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Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Greinke, Marcum have hidden benefit

By Mark Simon

The trades for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum will benefit the Milwaukee Brewers beyond just through their pitching capabilities. In obtaining this pair, the Brewers got two of the best fielders at their position in the sport.

Greinke tied for fifth-best among pitchers in 2010 with seven defensive runs saved. His 18 over the last three seasons rate second-best in baseball. Marcum, who ex-Baseball Tonight analyst J.P. Ricciardi said would someday win a Gold Glove, finished with four runs saved.

How does a pitcher save runs? There are two ways.

For one, both Greinke and Marcum very good at turning batted balls into outs. In Baseball Info Solutions plus-minus system, Greinke rated a +7 in 2010 and a +13 since 2008 (meaning he turned 13 more balls hit his way into outs than the average fielder would have), tied for second-best in baseball. Marcum was a +4 last season and a +8 in his last three seasons (he missed 2009 due to injury).

Greinke finished runner-up in BIS’ Fielding Bible Awards voting for pitchers, and for good reason. Three times last year, he got an out on a ground ball that earned him a +.88 or better (meaning 88 percent of balls hit to that location at that speed would not have been turned into outs by the average fielding pitcher). Each of those plays required Greinke to make a quick reaction, made possible by a follow-through that left him in an ideal fielding position.

The other stat for which both Greinke and Marcum get some credit is for their work in preventing runners from stealing bases.

Last season Marcum yielded only seven steals in 15 attempts for a career-best rate of 46.7 percent, thanks partly to Jose Molina’s presence.

The Brewers might want to consider picking up Molina. Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com's splits pages, we know that Marcum made nine starts with Molina behind the plate last season, and had a 1.74 ERA, a .218 opponents on-base percentage in them, with opponents failing on all three steal attempts.

Greinke has had more sustained excellence in this area, yielding only 19 stolen bases in 43 attempts over the last three seasons (not including five times that Greinke picked a runner off).

Over the last three seasons, opponents have only stolen 19 bases in 43 attempts with Greinke pitching (not including five times that Greinke picked a runner off). Compare that to the success of baserunners stealing against his Royals counterparts (76.4 percent) in that time and it’s evident that Greinke has a skill of significant value.

As much as the Brewers improved this offseason, there remains one very significant issue -- their infield defense rated among the worst in the sport last season. All four projected starters for 2011 (Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee) ranked at or near the very bottom at their respective positions in defensive runs saved, not just last season, but over the last three to four years.

Thus, they figure to be quite thankful for the presence of both Greinke and Marcum this season, not just for how they prevent runs on the mound, but on how they prevent them in the field as well.