When it comes to evaluating the Phillies' defense, I trust my eyes.
In the past 24 hours, I’ve heard the Phillies' defense described as “very good” at least twice because of league-best .987 fielding percentage and league-low 66 errors. But are these numbers good indicators of team defense?
Fielding percentage is a muddled indicator because it’s based on assists, putouts and errors. In order to make a play, a player must first be in position to make a play. The pitcher has a hand in everything else, as do teammates, the hitter, the ballpark, etc. As for errors, it’s a judgment call from a schmuck in a booth.
Fielding continues to be the hardest aspect of the game to jam into a bar graph and read in USA Today, so I’ll break Moneyball rule No. 1 and trust my eyes for my official observation of Phillies defense before they begin their critical series in New York. This is numbers-free observation for those put off by my math-heavy Michael Tucker report (1 comment, 2 hours work).
David Bell is a much better third baseman than fans give him credit for and outperforms most of his peers in the National League. He’s agile, strong and accurate when he throws off-balance. He gets over anxious at times, which leads to some fumbles, but it’s a small tradeoff for the everyday leather he provides at the corner.
On the other side, Ryan Howard has actually made some spectacular plays, hasn’t he? You know what else? He’s got a serious wing span. He covers twice the ground J-Roll does just standing there. I see average motion otherwise. Overall, he’s an asset as his position because he can knock down bullets targeted for the wall, and isn’t afraid to hit the dirt.
As for the middle infield, Jimmy Rollins doesn’t commit errors, which is easy to overlook because we’ve come to expect such quality. He often misjudges the quickest path to the ball. I see J-Roll as a good shortstop getting lost in the shuffle more and more each year as younger, better talent starts infiltrating the NL. I hope he realizes his contract was as much a result of a poor farm system as it was his performance.
I hesitate in calling Chase Utley a nice surprise because I’m really not sure. He’s not as swift as Placido Polanco and doesn’t have the same quick punch on the double play. He doesn’t get much zest on his throws, the reason Polanco had always been the preferred second baseman and Utley was never considered an option for third. I think a simple expression for Chase could be “good speed, bad arm.”
Jason Michaels plays a competent centerfield, but the rest of the outfield is awfully weak. Pat Burrell isn’t there for his glove obviously, but Kenny Lofton is, in a way. All the preseason warnings turned out true. He breaks to the ball about a second late, getting by purely on speed. It’s never a nice, easy glide with Kenny. As for Bobby Abreu, he’s having the worst season of his career. Lofton and Abreu play their positions with fear.
As for the pitchers, they’re very poor. Remember Jon Lieber’s brief mental block throwing out runners to first earlier this season? Vicente Padilla is always good for an adventure. They say John Smoltz, Mike Hampton and Tim Hudson are good athletes on the mound. What do they say about Lieber, Lidle and Myers, other than "Have another doughnut."
At catcher, I’ve been so preoccupied thinking about Mike Lieberthal’s handling of the pitching staff that I’ve been missing a serviceable defensive season behind the plate. He ranks in the middle of almost all stats among NL regulars. Todd Pratt doesn’t have an error this season. He’s what I’d call “serviceable,” too.
What about the managers? It’s hard to say, but has anyone noticed how often the Phils are in the right spots to make plays? Even Tomas Perez coming off the bench at any position seems to be in the perfect spot. That’s no coincidence. It’s a credit to the manager, and specifically, field general Gary Varsho.
Because of Sunday night’s brutal display, the Phils actually dropped to second in the National League with a .986 fielding percentage, putting them in a tie with St. Louis.
Does anyone think the Phils are on the same level as the Cardinals? I didn’t think so.
I mentioned on this space before I’m a big fan of Jim Edmonds and would trade just about anybody for his services.
Edmonds is like the Tom Brady of baseball. He may not be the best fantasy player, but he’s spotless.
Everyone says it’s important to have an ace pitcher. What about an ace defender, someone that won’t let you down in a big situation? Imagine what Edmonds would bring to the Phillies. A pennant, maybe more.
Conclusion: I hadn’t given much thought to team defense before this piece. This isn’t a scientific study, but I hope my thoughts make sense. Feel free to dispute my descriptions with rock-hard numbers.
When it comes to sabermetrics, I'm all "Tuckered" out. Get it? He's a "professional hitter" you know.
The Phils don’t have the best defense in the NL, as some numbers like fielding percentage indicate. They have a very good infield, a weak outfield, weak pitchers and serviceable catchers. They don't have a defensive star that can pick up the slack.
Defense isn't a team strength. I'm talking to you Joe Morgan.