The case for the defense

Here are two things I feel are quite true about baseball:

* Defense is often underrated.
* Defense is very hard to statistically quantify.

I have heard Buck Showalter talk often enough about run prevention to realize he values defense. I think most managers understand a run saved is pretty much equal to a run knocked in. We hail a player with a two- or three-RBI game, but sometimes overlook the outfielder that made the diving catch in the fifth inning that kept two runs from scoring.

You can see the offense in the boxscore, but not the defense, and defense is half the game.

A few years ago, when Tampa Bay went from worst to first, its defense was exceptional and I felt the biggest factor in the team’s rise to the top.

A team that plays good defense often gets the lead runner out and keeps a double play in order. Sure enough, the next batter hits into a 6-4-3 double play. That team almost always throws to the right base and seldom makes a poor throw or mental mistake. Those plays mean a lot, even if they are forgotten two innings later.

No doubt defense factored into the Orioles’ decision to add players like Taylor Teagarden and Endy Chavez. Even in part-time roles, you don’t want a drop off on defense and, in the case of Chavez, he could also be a late-inning defensive upgrade.

When it comes to stats on defense, fielding percentage can tell us how often a team makes an error, but not much else. It doesn’t tell us how good the outfielders’ arms are and if they are accurate or how much range the shortstop or second baseman has.

A lot of fans staunchly believe in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) as a defensive stat. I just think defense is hard to quantify because, unlike with a batting average, you have to factor in things like range, quickness and arm strength, and it’s just hard to measure that with a stat.

Very few teams are strong on defense all over the diamond. Some sacrifice offense for defense at certain positions. It’s just a fact of life in the game. Everyone would like the perfect player who hits for average, has great plate discipline, can drive the ball and play great defense but few such players exist.

Maybe one reason defense is underrated is because we can’t compare it with a stat like someone’s OPS, homer total or batting average.

Defense can be hard to find and hard to quantify. But it’s huge when you have it.

What is your take on the importance of defense?

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