Friday, April 07, 2006

The Fielding Bible: Sex Panther

"'They've done studies, you know. 60% of the time, it works every time.'
'That doesn't make sense.'"

So, if I recall correctly, the part of the New Philosophy of Developing the Farm and Ditching Big Contracts that the Sox implemented this winter was acquiring a group of players who could reverse the trend of terrible infield defense from the past two years and create a playing environment where Boston would stop losing games because someone let a ball drop or slip through the infield, even if it meant losing some batting power in the process. Well, as it turns out, it could all be for nothing, or so says a new book by John Dewan, who runs the company that tracks the location of every pitch and ball put in play and sells it to twelve teams including, you guessed it, the Red Sox.

The book, called “The Fielding Bible,” purports to solve a problem that’s bugged stat-heads for years: how do you effectively measure a player’s defensive capabilities? Up until now, no one had come up with a system that separated the player’s actions from the vagaries of the field, the type of pitch the pitcher used, etc. to come up with a rating that reflected the player’s abilities alone. According to the scoring system “The Fielding Bible” touts, the team this year has a defensive rating inferior to that of the 2006 team. Yes, that’s right, the team that has the capability to field Gold Glove winners at every infield position except pitcher is markedly inferior to the team that featured Edgar “Most Errors in the Majors” Renteria. Confused? So was I.

I won’t go into the details of the points the scoring system uses, as the Globe’s article does a good job of explaining how it works, but it has some serious flaws – it doesn’t take into account ability to handle throws (one of J.T. Snow’s specialties), turn double plays (something Mark Loretta does well) or charge bunts (where Mike Lowell is the league’s best). It also doesn’t take into account outfield assists either, so Manny Ramirez gets no love. In other words, the guys Theo & Co. picked up over the off-season do actually know what they’re doing and there’s no need to panic quite yet.

That said, it still sounds like “The Fielding Bible” might be worth the read. For example, it shows that Renteria was actually a decent fielder last year…as long as the ball wasn’t hit directly at him (remember all of those slow rollers he couldn’t handle?), that Bill Mueller was an above average third baseman and that Trot Nixon was the best right fielder in the big leagues (see, I knew the human highlight reel was a good nickname). And hey, if nothing else, this new defensive system is a step in the right direction…just as long as teams (and fans) don’t use it the wrong way.

Tonight: Matt Clement, no longer sporting the chin growth of yesteryear, goes up against Daniel Cabrera, on seasonal leave as the Cigar Store Indian to pitch for the Orioles, at 7:05. GO SOX!!!