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Dodgers: Is The Defense Bad?

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 08: Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers catches a drive by Josh Donaldson (not pictured) of the Atlanta Braves in the third inning of a MLB baseball game at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

After the defense of the Dodgers helped cost them two recent games, people are wondering if the defense is bad. Bunt coverages against the Padres on May 5th and the throwing error by Justin Turner on May 11th against the Nationals were big examples of poor defense.

Since May 3rd, they’ve made 8 errors. That’s 8 errors in 10 games, which is not a good rate. When errors or missed fielding opportunities occur, it causes a pitcher to have to get more outs, which means they throw more pitches. Pitchers want to pitch with the confidence that the defense can handle just about any routine batted ball. We’ll take a look at how the Dodgers’ defense has performed through May 11 and let the numbers determine if the defense is bad.

Advanced Defensive Metrics

As with many of the advanced metrics there are a ton of which to learn. I keep it simple by finding a few key metrics and stick to those until I find better ones. The ultimate source for defensive metrics is FanGraphs and I am getting my information from them. The metrics I will be using are:

  • Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) – fromFanGraphs

“…players are measured in “runs” above or below average, and Baseball Info Solutions data is used as an input.”

  • Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) – fromFanGraphs

“UZR puts a run value to defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess (or lack thereof).”

  • Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) – fromFanGraphs

“Defense (Def) is the combination of two important factors of defensive performance: value relative to positional average (fielding runs) and positional value relative to other positions (positional adjustment).”

Catcher

The catcher positions seems to be in pretty good shape. I believe the negative DRS against Russell Martin was from the second game of the season against the Diamondbacks when he had a passed ball on a strike 3 call. That caused two unearned runs to be charged to Pedro Baez. Other than that, the catchers have been very good on the defensive side of the ball.

Name Innings DRS DEF
Austin Barnes 248.2 3 3.4
Russell Martin 92.2 -2 0.4
Rocky Gale 32 0 0.1

First Base

At first base, Max Muncy and David Freese are the primary players at this position. It has been announced that Cody Bellinger will mostly play in right field for the rest of the season. Bellinger is a Gold Glove talent at 1B but Muncy has been pretty good.

Name Innings DRS UZR DEF
Max Muncy 171 1 1.3 -0.2
David Freese 120 -1 0.1 -1
Cody Bellinger 82.1 1 0 -0.7

Second Base

Kiké Hernández has been very good while playing second base. Not only do the numbers reflect it but his strong arm helps in turning double plays. Since a second baseman sometimes needs to play on the shortstop side of second base a lot, a strong arm is required at the position. Fortunately, for the Dodgers, all of the guys who play second base have a strong arm. Although, he has been solid at second, Max Muncy is still slow in turning the double play. Sometimes, the Dodgers are willing to make some concessions on defense to make sure the bat of Max Muncy is in the lineup.

Name Innings DRS UZR DEF
Enrique Hernández 255.1 3 1.1 1.5
Max Muncy 70 1 -0.5 -0.4
Chris Taylor 48 0 0 0.1

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Third Base

Last year Justin Turner went through a rough stretch where he had 5 errors in 5 games. He has also had some well known issues, lately, as stated in the introduction. The error against the Nationals probably dropped his DRS. In general he seems to be fine and should continue to be good as long as he gets some rest. Max Muncy has some surprising numbers here with the DRS at 3. With Muncy holding his own at third the Dodgers should not hesitate to give Turner some time off.

Name Innings DRS UZR DEF
Justin Turner 310.1 -1 0.2 0.8
Max Muncy 62 3 0.6 0.7
David Freese 1 0 0

Shortstop

Corey Seager has some strong numbers this year at shortstop. Sometimes he can look a little awkward but that is due to his height. Despite some of his offensive struggles, Seager seems to be back to where he was, defensively, before his injuries and might even be better. For Taylor, it is a small sample size but we know he plays a capable shortstop.

Name Innings DRS UZR DEF
Corey Seager 312.1 3 1.8 3.4
Chris Taylor 59 -1 -0.3 0
Enrique Hernández 2 0 -0.2 -0.2

Left Field

Joc Pederson, who plays left field when right handers are the starting pitcher, seems to be a little below average defensively so far. The more he plays left field the better he can be. On the other hand, Chris Taylor seems to be a very good left fielder and I expect to see him in left field at the end of almost every game.

Name Innings DRS UZR DEF
Joc Pederson 231.1 -1 -0.1 -1.3
Chris Taylor 115.2 3 0.5 -0.1
Alex Verdugo 25.1 2 0.9 0.8
Enrique Hernández 1 0 0

Center Field

A.J. Pollock, before he was injured was surprisingly poor in center field. Last season he had a DRS/UZR/DEF line of 6/-.7/.9 so his defense has been a surprise. He’s clearly had some issues in judging some balls (the old eye test) but his sprint speed was 28.1 feet per second this year compared to 28.2 last year. All the tools are in place once he comes back. However, Alex Verdugo has been much better than Pollock on defense and it’s not very close. When called upon, Kiké Hernández has been good in center field.

Name Innings DRS UZR DEF
A.J. Pollock 230 -5 -2.9 -2.5
Alex Verdugo 79.2 3 0.1 0.3
Enrique Hernández 40 2 0.0 0.1
Chris Taylor 23.2 0 -0.6 -0.5

Right Field

Despite being a Gold Glove candidate at first base, Cody Bellinger was made into a right fielder after all the off-season moves. As a right fielder, he has been beyond excellent as the numbers (and the eye test) indicate. Bellinger will be playing most of the rest of the season in right field so very few others will get further opportunities there.

Name Innings DRS UZR DEF
Cody Bellinger 252.1 9 3.7 2.4
Alex Verdugo 118 4 0 -0.6
Enrique Hernández 3 -1 -0.4 -0.4

Overall Team Defense

According to FanGraphs, the Dodgers are 9th in overall DEF ratings, 8th in UZR and are number 1 in DRS. According to the standard statistics they are 7th in fielding percentage and have the 10th lowest amount of errors. The starting pitchers generally field their position well but some pitchers don’t hold runners well, which puts more pressure on the defense.

Final Thoughts

Despite what some of us thought, the defense is actually better than it was in 2018. Yes, there have been some ugliness, but that will happen. Hopefully, the 8 errors in 10 games is not an indication of a downward trend. With a team that relies on players like Max Muncy, Kiké Hernández and Chris Taylor to play multiple positions (even per game) it surprises me that they have such good defensive numbers. Overall, they only have one real standout defensively (Cody Bellinger) but there are more than a few above average defensive players. A few guys need to be a bit better to make the overall defense into a better unit, but, they are a top 10 defense right now.

Written by Tim Rogers

A fan of the Dodgers since 1973 since I got my first baseball cards while living in Long Beach. I came to San Diego for college and never left nor did I ever switch my Dodgers' allegiance. Some know me as the "sweater guy". #ProspectHugger

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