Monday, March 9, 2009

Defense Part 2 of a Lot: Cubs Outfield

The second part of my new found love of defense and defensive statistics we will take a look at something the media has deemed a potential issue for the Cubs this season; outfield defense. The Cubs projected starting outfield is Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, and Milton Bradley. Most people look at that and assume it will be on of the worst defensive outfields in baseball, I'm going to see if that's true.

Last season with a general outfield of Soriano, Jim Edmonds, and Fukudome the Cubs finished in the middle of baseball in outfield defense. They had the 15th ranked UZR for overall outfield and 3.9. The Rays were the best in baseball at 47.1 while the Rockies were worst at -48.3. So the Cubs finished right in the middle. 

Obviously Soriano will play everyday in left, popular opinion is that he is an awful defensive outfielder. Soriano is certainly guilty of making some bad plays, dropping some balls that he shouldn't, and taking bad routes to chase down balls. Surprisingly Soriano is rated at slightly above average in left, registering a 2.4 UZR. Even more surprisingly he posted a 18.5 UZR in 2007 in leftfield. He also has a damn good arm, leading the NL in outfield assists in 2006 and 2007 and getting 10 in his limited time in 2008. I'm not saying that Soriano should be getting a gold glove, or even that he should be considered a "good" fielder. I'm just saying that the idea that he is horrid out there is a myth. 

Fukudome was one of the best defensive rightfielders in baseball last year, but his bat can't hit at the level necessary to play rightfield. He will instead start the season platooning with Reed Johnson in center. Last year Johnson played some center and had a -4.7 UZR, his best position is left, and he is also pretty solid in right. Fukudome played a very limited amount in center so his true value is unknown, he put up a -2.3 UZR in that limited time so I would guess he ends up around average, maybe slightly below average. No matter what he is an upgrade defensively from Jim Edmonds, who posted an awful UZR of -7.7 in center last season.

Milton Bradley is the true wild card. Lots of people assume because he was a DH last season that Bradley is an awful defensive player. Actually his time in right field has been rather solid, the most time he played in right was the 2006 season in Oakland. He put up an 8.4 UZR, in 2008 in 19 games with the Rangers he put up a 5.2 UZR. So he won't be as bad as lots of people are expecting.

The fifth outfielder will most likely be Joey Gathright. He has played primarily center in his career, though I expect Lou will want him to play all three positions. His centerfield UZR was 2.3 last season, he really doesn't have any experience in the corners so that is an unknown. Gathright won't really see enough playing time to make a true impact either positively or negatively.

I'm not claiming here that the Cubs have this awesome lights out defensive outfield, but the myth being spread (I'm looking at you St. Louis) about the Cubs having this bad defensive outfield is laughable. Sure its only league average, but with Soriano and Bradley their bats more than make up for any defensive problems. I would love to have an awesome defensive outfield like the Rays or the Mets, but its not going to happen right now. For a team that hits like the Cubs should, the main concern with the defense, especially the outfield, is that they don't give up runs they shouldn't. That's what this outfield should do.

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