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August 2013

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Defensively Speaking: Let's Talk Defense

Written by , Posted in General

The Cubs’ pitching staff gets a lot of attention for pitching very well under pitching coach Chris Bosio; however, it’s been highly overlooked that defensively this team has been very good. One reason for this is the Cubs have (or had) a number of good defensive players but another reason is Dale Sveum’s defensive alignments. This is Sveum’s greatest strength by a wide margin, yet it’s something hard to notice without someone pointing it out to you. Sveum’s defensive alignments have not only improved the overall defense, but the pitching staff is the main benefactor of these shifts with nearly every starting pitcher seeing some of the best numbers in their career (minus the hit machine Edwin Jackson).

Looking at the defensive metrics you can see just how good the Cubs have been. The table should be pretty self explanatory, green is good, red is bad, darker is more extreme one way or the other and finally blue is average.

Quick Glossary:

UZR – Ultimate Zone Rating. Advanced Metric that uses play-by-play data to estimate each fielder’s defensive contribution. Zero is average. The higher you are, the better. (via Baseball Info Solutions, can be found on FanGraphs)

TZR– Total Zone Rating. The number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made with zero being set as average. (via BaseballProjection.com, can be found on baseball-reference)

DRS – Defensive Runs Saved. The number of runs above or below average the player was worth on the number of plays made with zero being set as average. (also Baseball Info Solutions, can be found on baseball-reference)

As you can see there’s some discrepancy depending on which stat you choose but that’s why it’s best to look at all of the information before making a conclusion. The Cubs have had 4 players clearly above average in Castillo, Rizzo, Barney, & Valbuena making up the majority of a very good infield. They’ve had a solid outfield with DeJesus, Soriano and Schierholtz taking the majority of the playing time. Ransom’s advanced metrics are solid, but the traditional counting stats are bad. Lake has struggled with his shift to the outfield, but that was a given considering he only played a handful of games in the outfield prior to his call up. That leaves Starlin Castro, who has been horrible both offensively and defensively almost all year. The one bright spot in Castro’s defense has been the lower error numbers. Only 15 on the year, a discernible improvement over previous years. Obviously, mental mistakes like the sac fly recently that got him benched don’t result in errors so that number is skewed a bit for all players, not just him.

Overall though, the Cubs are pretty good defensively and they have obviously been great with starting pitching, except Edwin Jackson who did have an exceptional month of July. With strong starting pitching and good defense the Cubs have had many close games. With the terrible offense, spurred by Castro’s struggles, Rizzo not taking a step forward, and injuries, the team has the potential for a quick turnaround next year if they can get the bullpen in order and some offensive improvement. The Cubs are the Cubs but everything points to next year being the first year under this regime that we’re competitive.


  • We saw the frustrating side of Jake Arrieta last night. Lacked command, gave up a lot of big hits, and was on the hook for the loss after surrendering 6 runs in only 4 IP with 4 BB, 5 hits and tallying 5 strikeouts.
  • The Cubs had a huge 5 run rally in the bottom of the 5th inning aided by a 2-run homer by Rizzo (his second of the night) and 4 straight singles by Schierholtz, Murphy, Bogusevic, and Gillespie; finally capped off by a Castillo sac fly.
  • Russell blew it in the 7th after giving up a near homer to Harper, an IBB, then Scott Hairston went deep. Shouldn’t of been in there vs all that RH hitting.

  • Ichiro got his 4,000th hit of his professional baseball career.
  • Jason Heyward got hit by a pitch in the face and had his jaw broken.  He’s going to miss all of the regular season and potentially the playoffs. Not much you can do as a hitter in that situation, but doesn’t it seem injures always find Heyward? This puts the Dodgers in the driver’s seat for the NL.
  • The MLB found no violation from Miguel Tejada in relations to their Biogenesis investigation, even though Tejada was linked to the company.  Tejada was suspended 105 games last week because he tested positive for amphetamine use. According to Tejada and the players’ union, he had a therapeutic use exemption that expired and while seeking an extension, he tested positive.
  • PLCB3

    Nice job getting thrown out in a rundown to end the game, Rizzo. The tying run was going to be on deck and the bases would have been loaded.

    • Joe Aiello

      And we would have still been down 5 runs in a losing season.

      • PLCB3

        It’s still a brain fart that can’t be excused. Just like the Cardinals game when he cut off the relay throw to home plate that would have nailed the runner and ended the inning. Instead they score that run and one more.

    • JR

      I haven’t seen any replays but I was at the game. I would not blame that on Rizzo. The 3B coach was waving him the whole way and when Rizzo was about to pass him, the coach threw his hands in the air to stop him. At that point, Rizzo was caught in no-man’s land.

      • Michael Jimenez

        I actually thought similar from the TV. The replays show no stop sign as Rizzo is heading into the bag. Bell always throws up late stop signs which he kept doing in the 5th as well when we had the 4 singles in a row. However, Rizzo should still know the situation, the blame is on both of them.

      • PLCB3

        If there is too much indecision on the 3B coach, he needs to go.

      • Joe Aiello

        And yet you criticized Rizzo.

      • PLCB3

        Both are at fault.

      • JR

        If we want our young budding stars to be “disciplined” and “good character guys,” doesn’t that include listening to coaches? Bell is waving him in, Rizzo is following that instruction. Bell stops him, Rizzo listens. Don’t really see how blame can be placed on Rizzo. Yes, he should know better. But he’s being waved home. He needs to listen.

      • Jedi

        Dusty too!

      • Jedi

        Dusty too!

      • Eddie Von White

        Sveum should have benched him. Oh wait, the whole team got benched.

      • Eddie Von White

        Sveum should have benched him. Oh wait, the whole team got benched.

  • PLCB3

    Off-topic, but has anyone used Craigslist to sell something? I’m trying to get rid of some of my electronics.

    • Joe Aiello

      Yeah, my wife and I have. Works fine.

  • Dusty Baylor

    Russell against Right handers for his career:
    .291/.352/.507. So…really he should just NOT face them. Ugh.

  • Doug S.

    Way to go Ichiro. I’ve got to see this guy so many times at Safeco. Seems he did at least one thing a game that would amaze me.

    The 5 run comeback in the 5th was quite fun to watch, though at the expense of the local kid pitching for the Nats.

    Be smart selling there CAPS. Lots of info on the web to help you.

    • PLCB3

      Just got someone who is going to buy my iPod Touch. 4th generation 64 GB for 65 bucks. Woohoo!

      • Joe Aiello

        That seems low

      • PLCB3

        It’s 3 years old, the screen is cracked, and the battery is shot.

      • Doug S.

        No. Somebody is definitely overpaying for Marmol.

      • Jedi

        Yes – if you’d thrown in a bullpen arm Detroit would’ve been interested.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        And if he throws in that extra bat they need he might be able to get the moon

      • Jedi

        Yes – if you’d thrown in a bullpen arm Detroit would’ve been interested.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        And if he throws in that extra bat they need he might be able to get the moon

      • PLCB3

        Come on guys, I’m being serious here. I have 2 email offers, if I actually can get more, I can try to get the 2nd guy to sweeten the offer.

  • Chuck

    There appears to be one thing the old-school and advanced metrics agree on: Starlin Castro sucks at defense.

    I was surprised at how good Rizzo is at 1B. The numbers back up what everyone says about how good Barney is with the glove, but nobody talks about Rizzo.

  • BANE

    Let’s talk about Baez and his 4-4 with 2 HR’s and 5 RBI’s. He’s now batting over. 300. Truly believe he’ll be up next year around June, kid’s on FIRE!!!!

  • BANE

    Let’s talk about Baez and his 4-4 with 2 HR’s and 5 RBI’s. He’s now batting over. 300. Truly believe he’ll be up next year around June, kid’s on FIRE!!!!