Why is this interesting? Well, a few reasons. One, I've never had the chance to look at how player defensive performance varies over the course of a season. Players sometimes say that defense doesn't go through slumps like offensive performance does. Is that true?
The other reason is that some Reds players got off to horrendous starts this year defensively, most particularly Edwin Encarnacion. Since his return, however, we've heard that he's been better. Do the numbers show that? Let's look at the data:
Reds defense since the end of May:
|Name||Pos.||Expected Outs||Range Runs||Error Runs||Total Runs|
- Edwin Encarnacion leads the team in defensive runs saved since May!!! Let me say that again. Edwin Encarnacion leads the team in defensive runs saved since May!!! Eddie's totals in the first half come out as -1 range runs, -3 error runs, for a total of -4 total runs saved above average. Given that he was at -9 runs (last in baseball) at the end of May, that's just fantastic progress. As someone who really likes Eddie, this is thrilling to see. The data indicate that he's doing it with range, which gives me confidence in these numbers. It doesn't contradict the fact that he still has work to do on the consistency of his fielding, but he's finally showing some real progress out there. I don't know if he can keep it up, but I'm finally feeling some hope again that he can at least be average at the hot corner moving forward.
- We've talked about what a great defensive season Norris Hopper has had thus far. According to UZR, most of that excellence has happened since the end of May (-1 overall before May, +6 since). As I mentioned in the redlegnation thread, he probably wouldn't keep up his pace in left if he were to play there every day. But even so, I really like Hopper as a 5th outfielder.
- Phillips, on the other hand, hasn't been as good as he was during the first two months, preventing fewer than average runs (though not severely). Maybe he needs more consistent rest? Or he just had a few bad days.
- Ryan Freel continues to get beat up by UZR, even though ZR has been pretty pleased with Freel this year. I think the overall message is that he's basically average out there. Which is disappointing.
- Hamilton's actually held his own in CF since May (-1 runs--and he's likely made up for that one run with his arm), and he had the bulk of the playing time out there in June and early July. That's encouraging. I'd still rather have someone with superb range out there, but an average defensive CF with the offense that he has brought to the table is pretty dang valuable.
- Griffey was rated at -3 range runs through May 31, and -8 range runs in June and early July. I had hoped he'd be better out there than he has been. I'm sure this is still better than if he were playing center, but his -13 defensive runs in the first half cuts pretty deeply into his 31.7 VORP on the season... Doesn't negate his offense, obviously, but it definitely hurts.
Remember, these are small sample sizes, so use them in the same way that you use monthly offensive splits. They indicate how players have done, and can sometimes be used to indicate a change in player performance that might continue...but at the same time, they're probably less reliable for prediction than seasonal totals.
Photo by AP/Alan Diaz