On the Giants and Infield Defense
Every once in a while I see people discussing the merits of having a good infield defense to back up the Giants’ pitching staff. I am admittedly one of those supporters- I’m a pretty firm believer in 1) keeping the ball on the ground, no matter the dimensions of the park you’re playing in, and 2) having a solid defense in the infield to convert those ground balls into outs. That’s why I’m a sucker for defensive-minded shortstops- I’ve always really liked Adam Everett, I loved Omar Vizquel, and I currently have a slightly irrational man-crush on Seattle’s Brendan Ryan and Texas’ Elvis Andrus. Sometimes I hear someone mention that the strikeout-flyball tendencies of the Giants’ pitching staff renders their infield support…well, not unimportant, but not something that necessarily has to be prioritized. So I thought I’d delve into the matter and see what I could find.
Using Baseball Info Solutions’ batted ball data (courtesy of FanGraphs), I split each pitching staff’s batted balls in play (defined as TBF – HR – BB – HBP – K) by their ground ball to fly ball ratio and compared this to the league average (both batted balls allowed per batter faced and the league GB/FB tendencies). This is based on three years of data- consider that to be something of an arbitrary cutoff point. I wanted to get a feel for the tendencies of the pitching staffs; obviously, pitchers switch teams- but I think enough pitchers have stayed put to where it will minimize the effect of team-switching. Anyways, this is what I found:
Pretty cool, no? Over the last three years, the Giants’ pitching staff has on average allowed 242 less ground balls than the average Major League team. That’s 62 less grounders induced than the runner-up Cubs. The Cardinals, as expected (pitching coach Dave Duncan has a reputation for turning pitchers into ground ball machines) have induced a great deal more grounders than the second-best team, the Braves (by 105). Overall, the Giants have induced less balls in play than any other Major League team.
That said, I’m not too concerned about the state of the Giants’ infield defense- if any team could afford to have mediocre to below average defense in the infield, it would most certainly be the Giants. This doesn’t mean that the Giants should go out and acquire all-bat no-glove players for their infield positions, but it does mean that the pitching staff effectively minimizes the impact of a infielder’s lack of range. That said, I don’t think the Giants will be hurt too much with Miguel Tejada at shortstop and Pablo Sandoval at third base.