Friday, April 22, 2005

Defense at Short

We're only 13 games into the season, but I'm ready to take a cursory look into the defense we're getting from David Eckstein.

Much was said (and printed) this off-season in regard to the downgrade the Cardinals were going to have at shortstop with the departure of Edgar Renteria and the addition of Eckstein. We heard plenty of sources pointing out that he has sure hands, but not much range, and even less of an arm. Of course, I personally pointed out that Eckstein's defense from a statistical standpoint was hard to judge due to him playing on fly ball, strikeout pitching staffs (thus fewer balls to make plays on.) Here's how the two shortstops stack up here in the early going.

Fielding Percentage
Renteria - .972
Eckstein - 1.000

Eckstein obviously isn't going to go all season without giving up an error, but he's always been steady, only having 14 errors over the last 2 years, or 2176 innings in the field. Renteria, by comparison, had 11 errors just last year over 1307 innings. Renteria's fielding percentage is actually about what one would expect, as he has a .970 FP over his career at short.

Range Factor
Renteria 4.62
Eckstein 5.14

Range Factor, or RF, is simply the number of assists and putouts a player averages every 9 innings in the field. In other words, Renteria is averaging 4.6 assists and/or putouts per game, with Eckstein at 5.1. Yes, that's right - thus far, Eckstein has been getting to 1 extra ball in play every 2 games when compared to Renteria. That current RF for Eckstein is far and above his career mark of 4.23, and even more so than his 2004 mark of 3.83. While it's too early to say how much better his RF is this year, it shouldn't surprise anyone that's looked into the numbers if he does improve in this area. In fact, when you look at his career 4.23 mark, consider his new pitching staff, then compare it to Renteria's career RF of 4.44 - well, it's still not impossible to imagine Eckstein getting to as many or more balls in play as Edgar did as a Redbird.

Zone Rating
Renteria .857
Eckstein .813

STATS, Inc. provides Zone Rating (ZR) data by noting the percentage of balls in play that a defensive player should get to. Looking at these two players, they're saying so far this year that Renteria is getting to 86% of the balls that he should, while Eckstein is getting to 81%. Renteria's numbers are in line with his career mark, which is .851. Eckstein, on the other hand, has been quite a bit below his career average of .868. (Yes, that's right - over their careers, Eckstein has a better ZR than Renteria. Go figure.) ZR is a nice statistic to use in conjunction with RF (and FP) as it is not as dependant upon the pitching staff. In other words, a player can have an inflated RF on a groundball staff, but his ZR will help one to determine how often he's getting to the balls that he should be.

According to the Fox Sports Midwest broadcasters, Rolen has been playing farther off the line this year to help make up for the (perceived) smaller range provided by Eckstein. That, combined with the fact that Rolen is so awesome with the glove, might explain why Eckstein is showing a decreased ZR in the early season. It will be interesting to see if Rolen starts playing closer to the line as the Cards gain confidence in Eckstein.


So far, so good with Eckstein at short. Watching him play, I completely understand why his arm has been questioned. Visually, you can tell that he has to really put his entire body behind his throws to get them across to first base. With that being said, the more I see him play (and dig into his stats) the more I think that the improved error rates, along with the potential for range as good or better than Renteria, is going to end up replacing Renteria's gloves quite nicely.


For those of you not living in the St. Louis area (or in a region with local broadcasts) you may have missed this little nugget of information on Eckstein. According to the FSN broadcast team, Eckstein - he of the 3 year, $12 million contract - is currently driving the same car he's had since he started in the majors. That would be, of course, a 1999 Nissan Maxima. Talk about someone that appears to be well grounded.

I wonder if he'd take a challenge to drag race me in my 1998 Mazda 626?


At 7:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He has been very impressive at SS so far this year and even better at lead off for the Cards. But sunday his errorless year came to an end on a easy play that he just missed the 2B on a possible double play.....but over all very impressed with his play.


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