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Notes on D: Best on groundballs

6/11/2014

We’ve done some work in this space recently related to the efficiency of various defenses when it comes to turning different batted ball types into outs.

This week, we decided to look specifically at groundballs to see which teams rate best and worst at getting outs on groundballs hit to the left side, right side and up the middle.

We have a tool that allows us to approximate batted-ball locations. It is admittedly imperfect, but we feel it gives us a close enough approximation from which we can make a reasonable analysis.

Here’s what we found:

How do defenses rate on groundballs hit to the right side?

Best: Yankees (85 percent out rate); Rockies (84 percent); Padres, Cubs, Red Sox (83 percent)

Worst: Braves (74 percent); Pirates (75 percent); Reds (75 percent); Blue Jays, Nationals (76 percent)

MLB average: 80 percent

Thoughts: The two teams at the head of this list definitely surprised us. The Yankees have been able to sufficiently cover the right side of the field with Mark Teixeira (when healthy) and Brian Roberts, but as you’ll see below, they don’t handle the other parts of the field too well.

That the Rockies rate second is fascinating considering that Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado get all the press for their defensive wizardry on the left side, but Justin Morneau and DJ LeMahieu have gobbled up grounders on the right side (this may explain why the Rockies rarely use defensive shifts).

The Braves' last-place rating strikes us as being due to their issues at second base, with four different players combining for 12 errors and -5 Defensive Runs Saved.

How do defenses rate on groundballs hit up the middle?

Best: Giants (80 percent); Pirates (77 percent); Rockies (76 percent); Cubs, Athletics, Blue Jays (75 percent)

Worst: Angels (65 percent); Yankees (65 percent); White Sox (66 percent); Royals, Brewers, Marlins, Mets (67 percent)

MLB average: 71 percent

Thoughts: Keep in mind that this incorporates pitcher defense a little bit too. But the Giants’ presence at the top is a credit to Brandon Hicks and Brandon Crawford, who have combined for eight Defensive Runs Saved. A closer look at their numbers indicates that positioning may play a role, particularly with Crawford, who rates considerably better on balls hit up the middle than versus balls hit to the shortstop-third base hole. That’s likely true for the Pirates too, knowing how reliant they are on defensive shifting.

The Angels being at the bottom was a surprise, given that they have a Gold Glove winner at shortstop in Erick Aybar and a veteran at second in Howie Kendrick, but the numbers indicate some issues there. The Yankees being at the bottom was less of a surprise, though we’d imagine that number would be a little better were Brendan Ryan playing more innings at shortstop than Derek Jeter.

How do defenses rate on groundballs hit to the left side?

Best: Brewers (80 percent); Twins, Pirates, Athletics (78 percent); Reds (76 percent)

Worst: Indians (60 percent); Tigers (62 percent); Red Sox (66 percent); Yankees (67 percent), Rangers, Cubs (68 percent)

MLB average: 72 percent

Thoughts: A closer look at this one indicates the Brewers' fine rating is largely the work of Jean Segura, who has (likely due to both range and good positioning by an aggressive coaching staff) rated as good as anyone on balls hit into the shortstop-third base hole. The Brewers have gotten 35 "Good Fielding Plays" (think Web Gem nominees) from their shortstops, third-most in the majors behind the Royals (38) and the Rockies (37).

The four teams at the bottom of this list all have issues on the left side of their defense. Carlos Santana is taking awhile to get comfortable at third base and while Asdrubal Cabrera may make the flashy plays, the advanced defensive metrics have not been kind to him the last few seasons.

The Red Sox number should (in theory) get better with the return of Stephen Drew. Jeter actually doesn’t appear to be hurting the Yankees' rating here. Their low number is partly due to a large number of misplays by Yangervis Solarte at third base.

The biggest surprise here was that the Rockies don’t rate higher.

But the impact of Arenado’s absence has been significant. Colorado ranked sixth in this stat through May 23 (the day of Arenado’s last game). Since then, they rank 28th. It also coincides with the start of a run in which the Rockies have lost 13 of 16 games.

Is there an aspect of defensive play you’d like to see examined? Tweet thoughts to Mark here.