SweetSpot: Brendan Ryan

AL's defensive winter moves

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
9:30
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Today, Buster Olney rated the top defensive teams in the majors. We thought we’d take the time to look at the offseasons for each team from a defensive perspective. Here’s our American League look.

AL East

Blue Jays: The transition from J.P. Arencibia to Dioner Navarro behind the plate is likely a wash and there hasn’t been much of an overhaul to this team other than the departure of Rajai Davis (who did have a decent amount of defensive value).
Ryan Goins
Goins
The most interesting thing for the Jays will be how Ryan Goins fares as a regular second baseman. Goins racked up a hard-to-believe 12 Defensive Runs Saved (backed up on video review by 21 Good Fielding Plays and only a pair of Defensive Misplays & Errors) in a 32-game stint last season.

Orioles: The biggest issue on defense for the Orioles will be dealing with the loss of Manny Machado’s major-league leading Runs Saved, at least until he returns from injury. Baltimore did make one positive move that should upgrade its outfield defense, getting David Lough from the Royals for utilityman Danny Valencia.

Rays: The Rays made a long-term commitment to James Loney, which bodes well from a defensive perspective, and also made one to catcher Ryan Hanigan, who is considered one of the best base-stealing deterrents and pitch-framers in the sport. He’ll give them a solid alternative to Jose Molina.

Red Sox: Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts will likely step into everyday roles and fill the shoes of Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew. The Red Sox will also have a new catcher, though there isn’t much of a defensive difference between A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Both rate below-average statistically.

Yankees:There have been some pretty notable changes on the defensive side. Brian McCann’s pitch-framing rates well, but he’s not the baserunning deterrent that Chris Stewart was. Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts could split time at second base but neither is the Gold-Glove-caliber glove that Robinson Cano was. Johnson could also wind up full-time at third base, a position at which he’s barely played more than 100 innings, if Alex Rodriguez gets suspended.

The Yankees should be great in center and left with an Ellsbury/Brett Gardner combo. Carlos Beltran has less ground to cover in the Bronx than he did in Busch. That could benefit his achy knees and help his defensive rating.

One smart thing the Yankees did: Hire Brendan Ryan to be their “shortstop closer” for the next two seasons and as much as it will pain Derek Jeter to leave games, it will be for the good of the team to let Ryan finish close games.


AL Central

Indians: The Indians tried to make a right fielder out of center fielder Drew Stubbs in 2013 and it didn’t work. They got themselves an upgrade in free agent David Murphy who rates adequate enough (5 Runs Saved in about a season’s worth of innings in right field) that his D could be a one-win upgrade by itself.

Royals: The best team in baseball, as it comes to Defensive Runs Saved, tinkered a little bit, swapping out Lough for Norichika Aoki in the outfield, which probably rates as a push (they’re both good … fair warning to Royals fans, Aoki likes to play a deep right field), and making an offensive upgrade by getting Omar Infante to fill the hole that was second base.

The one thing the Royals got from their second basemen last season was good defense (18 Runs Saved from the collection of Elliot Johnson, Chris Getz and others). Infante isn’t at that level, but he rates above average more often than not (he did by UZR, but not Runs Saved in 2013) and his offensive work should make up for any drop-off.

Tigers: The Tigers' defensive overhaul has been the biggest of the offseason as the team’s opening-day infield will be entirely different from 2013. Ian Kinsler is a definite upgrade at second base and we’ll see if Jose Iglesias’ wow plays add up over a full season (he has seven Runs Saved in just under 800 career innings at short).

Going from Prince Fielder back to Miguel Cabrera should actually be a slight upgrade.

The big question will be third base where the scouting reports on Nick Castellanos’ defense don’t inspire confidence. But even so, conservatively, the Tigers should be about 25 Runs Saved better in 2014, which takes them from being a lousy defensive infield to an average one.

Twins: The Twins made the career-preserving move of shifting Joe Mauer from behind the plate to first base and signed Kurt Suzuki, who has a good statistical history at the position. Suzuki has rated better than Mauer over the course of his career in Runs Saved, though he’s not as good at throwing out basestealers.

I asked Doug Glanville to assess what Mauer’s challenge will be in making the move to first:

“He is a super athlete and I am sure he will be fine. It will be tough to not be as involved with the game in every single moment. No one can compete with catchers in the leadership it requires to play that position and the need for constant vigilance. He has to sharpen his focus to deal with new lulls in time. I am sure he will.”

White Sox: The White Sox had the third-worst Defensive Runs Saved total in the majors in 2013 and they’ve been overhauled all over the place. Their worst position last season was center field (-19 Defensive Runs Saved in 2013) and they’ll have a new look there with Adam Eaton.

They’ll also be much different at first base with Jose Abreu, whose hitting has been compared to Ryan Howard's (but if his defense is, that’s not good) and third base with adequately-rated Matt Davidson, whom they got for Addison Reed. Will different equal better? They better hope so.

Al West

Angels: The aging of Albert Pujols will continue to be an issue both on offense and defense. Last season broke a run of eight straight seasons in which Pujols ranked in the top five among first basemen in Runs Saved.

Pujols will have a familiar teammate working at the opposite corner with the addition of third baseman David Freese, who had a dreadful season in 2013 per both Runs Saved and UZR, ranking third-worst in the former and second-worst in the latter. That’s something that will need to be dealt with.

Astros: The Astros traded away their second-best defender stats-wise from 2013 in Brandon Barnes to get Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies. Fowler has less ground to cover in the gaps of Minute Maid Park, but has a deeper center field (and Tal’s Hill) to worry about. Fowler has posted a negative Runs Saved rating in four of his six seasons, but has fared well at handling balls hit to the deepest parts of the park.

Athletics: The Athletics made two moves that should definitely help their defense in 2014.
Craig Gentry
Gentry
By adding Craig Gentry in a trade from the Rangers, they’ve obtained one of the game’s premier outfield defenders and one who could fit in well both in left field (to make Yoenis Cespedes a DH) and center (to give Coco Crisp a breather) very well.

The Athletics also added a valuable utility piece in Nick Punto, who could start at second base (ahead of Eric Sogard) or close games at shortstop (replacing Jed Lowrie, who rates as a poor defender). Either way, he’s a big upgrade over what they had.

Mariners:The Mariners now have a Gold Glove-caliber defender at second in Cano. He’ll need to cover more ground to his left than he did in New York, because the Mariners’ first-base options (Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart) do not rate well. Morrison is going to present an issue wherever they put him. He’s not quite at the level of Michael Morse, but his ratings historically have been poor.

Rangers: The difference between Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland at first base is a sizable one, potentially 15 runs over the course of a season, so if the Rangers do decide to hang on to Moreland, they'd be best off playing him at first base and having Fielder DH. The Rangers could use a good defender at first, since Jurickson Profar is basically going to learn on the job at second base. Texas will also have some outfield concerns with Shin-Soo Choo having limited experience in left field and the team no longer having the security blanket of Gentry (traded to Athletics).
Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus wrote a tremendous article the other day on Derek Jeter's defense, which has long been a point of contention. As Ben writes,
The "best ever" argument is easy. Jeter has the hardware; only four shortstops can top his total of five Gold Gloves. He's one of the few fielders who have a signature move, the instantly recognizable Jeter jump-throw. He even has a pair of pantheon plays: the 2001 ALDS-saving maneuver commonly referred to as "the Flip," and the header he took into the stands after chasing a popup in 2004.

On the other side are the advanced statistics, which disregard Gold Gloves and treat a flashy-looking jump-throw just like any other assist. According to two historical play-by-play-based systems, Baseball Prospectus's Fielding Runs Above Average and Baseball-Reference's Total Zone, Jeter has cost his team more in the field than any other player in history, with both methods assessing the damage at 230 to 260 runs.


Now, Ben fairly points out that the Jeter is "worst" in part because he's been so good at everything else he's remained at shortstop for a long and historic career. The worst shortstops don't stay there.

Anyway, Ben reviewed Jeter's best and worst plays from 2012 and compared them to the best and worst plays from Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan (as determined by Baseball Info Solutions' Defensive Runs Saved metric, which we use here at ESPN and Baseball-References uses for its defensive measurement that is included in players' WAR totals).

Ben's idea copied something Bill James did back for the 2006 edition of the "The Fielding Bible," comparing Jeter to then-Astros shortstop Adam Everett. Here is the link to the original Jeter/Everett article. James, reviewing plays from 2005, wrote:
The two men could not possibly be more different in the style and manner in which they run the office. Jeter, in 40 plays, had maybe three plays in which he threw with his feet set. He threw on the run about 20-25 times; he jumped and threw about 10-15 times, he threw from his knees once. He threw from a stable position only when the ball, by the way it was hit, pinned him back on his heels.

Everett set his feet with almost unbelievable quickness and reliability, and threw off of his back foot on almost every play, good or bad. Jeter played much, much more shallow than Everett, cheated to his left more, and shifted his position from left to right much, much more than Everett did (with the exception of three plays on which Everett was shifted over behind second in a Ted Williams shift. Jeter had none of those.)

Jeter gambled constantly on forceouts, leading to good plays when he beat the runner, bad plays when he didn’t. Everett gambled on a forceout only a couple of times, taking the out at first base unless the forceout was a safe play.

Many or most of the good plays made by Jeter were plays made in the infield grass, slow rollers that could easily have died in the infield, but plays on which Jeter, playing shallow and charging the ball aggressively, was able to get the man at first. These were plays that would have been infield hits with most shortstops, and which almost certainly would have been infield hits with Adam Everett at short.

For Everett, those type of plays were the bad plays, the plays he failed to make. The good plays for Everett were mostly hard hit groundballs in the hole or behind second base, on which Everett, playing deep and firing rockets, was able to make an out. These, conversely, were the bad plays for Jeter—hard-hit or not-too-hard-hit groundballs fairly near the shortstop’s home base which Jeter, playing shallow and often positioning himself near second, was unable to convert. And there was literally not one play in the collection of his 20 best plays in which Jeter planted his feet in the outfield grass and threw. There were only three plays in the 40 in which Jeter made the play from the outfield grass, two of those were forceouts at third base, and all three of them occurred just inches into the outfield grass.


In comparing Jeter in 2012 to Ryan, you can look at the gifs Ben provided and see the difference between a great shortstop and a lesser one with your own eyes. The graphic comparing the range of best plays between the two is also telling. If we did this for a variety of players -- here's why Andrelton Simmons and Nolan Arenado rate so well, for example, and here's why Miguel Cabrera rates so poorly or why Mike Trout doesn't rate as well as last year -- it would certainly help alleviate some of the concerns many have with defensive metrics.

Ben's ultimate point -- as referenced in the article's headline, "The Tragedy of Derek Jeter's Defense," -- is that Jeter actually had become a different shortstop in his later years, after Brian Cashman talked with him in the offseason following 2007. He worked on his positioning and footwork and his metrics improved -- at least until he got too old.

If there's a lesson to be learned from Jeter's defensive history, it's that sometimes there is room for improvement, even from the great players. The good organizations aren't just evaluating how good their players are on defense, but evaluating if they can get better.
There are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than watching Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander pitch. Especially if you're not at the ballpark and you can set up a laptop outside, put up your feet, soak in those first warm rays of early May and imagine what it's like to throw a baseball like these two guys.

Darvish faced the Red Sox and struck out 14 batters in his seven innings -- and in some ways this was a bad start for him, as he gave up two home runs and three runs. But he showed why he's been so tough this season: four strikeouts on his fastball, six with his slider, three on his curve and a 14th on a pitch classified as a splitter (a 93-mph pitch that David Ortiz swung through in the sixth inning). Who knows; it could have been a gyroball or some other exotic pitch Darvish made up on the spot. On his 127th and final pitch, he fanned Pedro Ciriaco on a 3-2 slider that moved wickedly away from the plate. Rangers manager Ron Washington took him out, and he ended up with a no-decision in Texas' 4-3 victory, but I have no doubt he could have pitched another inning or two.

Verlander, meanwhile, cruised through the Triple-A lineup known as the Houston Astros, taking a no-hitter into the seventh while rarely pumping up the velocity on his fastball. He didn't need to. He averaged 92.8 mph on his heater, but on this day that was enough. He pitched seven scoreless frames, allowing two hits and striking out nine.

With apologies to Clay Buchholz (great start but inconsistent career), Matt Harvey (too soon), Jordan Zimmermann (getting there), Adam Wainwright (amazing control so far) and a few others, the battle for best right-handed starter in baseball right now is between Darvish, Verlander and Felix Hernandez, who pitched his own must-watch gem on Friday, shutting out the Toronto Blue Jays over eight innings.

Let's take a quick look at how the three have fared in 2013.

The statistics
Darvish: 5-1, 2.56 ERA, 45.2 IP, 27 H, 15 BB, 72 SO, 3 HR, .169 AVG
Verlander: 4-2, 1.55 ERA, 46.1 IP, 38 H, 13 BB, 50 SO, 1 HR, .222 AVG
Hernandez: 4-2, 1.60 ERA, 50.2 IP, 39 H, 7 BB, 51 SO, 3 HR, .212 AVG

Hernandez has pitched the most innings; Verlander and Hernandez have the lower ERAs; but Darvish has been the most dominant, averaging 14.1 strikeouts per nine innings, a mark that would shatter Randy Johnson's record for starters of 13.4, set in 2001. Darvish has also been the toughest to hit with that .169 batting average against and has to pitch in the best hitter's park of the three. Hernandez, however, has faced a slightly tougher slate of offenses, mostly because he's had to pitch against the Rangers and Tigers while the other two haven't. All three started once against Houston ... and none allowed a run.

Edge: We can't put too much emphasis on ERA this early in the season. Hernandez has the edge in durability and command, but Darvish's strikeout rate has been off-the-charts phenomenal. Edge to Darvish.

Issues entering the season
Darvish: Command, especially of fastball; he must prove he can be a 200-inning workhorse (threw 191.1 in 29 starts last season).

So far, it's mixed reviews on this. His walk rate is down from 11.9 percent to 8.4 percent, so that's good. His percentage of fastballs in the strike zone, however, is actually just 42 percent, down 10 percent from last season. He has the killer wipeout pitches when he gets to two strikes -- 20 K's in 31 plate appearances ending with his curve, 29 K's in 69 plate appearances with his slider -- which makes it scary that he's been so good without consistently throwing his fastball for strikes. In part, this works to his advantage -- kind of an effective wildness that makes it hard for hitters to attack his fastball (or his cutter, which hasn't been a great pitch for him) but can lead to some high pitch counts and fewer innings.

Verlander: Durability after leading AL in innings the past two seasons and throwing 50 more in the postseason. Would there be a letdown after two great seasons?

I'd say a 1.55 ERA answers the second question. He hasn't pitched more than seven innings yet, which is unusual for him, but that's not just because of a tight leash. He's had games of 126, 116, 114, 111 and 111 pitches. He did throw 120-plus in nine regular-season starts in 2012, so Jim Leyland has maybe been a little conservative so far, but Verlander has also pitched in a lot of cold weather. Plus, Leyland may hold back a bit, trying to make sure Verlander remains stronger for a possible October run.

Hernandez: Concerns about declining fastball velocity and late slump last season (0-4, 6.62 ERA in six September starts).

So far, his average fastball is down one mph from last season (92.1 to 91.1), which, in turn, is down two mph from 2011 and down from the 93.9 he averaged in his 2010 Cy Young season. Put it this way: His fastest fastball this season was 94.1 -- pretty much his average just three seasons ago. That said, he's been as good as ever, thanks to that Wiffleball changeup and showing that whatever happened last September was an aberration.

Edge: Even though he doesn't throw as hard as he once did, Hernandez looks better than ever with one of the best stretches of his career. Sure, it helps pitching in the dead air of the West Coast ballparks, and maybe some day the lack of separation betweeen his fastball and changeup will catch up to him, but we're not there yet.

Stuff
Darvish: Off the charts. He is basically unhittable when he gets to two strikes, thanks to that curveball/slider combo. In 112 plate appearances with two strikes, batters are hitting .088 with 72 strikeouts, eight walks and two extra-base hits. Ouch.

Verlander: Speaking of fastball velocity, Verlander has yet to unleash one of his famous 100-mph heaters and has averaged just 92.2 mph with a peak velocity of 97.1. That doesn't mean it's been any easier to hit: Batters are hitting .192/.289/.256 against his fastball, which is actually worse than the .215/.291/.362 line in 2011.

Hernandez: There might not be a better pitch in the game right now than Hernandez's changeup, which moves away from lefties and jams righties. Batters are hitting .130 off it. He mixes in some sliders and curveballs, making him a four-pitch guy with great command of all four pitches.

Edge: It's hard to suggest somebody has better stuff than Verlander, but right now that's the case with Darvish's deep arsenal of weapons. Verlander doesn't necessarily have to crank it up 95-plus regularly -- we know that he's learned to conserve that until he needs it -- but until he does start doing that more often, nobody can match the electric arsenal of pitches that Darvish possesses.

Who is the best?
This is like picking between Mays and Mantle at their peaks. There's only one way to answer: If all three are pitching at the same time and you can watch only one -- and you don't have a rooting interest in one of the specific teams -- who are you watching? Right now, I'm watching Darvish. Put him in a neutral park and I think he's the best right-hander in the game.

But I might change my mind next week.

REST OF THE WEEKEND

SportsNation

Who is the best right-handed starter right now?

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Discuss (Total votes: 12,684)

Three stars

1. Marcell Ozuna, Marlins. A controversial call-up earlier in the week, considering he'd played just 10 games in Double-A (although he hit five home runs), Ozuna didn't look overmatched his first week in the majors, hitting .478 with five extra-base hits in his first six games. He hit his first home run off Cole Hamels in Saturday's 2-0 win -- a nice easy swing off a 92-mph fastball -- and then went 4-for-5 with two doubles, three runs and three RBIs on Sunday.

2. Jeremy Guthrie, Royals. Guthrie's three-year, $25 million free agent deal with Kansas City was widely panned, but so far, so great. Guthrie threw a four-hit shutout in Saturday's 2-0 win over the White Sox -- yes, a manager who let a pitcher go the distance in a close game! -- and improved to 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA.

3. Jon Jay, Cardinals. A few days ago, Jay was hitting .204 and he'd lost his leadoff spot in the lineup. Now he's had four straight two-hit games and is batting a respectable .252/.339/.393. He drove in two runs on Friday, hit a three-run homer off Yovani Gallardo on Saturday and scored two more runs on Sunday. The Cardinals won all four in Milwaukee.

Clutch performance of the weekend
Rangers pitching staff. The Red Sox entered the weekend leading the AL in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and wOBA (weighted on-base average) -- in other words, the best offense in the league. Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Darvish held the Red Sox to four runs in 21 innings, striking out 27, as the Rangers swept. That's an impressive three starts against any lineup, but especially against a red-hot lineup in a pitcher's park like Texas'. The Rangers moved into a tie with the Red Sox for the best record in the AL, and it's been all about their pitching -- they've allowed the fewest runs in the AL. Kudos once again to pitching coach Mike Maddux for building a staff that appeared to have some holes entering the season (and especially when Matt Harrison underwent back surgery).

Best game
Giants 10, Dodgers 9, 10 innings (Saturday). On Friday night, Buster Posey hit a walk-off home run off Ronald Belisario on a 3-2 fastball to give the Giants a 2-1 win. On Saturday night, it was an unlikely hero for the Giants: Backup catcher Guillermo Quiroz lined a pinch-hit homer on an 0-2 pitch from Brandon League to give the Giants a 10-9 victory. The crazy game included the Giants blowing 5-0 and 6-1 leads, the Dodgers scoring seven runs in the fifth inning, the Giants tying it up, the Dodgers turning a 4-3 double play on Posey with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and then Quiroz hitting that sinker from League just over the fence in left for his third career home run and first against a right-hander. It wasn't a terrible pitch from League, as you can see from the pitch location map below; sometimes, the hitter just gets good wood on a good pitch.

QuirozESPN Stats & InformationBrandon League's 0-2 sinker wasn't that bad of a pitch.
As for the Giants, they continue to win despite poor performances from the rotation. Ryan Vogelsong was the victim in the seven-run inning, and he is 1-2 with a 7.20 ERA with just one quality start in six games. Matt Cain has a 5.57 ERA (lowered from 6.49 after Sunday night's win), thanks to nine home runs allowed. And Tim Lincecum has scuffled along with a 2-1, 4.41 ERA mark. Vogelsong and Cain should fare better -- their strikeout/walk ratios are good -- if they curb the home runs. But it's time to recognize that the 2013 Giants -- like the 2012 Giants -- are built as much around an underrated offense and bullpen (second-best ERA in the majors) as they are around their starting pitchers.

Hitter on the rise: Mark Trumbo, Angels
Miguel Cabrera had a monster RBI week (and even played some sweet D) and Ryan Raburn had an amazing three-game stretch during which he went 11-for-13 with two two-homer games, but we already know Miggy can hit and we know Raburn will revert back to being a role player off the bench. The Angels had another bad week, but don't blame Trumbo, who blasted five home runs. Importantly, he also drew six walks, a sign that perhaps he's gaining some respect (and that Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton have not been on base much in front of him) but also that he's laying off those pitches outside the strike zone. We know Trumbo has big-time power -- 29 home runs as a rookie in 2011, 32 last season -- but low on-base percentages have held down his value. He has too much swing-and-miss to ever hit .300, so he needs to draw some walks to increase his overall offensive value.

Pitcher on the rise: Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
It's time to start believing in Iwakuma as the real deal. With wins over the Angels and Blue Jays this week (one run allowed in each game) he's now 3-1 with a 1.61 ERA and hasn't allowed more than three runs in a start. Since he joined Seattle's rotation on July 2, only Kris Medlen and Clayton Kershaw have a lower ERA than Iwakuma's 2.32 mark. Check out the heat map on his splitter -- hitters just can't distinguish from his two- and four-seam fastballs as they're 9-for-51 (.176) against it with 23 strikeouts, one walk and two extra-base hits.

Hisashi Iwakuma heat mapESPN Stats & Information Hitters have not been able to read Hisashi Iwakuma's low splitter.
He can't hit but, he sure can field
The obligatory Brendan Ryan defensive play of the week.

Team on the rise: Cardinals
The Rangers sweeping the Red Sox at home was big, I'll rate the Cardinals' four-game sweep in Milwaukee as the weekend's most impressive series. The Brewers are tough at home -- 9-6 before this series, 49-32 in 2012, 57-24 in 2011 -- so the Cards made a big statement by hitting .322 and scoring 29 runs and twice holding Milwaukee to one run. With the Braves just 3-7 over their past 10 games, the Cardinals have staked their claim as the NL's best team. Besides the NL's best record and best run differential, the Cards' bullpen is starting to sort itself out, with Edward Mujica as closer, Trevor Rosenthal in the eighth and Mitchell Boggs now back in the minors. Here's how good the rest of the team has been: St. Louis is 19-6 when the relievers don't get the decision.

Team on the fall: Phillies
Two losses to the Marlins can make a team look bad. First, rookie Jose Fernandez threw seven one-hit innings in a 2-0 win on Saturday for his first major league victory (tell him that pitcher wins don't matter). That was followed by Sunday's embarrassing 14-2 loss in which Roy Halladay got battered around by what is essentially another Triple-A lineup. Adeiny Hechavarria tripled to drive in three and then hit a grand slam (video review changed the call from a double to a home run), part of his seven-RBI day. Let's say that again: Adeiny Hechavarria knocked in seven runs against Roy Halladay. Halladay used to go entire months giving up seven runs. With his ERA at 8.65, it appears the shoulder is a problem and he may be headed to the DL. But, hey, Delmon Young is back, so that should fix the 14-18 Phillies.
If you read this blog regularly, or read Mark Simon's work across ESPN.com, you know we love to cite Defensive Runs Saved, the metric created and tracked by Baseball Info Solutions. Baseball-Reference.com uses the statistic in its defensive-calculation part of Wins Above Replacement.

Ryan
Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan always rates high in DRS -- 27 in 2012 (second in the majors to Darwin Barney), 18 in 2011 (tied for seventh), 22 in 2010 (fourth) and 22 in 2009 (tied for fourth). Over those four seasons, his 89 DRS easily ranks first overall, ahead of Adrian Beltre's 65, and the 62 by Evan Longoria and Michael Bourn.

Even if you're not completely on board with DRS, Ryan's consistent excellence -- with two different teams -- has to be respected. That he can hold on to a regular job despite hitting .194 last season tells you what the Mariners think of his defense.

Here's one play from Monday night's 2-0 shutout win over Oakland. It came with two out and a runner on third and Yoenis Cespedes batting, and saved a run. It's not the play of the year or anything, but the effortlessness of Ryan's execution shows he well he plays shortstop. He ranges far to his left and spins and fires to gun down Cespedes, who runs OK. Watch how quickly he gets rid of the ball. He makes it look easy, which is what the good ones do on defense.
Brendan Ryan, Prince Fielder Getty Images, USA TODAY SportsCan a guy who hit .194 really be as valuable as a guy who hit 50 home runs?
The other night I tweeted that Prince Fielder's 50-homer season in 2007 -- when he hit .288/.395/.618 -- rates as the lowest wins above replacement total among the 42 seasons a player has hit at least 50. His 3.4 WAR on Baseball-Reference is one of just three of those 42 seasons the site evaluates as worth fewer than 5.0 wins, Mark McGwire's 4.9 in 1997 and Sammy Sosa's 4.5 in 1999 being the other two.

I followed up that factoid by mentioning that in 2012 Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan -- who hit .194 with a .277 on-base percentage and three home runs -- was worth 3.3 WAR. How can two players of such extreme differences in offensive production be valued so similarly? As somebody mentioned in a follow-up tweet, it's numbers like this that make many fans skeptical of WAR … or completely dismissive.

With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to do a rough example of how WAR is calculated, using Fielder and Ryan -- and why it does work and why it (hopefully) makes sense. (For a much more thorough description, here is the Baseball-Reference explanation page, including the idea behind WAR and the concept of replacement level, and here's the specific page on the steps used for rating position players.)

As Sean Forman writes on Baseball-Reference, "The basic currency of WAR is runs. We start with runs added or lost versus an average player and then compare the average player to a replacement player." The formula is this:
Players Runs over Replacement = Player_runs - ReplPlayer_runs = (Player_runs - AvgPlayer_runs) + (AvgPlayer_runs - ReplPlayer_runs)

OK, we'll start with runs on offense.

Offense
Using the linear weights method of evaluating offense -- giving value to each single, double, triple, home run, walk, hit by pitch, sacrifice and even reached on error -- Fielder created 143 runs in 2007. Ryan created 35 runs, so Fielder is off to a 108-run advantage right off the bat.

But remember that we have to factor in the context those runs were created in. The National League in 2007 hit .266/.334/.423 (and even higher when you filter out pitcher hitting) and the American League in 2012 hit .255/.320/.411, which means Fielder will be compared to a better average hitter than will Ryan. Fielder also played in Miller Park, which is rated as a neutral park for the three-year park factors Baseball-References uses (park factor of 100), while Ryan played in Safeco Field, an extreme pitchers' park (park factor of 90, decreasing run scoring by 10 percent). So Ryan played in a tougher offensive environment, which means his batting runs are accordingly adjusted.

Also, playing time -- Fielder produced his runs in 681 plate appearances while Ryan had 470. When each hitter is then compared to what a league-average hitter would produce in that amount of playing time, Fielder ends up at plus-44 runs and Ryan at minus-18, so the difference on offense is now 62 runs.

Baserunning and runs on avoiding double plays
It should not surprise you that a guy coming in somewhere close to 300 pounds doesn't earn extra value with his baserunning (including stolen bases and caught stealing). Fielder is minus-3 runs on baserunning, but plus-1 on double plays as he grounded into just nine that year. Ryan was average (zero runs) in both areas, so picks up two more runs in value, leaving Fielder at plus-60 runs.

Defense
This is the aspect of the game where Ryan shines. Baseball-Reference uses defense runs saved from Baseball Info Solutions, which evaluates every batted ball in a variety of categories, and then compares each player to the average fielder at his position. Ryan is rated at plus-27 runs, a very high figure -- the second highest of any fielder in 2012, and the fifth highest by a shortstop in the past decade.

Fielder, meanwhile, is rated at 15 runs worse than an average first baseman, a very poor total.

Look, are defensive stats perfect? No. Are they pretty good these days? Yes. Should one-year defensive stats in particular be viewed with some reservations? Sure. Was Ryan's 2012 season a defensive fluke? I don't think so. Defense runs saved has him at plus-25, plus-22, plus-18 and plus-27 in his four seasons as a regular, the first two with St. Louis, so it has consistently given high marks to his glove work.

As for Fielder, everyone would agree that he's not exactly Keith Hernandez at first base. He's a big, heavy guy without much quickness who also made 14 errors that year. It's certainly plausible that he was 15 runs below an average first baseman (his defense has rated better in recent seasons).

So Ryan has a huge 42-run advantage on defense, leaving Fielder at plus-18 runs.

There are those who will argue that the value of defense is being overrated, that the margins between the best and worst fielders can't be that high. Well, why not? Ryan had 601 total chances in the field in 2012 -- about a full season's worth of plate appearances for a hitter. Sure, many of those are routine grounders and easy pop-ups that any competent major league shortstop can field. But a certain percentage of possible plays are not routine, and that's where defensive value comes in to play. As for Fielder, he made 423 outs at the plate in 2007, so he's not obtaining any value in about two-thirds of his plate appearances, as well.

Final adjustments and wins
The final adjustment made is a positional adjustment. Obviously, it requires more ability to play shortstop than first base, as reflected by the fact teams will play lesser hitters there. Since Ryan was being compared only to other good fielders at his position, and Fielder only to other first basemen, that has to be factored in. Baseball-Reference's current values for positional adjustment are plus-7.5 runs for shortstops (per 1,350 innings played) and minus-10 for first basemen. This ends up giving Ryan plus-6 runs and Fielder minus-10.

Which puts us at … Fielder at plus-2 runs.

From there, runs are converted to wins, and Fielder ends up at 3.4 wins above replacement and Ryan at 3.3. It's important to keep in mind that WAR is an approximation of value, not a definitive answer, but I hope this helps in explaining why a player who hit .194 can be viewed with the same value as a player who hit 50 home runs.

By the way, Fielder's WAR in 2012: 4.4. Even though he hit only 30 home runs.
The Gold Glove Awards will be announced Tuesday night on ESPN2 at 9:30 p.m. ET and Mark Simon previews the awards here. You can see the list of finalists here. Managers and coaches vote for the awards.

It will be interesting to see if Mike Trout wins the AL center field award -- he's one of the finalists at that position, along with Austin Jackson and Adam Jones. I'll also be curious to see if Seattle's Brendan Ryan wins his first Gold Glove Award, despite hitting .194. As we all know, sometimes it seems as if a player's hitting ability affects the voting.

The Cubs' Darwin Barney and Ryan ranked 1-2 in the majors in Baseball Info Solutions' Defensive Runs Saved, which we regularly cite here. Last week, BIS announced its 2012 Fielding Bible Awards. A panel of 10 experts -- including Mark, ESPN analyst Doug Glanville, Peter Gammons and Bill James -- voted on the awards. The winners:

C: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
1B: Mark Teixeira, Yankees
2B: Darwin Barney, Cubs
3B: Adrian Beltre, Rangers
SS: Brendan Ryan, Mariners
LF: Alex Gordon, Royals
CF: Mike Trout, Angels
RF: Jason Heyward, Braves
P: Mark Buehrle, Marlins

I'll predict Brandon Phillips wins the Gold Glove at second base in the NL over Barney; Phillips has won three out of the past four at the position and carries a sterling defensive reputation. His numbers are very good (plus-11 DRS), but Barney was plus-28. I'll also predict the higher-profile Elvis Andrus (plus-7 DRS) beats out Ryan (plus-27) at AL shortstop to win his first Gold Glove. J.J. Hardy (plus-15) is the other AL finalist at shortstop, and he could win his first as well.

Defensive player of the year: Mike Trout

October, 2, 2012
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Getty Images/Jeff GrossOpposing hitters saw this "look what I just caught" expression from Mike Trout many times in 2012.


Who was baseball’s best defender in 2012?

Each month during the season, we convened a group of about a dozen voters (among them ESPN.com writers, former players and those who study this material daily at Baseball Info Solutions) to pick Major League Baseball's best defensive player.

SportsNation

Who is the MLB defensive player of the year?

  •  
    52%
  •  
    8%
  •  
    27%
  •  
    6%
  •  
    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,869)

It has been a fun and educational process to study the numbers, look at the highlight reels and make a decision. (Our top candidates are noted in the poll on the right.) But when it comes to picking a Defensive Player of the Year, it’s a really close call.

Ten of us ranked the top three defensive players, and we awarded points on a 5-3-1 scale.

The winner in our voting?

Angels rookie center fielder Mike Trout.

Trout edged out our May Defensive Player of the Month, Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan, who received six of our 10 first-place votes. Ryan received the other four firsts and finished second in the voting.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney finished tied for third. Braves center fielder Michael Bourn placed fifth.

Why Trout won

Simply put, Trout won our Defensive Player of the Year Award because he went above and beyond when it came to turning batted balls into outs.

When we say above and beyond, we refer both to extra effort and to literally going above and beyond -- as in above and beyond the outfield wall.

Four times this season, Trout raced back to the fence, timed his leap, extended his left arm well over the wall, and came down with the baseball in his glove.

Trout robbed J.J. Hardy of a homer on June 27, stole one from Gordon Beckham on Aug. 4, snatched another from Miguel Olivo on Aug. 11 and pilfered one from Prince Fielder to end a game on Sept. 8.

Trout is one of four players since 2004 to have four home run robberies in a season, joining Nook Logan (2005 Tigers), Gary Matthews Jr. (2006 Rangers) and Adam Jones (2009 Orioles).

But those four catches don’t necessarily tell the whole story. They account for a chunk of Trout’s 23 Defensive Runs Saved in a little under 900 innings playing center field this season.

It’s not just home runs that Trout robs. He also takes away lots of doubles and triples. He’s adept at making difficult catches like Sunday’s play against the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler look routine.

With Trout’s help (as well as that of Torii Hunter and Peter Bourjos), the Angels entered Monday ranked second in the majors in fewest doubles and triples allowed, trailing only the Tampa Bay Rays.

Baseball Info Solutions computes plus-minus ratings for outfielders based on their ability to get to the balls hit to all different parts of the field. There is a rating for shallow flies, for medium-range flies and for deep flies. A fielder is rewarded if he makes a play on a ball hit to a spot in which others usually don’t.

Trout rates as an average center fielder on shallow flies. But he excels in medium-range flies and deep flies.

Trout’s reward on medium-depth and deep balls is a big one; he’s a plus-33, meaning he’s 33 “bases” better than the average center fielder. That’s the best in the majors. The next-best outfielder, Denard Span, rates seven bases behind him.

What do you think?

The other candidates on our ballots had comparable areas in which they excelled.

Ryan’s ability to convert double plays is unmatched. Molina’s control (and basically elimination) of the running game is amazing. Barney came out of nowhere to become an all-around star. Bourn was good at getting to balls of all types.

But in the end, our voters decided that Trout was the best of the best.

Do you agree? Vote in our poll and leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Atlanta Braves rookie shortstop Andrelton Simmons broke his right pinkie finger sliding head-first on Sunday and will be in a cast for four weeks. Since being recalled on June 2, Simmons has been one of the most dynamic players in the National League, hitting .296 and slugging .452 while playing sterling defense that earned him ESPN's defensive player of the month honors for June.

Fellow rookie Tyler Pastornicky, Atlanta's starting shortstop the first two months, struggled in the majors, hitting .248/.281/.324 and displaying little range in the field. Baseball-Reference.com rated Pastornicky at -1.6 WAR during his time with the club and Simmons at 2.5. Even if we downgrade Simmons a bit -- his defensive metrics are off the charts but must be taken with a small-sample-size caveat and he was probably a little over his head at the plate -- we're still talking about a sizable difference in value, maybe as much as two wins over one month unless Pastornicky plays much better in the field.

The Braves enter the break in second place in the NL East, four games behind the Nationals and tied for the wild-card lead -- but just a half-game ahead of the Mets, Cardinals and Giants. Two games is obviously important. Our Capitol Avenue blog on the Braves has another idea besides playing Pastornicky: Trade for Brendan Ryan, the Mariners' defensive whiz.

Friday's podcast

June, 1, 2012
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Mark Simon closed another fine week of Baseball Today podcasts with Friday’s edition, talking more about the Franchise Player draft, but also a defensive marvel few would call a franchise player.

1. Mark explains his Miguel Cabrera pick in the franchise draft, I tell him who he got in Round 2, and we all have a good laugh.

2. The top pick was Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, but he won’t be helping the NL’s top team for at least four weeks. Are the Dodgers in trouble?

3. Hitters are in trouble when Seattle Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan is on the field. Mark relays his discussion with the top defender from May.

4. Our emailers want to know about defensive shifting, pitchers with consecutive start streaks, quick innings for pitch counts, and we get a bit ridiculous as well!

5. Sunday Night Baseball features Mark’s Mets and Carlos Beltran's Cardinals, but we’re also paying close attention to the streaking Angels taking on the sputtering Rangers, and much more.

So download and listen to Friday’s Baseball Today podcast, have an awesome weekend and return with us Monday as Keith Law and I will preview the amateur draft, starting that day!

Best defensive SS? How about M's Ryan?

June, 1, 2012
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US Presswire/Steven BisigBrendan Ryan was baseball's standard-setter on the defensive side for the month of May.

Seattle Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan had to think when we asked him if he had a favorite play in May.

"There weren’t any between-the-legs, bare-hand, behind-the-neck crazy plays for me," Ryan said with a laugh.

That might be true, but the sum of Ryan’s work this month was statistically impressive. He was the winner of our voting for Defensive Player of the Month for May. Dodgers utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. won the award for April.

Ryan had 13 Defensive Runs Saved for the month, second-most in the majors to Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie.

He had 17 Good Fielding Plays and only four Defensive Misplays & Errors (see explanation in the accompanying chart). His 4-to-1 Good Play/Misplay ratio is far above average for a shortstop.

Lawrie benefited from turning outs in unusual spots on the field due to the Blue Jays' frequent extreme defensive shifts. Ryan’s tally is almost entirely non-shift-based.

He was given 10 "Good Play" credits by Baseball Info Solutions' video-tracking team for recording an unlikely ground-ball out, five for his work starting or serving as relay man on a double play, one for an assist on an attempted baserunner advance, and one for a pop-up catch.

"His anticipation of plays, and his reactions, make the tough plays, really tough plays, almost seem simple," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "He slows the game down and can make reads that most players won't even come close to. And the thing that I think separates him is his uncanny ability to always know where he is on the field. He can field a ball in center field, turn on a dime, and know exactly where he is to make an accurate throw to first base. You can't teach that stuff."

So what did Ryan do right this month? As he noted, he’s not making the super-flashy play, though he did net a pair of Web Gems.

In the past couple weeks, Ryan twice made the play for which he has become most identified, going deep into the shortstop-third base hole, almost into left field, to thwart Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler.

"There are a lot of guys defensively who are underrated, and he’s one of them," Kinsler said afterwards.

These are the plays that tend to add to a shortstop’s Runs Saved because so few shortstops make them (the recently published book "Fielding Bible III" goes into this in great depth).

Ryan talked about his defense at length in a recent interview on FanGraphs. We asked him to elaborate further on the thought process that goes into this type of play.

"You rely a lot on feel and projecting where the ball is going to go, and trust that the ball will be hit that way," he said. "You don’t want to move too early. It’s like you want to get a cheater’s head start in a sprint. You want your feet off the ground when the ball crosses the plate, so your feet are on the ground when the ball is hit, and you can explode to whichever side you need."

Ryan said knowing the hitter helps.

"Ian Kinsler likes to get the bat head out. His home runs are typically to left-center. His swing path is such that he’s not going to get a ton of ground balls up the middle. With his swing, if he hits a ground ball, he’s going to top a lot of them into the six-hole. So I’m going to shade him to the right. Though if it’s a fastball from Jason Vargas, I might shade him up the middle. If it’s a cutter in, it’s probably going to be hit to my backhand side."

There is a mental aspect to defense that Ryan has put a lot of time into mastering. This dates back to his time in the St. Louis Cardinals organization a few years ago.

"I made an error in Double-A that ended a game," Ryan said. "I was (with) Springfield and we were in Wichita. Right before the play, I was thinking, 'If a ball is hit to me and I make an error here, we lose,' and then it happened. It was a horrible feeling, because I knew if I backhanded the ball, we’d be going extra innings."

"I said to myself after that play that I would never think that way again. You know you can play defense. Why would you think that way?"

It has been a while since Ryan thought that way. Wedge said that Ryan’s abilities have progressed to being "beyond any defensive statistic."

That led to us asking Ryan how we could best evaluate defensive play. He came up with an idea that we found intriguing.

"The Olympics are coming up ... you know how they have the guy on the bobsled," Ryan said. "He sets the mark, and then when you see other people competing, you see the lead racer as like a ghost figure (compared to where the current racer is). It would be cool to be able to do that, and to see which players could get to the ball from where. It would be really cool to watch a game on TV and see that."
Random trade idea that popped into my head during Tuesday's chat: Brendan Ryan from the Seattle Mariners to the Milwaukee Brewers for George Kottaras and Taylor Green.

With Alex Gonzalez out for the season, the Brewers need a shortstop. Cesar Izturis can't hit and Edwin Maysonet is a Triple-A veteran who was hitting .214 at Nashville. Ryan is one of the best glove guys in the business; since 2009, he leads all fielders in Defensive Runs Saved. Even if you're not a big believer in defensive metrics, there is solid evidence that Ryan is a top-level shortstop.

Ryan is off to a slow start with the bat, but he's been better in recent seasons than Izturis. The Brewers improve their defense and don't lose anything at the plate.

With Jonathan Lucroy, backup catcher Kottaras is a luxury the Brewers could deal. Yes, the Mariners already have Jesus Montero, John Jaso and the currently disabled Miguel Olivo, but Montero will still spend a lot of time at DH and Olivo isn't any good. Kottaras does have a similar skill set to Jaso (left-handed hitter), but is maybe a little better. With Mat Gamel also injured, the Brewers may give Green playing time at first base or third base (with Aramis Ramirez moving to first), but if they're more committed to Travis Ishikawa, Green may be expendable. The Mariners get another first base/third base guy to throw into the Justin Smoak (starting to look like he can't hit)/Alex Liddi (we'll see if he can hit)/Chone Figgins (we know he can't hit)/Kyle Seager corner mix. Seager is probably stretched defensively at shortstop, but he can move over for now, at least until prospect Nick Franklin is ready in a couple years. The Mariners also have Japanese veteran Munenori Kawasaki who can play there.

You could actually argue that those two players aren't worth Ryan, who has accumulated 9.5 Baseball-Reference WAR since 2009. Kottaras is a solid backup while Green grades as a marginal corner guy. If you're looking at prospects, the Milwaukee system is pretty thin. You'd be looking at one of their Class A pitching prospects -- Taylor Jungmann or Jed Bradley -- but the Brewers would be unlikely to trade one of those two.

Still, seems like a potential match here. Ryan is an underrated asset, but exactly the kind of player the Mariners should be looking to flip if they can find a team which values his defense.


My parents still love watching baseball, even Seattle Mariners baseball. I called them Monday evening to see if they watched Philip Humber's perfect game on Saturday and my dad said he watched a few innings, went out to the mow the lawn and came back just in time to see the bottom of the ninth.

He then proceeded to complain about Chone Figgins ("He just can't hit.") and Justin Smoak ("Most good hitters don't take three or four years to figure things out."). Hey, he's right. And you can't blame him; he's been watching inept offense for two-plus years now. But then he said something that sums up a problem not unique to the Mariners:

"You know, even with their great pitching staff the Phillies can't win either."

Indeed, the Philadelphia Phillies entered Monday's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a 2.46 ERA. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley had allowed just 22 runs in their 13 starts. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in Sabermetrics to realize that's fewer than two runs per start. But after losing 9-5 to Arizona (made closer with a five-run outburst in the ninth inning) the Phillies are now 7-10. That's the same record as the Mariners, and the Phillies have scored just 48 runs, an average of 2.82 runs per game.

That's right, the Philadelphia Phillies -- the five-time defending National League East champs -- have become the Seattle Mariners.

OK, OK ... I kid, Phillies fans. But the Phillies have scored 12 fewer runs than the Mariners, a team whose OPS leader is Brendan Ryan, a guy with a .190 batting average. We all know the laundry list of the Phillies' problems -- Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the disabled list; Jimmy Rollins hitting .242 with no power (two doubles, no home runs) and just four walks; Placido Polanco hitting .185 with one extra-base hit and one RBI; John Mayberry Jr. hitting .205 with no walks and 14 strikeouts. And so on. In fact, it's fair to ask: Where would the Phillies be without Juan Pierre and Ty Wigginton?

Man, those 45-homer seasons from Ryan Howard seem like a long time ago.

What I'm wondering: How many runs do the Phillies need to score to contend for the playoffs? After all, offense is still 50 percent of the game.

Entering Monday's action, the National League was hitting a collective .242/.310/.376 -- a .686 OPS that is 24 points lower than 2011's numbers. That figure takes us back to the offensive levels of 1988 to 1992, when the NL OPS figures were .673, .678, .704, .689 and .684. So one way of looking at this: Let's assume it will take 87 wins to make the playoffs. What's the lowest run total for an NL team from that 1988-1992 period that won at least 87 games?

For you baseball historians out there, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the 1988 Dodgers scored just 628 runs, or 3.88 runs per game. That actually put the Dodgers sixth in a 12-team league. The Dodgers allowed 544 runs and finished 94-67, exceeding their projected record by three wins.

Back to the Phillies. They're on pace to score 457 runs. Obviously, that won't cut it, but of course the offense won't be that bad all season. It will pick up, that we can predict. In 2011, they allowed 529 runs, the lowest full-season total since the 1969 Orioles allowed 517. So if they match the '88 Dodgers' total of 628 runs, they're still in good shape and project as a 93-win team, assuming the same run prevention as 2011.

What will it take to score 628 runs? They'd have to score 580 runs over the final 145 games, or 4.0 runs per game. Or just about what the National League average has been so far -- 3.94 runs per game entering Monday's game.

But just like the offense is likely to improve moving forward, the pitching staff probably won't match last season's historic stinginess. With Cliff Lee heading to the DL over the weekend with a strained oblique, we see the precariousness of relying so much on a few starting pitchers. The Diamondbacks lit up Kyle Kendrick, Lee's replacement, for 11 hits and seven runs in three innings on Monday. Kendrick had a nice season in 2011, posting a 3.22 ERA over 114.2 innings, including 15 starts. Kendrick, however, lives on a fine line of success. Among 145 pitchers last season with at least 100 innings, his strikeout rate ranked 138th. So as he steps in for Lee -- who may miss a month, meaning four or five starts -- don't expect a 3.22 ERA from Kendrick.

That's just one reason to expect the staff to allow a few more runs. Let's say 30 more than a year ago. That's 559 runs. Now that '88 Dodgers total of 628 runs projects to a win total of ... 89.5.

That might still be enough to squeak into the playoffs. Four runs a game. That's all you need, Phillies fans.

But what if the Phillies average 3.8 runs per game the rest of the season instead of 4.0? That projects to 599 runs scored.

And 86 wins. One run every five games. A couple of extra bloops or bleeders per week. A few ground balls with eyes. The difference between making the playoffs and going home.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Cubs CelebrateBrian Kersey/Getty ImagesRallying for a win in Wrigleyville is so much sweeter when it's at the Cardinals' expense.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast with Mark Simon was a special one, as it figures to be our last weekly episode before we really get going. That’s right, we’re going daily next week! Anyway, we had a special guest and good fun with many topics.

1. Ben Jedlovec from "The Fielding Bible Volume III" (available from Amazon.com or www.actasports.com) joined us to talk defense, from runs saved to overrated/underrated (Derek Jeter, Matt Kemp) to the best defenders in baseball and a lot more.

2. I watch spring training games, Mark does not, but we’re both aware of who’s getting hurt. A few Mets are on our mind this day, as well as a Cardinals ace and a potential Angels slugger.

3. Is Chipper Jones really on the way out or did he just have a bad day when he told reporters he might not make it through the season?

4. We play the “star or Shlobotnick” game with pitchers, which isn’t so easy! What do you think of Mat Latos, Jeremy Hellickson and John Danks, among others?

5. If you ask a ridiculous question, you often get a ridiculous answer. So it was with our email segment today! Hey, it was fun!

So download and listen to Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast, as Mark and I talk defense, McDonald’s and yes, a little birthdays as well. And look for the next show next Monday, as we really prepare for the season.
The indisputable highlight -- at least for me -- on Wednesday’s Baseball Today podcast had to do with the way Keith Law and me were united in our lively discussion about St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and his "tactics." You have to hear it as well as these other topics.

1. Well, there’s La Russa and Yadier Molina and ... the Cardinals found the time to beat the Brewers in a key NL Central matchup. We discuss some big picture stuff here.

2. Meanwhile, those spunky Arizona Diamondbacks are tied for first place, but according to our Arizona resident, there’s more interest in someone named Kevin Kolb. Ever heard of him?

3. Ah, the age-old discussion about what wins games between pitching and defense ... but is there a difference when it comes to regular season versus playoffs?

4. We found a minor league lineup better than the Houston Astros! Honestly, I’m sure we can find more.

5. Lots of stuff to watch on Wednesday’s schedule, from the big NL series to poor Jordan Lyles desperate to finally win!

Plus: Excellent emails, the opportunistic Brendan Ryan, the underappreciated Denard Span, the top catching prospects for the Yankees and Red Sox and so much more there just isn’t enough space to tell you about it on Wednesday’s edition of Baseball Today!
Sorry for another Mariners post, but I don't think I've ever seen this happen before. At least not quite like this. Kudos to Brendan Ryan and shame on you, Oakland A's.

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