Guest Post: Errata, Erratic

[The 2006 Nationals were a lot of things, but fundamentally sound wasn't one of them. Of course, they also weren't a lot of things, but one thing they were was horridly unreliable on defense. Guest poster VladiHondo, a respected commenter and BPG denizen, takes a look at where the Nats were defensively in 2005-06, with a special eye on last season's erratic performance, and looks ahead to the upcoming season. My warm and appreciative thanks to VladiHondo for a most noteworthy contribution. --- Basil]

I helped Basil with some 1980s Atlanta Braves research and he for some reason invited me to submit some of my meanderings for use in his blog.

On the Ballpark Guys forum I wrote a little blurb on why I thought the Nats could be better this year. The best thing about Federal Baseball, is there is more room to expand it here. Bad news is, I think I went overboard!

My comment at BPG focused on the 3 main components of the game: Runs Scored, Runs Allowed and Fielding. (Just the newsbreaking statement that baseball is made of hitting, pitching and defense (and Jenn Lopez) should be enough to WOW ya and say, "Who the hell is this clown?")

Back to business, in two seasons we’ve observed quite a difference in results, from leading the division for much the year in 2k5, to permanent and deserved cellar dwellers in 2k6. We had a better offense in 2k6 with Soriano, NJ’s almost full year, and the first year of Zimmy, but did worse in the Win/Loss column. Basically we sucked due to terrible starting pitching and horrid defense.

Here’s our key numbers for the two years; rankings are for the Major Leagues:

YEAR    RS      MLB RNK
2005    639     30th
2006    746     23rd

In 2005, Boston lead the majors with 936 runs, and the Yankees led with 930 in '06.

YEAR    RA      MLB RNK
2005    673     9th
2006    872     28th

In 2005, they were 94 runs allowed off the major league lead. (The ballpark helped.) In 2006, they 74 runs off the major league worst. (Guess the ballpark didn't help!)

YEAR    FLD%    MLB RNK
2005    .985    11th
2006    .978    30th

The Braves were first in 2005, Boston in '06.

YEAR    ERRORS  MLB RNK
2005    92      8th
2006    131     30th

If you can believe it, the Nats had twice as many errors as the team with the fewest!

* * * *

So despite scoring over 16% more runs, we had 10 less victories due to a staggering drop in pitching and defense. We gave up almost 30% more runs!! We made over 42% more errors!!! These numbers are mind-boggling and make you wonder how did win 71?

I knew starting pitching was terrible last year but the extent that fielding was also surprised me. So I did a positional comparison from last year to this. The WOW’s were:

  • We fielded better with Castilla at 3b than Zimmerman
  • We fielded better with Guzman at SS than Clayton/Lopez

Now that we've discussed some highlights, stick around for the complete analysis. This will involve numbers, and the following stats are from Baseball-Reference.com. I love their historical stats. I had to chop off those guys with less than 100 innings at a position to tighten this up. I know fielding is a tough area to capture in stats, but I’ll concentrate on its simplest form, with errors, fielding percentage, and a simple range factor. Except for catcher, the last two columns are league average values for fielding percentage and range factor.

CATCHER

This was easy, Schneider is Mr. Steady: same errors, same fielding percentage in both years---5 errors with .993 field. pct. He caught more in 2k6, probably because we had worse backups.

2006 CA         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      FP      PB
Schneider       990     111     123     695     52      5       8       .993    5
RFick           164     18      26      104     7       1       2       .991    4
BHarper         104     13      14      77      1       1       0       .987    0
Team Total      1436    162     162     998     69      11      10      .990    11
2005 CA         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      FP      PB
Schneider       926     105     113     654     52      5       10      .993    3
Bennett         523     57      64      384     25      6       1       .986    4
Team Total      1458    162     162     1046    77      11      11      .990    7

FIRST BASE

No big difference in these numbers except NJ did poorly last year. He had 10 more errors, after he only had 5 in 2k5. It wasn’t that he didn’t pick up the balls in the dirt as well, since that would be the thrower’s error. It was his own throws going awry.

2006 1B         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .994    *9.41
Johnson         1252    143     147     1159    93      15      91      .988    9.00
Vidro           61      8       8       54      3       0       7       1.000   8.41
Fick            59      6       13      57      5       0       4       1.000   9.46
Team Total      1436    162     162     1321    103     17      106     .988    8.92
2005 1B         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .993    *9.64
Johnson         1098    126     129     1017    95      5       109     .996    9.11
Wilkerson       185     19      25      172     14      1       20      .995    9.03
Baerga          86      9       11      65      2       1       2       .985    6.96
Team Total      1458    162     162     1335    115     9       138     .994    8.95

SECOND BASE

As much as everyone bemoans the defense of Jose Vidro, he wasn’t that bad and there wasn’t much of a difference between the two years. Vidro had an above average fielding percentage but below average range.

Overall, for all 2b, errors went down by two with about the same number of chances. Oh yeah, look at Carlos "Cheese" Baerga’s range factor for 2nd Base! He’s a Man-imal! The field cannot contain him!! So beware of the small sample size.

2006 2B         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .982    *5.05
Vidro           901     105     107     224     250     5       53      .990    4.73
Anderson        231     26      32      51      71      5       13      .961    4.75
Castro          228     24      29      65      58      2       13      .984    4.86
Team Total      1436    162     162     354     401     12      82      .984    4.73
2005 2B         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .981    *4.98
Vidro           665     79      79      134     191     5       39      .985    4.40
Carroll         427     44      63      96      145     5       33      .980    5.07
Spivey          190     21      22      34      62      0       14      1.000   4.55
Baerga          46      5       7       15      19      3       3       .919    6.65
Team Total      1458    162     162     316     457     14      102     .982    4.77

THIRD BASE

It seems all the 2nd half of 2005, all I heard was how old and crippled Vinny Castilla was and how he was blocking Zimmerman. Looking at the cold, hard facts comes up with a shocker. At least defensively, there's an argument we were better at 3b when with old pro Vinny manning the hot corner!!! Zimmerman, for all his future Gold Glove hype, had more errors, a lower fielding percentage, and only a .001 advantage in Range Factor!

2006 3B         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .954    *2.69
Zimmerman       1368    157     157     152     260     15      30      .965    2.71
Jackson         21      1       6       1       5       4       1       .600    2.57
Team Total      1436    162     162     154     274     19      31      .957    2.68
2005 3B         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .958    *2.77
Castilla        1171    135     138     142     209     11      23      .970    2.70
Zimmerman       111     11      14      6       26      0       5       1.000   2.59
Baerga          100     10      20      7       16      2       1       .920    2.06
Team Total      1458    162     162     157     266     13      29      .970    2.61

SHORTSTOP

This is the first of two fielding black holes that appeared last year. Guzman was dissed for poor hitting, poor fielding, and poor conditioning. In reality, he was far superior to anything we put there last year in his stead. Errors go from 18 (2 of those by Zimmerman in his 9 innings of playing SS) to 32! Fielding avg goes from near league average (.976-.974) to WAY below league avg (.972-.953). Guzzie’s range wasn’t even league average but it was closer than we were last year.

Note: Damian Jackson was absolutely HORRID playing the left side: 8 errors in only 78 innings (roughly 9 full games). If he had played as many innings as Zimmy, he would’ve had 140 errors. A big deal was made last year of having a better, veteran bench in 2006. Well, they hit better, but when forced to play the field, they were no Jamey Carroll.

2006 SS         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .972    *4.41
Clayton         720     83      86      110     240     11      39      .970    4.37
Lopez           601     70      71      89      162     14      34      .947    3.76
Jackson         57      4       16      8       12      4       0       .833    3.14
Team Total      1436    162     162     217     433     32      75      .953    4.07
2005 SS         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .976    *4.51
Guzman          1161    133     142     217     327     15      85      .973    4.22
Carroll         241     23      41      53      65      0       18      1.000   4.41
Zimmerman       9       1       1       3       4       2       0       .778    7.00
Team Total      1458    162     162     277     409     18      105     .974    4.23

OUTFIELD

This was where the Nationals experienced another big jump in errors; in fact, errors doubled from 15 to 30. Now the nature of OF errors is there are not many dropped fly balls. Most these are due to throwing errors. Most wayward throws not only allow the runner to be safe, but invariably the ball gets by the fielder for one or two extra bases. I'm just thinking about it here, but it seems you could say each OF error = Run Allowed. If he didn’t score on the play, then he’s probably at 3rd.

Both years our outfield has better than average range factors in all three positions, which is good, . . . but the errors!

By the way, with 3 Ryans (Church, Zimmerman, Wagner) on the team, Kearns’ middle name is Ryan. [Mental Note, by Basil: Are they Toolsy Ryans?]

2006 LF         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .982    *1.97
Soriano         1373    158     158     326     22      11      9       .969    2.28
Team Total      1436    162     162     345     23      11      9       .971    2.31
2005 LF         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .984    *1.94
Byrd            386     41      54      100     5       2       2       .981    2.45
Church          334     37      51      77      2       0       0       1.000   2.12
Wilkerson       288     31      38      67      0       1       0       .985    2.09
PWilson         94      11      11      20      0       0       0       1.000   1.91
Team Total      1458    162     162     351     11      4       3       .989    2.23
2006 CF         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .988    *2.58
Byrd            393     44      57      125     1       1       0       .992    2.88
Church          369     42      51      122     1       2       1       .984    2.99
Logan           220     25      26      59      0       1       0       .983    2.41
Escobar         174     19      23      61      1       1       0       .984    3.19
Jackson         141     15      22      44      0       2       0       .957    2.79
Watson          56      7       8       17      0       0       0       1.000   2.70
Team Total      1436    162     162     454     6       8       2       .983    2.88
2006 RF         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .980    *2.11
Guillen         537     64      68      163     3       2       0       .988    2.78
Kearns          482     55      59      139     2       5       1       .966    2.63
Church          97      10      14      20      0       0       0       1.000   1.86
Team Total      1436    162     162     395     7       11      2       .973    2.52
2005 RF         Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .980    *2.10
Guillen         1189    135     140     299     10      7       4       .978    2.34
Church          135     14      21      43      0       0       0       1.000   2.85
Wilkerson       45      5       6       12      0       1       0       .923    2.36
Team Total      1458    162     162     377     10      8       4       .980    2.39

And here are Kearns's totals for the season:

1228       144     346     7       7       2       .981    2.45

PITCHERS

For some reason, my perception (i.e. Ramon Ortiz) was that Nats pitchers were worse defensively last year than in 2005. But darn those stats, I was wrong. I could have sworn (i.e. Ramon Ortiz) we had sucked, but I guess my judgment was tainted by personal observation ("DAMN You Ramon Ortiz!!!"). Well, there was a big difference in range as the put outs and assists were down a lot from 2k5. Call it the Livan-is-a-tub-of-goo factor.

I’ll just give the total lines for Pitchers:

2006 PIT        Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .957    *1.72
Team Total      1436    162     162     71      178     10      12      .961    1.56
2005 PIT        Inn     GS      G       PO      A       E       DP      .960    *1.75
Team Total      1458    162     162     88      192     12      16      .959    1.73

Stepping back for a second, let's review how the defensive personnel has evolved in what will soon be three seasons at RFK:

POSITION 2005 2006 2007
C Schneider Schneider Schneider
1B Johnson Johnson Lee/Young/Broadway?
2B Vidro/Carroll Vidro Lopez
3B Castilla Zimmerman Zimmerman
SS Guzman Clayton/Lopez Guzman
LF Byrd/Wilkerson/Church Soriano Church/Restovich?
CF Wilkerson/Wilson Byrd/Church/Logan Logan/Escobar?
RF Guillen Guillen/Kearns Kearns
Overall Good Bad Better than Bad?

At least hopefully the defense will be better than bad this season. Can it be worse than bad? Don't answer that.

* * * *

2007 FIELDING PROGNOSIS

Catcher - Schneider lagged a bit last year in throwing out basestealers, but his overall fielding is consistent. Expect the same, maybe an up-tick in thrown out stealing. We should improve mainly due to better backups. Fick is OK error-wise, and Jesus Flores is supposedly a stud defensively. He’s no Matt LeCroy, so that’s 2 fewer errors already.

First Base – If Travis Lee makes the squad, he will play a lot in late innings (if we ever have the lead!) and he’ll provide an up-tick. We won’t match Nick’s year in 2005, but we should be better than last year.

Second Base – This is a question mark. The team will be better without FLop at SS, but is he better than Vidro’s 2nd base? Range: hell yes! He was a little below average range wise as a SS but he’s faster and more limber than Jose was last year. Error wise, I have my doubts. First, he’s only played 78 innings at 2b, all the rest from the left side. Expect an up-tick, I’ll say a small one, around 15 2b errors. Marlon Anderson actually equaled Vidro’s total of 5 errors last year so having him gone will improve things in the field.

Third Base – Zimmy was not a disaster (despite being outplayed by Vinny!!). Hest we forget, his error count and his fielding pct was the same as Gold Glove Scott Rolen. But Rolen distanced himself from Ryan by his range, which at 2.89 was way above Zimmy’s barely above average 2.71 (avg = .2.69). Zimmerman is one of the hardest workers out there always trying to improve so expect an improvement. Not having Damian Jackson as a backup marks an improvement.

Shortstop – Guzzie just doesn’t make the mistakes Felipe does at shortstop, leading to a lower error count. Guzman’s range was below average in 2005 but it has been mostly league average or above previously. His error count his first 3 years was above 21-25, but since it's been 11-15.

Felipe’s range has rarely been as high as league average, and his error count hit 28 last year, his percentage has always been lower than league average. Look for a major drop in error totals for the position.

Left Field – Sure Soriano made all those assists. He also made all those errors. Church, if you look over the 2005 stats at all 3 OF positions, has good range and is a good fielder. He should cut down the LF errors. For some reason the name Mike Restovich has always provided an image of "lumbering" in my mind. [By Basil: Me too!] If he platoons with Church, he may wipe out Church’s range advantage, but won’t make mistakes for the simple reason if you can’t make it there, you can’t screw it up.

Center Field – The logic says "Nook is fast and will get to more balls" but the stats don’t match that. His range is a little above league average for his career, his fielding pct a little lower. Church, despite all his malingering and (clubhouse cancer-ing!), has had fine range in CF (though I did see do a "deer in the headlights" routine on a line shot right at and over him). It may be we have a Church & Casto/Escobar & Restovich platoon in CF & LF.

Right Field – Austin Kearns’s full season numbers show a much better ballplayer than just his Nat stats. His career fielding stats show a much higher range factor than average with slightly better field percent. No worries here.

Pitching – Well, we’re going to be much younger on the mound so the reasoning would be quicker, more agile, more dexterous. Problem hasn’t been errors, but getting to balls last year. That should improve.

So overall I believe we will improve vastly upon our 2006 error numbers but will not reach the heyday year of 2005 when the Nats were in their glory year!

Here's what we've done, and here's what I think looking ahead:

ERRORS BY YEAR AND POSITION

Position 2005 2006 2007
C 11 11 9
1B 9 17 12
2B 14 12 15
3B 13 19 15
SS 18 32 20
LF 4 11 6
CF 3 8 6
RF 8 11 8
P 12 10 12
Totals 92 131 103

Last year the 131 errors became 69 unearned runs; 28 less errors would be about 15 less unearned runs at that ratio, and that alone may account for a few more wins (I know there’s a formula out there for that!).

Now all we need is for the pitching staff to have the same 27% drop in runs allowed, from 5.03 to 3.95 and we’ll be back to .500 baseball!!! Hey, spring time is the time for delusions.

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