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.
Kenley Jansen called it a miscommunication between him and Justin Turner on Wil Myers’s bunt.
Turner: “My responsibility there is to make sure we get an out.”
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) May 6, 2019
The Nationals have loaded the bases with one out in the 8th on Wilmer Difo’s single, Justin Turner’s throwing error, and a walk to Victor Robles. Pedro Baez has exited. Scott Alexander will face Juan Soto.
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) May 12, 2019
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).”
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.
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.
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.
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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.
Ya know, I never thought I would say this, but Max Muncy might be an above-average defender at three positions.
— Daniel Preciado (@DanJPreciado) May 12, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is fine. Everything is fine. pic.twitter.com/oCsgfwUKGb
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) May 12, 2019
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.
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.