>Last week, Dan Budreika wrote this sentence in an article about Mike Pelfrey getting hurt by the Mets defense for Rotographs:
“Interestingly enough the Mets were without a doubt the National League’s worst team with the leather as the Nationals had the second lowest mark in the NL at -26.7 which is over 20 runs better than the Mets.”
I want to Mythbust this idea that the Mets were some sort of miserable defensive team in 2009. It is untrue. The Mets were at least an average defensive team in 2009, maybe even a good one. Some of this myth comes from images of Fernando Martinez and Daniel Murphy falling down in the outfield, Luis Castillo dropping a pop-up, Mike Pelfrey falling down on the mound, Jeff Francoeur hiding himself from the ball, Luis Castillo falling down the dugout steps – just lots of falling down. Even more of it comes from Fangraphs UZR, which has the Mets as being -47.3 runs as a unit defensively, indeed the worst defensive team in the NL.
Let’s assume for the moment that this is true, and the Mets really were -47.3 runs below average defensively. If you ignore the Mets – and oh my, what a pleasant sensation that can be – the other 15 National League teams in 2009 surrendered an average of 725 runs for the 2009 season. The Mets surrendered 757 runs, 32 runs more than the average NL team – so we can say the combination of Mets pitching and defense equals -32 runs compared to the average.
However, if the Mets defense was indeed 47.3 runs below average, that should make the Mets pitching staff 15.3 runs above average: +15.3 pitching runs – 47.3 fielding runs = -32 runs. If you watched the Mets this year, you already know this is all kinds of crazy. The Mets did not have a good pitching staff this year – Livan Hernandez (read: a bad pitcher) was third on the team in innings pitched and Tim Redding (read: an even worse pitcher) was fourth. I should admit that I might be slightly misusing UZR here by comparing it to the actual runs allowed, but the point stands. If the Mets were as horrible defensively as UZR says, but somehow only allowed 32 runs more than the average team, their pitching must have been around average or better – which doesn’t make any sense. I haven’t even mentioned Oliver Perez yet. Let’s momentarily ignore all that and give UZR a shot by looking at some other defensive indicators.
If the Mets’ fielding was really this shoddy, we would expect the team’s FIP to be significantly lower than their ERA – if the defense is letting a lot of balls in play to turn into hits, the pitching staff’s ERA is going to balloon compared to what it should be. Only this Mets team FIP was 4.50, and their ERA was 4.46 – implying that maybe their defense actually saved the pitching staff a couple of runs. In addition, the Mets team FIP of 4.50 puts them 24th among the 30 teams – so I don’t think they can be called an average pitching team in 2009. On top of all that, the Mets’ defensive efficiency, the rate at which the Mets turned balls in play into outs, was 69.3%, good for 13th in the Major Leagues. This doesn’t sound like the worst defensive team in the NL ruining an average pitching staff. This sounds more like an average defensive team backing up some crummy pitching. All those extra runs the Mets allowed came from their pitching and not their defense.
I think it’s safe to call the Mets 2009 UZR data a bit wacky, but how do other systems view the Mets defense? If you add up all the +/- Runs Saved for the Mets, Dewan has the Mets as +18 runs defensively. Now we have a 65.3 run gap between UZR and Dewan – so depending on who you believe the Mets were either a horrible defensive team or a good one. What’s going on here? Let’s break it down further between the infielders and the outfielders, which will give us our answer.
UZR and +/- Runs Saved are in general agreement about the infielders, excluding Runs Saved’s torrid crush on Daniel Murphy – and in their defense, he can be quite dreamy, with all that business talk. This isn’t all the infielders, just the ones who played the most:
Both systems say the Mets infield defense is well below average. David Wright had a bad year, Luis Castillo is still the “The Rangeless Wonder of the NL East” in both systems, and there was a whole bunch of “. . . meh” playing shortstop. If you look at some of the Mets ground ball pitchers – Mike Pelfrey, Bobby Parnell, Jon Neise – that group has a FIP lower than their ERA. So yes, Mike Pelfrey was likely hurt by the Mets poor defense. The Mets did not have a good defensive infield, and it shows up in UZR, Runs Saved, and the ground ball pitcher’s ERAs. So if both systems are in agreement on the infield, that means all those mismatched runs must be . . .
You guessed it, in the outfield, which is indeed a tale of one Citi. Again these are just some of the outfielders, because I figured no one cared about Emil Brown and his 8 innings in the field:
This disparity is harder to reconcile. The Mets have either a terrible outfield defense by UZR or a great one according to Dewan. Maybe this will help. I’ll give you the names of the four people who played the most inning in the Mets outfield in 2009: Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran, Jeff Francouer, and Ryan Church. Those are four more-than-capable defensive outfielders, despite whatever madness 2009 UZR is spewing. I have to go with Runs Saved here – the Mets probably had a good defensive outfield in 2009, and it would have been even better if not for Gary Sheffield. I believe UZR is still using Shea Stadium park factors, and my guess is that therein lies the problem. All UZR data for Mets outfielders should probably just get defenestrated until park factors for Citi Field are determined. Citi Field has deep expanses and, more importantly, high walls, meaning the high number of unfieldable balls are probably throwing off all the outfield numbers.
The Mets outfield for next year will be Jason Bay*, Carlos Beltran, and Jeff Francouer – all of whose 2009 UZRs are much lower than their Runs Saved. This is no case for concern, as the low UZRs are just noise from their ballparks. Jason Bay was stuck in front of the Green Monster last year, while Beltran and Francoeur got to have their UZR destroyed by the expanses and high walls of Citi Field. Look for UZR to continue hating all three in 2010 and for Runs Saved to have the Mets 2010 outfield as again above average.
* Was anyone else in the Pepsi Picnic Area at Shea for the Mets-Pirates game in 2007 – the one where John Maine his a home run – when some drunk guy just screamed, ”
Get on your horse, Jason Bay” at Bay for nine innings? And to think that some people wondered why it took him so long to sign with the Mets . . .