We're about one-third of the way into the season, and I thought this would be an opportune time to look at defensive performance by teams against each batted ball type.
I'm going to use a defensive efficiency metric as the guideline with regard to performance against ground balls, line drives and fly balls. In other words, how often were batted balls of that type turned into outs?
Which teams are best/worst at turning ground balls into outs?
Best by efficiency: Rockies (79 percent out rate), Athletics (78 percent), Giants (77 percent)
Worst by efficiency: Indians (71 percent), Marlins (71 percent), Nationals (71 percent)
MLB average: 74 percent
If you've been reading these defense-related pieces each week, the teams at the top shouldn't surprise you. The left side of the Rockies' infield has been fabulous, with Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado ranking as leaders at their respective positions in Defensive Runs Saved in the National League.
The Athletics rank second largely on the play of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who rates well above average at taking away would-be doubles on balls hit down the third-base line. He leads all third basemen in Defensive Runs Saved, and the Athletics' defense has been good enough at the other spots to rate well overall.
The Giants have the highest efficiency rate in the majors on ground balls hit to what we've termed the middle of the diamond (within about two steps of second base each way). Their out rate on such balls is 70 percent. The major league rate is 60 percent. The difference between those two already comes out to about a 14-hit difference.
Which teams rate best/worst at turning line drives into outs?
Best by efficiency: Reds (42 percent out rate), Mariners (41 percent), Mets (39 percent)
Worst by efficiency: Yankees (28 percent), Twins (28 percent), Red Sox (29 percent)
MLB average: 33 percent
Determining whether a batted ball is a line drive or fly ball is a subjective matter, so there is some imperfection when looking at this stat. Nonetheless, perhaps a thing or two can be gleaned from these lists.
In the case of the three teams that rank highest -- the Mariners, Mets and Reds -- each rank in the top five of line-drive outs on balls hit to the outfield, so we imagine that their defensive positioning has been stellar in that regard. (The Mets are also aided by an outfield that usually has three center fielders.)
The Reds actually rate among the best in both shorter- and longer-hit line drives, and their primary infielders -- Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier -- have done well at forming a wall to prevent liners from reaching the outfield.
Which teams rate best/worst at turning fly balls into outs?
Best by efficiency: Angels (93 percent out rate), Rockies (92 percent), Reds/Cardinals (91 percent)
Worst by efficiency: Blue Jays (84 percent), Indians, Astros, Athletics, Diamondbacks (86 percent)
MLB average: 89 percent out rate
Most fly balls that stay in a ballpark are caught, as you can see from the numbers above. The difference between the best and worst is a slim margin, though over time, those missed plays add up, the results of which you can often see in pitching performance.
That the Angels rate first is definitely a product of Mike Trout, who can chase a ball down as well as anyone in the game.
But Collin Cowgill and Kole Calhoun both rate very well in right field, combining for eight defensive runs saved. That's notable because it's a major upgrade from Josh Hamilton, whose defense was valued at costing the Angels eight runs at that position in 2013.
Hamilton's absence (thumb injury) also has led to good things defensively in left field. The six other Angels left fielders have combined for seven defensive runs saved.
As for the Blue Jays ranking worst, they've managed to make a good run in spite of that. Their biggest issue has been catching balls hit to the deepest parts of the ballpark. They've allowed a combined 36 doubles and triples on fly balls that our distance estimator calculates at flying at least 350 feet. That's 10 more than any other team. The Reds have the fewest allowed, with only seven.
The Blue Jays are one team that does a lot with their infield defense with regard to positioning (they rank among baseball's leaders in shifts) to deal with deficiencies and hitter tendencies. Perhaps there’s some work that could be done with their outfield as well.