After a very poor defensive year last season - only 4 DRS, not even an extra win (10 runs), after years of sterling defense - I was wondering how this year would fare, given that Sandoval being fit that one year, in 2011, resulted in him leading the league by a mile in DRS at 3B. I'm happy to report, we are already at 6 DRS just 16 games into the season, meaning we are already ahead of what we compiled in total in all of last season.
Here were the biggest offenders last season, per DRS (oh, that's Defensive Runs Saved), that sunk us:
- Abreu: -5 (that's another reason why I was pretty sure Adrianza had the last spot vs. him)
- Lincecum: -8 (and, of course, that's just in his 32 starts)
- Pagan: -9 (that's why the Giants should be looking hard for a CF, and why Brown probably don't have to do a lot offensively to start in CF)
- Pence: -7 (I was surprised by this, but might be a quirk of the system as his Rtot was positive, as well as UZR/150; I might average the 3 in the future, but for now I like DRS more)
- Sandoval: -5 (I wish I could see how this changed during season, if he improved late, when he started his brother as chef phase)
- Scutaro: -7 (we heard about all his difficulties last season...)
- Belt: +4
- Blanco: +10
- Bumgarner: +5
- Perez: +10
- Posey: +4
This season, got a mix again, but most negatives are low, and got a couple of big contributors. Here are the negatives: Arias (-2), Belt (-1), Crawford (-2), Hicks (-1), Morse (-1), Petit (-1). It is early season, yes.
Positives so far:
- Adrianza: 1 (38 DRS/yr, as an FYI)
- Casilla: 3
- Pence: 5
- Posey: 2
- Sandoval: 2 (17 DRS/yr, he was around 25 in 2011, if I recall right)
- Vogelsong: 1
Early, but some interesting things so far that I would want to point out. Alphabetically:
Adrianza is among the positives, in just 5 games played, 3 starts, 31.2 innings or about 3.5 games. He did that last year too, in 6 games played, 4 starts, 45.0 innings or 5 games, and had a 27 DRS/yr rate (but that was for SS, while this year for 2B). Not as great by UZR, 5.5 UZR/150 last season at SS, but 18.0 UZR/150 this season at 2B, or roughly 9 UZR/150 over the two seasons.
What this means is that he doesn't have to hit for much for his superior defense at 2B and SS to be much more valuable MI than Arias (poor on defense everywhere but 3B for his career) or Hicks (poor in MI, average in CI). Both costs the team at a -10 to -20 seasonal rate there, if Adrianza is +10 seasonal rate, that's a 2 to 3 wins swing defensively between Adrianza and Arias and Hicks. It's no contest if Adrianza is as good as SSS for DRS. And I still believe that Adrianza will eventually hit for us, making his defensive value all the better.
Hicks is going to need to hit at his high OPS to be more valuable than Adrianza. And after his hot start in his first four games, in the 8 games since (7 starts), he's been hitting only .158/.407/.158/.565 since then, with a horrible 10 K's in 19 AB's (but 7 walks for that hefty OBP), so it appears to be just a matter of time before Arias and Adrianza start getting more starts at 2B. Of course, Ehire's 3 hit game probably earned him an extra start or two, starting with tonight's game.
Pence has thrown out a number of runners so far on the bases, compiling three assists already. The Giants have done well in recent seasons in turning defensive duds like Burrell and Huff to be productive in the OF, but Pence has not changed as dramatically, he was basically as bad defensively in 2013 as he was in 2012, per DRS. Given how hard RF is to field because of the oddities and quirks (vs. LF for the water buffaloes), perhaps it took Pence a little longer to get the hang of playing there. Also, as I noted, the other advanced defensive metrics didn't have him as bad there, so it could be a quirk of DRS that don't recognize stuff that Pence did.
In any case, hopefully he can continue at a good rate there, great start there so far, he could coast and be average the rest of the way and still end up one win better defensively than last season, earning his raise just from that (he made roughly $13M last season, getting $18M this season, roughly one win increase in salary). And he has five more years of playing there, so learning now is a good time, contract-wise, for the Giants.
Posey when he came up and before he was injured, was a defensive god, a man among men, running up at least one win above average on a seasonal basis (since he only played parts of both seasons), but after his injury, in 2012 and 2013, he merely slightly above average at best. So it is good to see him again among the leaders in defense.
Most probably the injury affected his defense a lot more that couldn't be fixed in one off-season or two, or perhaps it set him back not playing for nearly a year while rehabbing, or a combo of all that. In any case, he had a total of only 4 DRS in 2012-2013 (0 in 2012, 4 in 2013) and already has 2 DRS so far this season in 13 starts, 119.0 innings. It would be great to have him back as a defensive stalwart on the team and so far, so good.
There was also an article noting how he is throwing out more base stealers this season. That is probably a combination of his improvement as well as the pitchers, who after last year's face plant, felt the urge to do anything, everything, to improve themselves to win this season. Still, every last bit helps the team win more games.
Sandoval has only been really good at 3B in two seasons before 2014, both where he was in reasonably good shape: 2008, his first season in the majors, and 2011, when Operation Panda got him in good shape for the season. He had a 16 DRS/yr in 2008, 20 DRS/yr in 2011, otherwise, has been either pretty negative (2009, 2012, 2013 he had at least a -5 DRS) or about average (2010, with a 1 DRS for the season). This season, with his 2 DRS, his seasonal rate is 17 DRS/yr, right in line with his two good seasons. Perhaps the Panda is back!
I know his hitting hasn't, but given all the walks he's been taking, I think he's still working out his batting mechanics in order to take more walks, probably something he's been working on since spring training, maybe at the behest of Barry Bonds, who knows why after all these years he suddenly realized that he should take more walks. I think he'll be fine once he gets that into his muscle memory. But yeah, it's frustrating to see him hitting like this from the 3-hole. Maybe he should bat 7th for a while and reward Crawford for his good hitting by moving him up into the top of the lineup. Bochy had talked about hitting him second, so maybe the Belt/Pence experiment there can be moved to batting third.
Defensively, we have missed the big contributions from other players, like Schierholtz, Stewart, and Ishikawa, who provided stellar defense for us at their positions, even though they were never truly full-time starters. The team for a number of years were among the top teams in defense, never the top, but generally among the leaders, but last year was a huge decline defensively, hurt as you can see from above, from a number of key players.
I covered the pluses, but I would be remiss to not note that Pagan, who was very negative last season, is currently at 0, which is both a huge improvement as well as a good area for him to be in, as he has been strongly in the negative for CF since 2011. He must have had a pretty bad injury to go from being a great defensive CF in 2009-10 to a very poor one in 2011-13. It was pretty much a 3 win swing, a huge decline. By just being average, Pagan would have improved his defense by a win. That with him hitting the way he has during his last few years (don't count on him hitting .900 OPS :^) should more than earn his $10M salary, he'll be easily over 2 WAR he needs to do to earn his salary, his hitting has always been very good for a CF, it is his fielding that has held him back the past few years, from being among the good players in the league.