Do the Mariners Prove that Fielding is Overvalued?

The 2010 Seattle Mariners have, to put it mildly, not quite lived up to pre-season expectations. A full post-mortem can wait until after the season, along with the attendant I-told-you-sos and other fun. Rather than focusing on what went wrong with the Mariners and why some people were wrong about them (including me — I didn’t think they’d win the division, but I thought they’d be around .500), I’d simply like to focus on a sentiment I encountered recently: that the utter collapse of the 2010 Mariners proves that the recent emphasis on defense (as exemplified by the Mariners’ personnel decisions) shows that fielding to be “overvalued.”

There are a number of related complex issues: the objectivity of recent defensive metrics, the difficulty of projecting defensive performance based on those metrics, integrating that data with scouting information, and so on. These are all important and should not be ignored (See here and here for some good recent work). For now, I want to deal with polemically the most basic claim: that the 2010 Mariners in themselves somehow show that pursuing players based on their apparent value in the field is a “flawed” strategy. We aren’t discussing whether or not current defensive metrics are good or not (after all, one could pick good defensive players based on scouting reports), or whether the Mariners picked the right players. Those are important, but I’m starting with the more simple issue of whether “defense is overrated.” Perhaps this is a straw man, but I think it’s one that at least needs to be cleared out of the way before more serious discussions can get underway.

The most obvious answer, of course, is that a run saved is still as valuable a run earned (generally speaking). Unless the Mariners or any other team emphasizing defense is likely to score zero runs a game (and if the 2010 Mariners didn’t accomplish that, I’m not sure who could, but more on that later), run prevention in general is a perfectly sound strategy. Moreover, one team failing to win through this strategy hardly “proves” anything. If it did, well, the San Diego Padres are winning the NL West against almost everybody’s expectations, and, what do you know, they currently lead the league in fielding runs saved according to UZR. So there.

While the Mariners’ fielders haven’t performed as well as expected, that they’ve been good (about 14 runs above average according to UZR) while the team has failed to win is the sort of thing that one might point to when saying that “defense is overrated.” Except, of course, that people have forgotten the one thing that everyone knew would be a problem for the 2010 Mariners: scoring runs. Again, this is not a full evaluation of what the Mariners could or should have done differently in putting the team together, but rather a look at what is happening right now. And right now, the Mariners have the worst team wOBA in the major leagues at .289 (league average is around .325).

To match some faces to this offensive futility, here are the current wOBAs of the 10 Mariners with the most 2010 plate appearances so far. In parentheses, I’ve included each player’s preseason Marcel projection, since that is the simplest projection system and gives a sample of what one might have reasonably expected from each hitter based on recent seasons:

Ichiro Suzuki .330 (.346)
Chone Figgins .293 (.344)
Jose Lopez .265 (.321)
Franklin Gutierrez .313 (.332)
Milton Bradley .289 (.372)
Casey Kotchman .289 (.334)
Josh Wilson .298 (.293)
Michael Saunders .331 (.313)
Jack Wilson .265 (.305)

Whoever you want to blame (or not blame), that is simply stunning. But I’m dancing around the issue: the point was not whether the Mariners should have seen this coming (on offense or defense), but rather whether this team’s actual performance shows that defense has been overvalued. Even if one thinks that a single season by a single team “proves” anything, I don’t think you can go much further than this: it doesn’t matter how good a team is on defense if they hit worse than Jason Kendall (.290 wOBA as of today).

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

71 Responses to “Do the Mariners Prove that Fielding is Overvalued?”

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  1. lester bangs says:

    So I guess this is the Mariners obituary, eh?

    I gave up on Dave Cameron when he picked Gutierrez for his All-Star Team. His defense isn’t enough to make up for that bat.

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    • Jim says:

      You’re an idiot.

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    • Patrick says:

      I gave up on Dave Cameron when he proposed a Jose Lopez & garbage for John Danks then defended his point:
      “Danks is not that much more valuable than Lopez. Sorry, he’s just not.”

      (Danks was clearly offended by this stupidity, and to make his point he has gone 3-0 w/ a 1.14 ERA against the Mariners this year)

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        make his point he has gone 3-0 w/ a 1.14 ERA against the Mariners this year

        Which means Danks would be very good in 4A. *grin*

        That’s not an attack on Danks, he’s a good MLB pitcher, it’s just the M’s send out a very below average lineup, damn near replacement level.

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  2. nolan says:

    In answer to your question: No. One season for one team does not measure a player evaluation process.

    No team hitting as badly as the Mariners will win ballgames. Enough said.

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  3. eastsider says:

    A .372 wOBA for Milton Bradley?

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    • suicide squeeze says:

      He wOBAed .405 in 2007 and .423 in 2008. Marcel simply weights the last three years, so that’s how they got to that number.

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  4. Ben says:

    In the mariners regard, the problem isn’t proving or disproving the value of defense, but instead accepting the idea that in baseball no property is linear in nature.

    As the team gets closer and closer to becoming “elite” defensively, the marginal value of those additions have less and less value to the overall product. The same concepts can be applied in all 3 basic areas. By exclusively focusing on specific facets instead of all 3 parts the overall value will never meet the potential value of the sum of the specific parts.

    The flaw is not that fielding is overvalued but instead all 3 facets of the game have minimum levels of competence. The Mariners never reached the required competency levels in all 3 areas.

    An interesting study would be breaking WAR for various playoff teams down into the 3 categories and then go from there…

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      I’m dummer for having read that

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      Is this actually backed up by anything?

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      • Matt Walsh says:

        I think what he’s saying is that putting a premium on defense may not be an efficient strategy, because once you have a good defensive team, the marginal value of adding another good defender is less than what it costs.

        For example, if you have a great defensive center fielder (Franklin Gutierrez) adding a great defensive left fielder isn’t as valuable, because some of those balls that the better defender in left would get to are caught by the center fielder anyway. Whereas if you’re center fielder is poor defensively, it is more important to have better corner outfielders. The same concept can by applied on the infield between 3B/SS and (to a lesser extent) 2B/1B.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        We’ve talked about that type of thing before, even using power hitting or on base guys as an example.

        Adding more and more of any one aspect becomes diminishing, since being a great baseball team often requires decent balance amond aspects.

        BP’s book BTN, exmained teams that were “one aspect” heavy and compared them to “more balanced teams”, and most often the balanced teams previaled.

        It was in their chapter “Can you have too much pitching?”. The answer to all “Can you have too much XYZ?” questions is “Yes, you cna have too much”, and it’s for the diminishing value factor that’s being discussed here.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Okay, I understand what he is saying. I’m just asking if this statement:

        “Adding more and more of any one aspect becomes diminishing, since being a great baseball team often requires decent balance amond aspects.”

        Is actually true. CC quoted me the BPro chapter, so I guess I’ll accept that.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        In examining the phrase “defense wins championships”, one only has to look at the best defensive teams throughout history and note how mnay championships they have won.

        Baseball teams, generally, have similar runs against per game numbers. How many fewer runs per game do the best defensive teams allow, and how many runs do they score?

        I’d imagine that the best defensive teams in the game MAY allow a single fewer run per game than the average team. But, they would need to likely score the average number of runs per game to make that advantage pay off in wins, to accumulate enough to “make it worth it”.

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  5. UZR is a Joke says:

    Defense is not overrated. Getting an accurate representation of how many runs a defender saves is foggy. Using that foggy representation to build your team is stupid, especially at the expense of known offensive statistics.

    Maybe somehow combining DRS with UZR would give a better estimate, the Rays are first in DRS (Padres 2nd).

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    • q says:

      But the Mariners this season disprove your point, in that the Mariners grossly underperformed expectations created from those “known offensive statistics.” Yes, they’re also underperforming defensively, but the difference there is much smaller than the offensive underperformance, even if defense is “Foggier.”

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      • UZR is a Joke says:

        Yeah I’m shocked that Bradley, Kotchman and Figgins didn’t outperform their career wOBAs after moving into the worst hitter’s park in the league. It’s shocking those Marcel predictions were wrong.

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      • Teej says:

        All three of those guys take most (or all) of their at-bats from the left side, so the Safeco effect is minimized. Safeco isn’t heaven, but it’s not nearly big enough to account for such sizable drop-offs.

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      • q says:

        First of all, they vastly underperformed all reasonable projections made at the beginning of the season, not just Marcel. Second of all, you’re the one who said offensive statistics are “known” and its better to rely on them for projections. Now that you’ve retracted this, your first comment is basically an incomprehensible mess. Good job.

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      • UZR is a Joke says:

        For HR’s their numbers shouldn’t be depressed, but for hitting in general, yes they would be worse.

        Someone really needs to do a study on BABIP by ballpark and post it on Fangraphs. Kauffman Stadium plays a whole lot different than Safeco on balls in play. I know Kauffman has been at about a .315 BABIP over the past 5 years.

        Not only would it help to better predict offense, but I think it would shed some light on UZRs for OFers.

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      • Omar says:

        Well, one season of one team that would get out hit by the Durham Bulls doesn’t disprove the value of Defense. I feel that defense has become both over, and underrated. Underrated when it comes to valuing certain players, but definitely overrated by the sabermetric community. While I think Carl Crawford is an amazing LF, I definitely don’t think he’s been worth two whole wins in LF over 100 games. Just as Franklin Gutierrez is basically “death to flying things” I don’t think that he was worth three wins in CF last year. I feel that defensive metrics are good at comparing two players and getting an idea as to who is better, but as far as measuring true value I feel that there’s a long way to go. That being said, look at the team with the best record in baseball, the Yankees. They seem to be hitting and pitching quite a bit worse than they did last season, but playing Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner everyday instead of Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon has helped mitigate some of the underperforming bats and Javier Vazquez and AJ Burnett’s well documented issues.

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  6. eastsider says:

    I’m sure there is research out there examining if a hitter performs better when surrounded by good hitters than poor ones. Does anyone know the answer? Could the Mariners poor hitting be explained in part by poor hitters amplifying each other?

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      Sort of, yes. If a team were to increase it’s OBP, for example, by 20%, then theoretically, their runs scored should go up by MORE than 20%. Likewise, a team that’s filled with incompetent hitters should expect to see a reduction in runs scored that goes beyond whatever their overall drop in offensive events are.

      But I think what you’re probably asking is “if some hitters are performing poorly, will that cause other hitters to also perform poorly?”. I’m not sure that’s something you could ever get a satisfactory answer about.

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  7. Torgen says:

    Not that this is the Mariners’ problem, but if we accept that one run games, in the modern era, are essentially coin flips, then a team built around run prevention is subjecting itself to higher variance than one that focuses on run scoring because lower scoring games are much more likely to be decided by one run than higher scoring ones. See also: 2008 Blue Jays.

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  8. Schu says:

    Considering the Mariners are currently only ranked 15th in the runs allowed department, I’d say they overvalued the players they brought in to begin with. The M’s would be a .500 team if they had the #1 defense in the league (San Diego) and would only have a -9 run differential.

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    • wayne says:

      Alternatively, the Mariners could have valued the players appropriately according to their true talent levels and/or historical levels of performance, but some players are underperforming on defense in the same way that they’re underperforming on offense. Exhibit A: Chone Figgins, of course.

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  9. CesarV says:

    Analyzing defense without regard of offense is simply stupid. Not only that, it is important to evaluate pitching too. You should first compare fip or xfip to era and see how the pitchers are doing (era) relative to what would be expected of them (fip). Then take a look (like this article did) at the offense part of the equation.
    Remember, you can’t win if you don’t score any runs and you can’t lose if you don’t allow any, but you can’t win by not allowing any runs.

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    • Jason B says:

      Well obviously all facets of the game are important; no one is disputing that. The question being assessed here is whether a team constructed primarily around saving runs on defense performing below expectations definitively disproves that model. And Matt does assess offense; in fact that’s the crux of the article–that it doesn’t matter how many runs they’re saving defensively when they’re performing so, so far below expectations on offense and sending a squad full of Jason Kendall-clones to the dish.

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  10. mettle says:

    I was going to comment on the three flaws in your argument and how you couldn’t even appropriately knock down this “strawman”, but Ben, UZR and Torgen made the three key unaddressed points:

    – On Ben’s point about marginal improvement: If you go for defense in the extreme, you’re potentially sacrificing a disproportionate amount of offense even though the model says 1 defensive run = 1 offensive run. That’s not necessarily true since adding a +15 Fieldingruns person to a team already at +100 FR might not really be the same improvement as +15 Batting Runs to a +0 BR team. Your 1R = 1R assumption is built into your model by those using linear regression.

    – On UZRs point, fielding metrics are certainly the sketchiest, so it does seem idiotic on a certain level to build your team on that.

    – And Torgen’s point: the distribution of runs is *NOT* normal because you can’t score negative runs (though the Mariners came close). You can only improve defense and pitching so much before bumping up against 0. Similar to Ben’s point, the skill and effort and cost to go from allowing 2 to 1 runs/game is certainly far greater than going from 4 runs/game to 5.

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    • q says:

      But what does any of that have to do with the Mariners underperforming on offense? Your points might be a good explanation for why a good-defensive team has less real wins than their third-order wins (or what-have-you), but we’re not dealing with such a case. The Mariners W-L record is a pretty close reflection of their performance.

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    • Thanks. This is convenient for me to give brief responses all in one place

      — on “dimishing returns” on defense see

      — Perhaps I didn’t make this clear in the post. I acknowledge there that there are issues with the reliability of defensive metrics, and also point out that is not the specific issue I’m dealing with. Indeed, while the Mariners publicly talked a great deal about UZR and other defensive metrics in the offseason, they certainly didn’t rely solely, or even primarily on that as a way of gauging defensive ability.

      — There were in fact some studies in the recent past that seemed to indicate that, if anything, a run saved was _more_ valuable that a run scored, I believe at the Hardball Times, but I can’t find it at the moment, anyone else remember this and have a link? In any case, I was going for a much simpler point here and given the other issues it wasn’t worth pursuing.

      My overall point was quite simple — whether or not defense is “overrated,” the Mariners don’t prove it, as their problem is that their offense has been terrible, much, much worse than one would have expected, even given the pathetic group of hitters they assembled. That was the problem, they don’t prove anything one way or the other regarding fielding.

      Thank your thoughts.

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      • mettle says:

        Your article, while intriguing from a certain perspective, still does not get at the normality problem. All the models and equation that are used here, that I’ve seen, are based on assumptions of normality and linearity, but that’s not how runs are distributed.
        To reductio ad absurdum:
        Let’s say you have a .500 team that is allowing 1 run / game and scoring 1 run/game.
        According to your assumption, the addition of a player that can prevent 2 runs/game on defense is equivalent to one that provides 2 runs/game on offense. That’s obviously not true here.

        To put it a more technical way: While the formula for Pythagorean wins is linear, it shouldn’t be. It’s a useful approximation for the bulk of teams, but at the extremes, it is not. It seems that ~3runs/game you reach that limit.

        To get back to the Mariners, the focus on defense and the marginal cost of run prevention maybe be why they didn’t have the resources to allocate to offense. Either that, or I guess it’s all Milton Bradley’s fault.

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      • aweb says:

        I don’t think that article on diminishing returns shows anything, except that Dave didn’t think it was true. An unjustified number thrown out (99.9% of balls can only be fielded by one guy). The basic point seems to be true, but try watching a team with two worse than average outfielders for a while. A ball in the gap that two guys on Seattle might catch isn’t caught by either, a short blooper falls between the OF and IF where with better jumps and reads, any of three guys might have made it. Not a 1/1000 occurance (which would be what, 5 plays a year?).

        On grounders, I can see little reason to think only one guy could have made an out on a given play (aside from bunts, which involves the Catcher and Pitcher a lot, and gets hard to figure).

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      • I was going to mention this in a main comment, but since you referred to it:

        Basically, it is a function of the Pythagorean formula, if you create a table of runs allowed, from, say, 4.0 to 5.0 by 0.1 increments, and calculate the runs scored necessary to keep your winning percentage at 90 wins, or .556, you will find that for every 0.1 extra runs you give up, you have to score 0.11 extra runs to keep your expected wins at 90.

        I have been making this argument about the Giants for the past few years now, that building a great defensive team – pitching and fielding – would allow a team to be able to be competitive even with a bad offense (which the Giants did last season). I discussed how this works here:

        The Mariner’s problem, besides the offense, is that they focused too much on the wrong defense – fielding – and not as much on their pitching defense.

        BP wrote a chapter in their book covering a statistical examination of what it takes for a team to go deep into the playoffs. They found three metrics that is statistically significant in helping a team go deeper into the playoffs.

        First, they need a pitching staff of high overall K/9. I like Brandon League but they traded away a pitcher – Brandon Morrow – that was perfect for helping their pitching do that. That just compounded their error of selecting Morrow over Lincecum. And Cliff Lee is a good pitcher, but his K/9 doesn’t do it for having a high K/9.

        Second, you need a closer with a high WRXL. I don’t know how good Aardsma has been, but I doubt he’s been that good in terms of WRXL.

        Third, you need a good defense (using BP’s defensive metric). I’ll assume their offense is good by their metric.

        So good fielding defense is only part of the equation, they would have been better off keeping Morrow and putting him into their rotation. And, of course, them hoping that Bedard came back earlier also screwed up their season too.

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      • Mettle, as I noted in my prior comment, the formula is not linear, it only is if you use a .500 record. As I showed, for a team wanting to win 90 games, given the option of dropping their runs allowed by 0.1 or increasing their runs scored by 0.1, they would win marginally more by reducing their runs allowed, assuming you have an equal choice.

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      • Nathaniel Dawson says:

        obgiant, you don’t NEED to have those things, those are only certain qualities that have a higher correlation to winning in the playoffs than certain other qualities. Those things certainly give you a better chance, but there are a lot of ways that teams can be constructed that give them better chances in the playoffs than other teams. If you really wanted to boil it down to what gives you the best shot, it would be having better players than the other teams, no matter what qualities they possess. There is no one quality (or three) that a team NEEDS to have to win in the playoffs.

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      • Matthias says:

        @Obsessive Giant
        I’m not sure that Morrow is the best fit in Seattle. A high strikeout/high walk pitcher like Morrow doesn’t take advantage of a pitchers ballpark filled with above-average fielders. True, a guy with high K/9 is likely a better pitcher than one with lower K/9, all else equal, but he’s not going to benefit as much from his good defense and spacious ballpark.

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    • joe says:

      As advanced as statistics have become, you still can’t add up the 9 players individual statistics and come up with an aggregate #. Can you take an OF of -10, 35, -10 and call it equivalent to a 5, 5,5 UZR OF? Does the type of pitching staff impact the defensive value of these 2 OF’s differently or do we just assume everything’s independent and you can merely sum it up?

      And this (in my view) is another problem with the increasing dependence on WAR… is an OF of 0,30, 0 WAR players equivalent to an OF of 10,10,10?

      Finally does offense and defense combine equally as well? Assuming the whole is not simply the sum of the parts, is adding up offense different than adding up defense (or pitching) – this gets to the potetnial for diminshing returns as many have already commented on. Are each of the stats equally advance in isolating an individual’s contribution such that you can truly trade 1 win of hitting with 1 win of fielding?

      Relying on WAR more or less assumes the components are truly interchangeable and the defensive stats are as advanced as the hitting stats (or pitching stats). Given that you can go on the web today and get 2 to 3 WAR values for any given player, I would say this is not the case (and in my view the defensive component is the weak link)

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    • eldingo says:

      Remember UZR is how we evaluate defense, Front offices might have a better way to evaluate defense

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  11. Bhaakon says:

    I wonder if the overrall strategy of assembling a bunch of elite defenders, instead of assembling a sound team defense, could be flawed.

    What I mean to say is that good hitter reinforce one another’s ability to score runs. A good leadoff man will give more more PA w/RISP to his middle of the order, a good middle of the order will convert those opportunities at a better rate, etc. (no, this is not a an argument for lineup effects, just an obvious observation that having good hitters translates well into scoring more runs). But is it the same for defenders? Do good defenders end up poaching balls from one another, turning some of their added value into wasted redundancy? Is it more useful to skimp on 3B defense if you have an elite shortstop, or skimp on LF defense if your CF and RF are good enough to shade over and cover for him?

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  12. Zach says:

    Futthering Mettle/Ben/Torgen

    I would contest the maxim that a run prevented is equal to a run created. If a team gives up 0 runs all year and has a -10 RAR 3rd baseman it won’t get any benefit from adding a 0 RAR 3rd baseman. It can’t give up negative runs.

    Which makes you wonder, the maxim has always been pitching and defense. Maybe it should be pitching or defense.

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  13. Vin says:

    That list is pretty startling. I think its fair to ask if we’d be having this discussion if the Mariners’ offense was merely bad, rather than atrocious, as it has been.

    That’s not to say that they’d be contending for the division with a bad-not-atrocious offense, but they probably would not be so startlingly below expectations.

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  14. Gio says:

    Josh Wilson’s current wOBA is .298 not .265

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  15. E-6 says:

    One thing is for sure. The Mariners and their fans definitely overrated the M’s defense as apparently did the front office. Much of that might have been being fooled by UZR. Dave Cameron frequently wrote that the Mariners may well have had the best defense OF ALL TIME last year. That was ridiculous.

    They were playing Branyan at 1B, Lopez at 2B, Betancourt at SS for a chunk of the season. Chavez was good in LF for a time but the other guys were nothing special. The catchers weren’t anything to write home about either.

    The defense was better than average and maybe a big improvement from the season before. But that Franklin Gutierrez UZR number really produced a euphoria. Ain’t nobody that good.

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  16. woodman says:

    Giving so many starts to Rowland-Smith obviously didn’t help either.

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  17. Joe says:

    Fielding is only overvalued to those that overvalue it.

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  18. Joe says:

    But really, this seems to be a HISTORICALLY BAD offense. No one can when a division with the worst offense in baseball.

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  19. dickey simpkins says:

    That, or the 2010 Mariners’ offense has been so comically pathetic they might be the first AL team to not hit 100 home runs in almost 20 years.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      That’s what I was thinking.

      They may not be proving that defense is over-valued, but they definately are proving how valuable it is to have a “masher” in the lineup, even if it’s a free-swinging 1B.

      FG and the like seemingly undervalue 1B’s since they can be so “easily” replaced (or the sotry goes). Stick anybody at 1B. So, even guys like Ryan Howard and his 45+ HRs per season get viewed at being just “better than average”.

      Ichiro and Figgins are getting on base, and stealing bases. What is not happening is someone driving them in. I am no fan of Howard, but put him at 3rd or 4th in that lineup, and chances are he has his usual 130+ RBIs … and that would be 60 more than the number their current RBI leader is on pace to get. 60 runs goes quite a ways to winning games.

      This was something I was thinking about the other day:

      [1] Most 1Bs hit in the middle of their lineup.
      [2] There are so really productive batters at 1B whose overall value doesn’t seem reflected in WAR.
      [3] Defense at 1B IMO is poorly evaluated, and well, not that important.

      So, basically ALL of a 1B’s value comes with the bat. The difference in fielding between a top 5 fielding 1B and a bottom 5 fielding 1B isn’t going to be “the world”.

      So, the difference in the number line (or stat line) for a 4WAR 1B and a 2WAR 1B is going to HUGE, like maybe 20HR and 60RBI type huge. IMO, we should basically look at 1B’s the same way we do a DH (basically).

      At their most important offensive positions (1B and 3B), SEA has players with -run value numbers.

      While I don;t agree with everything, there’s a BIG reason that players like Ryan Howard have big value. 45 HR 140 RBI players aren’t everywhere, and while I did use counting numbers and a metric that has a team context, I did so because [1] The mariners 1 and 2 hitters are getting on base, and advancing, and [2] Howard takes some of the RBI potential with him where he goes, with those 45 HR. Consider that only half of HRs come with a single runner on base, and his ISO alone brings 78 RBIs.

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  20. AJS says:

    I think you hit on the obvious point, but then dismiss it: “people have forgotten the one thing that everyone knew would be a problem for the 2010 Mariners: scoring runs.”

    At the risk of a large generalization and stating the obvious, players who are a) great on defense and b) affordable tend not to be so good on offense. So focusing on defense to the extent the Mariners do, necessarily means your offense will be lacking.

    You make the point that eight of the nine Mariners are performing below their projections. That may be, but here’s the crux: how good would the Mariners have been had everyone performed exactly at projections? Even you seem to doubt they would be playoff-bound.

    It’s not just the fact that the Mariners’ players are all performing well below their projections that’s dragging them down — I contend they wouldn’t have been any good in the first place regardless. Meantime, teams that focus on offense almost exclusively seem not to struggle in the same way. As some of the commenters above have argued, you can’t give up fewer than 0 runs. But if you score 0 runs, there’s no way you’re going to win.

    So when you choose defense at the expense of offense, and think you can win because that strategy exploits some sort of inefficiency, and it turns out you can’t, then yes, that does make defense overvalued.

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  21. Zonis says:

    I think a major problem with the defense debates is the argument that a run saved is a run earned.

    The inherent flaw is that scoring runs does not have a cap. You are not limited to scoring 7 runs a game, for example. But preventing runs is capped. You can not prevent more than 0 runs, and then there are diminishing returns on defense much more heavily than offense. Combine that with defense being also reliant on pitching (if the pitching sucks, the defense can only do so much, but if the pitching is good, its still in the offensive player’s hands just the same). There is also the replacement level, where x amount of runs are going to be scored regardless, and better defense won’t stop those minimum runs from being scored.

    So while people argue that Batter A is worth +20 runs, and Fielder B takes away 20 in the field, those figures are not, infact, equal, because adding Batter C’s +20 runs still has the same effect as Batter A, but Fielder D’s additional 20 Run Prevention is worth less (diminished) when added to Fielder B.

    Another thing to ask: how is the value difference between a bad fielder, an average fielder, and a good fielder comparable to hitter ranges?

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    • Joe says:

      Sounds good, but realistically there is a cap. And you can always prevent 0 runs over the course of a season too, right? No one has ever come close to doing that though. The cap would really only come into play when teams start scoring 1500 runs a season and giving up close to zero.

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  22. Disco says:

    San Diego Padres defense is winning them the West.

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  23. JMH says:

    Is anybody looking at the possibility that the Mariners simply failed to execute on their “defense” plan? They started the season with Milton Bradley in LF and an injury-prone Jack Wilson at SS with Tui as their only backup SS, and they swapped two infielders practically mid-season. Plus they have the worst defensive catcher in the league.

    So what it really boils down to is that they had good defense at 1B, CF, and RF, and questionmarks everywhere else.

    I’d say it’s more a case of failing to following through on a plan.

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  24. waynetolleson says:

    No. The Mariners really don’t have a great defense. Jack Wilson is a great shortstop, but he has been out half the year. Gutierrez and Ichiro are great in right and center. Lopez is in his first year at 3B. Figgins is in his first year at 2B. Casey Kotchman is a great 1B, but is hitting so poorly that he doesn’t play half the time.

    Milton Bradley is a mediocre defender when he’s playing the field. The jury is still out on Michael Saunders. And our catching is just atrocious.

    Factor in that the Mariners are dead last in the AL in runs scored and you see why the Mariners are a terrible team. It’s important to prevent runs, but you have to score runs, too.

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  25. pft says:

    The problem is that the Mariners last time I checked had the lowest OPS+ of any AL teams since the 1968 White Sox (excluding strike shortened seasons less than 100 games). That’s historically bad.

    If you are going to be involved in low scoring close games, you best have some HR power, and if you spend a lot of money on OBP guys (tables setters Ichiro and Figgins) at the top of your lineup, you better spend money on some RBI guys to hit behind them.

    The problem is not that defense (pitching+fielding) is overrated, it is thinking that improving defense is a cheap substitute for improving what was already a poor offense. If anything, the Mariners show that the HR and RBI is undervalued.

    As for players under performing their career OBA, the Mariners suggest that the quality of the lineup can impact an individual hitters performance. Having so many out makers, without having anyone who is a significant HR threat should a pitcher make a mistake, makes an average pitcher pitch like an All Star, and the guys in the lineup see fewer good pitchers to hit. When the pitcher makes a mistake, he usually does not see it go out of the park, and he can bear down on the next out maker. Does wonders for pitchers confidence.

    I look at what Beltre has done for the Red Sox (and his 1000 road OPS is surely not related to SAFECO), I wonder if he sees more good pitches to hit in a lineup that frustrates most starters with quality AB’s when healthy.

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    • JMH says:

      “:If you are going to be involved in low scoring close games, you best have some HR power,”

      Why is that?

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      • q says:

        Because it worked for the Os for 18 or so years, Pitching, Defense, and a 3 run homer…

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      • JMH says:

        Any other examples in the 27 years since Earl Weaver last filled out a lineup card?

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      • pft says:

        If you think about, when it is tough to string together hits or walks because you face good pitching, or have a terrible lineup, what is the only hit that always results in a run scored?.

        Need any help?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I would think HR power is more important in HIGH scoring games.

        In low scoring games, you better be able to advance runners, or better yet have them advance themselves (stealing bases, taking extra bases) to put yourself in more situations where you can score runs while making an out.

        A good example is Tommy Herr for the 85 Cardinals, he racked up 100 RBIs with many of them being the rsult of groundballs to second base with Coleman or Ozzie on 3rd.

        HRs are always going to have a big impact in regards to immediate scoring, but there greatest value is with runners on base (duh). But, overall, a team’s strategy of home runs in a low scoring environment is probably not good. Home runs generally ar ean indicator of a high scoring environment. A team with HR hitters will also have quite a few doubles. It’s not either or, you either have power hitters or you don’t.

        In low scoring environments, getting the leadoff hitter on base is the key, and advancing him. If you’re not going to have guys that are able to walk, then you better have a bunch of ichiros at the top.

        Teams with fast players will also see them getting themsevles in scoring position with doubles and triples. That was one of the big keys to Granderson breakout season,where he 20+ triples. He put the team in a situation where he can score on essentially ANY BIP. Hence the value of a high contact guy like POlanco hitting behind him …. the most recent version of “Tommy Herr”.

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  26. Randy says:

    Where is Jeff Nye? Doesn’t he usually have some very strong and entertaining opinions about the Ms and their defense? I’d like to hear his thoughts…

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  27. Joey B says:

    1-Law of diminishing returns-Putting world class speed and defense in between Manny and Nixon will save more runs than putting the same guy between Ellsbury and Drew.

    2-Players should be picked based on overall contribution, not just one category.

    3-With the season almost 2/3 over, they have no double-digit HR hitters. Worse yet, that is not surprising. They took a team that finished last in OPS, and replaced Beltre with Figgins and Branyan with Kotchman. So a team that finished last in OPS by 8 points is now last by 57 points. Again, not surprising.

    4-I have no proof, but does anyone else suspect that Figgins and Lopez are having sub-par offensive seasons because they both forced to switch positions?

    5-I think Jack Z read too much of his own press clippings last year. They won 85 ‘with defense’, and maybe implied that the offensive side was unimportant. But in the 9 years prior to that, the team that finished last in offense never won more than 75 games, and 8 of the teams won less than 70, and 3 of the teams won less than 60. In fact the average worst offensive team over the past 10 years has had a record of 65-97. Assuming that those teams had at least some defense and pitching, there is no amount of defense and pitching that will make up for AAA offense.

    6-TB has the defensive efficiency and the best runs allowed in the league. But if you combined their world-class defense and pitching (3.88 RPG) with the Seattle offense of 3.29, maybe they’d win 75 games.

    It’s impossible to completely ignore one facet of the game and expect to win. I still think defense is underrated, but you won’t win by fielding 9 shortstops.

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