How Much Has The Rangers Defense Really Cost Them?
By Jared Book
Another game, another game lost because of missed opportunities and bad defense. I’m really sorry that these recaps sound the same lately so I’ve decided to take a look at whether the perception of the Rangers defense is actually the reality.
My hypothesis going into this was that the Rangers allow a load of unearned runs. So, what I did is I looked at the league and see which teams allowed the most unearned runs. Sure enough, Texas was right on top with 30, tied with the San Francisco Giants for most unearned runs. When taking it a step further and figuring out the percentage of unearned runs to total runs, they are right there again. Second at 13.7% only to San Francisco’s 14.6%.
So, by using that measure, Texas’s errors cost them more runs than any other team except one especially when you consider that they are only middle of the road when it comes to errors (their 32 errors put them 16th in the Majors). So it seems that Texas makes errors at an equal pace to the average of the league, but allows them to score a lot more.
This may be something that evens out over a season, but for right now, it’s not so much the errors for the Rangers, it’s when the errors are occurring and the fact that the Rangers pitchers are not doing a very effective job of bailing their defense out for their mistakes.
However, you can’t say that the Rangers have a particularly bad defense. They rank 1st in UZR which basically takes where outs and hits are made and adds and subtracts points based on credit or blame. If you want more information on UZR, click here. They have an almost five point lead on the second best team. Now, this measure is not very predictive nor is it very good in small sample sizes. A quarter of the season is not great, but it does tell you that the Rangers are getting to more balls than they should be.
However, it’s not (only) the fact that the Rangers are getting to balls that are making them make errors. Mike Napoli should have caught the ball yesterday on Pujols’s pop fly. Same with Adrian Beltre on the ground ball last night. UZR judges every error as a ball that should have been fielded. It doesn’t matter how hard it was to get to the ball in the first place. Which means that the good UZR doesn’t explain the errors or the unearned runs.
Another popular defensive metric is defensive runs saved (DRS). Texas ranks sixth in this metric so far this season but it is a bit skewed. Toronto, Tampa Bay, Boston and Seattle lead the way as it gives credit for plays made outside of a regular position meaning teams that use the extreme shift a lot like the four above get more DRS credit then they probably should. This is a great piece that explains that phenomenon.
So, in conclusion, my hypothesis was correct. Errors are costing the Rangers a lot of runs compared to the rest of the league. But it does not mean that the Rangers have a bad defense. It just seems that way because of when everything is happening. Is it a mental thing? Maybe. But the Rangers are no strangers to bad defense happening at bad times. A certain ball to right field in last year’s World Series comes to mind.
But try to relax. For almost every dropped pop fly to Napoli, there is a homerun saved by Craig Gentry. And for every dropped grounder by Beltre, there are four more he gets to with ease that most other third basemen watch into left field.
As with everything else, we tend to exaggerate the bad and forget the good.