All My Infielders, Episode 3

Today Omar Vizquel meets with Mark Shapiro to discuss his future with the team. Either way, we should know a lot more about the infield configuration soon.

If Omar signs a team-friendly contract to stay with the Tribe, it looks like he won’t be moving to second base, like I suggested earlier in this meaningless exercise. So I like Vizquel staying even less than before. Both Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Phillips can play shortstop, but only Phillips has played second base before. Also, there has been talk of Casey Blake moving over to second base, and Aaron Boone has also played second before. So keeping Vizquel around clogs up the infield even more, and more importantly, it leaves Peralta without a starting spot. I just don’t see Shapiro willing to keep Vizquel around with all these negatives to him staying even with his popularity with the fanbase. With several teams that would be interested in Vizquel if he goes to free agency, including the Rangers, White Sox, Cubs, and even Twins, I think it’s about a 75% chance you’ll be seeing Omar in another uniform next April.

As of this episode, my infield configuration hasn’t changed:

1B Ben Broussard (pretty much a lock now)
2B Casey Blake
SS Jhonny Peralta
3B Aaron Boone
IF Josh Phelps
IF Lou Merloni

I’ve been thinking the Indians might keep the loser of the shortstop battle (probably Phillips) on the roster as a backup, especially for late-inning defense, but it’s probably too premature to make that prediction.

Season In Review: Part 3 of 5

The Defense

An overlooked aspect of the team this season has been its defense. While the team ranked middle-of-the-pack in fielding percentage, it played much worse than that, according to Baseball Prospectus’ Defensive Efficiency metric. While quantifying defense is much less reliable than offensive measures, I like the team defensive efficiency measure, because it removes arbitrary scorekeeper decisions from the equation. Defensive Efficiency is merely the percentage of balls in play fielded by the defense; there’s no arbitrary decisions involved. It also recognizes defense as a team statistic; I’m leery of rating individual players on defense based on statistics, mainly because of the effect of externalities, such as the type of pitchers on the team (right or left-handed, groundball or flyball, etc), the park’s dimensions, the players playing around the fielder in question, etc. I really like quantitatively measure a player’s performance in general, but to me this is one exception.

So what does this team rating tell us? At least in my perspective, it tells me that the Indians run out a team full of substandard defenders every game. Omar Vizquel doesn’t have the range he used to have, and of the rest, I’d only place Jody Gerut, Coco Crisp, and possibly Grady Sizemore in the top half of defenders at their position. Adding Aaron Boone should help the infield defense, but moving Casey Blake over to second should probably make it worse. I guess it’s a trade-off; most of those substandard defensive players were also very good offensive players. I like the outfield alignment for next year sans Matt Lawton; Coco Crisp has really impressed me with his improvement in the outfield, and Grady Sizemore looks like, at first glance, a pretty decent center fielder. When Jody Gerut returns to the team, the outfield should really help out flyball pitchers like Cliff Lee and Scott Elarton. As far as the infield, Eric Wedge might have to go with a personal defensive alignment for Jake Westbrook when he pitches, for I don’t see the projected starters for 2005 improving that much over this past season.

With defensive players being the new “undervalued commodity” in baseball, it should be interesting to see how teams are constructed in the next couple of years, starting with next year’s team. Are the Indians content with fielding an offensive team that isn’t that good in the field, or will they sacrifice some offense in order to get to more balls in play?

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