Chat with Page 2's Eric Neel
Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.
Send your questions now and join Neel Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET!
Eric Neel (3:01 PM)
Hey All, Thanks for coming out to talk about the piece on defensive analysis and such...
I've read that a player's defense is worth around 50% of his offense. Have you come across anything similar to this?
Eric Neel (3:04 PM)
I haven't heard it that way, Mac. What clubs are talking about these days is something more wholistic, something that still involves some measure of gut feeling for the way offense and defense balance each other out when we evaluate the overall worth/contribution of a player. That said, with these measures that are geared towards some pretty concrete assessment of how many runs a player costs or saves a team, the evaluations are becoming increasingly precise.
Brandon (Charleston, WV)
What can Reds fans expect out of Alex Gonzalez defensively this season?
Eric Neel (3:07 PM)
According to the Fielding Bible, by John DeWan, a great resource for getting a feel for a player's individual defensive contribution, Gonzalez is a plus defender the last three years, but so much depends on whether that knee is all the way back. His glove work on balls he gets to should be good, but we're understanding more and more that a guy's value is really tied to how many balls he gets to that the average fielder might not. Gonzalez is a wait and see right now...
Eric, please settle an agrument. In their prime, defensivly. Jeter or Omar Visquel
Eric Neel (3:09 PM)
Vizquel. Jeter just did not, even in his prime, get to anywhere near the same number of balls Vizquel did...
with the mariner's new much improved outfield defensivly do you think they could compete for 2nd in the West if all goes well?
Eric Neel (3:10 PM)
It's reason for hope. With the Angels pitching hurting, and the A's pitching so young, the division feels pretty open, at least early in the season. I will say making defensive improvements up the middle made a huge difference for the Rays last year...
chilly chicago [via mobile]
what is it going to take for the cubs catcher defense to stay at the level it was on last year with geovany soto?
Eric Neel (3:13 PM)
Soto rates pretty high on some ratings (Ultimate Zone Rating says he's +7.8) and average on others (Fielding Bible has him at -1). I'd say Soto defensively hinges on his fitness. Does he stay trim enough to stay quick and agile in the next few seasons. If so, he should be an asset...
Do you think voters for the MVP will start looking at defense more closely?
Eric Neel (3:16 PM)
I really hope so. I think we've seen a shift in voting on the awards in the last few years, where more than HR and RBI are taken into consideration (Ryan Howard's totals were not the whole story, and his rate stats hurt him in comparison to Albert Pujols), and more than Wins and Losses are taken into consideration for the Cy Young award, etc. I think defense has always been something voters and fans have been aware of, and something we've all known was important, but now we're starting to get a clearer picture of precisely how important it is, and that should take hold with voters on the awards, who have long thought, in some general way, I think, that defense matters...
Bryan (Durham, NC)
Who's the most impressive defensive player you've see in the past five years? Most impressive for this year?
Eric Neel (3:19 PM)
If you talk to folks who do defensive analysis, the guy they all talk about is Pujols. They say he's crazy slick around the bag -- that his defense is every bit as impressive as his offense. One guy I interviewed for the story suggested if people really took defense into account, the MVP award would be named for Pujols, and other guys would have to make a claim as to why he *shouldn't* win it every year...
big baby (nj)
when you look at a lot of the individual met players defensive metrics, they aren't that impressive. but for the last 3 years, the mets have been in the top 6 in baseball in defensive efficiency. it seems like reyes and wright get undersold defensively. your thoughts?
Eric Neel (3:21 PM)
Interesting question. At this point, most of the fielding metrics are geared toward what individual players do in isolation, just as most offensive metrics measure what a guy does, on his own, in the batter's box. But that will change. Soon clubs will pay more and more attention to factors, and players, in combination. They're starting to look at how various factors, like the guy who threw the ball, the condition of the field, the dimensions of the ballpark, etc, are affecting performance rates on defense....
Although it is safe to say that there are a lot more statistics available now than ever before regarding how to measure defense, do you think we'll ever get to the point where we can judge that aspect of the game as concretely as offense and pitching? Somehow, measuring a player's fielding ability still seems to have a very subjective component to it, even with things like fielding percentage and the Ultimate Zone Rating.
Eric Neel (3:24 PM)
There is some subjectivity in the system now because the trajectory and speed of hit balls is still something largely measured by the human eye. But that won't last too much longer, I don't think. We're getting increasingly precise data on trajectory, speed, location, etc, and we certainly have the technology to track those kinds of things in very precise ways going forward. The trick right now is too much inconsistency in the collection of the data, but as it becomes increasingly clear to organizations that it is worth their while financially to get very precise about this, I expect they will, and eventually they will throughout their systems, from the minors to the bigs...
Aside from Granderson, Everett, and Inge, it looks like the Tigers will be at or below average at every other defensive position. Do they really expect their staff to rebound with these jokers backing them up?
Eric Neel (3:27 PM)
The Tigers are a fascinating case, right, because they bolstered their offense, and their pitching looked young and promising (and it still probably will be), but their defense really hurt them. I wonder if they're an example, maybe one of the last examples, of what is quickly becoming a bygone era. I wonder, given what the Rays did last year, and given the central role defense played in that, if we're going to see fewer and fewer teams built like the Tigers in the future...
Who is the best defensive outfielder in the game today?
Eric Neel (3:28 PM)
I think for a long time the answer was Andruw Jones, but I think now, with his combination of range, positioning, and arm strength, the most dominant defensive outfielder is probably Alex Rios, the Jays rightfielder.
Is Jeter the most overrated player in history, as far as defense is concerned, with regards to perception vs. reality?
Eric Neel (3:31 PM)
Jeter fascinates me because the numbers suggest he has been average or below average (depending on the measure you use) at the position for a long time, but his reputation, as a leader, as great player, remains unaffected by those numbers. I think part of that has to do with what he's done with his bat, which has been tremendous, and with the several very dramatic plays he's made in big moments, both of which color the public perception of him. He's been a great player over the years, and his offense has been valuable enough for a long time to make his defense less of an issue. But that is shifting as he gets older. His defense is becoming more of a problem as we assess his overall value now, I think.
Where does Ryan Zimmerman rank defensively -- is he as good as advertised?
Eric Neel (3:35 PM)
Zimmerman was a top-five third baseman in 2008 according to the Fielding Bible. He's very good on bunts, and his range and arm are solid. He's not as good, according to UZR ratings, done by Mitchel Lichtman, as Adrian Beltre, Pedro Feliz, and Evan Longoria, but he's an asset.
I'm not sure what you mean by how the Tigers are built, could you (quickly) explain?
Eric Neel (3:40 PM)
I was thinking about their emphasis on offense, with guys like Cabrera and Ordonez, etc, who are defensive liabilities according to most metrics, as opposed to an emphasis, a la the Rays shifts around the infield, on defense as a difference-making feature of team-building. One NL GM told me about looking at a recent vintage of his team and realizing they weren't scoring a lot of runs, and yet they were winning games and remaining in the hunt, and it hit him: we're defending, and this can make a huge difference. When the Tigers signed Adam Everett, whose defensive metrics are outstanding, but who is a pretty anemic hitter, this offseason, I wonder if they were thinking about this kind of thing going forward...
J.B. (Dunmore, PA)
Mind if I go old school on you for a minute? Who was the best defensive 3B of these three: Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt, or Graig Nettles? I always thought Schmidt was an overrated defensive player.
Eric Neel (3:43 PM)
I'm not sure how to rate this stuff, in light of the metrics, I mean. One of the interesting things I learned working the story was that we don't have the data going back to do the kind of evaluations we do now. We can use filding percentage, a measure of how a guy handles a ball he gets to (does he make an error, etc), but we can't say whether he should have gotten to more balls than he did, or what the league average for getting to balls was, etc. Some folks who do the metrics will talk about running tests on guys from previous generations, to confirm that their measures match up, more or less, with what their eyes had told them, but beyond that, guys like Robinson, Schmidt, and Nettles are hard to measure precisely, I think. All that said, give me Robinson, though I admit I may be influenced, like a Jeter fan, by huge plays in big moments when I say that...
I hear all the time about how the Rays won last year because they got so much better defensively. WHat about the PHils? Rollins, Utley, and Feliz were three of the best at their positions. Victorino was pretty good and Howard wasn't as bad as you would think. Burrell still stunk, but other than him they were very good.
Eric Neel (3:46 PM)
Great point. The Phils were by some measures the best defensive team in baseball last year. The Fielding Bible says they saved 77 runs more than the average team, which equates to about 7 games won on defense alone. I think the reason people talk about the Rays so much is that their rise was so dramatic, from the bottom of the ladder to near the top. But you're right, the Phils championship had a whole lot to do with how good they were with the glove.
What do you say about the Royals and Cardinals putting two players (Teahen and Schumaker)out of position due to their hitting?
Eric Neel (3:49 PM)
It's an interesting experiment in both cases, I think. In the case of KC, where offense has been such a consistent problem, maybe they've decided this shift is worth the potential cost. In STL, I think part of the story is that LaRussa is not only willing to experiment but enjoys experimenting, and maybe this is one of those moments where he thinks he sees an edge he can exploit, and a risk he's willing to absorb. An NBA general manager told me recently, the whole thing is risk-reward. You decide whether you're in a position to make a serious run, and if you are, you take on extra risk. That's how I look at what LaRussa is doing with Schumaker...
Eric Neel (3:50 PM)
All right folks, I'm out. Thanks for all the great questions. Enjoy the start of the season! Best, E