Getting Defensive about the Nats Defense

Yesterday the team defense subject came up in the comments section. TheRealJohnC aka JCCfromDC reminded us again that defense is important in comparing the Nats and Mets in defense. The Mets team defense was much better than the Nats. How is Mike Rizzo going to fix this problem because it’s an issue that can’t be swept under the rug.  The eye test can tell you how poor Jayson Werth has been manning leftfield.  Yunel Escobar was a problem at 3rd base, Desi a problem at shortstop, and the Nats 1st base defense was not good also.

Baseball Prospectus tracks  a stat called Defense Efficiency, and the Nats have moved backwards from .706 (15th) in 2014 to .700 (T-20th) in 2015 and -15.0 in Team UZR which is 21st overall.  In BABIP against Nats pitching, this is trending in the wrong direction: .296 in 2013, .298 in 2014 and  .304 in 2015.  Remember what BABIP is, this is Batting Average on Balls that stay In-Play.  The BABIP got worse and that’s considering Scherzer threw 2 no-hitters and a 1-hitter which helped that BABIP number.

Werth moved up to 5th to last in LF UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) at a -7.3 but consider that Hanley Ramirez who was last in UZR will be moving to 1st base next year.  Also consider that Clint Robinson playing 269 innings in the OF had a -6.0 UZR, and the Nats were worse than every team except the Reds in the NL in LF defense.  Keep in mind UZR is a cumulative stat and if CRob played 700+ innings he would have competed for that negative distinction with Hanley.   Then you have Yunel Escobar at a -7.7 and 6th from the bottom in 3rd base UZR.  Ian Desmond ranked 12th from the bottom in shortstop UZR at -3.7 due to his error rate and Desi was actually 8th best in shortstop range rating which means only 7 other shortstops do a better job getting to balls than Desi.  Since BABIP doesn’t count errors, Desi isn’t the problem in that stat although he is factored in to the decline in Defensive Efficiency. Ryan Zimmerman ranked 24th in 1st Base UZR at a -2.2 and that was a surprising stat, but the plantar fasciitis most likely had it’s effect but RZim was an improvement over LaRoche who was last in UZR last year at -5.0.   BABIP over a full season takes out much of the luck factor and is affected most by poor range and defensive positioning and also the quality of the batted balls; however, FanGraphs ranks the Nats pitchers 10th best in the Majors in hard hit balls at 28.1%.

How much better would the Nats pitchers perform with better defense behind them?  That is the question to ponder.

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