The Diamondbacks were great defensively, but not at all aspects of defense. One component of both of the most-used advanced defensive statistics is range; for The Fielding Bible‘s Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), that component is Runs Plus Minus Saved (rPM). That’s right, there’s a statistic that bears my initials, and the D-backs were the best at it in 2013. How could I not write about that?
By both DRS and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), the D-backs were very, very good in 2013 — just not quite as good as the Royals. Kansas City led in both statistics (93 DRS, 79.9 UZR), and the D-backs were second in both (86 DRS, 51.1 UZR). But the Royals got to their totals by doing well at every defensive facet of the game (of those that are actually measured by both statistics). They were above average in cutting down runners in pickoffs and stolen base attempts (2 rSB). Same for turning double plays (5 rGDP) and “good fielding” plays (15 rGFP), and the Royals outfield also led the league in terms of how many runs were saved by outfielders’ throwing arms (15 rARM).
But the Royals were just 4th overall in rPM (51), so their defense, on the whole, didn’t have more range than the rest of the league. That’s where the Diamondbacks cleaned up, because the D-backs were actually below average in most of the DRS components (-1 rSB, -3 rGDP, -4 rGFP).
The D-backs led the majors in rPM with 79, and it wasn’t that close — the Pirates were next at 58 (and I’m not sure how much credit fielders got for the Pirates’ aggressive defensive shifts). 79 rPM in 2013 means that the D-backs might have won an extra 8 games just based on the range of their fielders. That would also mean an 18-game difference between the D-backs and the last place team in rPM, the Phillies (who set records with poor defense). Crazy, right?
Of course, that wasn’t the only thing that the D-backs did well — they also ranked highly in rARM (11, tied for 4th). Which brings us to the main reason why the D-backs did so well with defensive metrics overall: the outfield, and, more specifically, Gerardo Parra. Sticking with DRS, there were 24 player/position combinations that resulted in a net positive for the team (out of 65). For instance, Martin Prado is on the list four times, for his time at 3B (881.1 innings), 2B (256.2), LF (233.1), and also for the single inning he played at shortstop. Of the 24 positive DRS entries, six are pitchers (including Patrick Corbin, who logged an astounding 8 DRS in 208.1 innings).
Other than Cliff Pennington (9 DRS) and Paul Goldschmidt (13 DRS), the top of the list of 65 is dominated by outfielders. A.J. Pollock impressed with his range (14 rPM) in center, and he had 15 DRS overall. Prado had zero as a left fielder. But Cody Ross had an amazing total of 20 DRS in just over 700 innings — 15 in RF, 5 in LF.
Of course, Gerardo Parra put the rest of the outfielders to shame. As we’ve covered before, Parra put up the finest defensive season of any outfielder in the history of DRS — in fact, he tied for first ever with shortstop Andrelton Simmons. He did that primarily in RF (36 DRS), but he also chipped in with 272 innings in CF (4 DRS) and even 41 innings in LF (1 DRS). In rARM (which is already included in the DRS totals), Parra led the class with 12 of the positive 15 (negative rARM by Adam Eaton, Prado, and Alfredo Marte brought the total back down to 11).
UZR does not completely agree with these assessments — overall, it still has the D-backs second (51.1 UZR), but credits an ability to avoid misplays (16.3 ErrR, best in the majors). The D-backs’ outfield arms got just about as much credit (10.3 ARM, as opposed to 11 rARM), but although the UZR range component (RngR) tracks closely to rPM for most teams, the D-backs’ RngR of 25.8 was actually just 9th overall, and well behind even the Dodgers.
This is part of why it’s great to have two systems, and why it’s great to involve human beings in the evaluation process — when UZR and DRS agree, it’s very meaningful. The fact that the D-backs ranked highly overall with respect to both says a lot. And the difference between rPM and RngR is not quite so significant when you take into account that the UZR version generally comes in just a bit lower at the extremes.
RngR credited Parra with just 20.0 runs saved due to his range in 2013, but that’s not a far cry from Parra’s 26 rPM, and it was still good for second among all outfielders (to Shane Victorino, who had 22.0). Pollock was also near the top of the list: 5th overall at 17.8 RngR. And despite playing just 712 innings in the outfield (Parra had 1355.1, almost double that), Cody Ross ranks 17th on the list of outfielders with 10.6 RnR. Ross is probably the guy who gets lost in the shuffle — Parra had stupendous range in RF and a great arm, Pollock had almost as much of a range advantage at a more difficult position, and Cody Ross dazzled in limited time with both range and arm.
So will the 2014 outfield be better? Based on that general rule that greatness outliers tend to be the product of both skill and luck, it would be hard for both Parra and Pollock to repeat (especially Parra). And it’s difficult to guess what Cody Ross will bring to the table, and whether Mark Trumbo will be able to improve on his below average numbers as an outfielder (-7.0 UZR/150). Left field was a grab bag for the D-backs in 2013; nine players spent time in LF, with Ross, Prado, Eaton and Jason Kubel all racking up more than 200 innings there (Eaton was actually quite a bit worse than Kubel in left). Consistency may help. But I think the D-backs would do well to just to stay well above average in 2014 — defense has been a significant asset for the team of late, and holding the line should continue to pay dividends.
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