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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Fielding Redux: Outfield Arms 

As I said on March 20th, in Part II of my Season Preview, this is the year of the glove. Fielding is going to be critical to the Phillies chances this year because of the decline in the quality of the Phils pitching staff: there are going to be a fair number of balls put into play, so the Phils fielders are going to have to be quick and aggressive. Unfortunately, I don't believe that I was as thorough as I could have been in my original post, so I am going to try and expand upon certain things that I didn't touch upon enough in Part II.

Today's topic is outfielder arms. A reading of last year's stats indicates that the Phillies had some of the best OF arms in the MLB. Don't believe me? Scope out the numbers on Baserunners Advancing:

Opportunities / Bases Advanced / .Pct
1. Philadelphia: 377 / 164 / .435
2. St. Louis: 401 / 178 / .444
3. Atlanta: 455 / 210 / .462
4. White Sox: 394 / 185 / .470
5. Toronto: 416 / 197 / .474

The Phillies were #1 in the MLB. They were easily better than their division-mates:

Opportunities / Bases Advanced / .Pct / (MLB Rank)
Philadelphia: 377 / 164 / .435 / (1)
Atlanta: 455 / 210 / .462 / (3)
NY Mets: 463 / 227 / .490 (12)
Washington: 431 / 221 / .513 (20)
Florida: 456 / 237 / .520 (23)

Given the reputation Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell have for being less-than-impressive defensive outfielders, the notion that the Phils have been strong in the outfield is a surprise to people. That is sort of true. Burrell and Abreu have had moments of great play (Burrell more than Abreu), but the strength of the team really lays with its middle defense, the centerfielder. Last year the Phillies had an outstanding outfield tandem of Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels. Michaels had lots of time playing in left and right for the team, but logged the majority of his innings (84%) in center:

Innings played
Leftfield: 46 1/3
Rightfield: 53
Centerfield: 536

Kenny Lofton played 741 innings for the Phils, all in centerfield. Both are gone now, replaced in centerfield by Aaron Rowand. Here are how Rowand, Michaels and Lofton stack up:

Opportunities / Bases Advanced / .Pct / (MLB Rank)
Michaels: 43 / 19 / .442 / 2nd
Rowand: 117 / 58 / .496 / 4th
Lofton: 51 / 26 / .510 / 7th

Combined Michaels and Lofton allowed 45 baserunners in 94 opportunities, a .479 percentage. That's slightly better than what Aaron Rowand did for the White Sox in 2005, but the solid defensive play seemed to rest with Michaels, the Phils long-time 4th outfielder. I think Rowand will do well and probably exceed Michaels performance, which is based on 40% of the innings that Rowand played (536 vs. 1,367). Michaels, I'd note, didn't play as well in leftfield, allowing 4 of 7 runners to advance, a .571 percentage.

How does Rowand stack up against fellow NL East centerfielders? Check it out:

Opportunities / Bases Advanced / Pct. / “Kills”
Aaron Rowand (Phillies): 117 / 58 / .496 / 1
Brad Wilkerson (Wash): 75 / 41 / .547 / 4
Carlos Beltran (Mets): 138 / 91 / .659 / 4
Juan Pierre (Marlins): 148 / 94 / .635 / 5
Andruw Jones (Braves): 138 / 73 / .529 / 6

The best. Teams obviously respected his arm because he only had one kill in 2005. Andruw Jones comes close, but after that Wilkerson and Pierre and Beltran fall short. Beltran, I’d note for Mets fans, seems to have a weak arm generally: his three-year average put him twenty-fourth amongst CFs.

Leftfield: Pat Burrell doesn't exactly have a reputation for being a terrific defensive player, but he's pretty o.k. Teams do seem to respect his arm:

Opportunities / Bases Taken / .Pct (MLB Rank)
2005: 147 / 52 / .354 (13th)
2004: 98 / 28 / .286 (4th)
2003: 110 / 40 / .364 (6th)
'03 - '05: 355 / 120 / .338 (5th)

Is that surprising to most people? I suspect it is. What was interesting to me was how well Pat played defensively in 2003, during a year that was an absolute nightmare for him at the plate: in addition to having the sixth-best arm, he tied for second in Plus / Minus at +11, three behind Carlos Lee.

Pat seems to be a very solid defensive outfielder, despite a -2 in Plus / Minus for 2004. He has a good arm and I suspect his decline to 13th in holding runners is temporary. He was very durable in 2005, playing 90% of the Phillies innings in leftfield.

How does Pat stack up against fellow NL East leftfielders? Check it out:

Opportunities / Bases Taken/ Pct. / “Kills”
Pat Burrell (Phillies): 147 / 52 / .352 / 9
Cliff Floyd (Mets): 147 / 52 / .352 / 14
Kelly Johnson (Braves): 71 / 22 / .310 / 5
Miguel Cabrera (Marlins): 106 / 36 / .340 / 10

I’d call it a wash, although Kelly Johnson does seem to have a leg up. The higher number of kills for NL LFs is probably due to the fact that they are closer to third than RFs and CFs are, so runners trying to get from first to third or stretch a triple are easier targets.

Rightfield: Is Bobby Abreu the Phillies weakest link in the outfield? Bobby's weirdly varing arm stats leave some perplexing questions:

Opportunities / Bases Taken / .Pct (MLB Rank)
2005: 118/ 58 / .492 (11th)
2004: 139/ 83 / .597 (22nd)
2003: 126/ 53 / .421 (5th)
'03 - '05: 383 / 194 / .507 (8th)

Is Bobby lousy? I'm tempted to point at his 2004 season and say "Yes!", a conclusion that would validate things I've said about his fielding and what most Phillies fans have been able to confirm with their own eyes. However, I should note that he performed well in 2003 and seemed to rebound in 2005. Plus, playing rightfield is harder than left because you have to make longer throws and get the ball to the infield quicker because teams are more likely to try and stretch singles into doubles and triples against rightfielders than leftfielders. Bobby is durable, having played 95% of the Phillies innings in right.

I'm going to say that the numbers on Bobby are a wash.

How does Bobby stack up against fellow NL East rightfielders? Check it out:

Opportunities / Bases Taken / Pct. / “Kills”
Bobby Abreu (Phillies): 118 / 58 / .492 / 4
Mike Cameron (Mets): 55 / 27 / .491 / 2
Jeff Francoeur (Braves): 69 / 34 / .493 / 10
Jose Guillen (Nats): 136 / 73 / .537 / 7
Juan Encarnacion (Marlins): 126 / 66 / .524 / 2

Again, I’d call it a wash, although Bobby holds up pretty well. Guillen seems to be the weakest link.

Bench. I'm not really sure how to evaluate Shane Victorino, the Phils 4th OF for 2005. He played a total of 16 innings in 2005, and recorded a .000 fielding percentage because nothing was hit to him. No chances, no putouts. He was in the field for 1.1% of the Phillies defensive innings, so there is simply no data to evaluate.

Conclusion. Yep, Phillies fans, the red stripes have a good defensive outfield. Burrell, Rowand, and Abreu combine to make a group of top-notch arms. I actually think that the Phils will be as good, if not better, in 2006, with Aaron Rowand getting to play a full-season as opposed to the platoon with Lofton and Michaels. I'm sorry to see Michaels go, but this team really hasn't suffered any sort of a downgrade.

Tonight: Mark Mulder v. Brett Myers, and Jimmy Rollins goes for #38. J.Roll was 1-for-4 against Mulder in 2005.

Shane is known as a very good defensive OF, perhaps the best on the team.
Could any of this be park effects? I'm thinking that because Citizen's Bank is such a band box, that if the ball stays in the park runners aren't likely to try to advance.
FP: thanks for the word, I'm going to be curious about

Anonymous: that is a good point. Something that needs to be considered. Reputation might also be a factor: people don't run on OFs with good reps, even if those reps are undecerving. But thanks, I appreciate the thoughts...
Mike - good point in the comment about reputation. Announcers seem to rave about Abreu's arm, so it's possible that third base coaches think the same way.

As you've pointed out, this is a good defensive team that's going to score a lot of runs. I'm not so sure the Mets or Braves have the greatest pitching either, so I believe the Phillies could surprise.
I agree that the outfield will be better this season. I think Rowand's extra coverage into the left and right center alleys will allow bobby and pat to relax a bit and focus on a smaller amount of ground than before.....

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A: I'll scope out your blog today, thanks for your comments. Keep coming back!

Jim: yeah, I was thinking about Bobby specifically when I wrote that.

Regarding the playoff race, Sports Illustrated pegged the '05 White Sox to finish 3rd in the AL Central and 17th overall. This year they are picking the Phils 3rd and 17th overall. Hmmm....
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