Is the game trending toward defense?

Last year, the Seattle Mariners finished 85-77 and recorded 24 more wins than they had in 2008.

They made such a dramatic improvement and actually scored 31 fewer runs than the season before. But after giving up 811 runs in 2008, the Mariners gave up just 692 last year.

That's 119 fewer runs allowed and 24 more victories.

The Mariners pitching had a hand in that, of course, but many are crediting a big upgrade in defense with the increased win total.

The Mariners had some of the best defensive outfielders in the game in Franklin Guttierez, Ichiro Suzuki and Endy Chavez.

When Tampa Bay went from 66 to 97 wins in 2008, the Rays scored eight fewer runs than the year before but went from allowing 944 runs in 2008 to 671. An amazing difference.

This winter, the Red Sox added outfielder Mike Cameron, third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Marco Scutaro - all designed to help on defense.

It all seems to be part of a developing trend in the game by upper management - improving your run prevention can help as much perhaps as increased run scoring.

The stat "ultimate zone rating" shows a correlation last year in the American League between defense and winning.

Here, in order, are the top eight teams in the AL in 2009 in team UZR and their win totals:

Seattle - 85
Tampa - 84
Detroit - 86
Texas - 87
Los Angeles - 97
Oakland - 75
Boston - 95
New York - 103

Of those eight clubs, seven had winning records and the eight averaged 89 victories.

Seattle, which made the big leap up in wins, not only led the AL, but all of the Majors in UZR last year. That's a pretty good argument for the Ultimate Zone Rating stat.

The Orioles, by the way, ranked 9th in UZR in the league in 2009.

One thing about defense - it is hard to quantify. The UZR most seem to feel is considerably better than say fielding percentage. But others are skeptical.

Adam Jones won a Gold Glove for his defense in 2009. Yet 12 center fielders in the Majors rated ahead of him in UZR.

Some feel UZR is just another tool in the belt when attempting to grade defense. I'm sure there are many in the game that still feel the eye-ball test is best. You know, where you actually just watch a player play and form an opinion of his skills.

So what is best - scouting a player the old fashioned way or just looking up a number on a computer and formulating an opinion on a player perhaps without ever seeing him play?

We digress a bit, but it still seems teams are now putting a premium on run prevention, however they arrive at their conclusions on the talents of their players on defense.

Any boxscore can tell us which players had multiple hits, homered and drove in the most runs in a game. But none can point out how the shortstop started an amazing double play in the 8th with the bases loaded that saved two runs at least.

Isn't that player pretty valuable? Do you see the game shifting toward defense and what are your thoughts on that?

Click here to read an article about Ultimate Zone Rating.

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