SweetSpot: Matt Davidson

AL's defensive winter moves

December, 29, 2013
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
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
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).
BogaertsAP Photo/Kathy WillensXander Bogaerts scored the World's second run on a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning.

NEW YORK -- Quick thoughts on Sunday's Futures Game at Citi Field, where a good time was had by all, except those fans who missed three innings standing in line at the Shake Shack.

  • Xander Bogaerts had two hits -- a hard grounder up the middle and then a line drive to center -- and you wonder if he'll play his way onto the Red Sox roster before September. He's hitting .294/.390/.489 overall and .260/.353/.462 in 29 games in Triple-A. Considering Brock Holt is currently playing third base with Stephen Drew injured and Jose Iglesias playing shortstop, there is potentially room for him. He's just 20 and there's no need to rush him, but he possesses a mature approach at the plate. Before the game, he talked about how he tries to be patient in looking for his pitch to hit, and he's drawn 50 walks in the minors. The biggest question is about his defense: He's playing shortstop now at Pawtucket, but would most likely play third if called up and doesn't have much experience there (just two games in the minors). As he continues to fill out his 6-foot-3 frame, some believe he'll eventually have to move to third, although I think he'll have to play himself off shortstop. We've seen big shortstops remain there -- Cal Ripken, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jhonny Peralta -- so don't assume Bogaerts moves.
  • There was a consensus that Miguel Sano put on the most impressive display in batting practice as he showed off his raw power, but Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, last year's No. 1 overall pick over Byron Buxton, was also very impressive (Unfortunately, Correa didn't get an-bat and was left standing on deck to end the game.). Sano walked and got hit by a pitch in his four plate appearances, but seeing him and Buxton on the same field together (albeit for different teams) made it fun to project them hitting 3-4 for the Twins in a couple of years. Buxton struck out in both of his at-bats, but made a nice read on Sano's deep liner to center in the ninth, gliding back to make a somewhat difficult play look routine.
  • Padres catcher Austin Hedges gunned down Bogaerts trying to steal in the first inning, showcasing the arm that has him rated as the consensus best defensive catcher in the minors. Jim Bowden compared the arm strength and quick release to Johnny Bench and Pudge Rodriguez -- and obviously you can't get any higher praise than that.
  • As a Mariners fan, it was fun to watch Taijuan Walker in person for the first time: big frame, 97 mph fastball, nice, easy motion. As Jason Churchill has written, however, Walker noticeably slows down his arm and entire delivery when throwing his curveball, something he'll have to fix before he gets to the big leagues. He's not on the Mariners' 40-man roster right now, and I'd be surprised if he gets called up this year.
  • After seeing Red Sox pitcher Anthony Ranaudo struggle Wednesday in the Eastern League All-Star Game (walk, walk, home run, walk, to the first four batters he faced), he struggled again Sunday, giving up two runs in two-thirds of an inning. Not that you can draw any conclusions from two short outings in All-Star Games, but Ranaudo's fastball command doesn't look major league ready (he's walked 32 in 91 innings at Double-A Portland). The Red Sox may be looking for help in the rotation, but Ranaudo isn't the guy just yet.
  • Diamondbacks third-base prospect Matt Davidson lofted a two-run homer to left-center off A's pitcher Michael Ynoa in the fourth. Davidson, the 35th overall pick in 2009, has power potential (23 homers last year, 14 for Triple-A Reno), but the hit tool is the question. He's fanned 100 times (with 32 walks) in 90 games at Reno. And while his .291 average looks impressive, Reno is hitting .284 as a team, and Davidson is hitting .318 at home compared to .262 on the road. Davidson will need to cut down on the K's before he can be projected as a big league regular. Ynoa just recently got promoted to high A ball and struggled in his one inning, giving up three hits, two runs and a walk.
  • Joc Pederson, Dodgers outfielder, normally plays center, but was in left field and nearly threw Bogaerts out at home in the fourth inning with a strong throw from medium-deep left (albeit a little off line). With Yasiel Puig's emergence, Pederson is prime trade bait if the Dodgers look to make another move following the Ricky Nolasco trade.
  • Diamondbacks right-hander Archie Bradley looked impressive in an 1-2-3 inning and showcased a Nolan Ryan-like leg kick. There's an outside shot that Arizona will call him up in September, similar to what they did two years ago with Jarrod Parker.
  • It was a good day for the Mets as well, as Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, both pitchers in their system, drew the starts and pitched scoreless innings. Syndergaard showed a 97 mph fastball that has made him one of the biggest risers among pitching prospects this season. Mets fans can dream ... Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Syndergaard, Montero. Now, about their hitting ...