Friday, September 28, 2007

Hit the ball to Howie and Kotch

How good is the Angel defense? We didn't give away a division with unearned runs like last year, but there are still some problems.

My defensive system is called Totalzone, and looks at every ball in play with data from retrosheet. As long as retrosheet has complete data for who fielded every out or hit, and batted ball type (grounder, fly, liner, pop). This data is complete for 2003 to 2006. While I don't have the full file for 2007, I was able to pull enough from Baseball Reference's play index to run the numbers by position for the Angels, and compare to 2006 league averages.

For Totalzone, I also adjust by ballpark, by bases occupied, and handedness of the batter, but here I haven't done those adjustments, and I don't have the numbers for each Angel, just totals by position. Its a lot easier and less time consuming to get this from retrosheet play by play files, but I did as best I could to run some estimates before the Angels go to the first round of the playoffs.

The Angels are best in the infield, for runs saved they are +11 at first, +10 at 2B, -2 at third, and -6 at short. This may surprise some who listen to Rex talk about how the OC should win a gold glove, but while the OC is a smart defender with excellent hands and an accurate arm, he does not range well on balls hit up the middle. You may not believe my number crunching, but heres an indisputable fact: Angels have allowed 99 groundball singles to left field, and only 68 to right. This strongly supports our right side being more efficient than our left.

Overall, the infield defense is above average, +12.

The outfield, however, is not so good. LF -10, CF -15, RF -14. Line drives and flyballs are accounted for separately, as flyballs are caught more than 80% of the time, while groundballs are caught less than 20%. In centerfield, linedrives were caught at a .201 rate, better than league average .167, but 112 flyballs dropped in for hits to center, outs were recorded 77% of the time against an 82% average.

Matthews has made his share of highlight film catches, but there have just been a lot of hits falling in too.

The Hardball Times zone rating has the Angels infield slightly above average, .782 to .776, and the outfield well below average, .845 to .870, which is right in line with my numbers.

Further evidence that this team is not that good defensively? Look at the top 3 starters. Lackey has allowed a hit per inning. Escobar has only 10 more innings than hits, Weaver has 19 more hits than innings. They have been successful not because of the defense, but in spite of it, by striking people out and limiting walks and homers. With a stronger defense, John Lackey might have been the undisputed Cy Young winner, instead of one of about 4 good final candidates.

So in the playoffs, keep the ball on the ground, and hope its hit to Kendrick or Kotchman. Especially Kotchman. That is our gold glover.