One major difference between this season and last is the Yankees improved defense. It seems that Robinson Cano is making plays on everything near him. Derek Jeter, as we’ve discussed, is experiencing a defensive renaissance. But most importantly, the Yankees have a real first baseman in Mark Teixeira. It seems that every night he makes a spectacular play, one that his predecessor, Jason Giambi, would not make. As I’ve said more times than I can count this season, it feels great to have a real first baseman.
In discussing the infield defense, many have lauded Teixeira for his ability to scoop bad throws and prevent throwing errors. That can be huge, as it helps out pitchers and helps the team get out of innings quicker. It saves an unknown number of runs, because who knows what happens if that runner is safe and the pitcher is throwing with men on. Teixeira, we can see, is excellent at scooping balls out of the dirt. Yet for all his defensive shortcomings, Giambi was rather proficient at this, too.
Just how proficient was he? John Dewan, publisher of The Fielding Bible, takes a look. In the new volume of TFB, he discusses Defensive Misplays and Good Fielding Plays. Once of those Good Fielding Plays is scooping a ball out of the dirt, so we can see how Giambi and Teixeira rate.
The numbers are a bit skewed, because Tex plays first far more than Giambi did during his tenure in New York. Based on the numbers, Tex has scooped 22 throws in 95 games started. Last year Giambi picked 29 in 112 games started. The difference is marginal: 0.23 scoops per game for Tex, 0.26 for Giambi. So really, there’s not that much of a difference in their abilities to scoop balls out of the dirt. Then again, this data assumes a few things, and then leaves out a few things.
First, we’re assuming that they would both face the same number of opportunities per game. This might or might not be true. Over the course of a 162-game season one would think that the data would even out, but that’s not always the case. For instance, if Jeter’s range was poorer while Giambi was around, he might have a hard time getting to a ball, thereby rushing the throw and forcing a scoop. This would give more opportunities to Giambi. So while he would have a slightly larger number of scoops total, he would probably have a worse percentage.
In fact, this does leave out missed scoops, data I’m sure is available with Defensive Misplays. How many balls did Giambi fail to scoop vs. Teixeira? Even more importantly, how many times did a throw take Giambi off the bag, where Teixeira would have stayed on? These are tough questions to answer even with available data. We know Giambi wasn’t a bad scooper, but it seems that Teixeira is a bit better.
Where Tex is most proficient, of course, is fielding grounders. As Dewan notes, Tex has saved his team 18 runs over the past two years by fielding grounders, while Giambi has cost his team that many runs, a 36-run swing. That’s almost four wins right there, which is significant because it’s just one aspect of defense. I don’t think many would argue that Tex’s ability to field grounders might bring the Yanks an additional two wins over the course of the season.