Yankees were near the bottom in defensive efficiency, but this year they are 13th out of 30 major league teams.

I’m not sure what defensive matrix Gammons is referring to, but UZR has Melky at a studly 13.4 in CF. When he moves over to RF, that mark improves to 24.3 and Brett Gardner adds his 19.3 UZR to the mix. Gone is Bobby Abreu and his -25.3 UZR last year and in comes Nick Swisher‘s just about league average -0.3 mark. Robinson Cano has improved his UZR by 12.5 runs from last year. You don’t need any fancy stats to tell you the difference between Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira at first, and even Derek Jeter has gone from -0.7 UZR last year to 3.0 this year, the highest total FanGraphs has for the Cap’n. As a team, the Yanks have gone from a squad with a -5.4 UZR rating last year, third worst in baseball, to a better than league average UZR at 0.4 this year, good enough for 14th in the league.

By no means are the Yankees a great defensive squad, but as Joe Girardi said, they “make the plays they’re supposed to.” They couldn’t even do that last year. Better defense means more batted balls are turned into outs. More outs means fewer pitches by the pitchers, and fewer pitches by the pitchers means fewer innings thrown by the bullpen. It’s the baseball circle of life, and it’s helped the Yanks to the best record in the American League.

An eighth inning solution: Alfredo Aceves
Report: Wang to start tomorrow
  • Joe R

    I dont understand UZR too well, but I would think Teixeira should be positive this year, no? He’s yet to make an error in the field. Can anyone shed some light?

    • Rob in CT

      Errors factor in, but UZR (ultimate zone rating) is more about range. I’m no expert on it, but the basic idea is that a certain number of balls are hit into a player’s zone, and that player turns whatever number of them into outs. Apparently, compared to the average, Tex hasn’t been anything special. Our eyes tell us he’s been quite good. There are three possibilities: 1) this is a sample size issue and by the end of the year UZR and our eyes will agree; 2) our eyes lie; 3) UZR lies.

    • Thomas

      UZR is a stat showing how many runs a defender is with respect the average based on range run and error runs. However, for a first baseman the key to defense is mainly catching throws, which Teixeira is very good at and this is not taken into account by UZR.

      • Doug

        But how do you explain the fact that Tex’s UZR has dropped from 10.6 last year to -.4 this year? Has his range “narrowed” that worse in just one season? Can the change of leagues have any impact?

        • andrew

          A change of leagues could only have an impact if he changed leagues. its been 25% of the season, he will probably improve on it as the year goes along.

          • pete

            also, UZR takes into account all balls hit into a players “range,” but doesn’t take into account how hard they are hit. The harder the ball is hit, the less time a player has to get to it, thus the smaller his range. The yankees staff was pretty terrible in april, which may have led to a lot of balls ripped to the right side, getting by tex based on how hard they are hit. If the pitching continues like this, i would imagine fewer balls will be hit as hard down the line or in the hole in areas that would be considered within his range but realistically are just hit too hard. Just a theory though.

    • Joe R

      Thanks.

    • JP

      Corner infield positions are tough to rate, defensively. Tougher than SS 2b, as I understand it.

      If you have an aggressive 3b with great range, maybe the SS range looks poor by comparison, since the 3b is taking some of his grounders. Cano has excellent range; maybe this has something to do with it…

  • Rob in CT

    There’s UZR and UZR/150. You’re using the latter, which takes what they’ve done so far and projects it out over the course of the season at their current level (unless I’ve misunderstood how they do that).

    Jeter is at +.4 UZR right now (with just barely below-average range but compensating by making few errors), which (somehow) projects out to +3 over 150 games. I’m not sure how (49 games played so far, almost exactly 1/3 of 150. .4 x 3 = 1.2).

    The Yanks are 5th in the AL by defensive efficiency, last I checked, at .699. Texas & Toronto are tied at the top (.706), then comes Detroit (!), the Twins, and then the Yanks.

  • John

    And this while A-rod isn’t up to full speed yet at 3rd. As he improves, the defense improves that much more.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    You don’t need any fancy stats to tell you the difference between Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira at first…

    … but they don’t hurt.

    Mark Teixeira, 2009:
    425 inn, -0.4 UZR

    Jason Giambi, 2008:
    898 inn, -6.1 UZR

  • Jake H

    Gammon’s sucks and when I read his article I was a little surprised that about what he said concerning Melky.

  • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

    I wrote on this exact same thing earlier today.

    • Thomas

      But did you copyright it?

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    My breakdown of our outfield defense from 2004-2009 (details behind the link) from the post about the errorless streak yesterday:

    http://riveraveblues.com/2009/06/more-than-just-an-error-free-record-12536/#comment-411118

    2004 Yankee outfield: Matsui, Williams, Sheffield, Lofton, Crosby, Sierra
    Aggregate UZR, 2004: -76.1

    2005 Yankee outfield: Matsui, Williams, Sheffield, Womack, Crosby, Sierra, Lawton
    Aggregate UZR, 2005: -85.8

    2006 Yankee outfield: Cabrera, Damon, Abreu, Williams, Matsui, Sheffield, Guiel, Crosby, Thompson
    Aggregate UZR, 2006: -39.2

    2007 Yankee outfield: Cabrera, Abreu, Matsui, Damon
    Aggregate UZR, 2007: -13.6

    2008 Yankee outfield: Abreu, Cabrera, Damon, Nady, Gardner, Matsui
    Aggregate UZR, 2008: -17.4

    2009 Yankee outfield: Damon, Swisher, Gardner, Cabrera, Nady
    Aggregate UZR, 2009: +6.3

    • Ivan

      Yo from 04 to 08 were just plain ugly right there.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Less Sheffield, Matsui, Bernie, and Abreu in the field + more Melky, Gardner, Swisher, and Damon in LF instead of CF = dramatic turnaround in OF defense.

        Sad fact: In 2006, Bernie Williams recorded a +0.3 UZR in 200 innings in CF in relief of Johnny Damon.

        It was the only single positive UZR rating that Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui or Bobby Abreu ever recorded in pinstripes (they’ve been keeping the stat since 2002). Every other full or partial season at ANY of the three OF spots for all four of those players resulted in a negative UZR. Collectively, they’re like a good 150 runs below average for their time in pinstripes.

    • http://www.votepaulformayor.blogspot.com jsbrendog

      womack, lawton….wow, on top of the 04 debacle that 05 roster just made me hate that team even more…

  • MikeD

    I believe Gammons is looking at the Yankees defensive number overall in CF and he’s attributing all of it to Melky, not realizing the Gardner and Melky have pretty much split the time. FanGraphs will show a team number for each position. That said, Melky has been very strong, where Gardner has been off-the-charts good. If fact, Gardner has been so strong, that he pulls the entire Yankee OF into a positive rating. Gardner in center and Melky in right would be the Yankees strongest defensive OF.

    As for Teixeira, his ratings are lower than one might expect in the early going, yet this is not a surprise as 1B is regarded by many as the most challenging position to rate defensively by metrics, leading to some wide gaps between the numbers and reality.

    • CountryClub

      I think you’re right about him lumping Gardner and Melky together. At least that would be my guess.

    • Rob in CT

      Yep, that’s it alright. Makes sense.

      Speaking of that best defensive OF, I think they showed it last night. Gardner tracked down a couple of balls that were smoked, and Melky made 1 or 2 nice catches too. Burnett owes them dinner.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    More outs means fewer pitches by the pitchers, and fewer pitches by the pitchers means fewer innings thrown by the bullpen.

    any chance you’ve got numbers to back this up? this makes absolute sense to me and i’m not challenging you, i’m just wondering what the numbers actually ARE.

    • Rob in CT

      Defensive efficiency, AL:

      TEX – .706
      TOR – .706
      DET – .705
      MIN – .701
      NYY – .699

      5th in the AL at turning balls in play into outs.

      • Thomas

        Imagine how much higher the Yanks would rank if they didn’t have to play Berroa and his -62 UZR/150 at 3rd for 44 innings.

        • Rob in CT

          3B is the biggest weakness, and we can’t really assume that ARod will improve this season given the injury & partial repair job. Look at Mike Lowell’s UZR this year (hint: bad). Same injury.

          • Thomas

            I don’t expect a typical A-Rod fielding year, but he still will be much better than Berroa (though obviously Berroa’s stats are a small sample).

          • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

            Even Chase Utley is down (-0.1 per 150).

          • JP

            Small sample size…3b is hard to rate. Overall numbers for A-Rod at third suggest he is a good 3b.

            I don’t pretend to be able to accurately rate or rank A-Rod defensively. But I don’t think he is a defensive liability. Not at all.

        • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

          On a more serious note, if A-Rod (-27.8 UZR/150) were healthy, it’d be much better.

          Regardless of A-Rod’s struggles, it’s nice to see DJ on the positive side of the UZR scale.

          • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

            stupid question:
            how does pena compare to Arod at 3rd?

            in terms of defense, can taking Arod out of games when we have the lead late improve (or at least not significantly worsen) our defense? it sure seems like if we could give him one or two innings a day off it would take a great deal of stress of his hip.

            obviously, taking into account the next inning’s order, etc, has a big impact, and i’m not advocating taking him out when its really close–just in case we need his bat again.

            but if he made the last out in the seventh…two innings off?

            • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

              As of right now, Pena’s at 4.0 UZR/150 in 120something innings at third, so he’s a big improvement in the field over Rodriguez at this point.

              • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

                …so to say take Arod out after his ‘last’ at-bat of a game wouldn’t be altogether nuts! especially under the guise of making sure we don’t overuse him while he is still recovering/this year in general.

                where did you find that? i’d like to see pena’s numbers at short too!

                • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

                  Fan Graphs.

      • http://www.votepaulformayor.blogspot.com jsbrendog

        texas had or has the best or one of the top 5 overall stafs in the al too right?

  • Ivan

    Well the D has improve no doubt. Tex and Cano on the right side are as good as it gets defensively. Melky is a very good fielder and heck even Jeter is not fuckin up anymore.

    It also that the yanks pitching staff K’s people.

    Hughes: 8.05 K/9
    Chamberlain: 8.61 k/9
    Burnett: 8.24 K/9
    CC Sabathia: 6.46 k/9

    • http://thebaseballdiarist.wordpress.com Kaitlin B.

      Wow. CC’s K/9 is really off from his career averages. When does it get to a point where we start worrying?

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        2011.

      • OmgZombies

        When his era and WHIP are higher than his career norms. I have a feeling his K/9 will be nearing 8 in a couple months though.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    I’m not sure what defensive matrix Gammons is referring to…

    The VBDI? The Vitale Bald Dome Index?

    • Ivan

      So what is Pedroia then?

      • Rob in CT

        Mighty Midget.

  • Mike HC

    The pitching and defense go hand in hand. It is all about run prevention, and good pitching helps D, and vice versa. I also believe the Yanks D has improved this year even standing on its own, with the addition of Teix, improved Cano, Damon full time left, Swisher replacing Abreu, and Melky/Gardner full time in center. The team is obviously going in the right direction and finally realizes that a DH outfield will not cut it. I hope to see continued improvement as the year goes on, or at least being able to sustain this pace. This analysis was done after the wants went a “defensive streak,” or sorts, so it may be slightly misleading if they fall back to the norm a bit.

    • Mike HC

      haha … ***not the “wants” but the Yanks … not sure I slipped that in there

  • Moshe Mandel

    I’m not a huge fan of UZR or defensive statistics in general. I think that there is still a lot of work to be done in quantifying defense. You see huge fluctuations from season to season in UZR for individual players, which seems strange and suggests to me that there are major flaws in the metric. Further, just to be snarky, Tex being slightly below average means the stat needs to die. Ok, maybe not.

    • Moshe Mandel

      Just to add, I am typically sabermetrically inclined, and have no problem with using UZR. I just think that in regards to defense, we need to use numbers and our eyes much more than you do when judging offense, where most of the game can be properly quantified.

      • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

        Defensive stats will forever be imperfect unless something like Questec for fielders gets developed. UZR fluctuates because, frankly, players fluctuate on defense. The best way, IMO, to get a good numerically based judgment on a player’s defense is to combine as many systems as possible–UZR, ZR, +/-, FRAR/A, PMR, etc. and see what the trend is.

        • Moshe Mandel

          Yeah, that makes sense to me. Just as an aside, I think Tex has been good based on ZR, if I recall what RLYW posted last week. Looking at it the way you suggest, he has been very good.

      • JP

        +1

  • BklynJT

    OFF TOPIC:

    WFAN reports that Wang starts tomorrow and Hughes to the bullpen for the time being

    • OmgZombies

      Whoa major news if it happened. I dont like Hughes as just a bullpen arm but if hes somehow used properly then it would be an advantage to the Yankees.

    • mustang

      Wow just heard that from a friend myself. As much as people here wouldn’t like it i thinking it’s the right move. They can always go back

    • OmgZombies

      Wait a minute thats fukking gay. I just got tickets from someone here and was looking forward to CC not Wang.

      • BklynJT

        Sorry, I may have confused Wang as starting tomorrow or the day after. All I’m sure I heard was that Wang will take Hughes’ spot in the rotation

        • OmgZombies

          No its weird that they would push back CC of all people. Lohud and other sites have it Wang tomorrow as well.

          Just my luck. I feel like posting on FML

    • radnom

      I’m hoping that by “bullpen” they mean “AAA”.

      Ugh.

    • JP
  • touchtoneterriost

    I bet no one cares Hughes is in the pen even though he is more of a stater then Joba.Sad.People will love to mess with Hughes and Wang(Real Starter) future but peopl go crazy if Joba went to the pen.It’s not like you can’t do both(John Smoltz).

    • BklynJT

      How is Hughes more of a starter than Joba? Joba has more pitches and throws them better.

      Oh let me guess, because Joba had success in the pen before???

    • Will

      I care about Hughes in the pen, but as long as he builds his innings limit and continues to develop against big league hitters, it’ll be ok.

      I just hope this is a way of keeping him in the majors and developing his stuff, rather than a permanent switch from rotation to pen.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=15305165&ref=profile Doug

      What?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=15305165&ref=profile Doug

      I can barely read this.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      OAKTAG

  • touchtoneterriost

    BklynJT:

    Joba has proven to be better in the pen and is a decent starter.So he made the transition well even though he hasn’t shown the same dominate form.

    We don’t know if Hughes can make the transition like John Smoltz did.Isn’t the Joba to the rotation people whole point was you are messing up Joba’s future by sticking him in the pen.

    But it’s okay for Hughes who never has been a reliever.Joba should be our John Smoltz a starter/set-up men.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      A) Most of the anti-Joba to the bullpen people are generally anti Hughes to the pen as well. So, your argument is generally a strawman.

      B) Joba has been more dominant as a starter than as a reliever. So, that part of your argument is batshit insane.

      C) John Smoltz wasn’t moved to the bullpen until his 30’s. Horrible comp.

      D) WHAT THE FUCK IS A TERRIOST??!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?

      • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops
      • andrew

        Joba has been more dominant as a starter than as a reliever. So, that part of your argument is batshit insane.

        Of all the things to argue about Joba being in the rotation, this is not one of them. Joba has definitely been more dominant in the bullpen. He’s pitched less innings in the pen, but there’s no question they were more dominant

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          I disagree.

          A 3.19 ERA as a starter is more impressive and “dominant” than a 1.53 ERA as a reliever. It’s harder to turn a lineup over 3-4 times without getting touched up.

          Using the Runs Above Replacement stat, Joba’s thrown 118.2 innings as a starter and he’s 25.1 RAR as an SP. He’s thrown 59.0 innings as a reliever and he’s only 21.6 RAR as a reliever.

          There’s more relievers capable of approximating a 1.53 ERA than there are starters capable of approximating a 3.19 ERA.

          http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=2692&position=P#value

    • Jack
    • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

      Even if it were the case taht Joba was only a “decent” starter (he’s better than that), I’d still rather have him in the rotation. Decent starter >>> awesome reliever.

    • Drew

      HAHA, on what planet is a 3.19 in the AL East as a starter decent? Hilarious. Enjoy Francessa. Btw, BRING ME PORCELLO’S LAST START!!!!

  • touchtoneterriost

    tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside:

    a)As you have failed to see besides me everybody seems okay with Hughes to the pen.But I bet you will be crying your eyes out in rage if Joba went to the pen.

    b)Joba hasn’t shown any dominace as a starter like Liriano or Verlander when they first arrived.He’s been average.When he was a reliever he was unstopple and thats why he was famous.Not going 8 innings and 2 runs.

    c)Even though he Smoltz went to the pen later in age he was nearly as good a reliever as a starter.He led the league one year in saves.

    D)Touchtoneterriost is prank phone call skit like The Jerky Boys.Sorry my name isn’t 100 letters long.

    • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

      Joba hasn’t shown any dominace as a starter like Liriano or Verlander when they first arrived.

      As a starter, Joba has 125 Ks in 118.2 innings. Guess more Ks than IP isn’t dominant. You’re a funny guy, TTT.

      He’s been average.

      His ERA as a starter is 3.19. If that’s just “average”, then we must be in the ’60’s.

    • Jack
    • Doug

      so, wait a sec… 8 innings/2 runs isn’t good enough?

      • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

        Nope. Joba’s gotta throw 4 straight no hitters to prove he’s a starter.

        /Boomer Easison’d.

    • JP

      You’ve got a serious case of tunnel vision.

      Joba has been way, way above average. By almost any measure.

      So some pitchers have dominant rookie seasons. Big deal. Many flop later…lots of hall of fame caliber pitchers struggle for their first few years. How was Verlander last season?

      None of this has anything to do with the objective evaluation of Joba as a starter.

      And the thing many people don’t get, which I’d like to stress, again, is that he doesn’t have to be a dominant starter in order to be more valuable there than in the bullpen. He can be just “good,” and it’s better for the team than having him as the sexy short relief guy.

      But we don’t have to worry about that, because unless Phil Hughes and Joba get injured, or become heroin addicts, or maybe hang around with Bobby Abreu too much, they are going to be very, very good starting pitchers. Whether they meet your non-Yankees-envy definition of a “dominant” starter, I don’t know. But they will be very good, and they will anchor the rotation for years.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      D)Touchtoneterriost is prank phone call skit like The Jerky Boys.Sorry my name isn’t 100 letters long.

      No, it’s not.

      Touch Tone TERRORISTS is a prank phone call skit.

      Touch Tone TERRIOST isn’t anything, because it’s not a real word. YOU’VE BEEN MISSPELLING YOUR OWN DAMN NAME FOR YEARS NOW.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Quoting myself above:

      Joba’s thrown 118.2 innings as a starter and he’s 25.1 RAR as an SP. He’s thrown 59.0 innings as a reliever and he’s only 21.6 RAR as a reliever.

      Joba’s 3.19 ERA as a starter is BETTER AND MORE DOMINANT than his 1.53 ERA as a reliever.