Wednesday, August 02, 2006
So I said in my Season Preview for the 2006 Phillies on March 20, 2006. I rationalized that the Phillies rely on defense to deal with shaky pitching from their rotation and the fact that they have so many groundball hurling pitchers on the staff. I concluded by preview by arguing that the Phillies were going to be a better defensive team in 2006 than they were in 2005 because they had replaced the Lofton/Michaels platoon with glove wizard Aaron Rowand and Jim Thome with younger, nimbler Ryan Howard.
I could not have been more wrong. The 2006 Philadelphia Phillies have been a defensive disaster. As I write this the Phillies are fifteenth of sixteen NL teams in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER): (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) DER measures how often fielders convert balls put into play into outs. This team has consistently been one of the top-rated DER teams for the last several years. In fact, in 2005 the Phillies were ranked second in the NL in DER at .703, just .002 behind the Houston Astros. In 2004 the Phillies ranked third in DER, and the season before that they were fourth. This year the Phillies are 15th and are working at a .676, a massive decline by the team. The only team fielding worse than the Phillies right now are the Pittsburgh Pirates at .662.
So why the tremendous decline in the quality of the Phillies fielders? I puzzled over the reason why and came to a pair of conclusions:
1. Ryan Howard and Aaron Rowand, far from being defensive upgrades for the Phils have actually been, to differing degrees, downgrades.
2. The Phillies regular performers have all struggled a little with the glove.
Let’s start with Aaron Rowand. When Rowand joined the Phillies I predicted that he would upgrade an already strong defensive unit and that he was a “brilliant fielder” and that impact of his glove on the team has going to be “huge”. I could not have been more wrong. Forget that big catch he made earlier in the season. Everyone thinks of Rowand as a defensive wiz and a blue-collar gamer thanks to that play. Just how every pundit in baseball lauded Derek Jeter for his flip to home in the ALDS against the A’s, one play does not make someone a defensive genius. Derek Jeter is, in truth, a terrible defensive player. Aaron Rowand has, in truth, had a terrible season with his glove.
Let’s look at Zone Rating (ZR). ZR is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions, but it is basically accurate. How is Rowand doing with ZR? Don’t ask:
1. Abercrombie (FLA): .920
2. Pierre (CHC): .913
3. Byrnes (ARIZ): .912
4. Beltran (NYM): .904
5. Cameron (SD): .892
6. Edmonds (STL): .882
7. Finley (SF): .880
8. Taveras (HOU): .878
9. Clark (MILW): .871
10. Sullivan (COL): .864
11. Rowand (PHI): .863
12. Jones (ATL): .854
Eleventh of twelve. Let’s not mince words here. That is awful. Terrible. Inexcuseable.
It is a pity that the White Sox didn't try to deal to get Rowand back, as was rumored several weeks ago.
Let’s move on to Howard. Let’s not be nostalgic for Jim Thome’s fielding. He was a terrible fielder and moving back to the American league, where he can DH, was probably the best thing for him. But Ryan Howard has surprised me with his mediocre fielding. Rowand ranks tenth of twelve fielders in terms of ZR. (Thankfully for him he is nowhere near the worst in the NL, Prince Fielder of the Brewers: .826 vs. .807.) Ryan also ranks first in the NL in errors by a first baseman with 12. The next players to him are Fielder and the Nats Nick Johnson with 7.
Far from being the surprisingly graceful fielder that he was in 2005, Ryan Howard has become a slow-footed plodder basically the same, if not worse, than Jim Thome. In short, Howard’s sin is that he’s basically become the same defensive liability at first that Jim Thome was when he wore the red stripes.
As for the rest of the Phillies defense, they have all struggled. Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and the recently traded David Bell all rank in the middle-to-the-bottom of their positions (2b, ss & 3b respectively). Pat Burrell is actually playing somewhat decently, while the recently dealt Bobby Abreu plays defense with a polite indifference that says: “I’d rather be batting.”
I actually think that the Abreu deal might stiff up the Phillies defense a little: David Dellucci has been rated a better-than-average defensive outfielder who plays with wild abandon. He's a major upgrade over Bobby.
So there you go. As I said in my interview with the Metro paper on Thursday, I am always looking for reasons the mainstream media misses for why this team is struggling as it is. I think I’ve found a big one: Ryan Howard and Aaron Rowand have been big busts defensively the it is costing the Phillies the ability to protect their pitchers. When pitchers can’t rely on the fielders behind them they begin to assume that they need to be perfect and unhittable every outing, every pitch. With the Phillies lousy defense unmasking their mediocre pitching, the Phils are really in a tight spot.
Truly, this is the Year of the Glove, or more accurately, The Year the Glove Did the Phillies in. If this team expects to compete in 2007, it must rebuild its defensive prowess: signing Dellucci is a start, and getting a good defensive player at third is another. Otherwise, expect another loooooong season Phillies fans.
I'm still holding out hope the Phils trade Rowand during August, because I sure as hell don't want him manning CF again next season at the price of $6 mil.
great piece mike, I didn't realize how low Rowand was on the totem pole this year. And look where Andruw Jones is!!! I guess the added weight has affected him.
Oh wait, yes I can. Aaron Rowand (.939 in 2005, .863 in 2006).
As for Howard, though, his Zone Rating is actually up a little from last year....