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Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Stat Week: Defensive Storylines To Watch

By Ben Jedlovec, Baseball Info Solutions

With a widely-increased focus on defense this offseason, let’s take a look at the most compelling defensive subplots heading into the 2010 season:

1. Can Seattle top 2009?

It's widely believed, by those who study the numbers, that the Seattle Mariners are the best defensive team in baseball, but by how much? At Baseball Info Solutions, we’ve estimated Defensive Runs Saved (as introduced in The Fielding Bible – Volume II) for the 2010 season.

A player’s Runs Saved value indicates how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position, combining eight different aspects of defense. A player near zero Runs Saved is about average; a positive number of runs saved indicates above-average defense, below-average fielders post negative Runs Saved totals.

We took each player’s defensive performance over the past three years and prorated their performance based on the number of innings each is projected to play this year. Our projections expect Seattle to nearly match their 110 Runs Saved from 2009 and to dwarf the second-best Phillies, 2008’s best defensive team.


As Dave Cameron mentioned in a post earlier this month, the Mariners are experimenting with a Chone Figgins/Jose Lopez position swap. While Figgins rates highly at third and Lopez is roughly average at second, the Mariners coaching staff will have to assess whether the shift is a net positive for the team.

2. How much has Boston improved?

The Boston Red Sox have gotten a lot of attention this offseason for signing Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro, and Mike Cameron while moving incumbent centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to left field and letting free agent Jason Bay sign elsewhere. We’re projecting their defense to improve 87 runs over last year’s total of -52 runs saved, largely as a result of their offseason transactions.

3. Which Mariner will be the most valuable defender in 2010?

Franklin Gutierrez led baseball with 32 Runs Saved in center field in 2009, though new Mariners teammates Chone Figgins (31 Runs Saved) and Jack Wilson (27 Runs Saved) finished close behind. We project Gutierrez to hold his crown, but Wilson and 2008 champion Chase Utley should give him a run for his money.

4. Are the Astros this year’s version of the Mariners?

With the out-of-position Miguel Tejada at short and the combination of two “Jeffs” (Geoff Blum and Jeff Keppinger) at third, the Astros’ left-side was porous in 2009. Free agent signee Pedro Feliz and highly-reputed rookie Tommy Manzella will join Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence on a much-improved Houston defense.

Even assuming the unproven Manzella is merely an average defensive shortstop, we project the Astros to improve 39 Runs Saved this season- almost four full wins due to defensive upgrades.

5. Will Albert Pujols win his fifth consecutive Fielding Bible Award?

The Fielding Bible Awards are voted on by a panel of 10 experts in the industry, including Bill James, John Dewan, and ESPN.com's Rob Neyer. Each November 1st, we announce the results of the balloting and declare the single best major league defender at each position. Since the inaugural Fielding Bible Awards in 2006, Albert Pujols has been voted the best first baseman every single year. Is there anything this guy can’t do?