Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 26, 2007
BASEBALL: The Gloves of Flushing
Another dramatic ending at Shea last night; this is exactly what the Mets needed, two blowouts and two walk-offs (at least Shawn Green could walk off; I had to leave the park on a dead run to get to the LIRR). I have to admit, I was still thinking that the Green of a few years ago would have put the game away with the drive he sent to left in the bottom of the 8th.
I was also very impressed yet again by Carlos Tres, as Gomez hit a bomb to left field for his first major league homer.
By the way, I was wondering Sunday, looking at Johan Santana's number 57 on the scoreboard, if his would someday be the highest number ever retired. According to Wikipedia (see also here for a list of NL retired numbers, and here for a list of AL), there have been four retired numbers 50 or higher: Jimmie Reese - Angels (coach), 50; Don Drysdale - Dodgers, 53; Carlton Fisk - White Sox, 72; and August Busch, Jr. - Cardinals (owner), 85.
The big story of last night is Jorge Sosa and his 3.79 ERA, from a pitcher who has finished a season below 4.62 only once. Coming into this season, Sosa's career averages were 1.38 HR/9, 4.22 BB/9, 5.81 K/9, and (by the back of the envelope measure) a .267 average on balls in play. In his one prior good year, 2005 in Atlanta under Leo Mazzone's tutelage, the numbers were 0.81, 4.30, 5.71 and .258, suggesting a combination of good defensive support and success keeping the ball in the park. This year, those figures are 0.76, 3.03, 5.16, and .242, suggesting much the same, albeit with better control. (His AAA numbers showed across the board dominance, 0 HR, 4 BB and 29 K in 32 IP). I can't predict whether that will continue - it's not likely, but it's not implausible that he could keep the homers under control for the remainder of the year.
But is that balls-in-play average just luck? The larger story is that the Mets defense has been quietly amazing. According to Baseball-Reference.com, only three major league teams have converted 71% or more balls in play into outs - the A's and Cubs, both at .714 (and two unlikely candidates, if you were guessing) and the Mets at .726. Amazingly, the Mets are first in the NL in batting average (a doubly impressive feat at Shea) and first in fewest hits allowed, despite unimpressive team pitching totals in walks (11th in the league), strikeouts (10th) and homers (9th). It's the defense, along with the league lead in batting and (by a large margin) steals holding them up.
But whose defense? If you look at range factors to see plays per game, the Mets are noticeably below the league average at two positions (first and left field) and way below at one (shortstop), but noticeably above average at two positions (right and center) and way above at only one (second). But range factors can be distorted by where the ball gets hit; ESPN's Zone Rating, which seeks to measure the number of plays compared to balls hit into a fielder's "zone" of the field, rates Jose Reyes second only to Omar Vizquel and way above the rest of the competition, rates Wright third in the majors at his position, Beltran fifth, Easley near the top half of the league and Valentin the bottom half, Delgado (!) above average, and Green near the league average.
As to Reyes in particular, I would not be surprised to see real progress - his defensive stats have lagged behind his reputation for a while now, but his quickness and one of the best shortsop arms in the game have to be somehow a part of the team's exceptional defensive play.
UPDATE: I have to say, I need a primer on how Zone Rating fits against team DER - I mean, ESPN is listing Zone Ratings of .885 for Delgado, .848 for Easley, .792 for Valentin, .903 for Reyes, .830 for Wright, .858 for Green, .906 for Beltran, and .804 for Alou - if those are percentages of balls turned into outs, and the team percentage is .726, then ESPN must be rating an awful lot of balls as not being in anybody's zone, which seems methodologically unsound.
A Hardball Times zone rating-based runs-saved analysis rates only one Mets defensive player among the top 3 at his position, rating David Wright as the best defensive player in baseball this year. Four Mets rate as having compiled at least 2 fielding Win Shares through June 15: Reyes (3.3), Beltran (2.8), Wright (2.2), and Lo Duca (2.1), with Reyes rating second only to Troy Tulowitzki among NL shortstops, Beltran trailing only Andruw Jones among NL outfielders and Wright trailing only Pedro Feliz among NL third basemen.
Am I missing something? For an additional sanity check I went to look at Baseball Prospectus' individual defensive stats, and couldn't find them.