Amed Rosario’s defense will not save the season

There’s been a lot of chatter recently about the Mets defensive woes after Terry Collins
essentially called his team on it this week. “When you’re a team that relies on pitching the way we do, that’s built the way we are, it’s disappointing when your defense isn’t sharp,” he noted before the Mets’ rained-out game against the Nationals. This isn’t a shocker to any Mets fan, but it brings into focus one of the more ridiculous philosophies in how this team was built. How on earth can a team built on pitching put so little stock into its defensive chops, particularly on the infield?

The common thinking is that the current front office doesn’t put much of a premium on defense in general, instead embracing the assumption that the strikeouts their elite staff racks up would limit any potential damage a porous defense would cause. There’s a certain mad (yet understandable) logic in that, and let’s not pretend that baseball as a whole has been valuing defense (or speed) as much as they did in the past.

To get a rough idea of where Sandy Alderson seemed to place defense on his team-building priority list, let’s take a quick look at the Mets’ team defense since he took the helm.

Season DRS UZR UZR/150 Def
2011 -58 -61.9 -9.8 -72.5
2012 -43 -34.5 -6.6 -38.9
2013 -8 9.8 2.8 7.2
2014 14 7.3 1.3 0.9
2015 -5 6.3 1 2.3
2016 -21 0.5 1.1 -8.5
2017 -21 -8.4 -0.8 -12.4

The first thing to point out is that, no, your eyes have not been deceiving you. While we tend to deride the “I saw it with my eyes” method of evaluating defense, it’s quite clear that the team’s defense this year has been particularly bad. In fact, it hasn’t been this objectively bad since 2011 and 2012 when Lucas Duda and Scott Hairston were lumbering around in the outfield. An interesting note here is that those 2013-2015 defenses weren’t half bad. In fact, they were firmly in the middle of the pack all of those years. What happened in 2016 and 2017?

Well, in both years there were various toxic combinations of both infielders and outfielders. There’s plenty of blame to go around, honestly. Wilmer Flores has been terrible everywhere he’s played, Brandon Nimmo has been awful in the outfield, David Wright is a shell of his former self, Yoenis Cespedes was a butcher in center field, and other various fielding alignments were generally a net negative. This season has been especially brutal for the infield in terms of DRS, with Asdrubal Cabrera (-10/SS, -3/2B), Jose Reyes (-5/SS, -4/3B), and Flores (-4/3B) being particularly bad on the left side.

You can see why calls for the potential defensive improvements the likes of Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith are likely to bring are getting louder as the team falls deeper into the cellar. The problem is that this solution will account for very little improvement in the grand scheme of things. First, it does a disservice to how well Duda has played first base. He’s actually hovered around average over his career and is quite possibly in the midst of his best defensive year ever. Second, and more importantly, it’s disingenuous to assign blame to the defense for the team’s woes in any meaningful way when we consider pitching performance.

As regular readers have no doubt noticed, I’ve made it a habit of piling on the criticism of the team’s pitching this season. It’s been bad, plain and simple. The left side of the Mets’ infield defense has been bottom-of-the-league bad, also plain and simple. These two don’t really tie together in this scenario, though, at least not to the point where the defense has noticeably dragged down the pitching.

For instance, the pitching staff has not given up a noticeable increase in groundballs when compared to 2015 and 2016. Instead, they’ve actually given up an absurd number of home runs this season. As a matter of fact, their current HR/9 rate (1.40) is the highest in their history, beating out their second worst of 1.21 in 1962*. Sure, we have to acknowledge that pitchers may have given up home runs to batters they may not have faced if not for defensive miscues. How do those scenarios stack up when compared to the number of runs given up as a result of the sharp increase in batters walked by the pitching staff, though?

Look, the Mets need to improve the defense surrounding what they thought to be an elite pitching staff if they intend on being a consistently competitive team. There’s no arguing that point. They have no one to blame but the pitching staff for the debacle that is this season, however, and they need to figure out what the heck happened if they’re going to right the ship for 2018 and beyond.

*I’d be remiss not to point out that the current league average HR/9 rate (1.27) is the highest it’s ever been and that we’re currently seeing levels of home runs we haven’t seen since the late 90s/early 2000s. Nevertheless, the Mets actually led the league in 2016 with a HR/9 of 0.95.

27 comments for “Amed Rosario’s defense will not save the season

  1. July 8, 2017 at 8:34 am

    But Alderson knew Wright was a huge gamble. How many games did he expect him to play? The only place to hide Flores is first base. I don’t see that happening.So going into 2018 is Alderson planning on having Wright at third base? This team will have the same issues next year unless it gets addressed in the off season. Collins calling out his defense was a slight at Alderson not his players. The Mets depth is on the DL but then so many other teams have key players out that one cannot use that as an excuse. As we used to say a long time ago, wait ’til next year

  2. Eraff
    July 8, 2017 at 8:57 am

    Duda is a “Survivable” defender at 1st–Nothing More…that’s not a shot. It does define the balance of the infield defense when Duda’s D so far outshines the rest.

    You’d thing a world of shifts and strategy would help Asdrubal Cabrera–a guy who always lacked range, but made the typical plays. The Bubblegum and Bailing wire that holds him together are fraying, and it’s taken his entire game down.

    Flores will do his best work at 1b…striving toward Survivable…. even a Gorilla Bat cannot escape the Bad Throwing caused by his Lead Feet… TJ simply cannot play beyond minimal exposure.

    TD is strongly proving that he cannot play–period. His career splits are now magnified—he is not competing versus RH Pitchers….but this is a Defensive Overview—He Sucks…stuff your “Framing”—He sucks!

    with all of that, they’d be searching for 2-3 missing links today,,,, if not for the collapse of the pitching staff.

    • July 8, 2017 at 10:59 am

      No, this is wrong.

      Duda is a slightly above-average defensive first baseman. If you want a “survivable” defender, that’s 2016 Asdrubal Cabrera.

  3. Eraff
    July 8, 2017 at 11:19 am

    No you’re wrong…He’s not

    • July 8, 2017 at 11:26 am

      There are things that can be quantified and this is one of them. You really should check those out before you say things that are demonstrably false.

  4. Larrooo
    July 8, 2017 at 11:59 am

    I’m not a fan of defensive stats as they have yet to figure out how to quantify range v positioning. But they are getting closer. That being said, I don’t see one plus defender in the Mets infielld. Mets should spend the rest of this year figuring out who has a role in the future and the others should be traded to improve the depth in the farm system. See the BA mid year list? Only Rosario and smith make the list.

    • July 8, 2017 at 12:25 pm

      This seems like a potentially valid criticism of Range Factor. But UZR and DRS take a lot more than that under consideration.

      Besides, in the particular case of Duda, among the seven positions where fielders don’t have a fixed position, first base is the least susceptible to what you describe.

  5. Eraff
    July 8, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    I don’t agree that defensive stats are quantifiable to a great degree.

    Take Outfield Assists… They are highly attributable to baserunner decisions. When runners decide to “no longer test a guy”, where do you find that stat?

    “The DANNY”: when your second baseman charges a Bunt instead of covering 1st base…where’s the stat?

    It goes on and on…..and I will totally agree that first base is somewhat less captive to those kinds of things….also, 1st base is highly graded on “Did He catch the Throw?”…. a very meaureable and valid stat.

    Lucas has good hands, “Halfway to Flores” clay feet… he’s a Surviveable Defender…. on my scale “above average” means Plus Defender. That’s a guy who “Makes Plays Happen”—that’s not Lucas.

    I don’t believe I see a different player than you. Lucas is not a black hole over there. Our verbage is different to describe expectations and the results. Maybe measurement would tell me differently…after all, there are several bad defenders at 1st base, and always have been.

    • July 8, 2017 at 2:05 pm

      Take Outfield Assists… They are highly attributable to baserunner decisions. When runners decide to “no longer test a guy”, where do you find that stat?

      rARM – Outfield Arms Runs Saved evaluates an outfielder’s throwing arm based on how often runner advance on base hits and are thrown out trying to take extra bases.

      “The DANNY”: when your second baseman charges a Bunt instead of covering 1st base…where’s the stat?

      rPM – Plus Minus Runs Saved evaluates the fielder’s range and ability to convert a batted ball to an out.

  6. Eraff
    July 8, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    Brian— rARM addesses runners thrown out…. How about Runners that choose to stay put—Are they worth as mucH as an assist???,,,No. …and rPM does not address Bonehead Non-Errors.

    By The way.,,,there’s a stat for a Throwing error—but have you ever seen an error fopr throwing to the wrong base???? –in the IF or OF?

    I’m not a Straw Dog Anti Stat Guy—buit you’re being Argumentive, Frankly….we’re allowed to have a difference of opinion while agreeing on Facts—that’s the beauty of this discussion.

    The stats you’ve mentioned do not capture the situations I’;ve presented.

    • July 9, 2017 at 8:39 am

      I think it’s pretty clear when the definition says, “evaluates an outfielder’s throwing arm based on how often runner advance on base hits” that it takes into account when a runner stays put. It measures exactly what you claim you want it to.

      When a bonehead play does not result in an out, that gets measured, too.

      There’s absolutely one person here who’s being argumentative. But you don’t have to go online to find him. You just need to find a mirror.

      • Jimmy P
        July 10, 2017 at 11:11 am

        For my money, as a reader, I’d say that Brian is the one being argumentative.

        You don’t allow much room for disagreement.

        • July 10, 2017 at 11:24 am

          I treat Eraff the same way that I treat you and every other reader here. When something is posted that is incorrect, it will be pointed out. When the poster insists on following up and continuing to be incorrect – that will not be left alone. You can’t come here and say things that are false.

          Eraff shared an opinion on my story yesterday that I don’t agree with. I didn’t reply because it’s not something that can be proven one way or another. Everyone here is entitled to opinions that disagree with the authors. No one is allowed to say things that simply aren’t true.

          I’m sorry if anyone thinks that being corrected on facts is argumentative.

          And I particularly resent when people attribute words to me that I clearly did not say. I have a ton of things that I say that people can throw in my face. There’s no need to just make things up.

      • Jimmy P
        July 10, 2017 at 11:17 am

        I agree that Duda is a good defensively 1B. Capable, serviceable.

        He rarely makes a plus play. And if you eliminate the scoops, I’d say never.

        Now it’s also true that not many 1B these days are plus defenders. So when so many others are minus, does that make him automatically a plus.

        Relatively, yeah, on the sliding scale.

        I’m with Team Eraff on this one.

        • July 10, 2017 at 11:35 am

          The idea that you should eliminate scoops from the evaluation of a first baseman is pretty ridiculous. It’s the toughest play that has to be made on a regular basis, especially with the infield arms that are used elsewhere on this team.

  7. Eraff
    July 9, 2017 at 12:42 am

    Rosario up after Futures Game?

  8. Eraff
    July 9, 2017 at 10:34 am

    So…a runner Staying Put counts as much as an assist? And an easy and obvious 1st to Third counts Against a Fielder? …and a poor Baserunner counts in the favor of a fielder?

    Offensive stats- Bat in Hand– are more reflective of the performance of the player versus Defensive Stats. There are situational variaces, but the ability to isolate player performance–Bat in Hand– is far greater than on the defensive side.

    It really brings us back to Duda— a guy who doesn’t kill you in the field….Survivable. I believe an “above average Fielder” would be a “Plus Guy”— and I don’t believe he is. Do you?

  9. July 9, 2017 at 11:23 am

    At some point, you need to read how the defensive metrics are made instead of constantly assuming. Because your assumptions are consistently wrong.

    When new metrics are developed and published at reputable sites, they’re not done half-assed and they don’t value things stupidly. If I invent some new stat, it’s not going to be published at Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs without it being vigorously tested and an improvement over what they already have.

    Their imperfections are due to not having available information. Anything that can be gleaned by play-by-play data – like how often runners advance – will be in there. And hopefully the Statcast type data will be incorporated at some point to make them even better. Anyone who thinks that what we have now is perfect will be the early 21st Century version of those people still clinging to batting average as the best stat. But at the same time, you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    By the best information we have available at our disposal now, Lucas Duda is a slightly above-average defensive first baseman. Is it possible that Statcast data – or something not yet dreamed of – applied retroactively will show Duda to be like 2016 Asdrubal Cabrera instead? Yes, it’s possible.

    But given that we are talking about a first basemanm, I wouldn’t wager on it with your money, much less mine. It’s possible in the way that it’s possible that someone who buys a lottery ticket wins the grand prize.

    Lucas Duda has played 3,826.1 innings at first base in his career. In that time span, a little over three full season’s worth, he has a +2.2 UZR and a +11 DRS. The unbiased defensive numbers show him as a “plus” fielder. My eyes tell me that he’s improved from the awful guy he used to be on going back on foul pops, that his range and arm are about average and that he’s above-average in fielding, particularly scoops. Overall, I’d say he was a slightly-above average defensive first baseman.

    • NormE
      July 9, 2017 at 12:54 pm

      As one who relies on others to do the stat work, I must say that I appreciate it. I love your line about not letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
      My eyes tell me that Duda has gotten better as a fielder. He seems more confident in ranging to his right. As you noted, his work on scoops has been good. I would guess that Flores, TJ and Bruce would fall far short in the latter area, leading to even more errors for the infield.
      The determination that Duda represents the best defensive player on the Mets’ infield is not very complimentary to management.

  10. Eraff
    July 9, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    Well..I’m not an Anti-Stat Straw Dog. That’s not a Fair Argument.

    Yes…Lucas is Slightly Above Average, relative to his Stats.

    I don’t view him as a plus defender, and I am reacting to any language that posits him as such—- and we disagree on stats that I Understand. I take them to be flawed—Not Useless…Flawed.

    • July 10, 2017 at 9:30 am

      Not once did I say that you were anti-stat. Not once.

      I just said that you need to find things out for yourself and quit guessing wrong. Which is 100% accurate.

  11. Eraff
    July 10, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    I should let you know that I appreciate the Site that you make possible, through great effort.

    I’ll stick by my assertions, and I also respect yours—-but….you need to show me that a Runner who doesn’t run is worth as much defensively as one who does—and get’s thrown out. ,,,, you’ll also need to show me the specific stat that addresses a 2nd baseman charging a bunt, instead of covering first base….or other “vapor lock/Non-Error” plays like throwing to the wrong base.

    Honestly, not to Proove that you’re wrong!!! I’d really like to understand the advancement of the stats.

    • July 10, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      Thank you for the compliment in the first graph. I appreciate you coming here every day and reading and commenting on our stories.

      I’m thrilled that you want to understand stats. However, one of the things that frustrates me is your assumption that it’s my job to convince you of the validity of something that’s been around for over 15 years and has been tested throroughly and published by the most reputable baseball sites that we have.

      Humor me and let me exaggerate with a ridiculous comparison to make a point.

      Let’s say we’re talking about the shape of the earth. I say it’s round and you say it’s flat. Is it my job to quote scientific studies and produce photos taken from space to prove something that has been already decided for years upon years upon years?

      From my POV it’s exhausting to have to do that over and over again. And then on top of that, I get to be accused of being argumentative and then also being accused of saying things I didn’t say. I hope you can appreciate why I have zero enthusiasm for this.

      Our discussions could be so much more interesting if you were advocating from a position of knowledge, rather than one of unfamiliarity. Google them and read up on them and familiarize yourself with what they do and what they don’t.

      Finally, let me repeat something I’ve said before. Defensive stats are not perfect. My sincere hope is that in 40 years, we’ll look at UZR and DRS the way we look at batting average now. But those two defensive systems are looking at a variety of factors already. It’s not one simple calculation like AVG is. My opinion is that there are going to be improvements in the years to come in how we measure defense. But that improvement is going to be in small increments, not leaps and bounds.

  12. Eraff
    July 10, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    ok— I don’t ask that stats Be Perfect…. and You assume that I know “at least Too Little” about the stats We Both Use.

    Lucas Duda is not a Butcher…he has good hands. If you’re convinced by the stats that he has good range, we’ll just disagree.

    • July 10, 2017 at 6:44 pm

      Well, no, that’s not what I said!!!!!

      Let me repeat what I said in an earlier post on this topic so that there’s zero confusion:

      My eyes tell me that he’s improved from the awful guy he used to be on going back on foul pops, that his range and arm are about average and that he’s above-average in fielding, particularly scoops. Overall, I’d say he was a slightly-above average defensive first baseman.

      FWIW, range is less important for a first baseman than for any infield or outfield position.

  13. Eraff
    July 10, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    Interesting that scouting and shifts and the emphasis on hitting fly balls may make “balls hit at em guys” more useful, and less harmful Infielders

  14. IDRAFT
    July 11, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    Ozzie Smiths defense wouldn’t save this season.

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