For Cubs defense, simple, routine, boring will do just fine...and here's why

As we have often noted, there are different ways to win in baseball.  The Royals almost stole a ring with spectacular defense that robbed more than their share of would-be hits.

The Cubs, on the other hand, prefer understated and simple.  Or as Joe Maddon put it,

“No chrome attached.”

Nobody ever doubted Starlin Castro’s ability to make the spectacular play.  Per Inside Edge fielding, when it comes to making difficult plays, ones that are made between 10% and 40% of the time, Castro was tied for 9th in all of baseball.  When it comes to routine plays?   Well, that has been a different story.  When it comes to plays that are made 90-100% of the time, Castro ranked dead last among qualified shortstops.

And that, more than anything led to the Cubs switch on defense.

“I’ve always said, for me, defense should really lack chrome. Good defense should be boring.”

Maddon has described Addison Russell as boring.

“What he does is right. What he does is the way I’d teach it. He is simple…In some ways, he’s very boring out there.”

As a 21 year old rookie learning a new position, Russell has made some errors at 2B and we could argue that he has struggled with the routine play as well, but the situation is more complex with him.  The lack of experience is undoubtedly a contributing factor there.  Russell, however, has also made the more difficult plays.  He ranks 3rd overall in that range of plays that are made 60-90% of the time.  If he can tighten up the defense on those routine plays and transitions smoothly back to SS, and so far there is every reason to believe he will, he is going to be as good as any of his peers at making the routine plays as well as those somewhat more difficult plays that the average defender should make.

And it should be even better, he can make the most difficult plays too, ranking 7th in that 10-40% range among 2B.  The Cubs are obviously hoping that once he settles into his “natural position”, he’ll give them the best of both worlds — the routine and the occasionally spectacular.

Some scouts will tell you that Javier Baez possesses the best tools of all at SS.  He certainly has the best arm and like Castro, he has a flair for the spectacular.  But also like Castro, he will make more errors than you would like.  He has 13 in 30 games at Iowa this year and in 5 minor league seasons at SS– which really covers 2 seasons worth of games at 320 — Baez has 93 errors.

I think it’s safe to say that Maddon is going to stick with Russell for a while at SS, at least until the very steady, fundamentally sound Gleyber Torres is ready.  But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

The infielder Maddon may be most ready to utilize is another fundamentally sound player in Tommy LaStella.

“I’m really eager for him to get back up. Right now we’re doing OK. He’s a really good offensive player. Depth is a wonderful thing. And it’s going to be necessary at some point.”

And while Maddon is obviously more eager to get his OBP oriented offense as an additional weapon off the bench, LaStella fits the profile of boring on defense too.

And as for Chris Coghlan?  He has handled only 8 chances, all routine, and he has handled them all.  If he can do that, the Cubs will probably live with it as long as they limit the exposure overall and he continues to produce on offense.  I would expect a platoon with Castro with Castro playing against LHP and coming in in the late innings as we saw in the last game.  Castro, you’ll recall, made a spectacular play on a pop-up, but he also made the routine chance as well.  It’s the latter that will keep him coming off the bench consistently late in games.

Kyle Schwarber at catcher

As much as the Cubs have been impressed with Schwarber’s progress, he will face the same fate as Castro as far as playing a different position down the stretch.

Though it has not been the horror show some have made it out to be, the defense has been below average overall.  The framing has been solid, though he does continue to struggle with hard breaking stuff down in the zone, and the arm has been a bit below average when it comes to cutting down baserunners — but that is not what is going to cost him reps down the stretch.  Again, what will keep him out for now is relative inconsistency when it comes to making the routine play.

It’s the 3 errors, passed ball, and 7 wild pitches that will keep him as the 3rd catcher down the stretch.  The Cubs will probably revisit his viability as a regular or semi-regular catcher next season, but now is not the time to develop players during the MLB season.  Not this year.  Maybe not for the foreseeable future.  Schwarber will have to hone his skills in the offseason.

As for his play in LF, Schwarber has made the plays he is supposed to make.  He is faster than he looks and surprisingly athletic out there. He isn’t going to remind anyone of Alex Gordon any time soon, but guess what?

He has made every routine play out there so far (8 out of 8 chances on 90-100%).  Given that he, like Coghlan, are really in the lineup for their plate skills, the Cubs will take that kind of boring all season long.

Dexter Fowler playing his part

In general, CF’ers make the routine plays with a high degree of consistency.  No CF has made less than 98% of them and Fowler has made 99.2% of them, not perfect, but certainly nothing to make you hold your breath on every fly ball.  When it comes to the more difficult but very make-able plays (that 60-90% range), Fowler has made 88.9% of them.  That is good for 12th in all of baseball — and good enough for what Maddon wants right now.  While he is by no means a Gold Glover, Fowler has been a pleasant surprise in CF.  He makes the plays all CFers are supposed to make and a great percentage of those that any solid defender should make.

As an aside, and I mention it in part because the combo of boring defense while adding value on offense will become something of a theme from here on out.

Fowler has had his ups and downs this season, but he has played one role better than anyone else in baseball — and that is getting on base to lead off an inning.

Fowler may be an imperfect player, but he knows his role well.  The combination of solid defense and OBP skills have made him an asset overall in terms of what the team needed this year.

Kris Bryant good, but still a work in progress

The Cubs heralded rookie is a work in progress in the field but Bryant has been better than anyone expected.

From a scouting perspective, managers recently ranked him as the 3rd best defensive 3B in the NL.  That is debatable, of course, but I think we can all say his athleticism at 3B has been better than advertised.

But what about the routine play?

Well, Bryant has made 13 errors, which is 7th most in all of baseball, but also the same as NL Gold Glover Nolan Arenado and fewer than AL Gold Glover Manny Machado.

Where Bryant has made more errors than anyone is in the field (9).  He is near the bottom in the 90-100% range, but 11th best in that 60-90% range, so we know he is more than just a statue  out there — he can make plays too.  Well, at least to a point.  He is dead last in the most difficult plays (10-40% range).  But the Cubs aren’t going to be concerned with that if he can just shore up his consistency on the routine play and continue to be solid in that second tier of difficulty.  We’ll show you why later.

But for now, the feeling here is that Bryant will tighten up that defense on routine plays as he gains experience at 3B.  Right now he is an asset overall. When it comes to run value added on defense,  Bryant ranks 8th in baseball and 2nd in the NL.  His UZR/150 ranks 5th in the NL.  The Cubs will take that knowing there is room for improvement and that he will provide great offense at the position.

Jorge Soler

Soler has look rather shaky at times in RF but you may  be surprised to learn that, at least according to Inside Edge, he is one of only 6 RFers in all of baseball that have made 100% of the routine plays out there.

Where he ranks in the bottom half is in that 60-90% range.  Soler will catch what any RFer should catch, but when it comes to making the more challenging plays that your average RFer usually makes, Soler is making less than 2/3 of them (the top 10 in this category are all 75% or higher), but given the relatively small number of plays, the Cubs can live with that until the late innings of a close game — especially if he continues to hit as he has lately (.299 with a .371 OBP in the 2nd half) — and even better still if that power comes along, which it should if he continues to hit the ball as hard as he has of late.

The importance of making the routine play and the difference between premium and non-premium positions

So, we threw all these numbers at you just to give you a feel for the routine vs. players that have varying degrees of difficulty, but as Maddon says, he likes boring and routine,

Why?

Well, let’s expand on Jorge Soler to illustrate.  He makes 100% of the routine plays, but those plays that are relatively more difficult, that range of plays that are routinely made by average RF defenders — just how many total plays are we talking about?

For Soler, that number is 11.  He has made 63.6% of them, meaning there were 4 plays that an average defender often makes that he doesn’t make.  That’s 4 plays over the course of a season

Let’s compare that, for example, with noted superb RF defender Jason Heyward.  Heyward had 12 chances in that range and made 11 of them.  He is obviously better at it, but that is essentially a difference of 3 plays over the course of a season on plays most players should make.

Even more to the point, both defenders made 2 plays in the 40-50% range.  So now we have a difference of just 3 total plays made on what your fringe average defender should make.

Do you see what I am getting at here?

Okay, but that is a corner OFer — that’s why those positions and 1B are where you can “hide” a defender to some degree.  Yes, Heyward is much, much better in the field, but the results of that defensive prowess may  make less difference than we might think when taken over a larger sample size — at least at that particular position.

So what about SS?

At SS, Castro had 331 routine chances.  He made 94% of them.  Now we have 22 missed plays that should be made by almost any SS in baseball.  By contrast, Andrelton Simmons converted on 99.7% of routine chances, meaning he has missed just one routine play this season.

That’s a difference of 21 plays on routine plays alone, but we’re still not taking this as far as the Soler comparison.  If we add the plays in that 60-90%, Castro did not make 17 of those plays where Simmons did not make 3 of those plays in that range.  That is a difference of 14 plays and when we add those chances in to the routine plays, that makes a total difference of 35 missed plays in that 60-100% range.

It adds up and shows why SS is such a premium position in baseball and why it was important to move Castro off of the position and give that to a player whom the Cubs expect plays in that 60-100% consistently.  Russell probably won’t make the plays in the 10-40% range the way Simmons can (who does?), but those plays are relatively few and far between.  Simmons adds value there where others don’t — but perhaps not as much as you think.  He’ll steal a run here and there, but the vast majority of plays are made in that 60-100% range of difficulty.  As great as Simmons is, there were only 12 plays he made below that 60% range, not because he isn’t good at it, simply because there aren’t nearly as many chances to make those plays.

And with defensive shifting becoming so prominent and essentially being designed to increase the number of routine plays make, that 60-100% range becomes that much more important.

It may also be why the Cubs stress hitting so much in their amateur evaluation.  We’ve mentioned on a number of occasions that the Cubs feel they can coach up defense when compared to the amateur level and that gives them a market inefficiency when it comes to acquiring players who have the potential to add tremendous value on offense.  This line of thinking surely ties in.  The Cubs don’t need to turn these guys into Gold Glovers.  They just need to turn them into players who consistently make plays that any average defender should make.

If they can take a good hitter and develop that player on defense where he makes plays in that 60-100% range consistently, then they eliminate most of the missed defensive plays that subtract from a players overall value — and then more than compensate for that by having a player that provides a significantly greater surplus in terms of offensive value.   The Cubs intention here is simply to come out ahead on that ledger sheet.

And right now, that is looking like an excellent strategy.

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  • I take the boring defense talk the same as Lester's "play stupid" remark...just a way to take the pressure off the rookies. Also, the stress there is the fundamentals, something players on other ML teams usually don't exhibit.

  • Schwarber has been noticeably unnoticeable in left which is good. With Contreras doing what he's doing at AA and Montero still with 2 years left on his deal, I'd love if they just moved Schwarber to left permanently and let him be the emergency 3rd catcher or back up catcher in the even the starter goes down/needs a rest.

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    In reply to Ike03:

    We cant be sure however that Contreras will be with us past this offseason. If he is not on the 40 man list, He will be a 6 yr minor league FA and able to sign with any team. .Putting him on the 40 man list would mean that 4 C would be on the list which is not something normally done.. It will be an interesting offseason

  • In reply to rynofan74:

    No way Contreras is allowed to walk. No way.

  • In reply to rynofan74:

    I'd be very surprised if they did not protect Contreras after the season he has had. Ross will be gone after next year, Montero the year after that, and Schwarber is unlikely to be a full-time catcher.

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    In reply to rynofan74:

    Contreras is a lock to get rostered

  • In reply to rynofan74:

    It's kind of 3 and a LF who can catch

  • In reply to rynofan74:

    What! You can take this to the bank, Contreras will most certainly be placed on the 40 man roster. If nothing else, his trade value would be astronomical - not that I would trade him.

  • In reply to Ike03:

    "noticeably unnoticeable",... nice turn of a phrase Ike,....

    I'll take that from a guy in LF any day of the week.

  • I didn't realize this but just read that since the all-star break, Fowlers' OBP is .419. That's an important part to this resurgent offense.

  • In reply to Denizen Kane:

    Absolutely.

  • good article. Fielding stats still seem so low sample size to me that you need years of data to draw any real conclusions. Deciding what's routine and what isn't has to be a tough task - is the hitter considered? So much opportunity for error there if you aren't accounting for every variable.

  • In reply to cubsker:

    I think it's done purely from an empirical level, based on the history of plays made at any given point on the field. I am sure there are nuances, but it's hard to argue with the data. It pretty much lines up with what we would expect to see.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    excellent article today John..... Tends to back up the thoughts and moves that Maddon is making lately and the future moves that could be made

  • In reply to rynofan74:

    Thanks rynofan!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If it's done on position of the play does it take into account shifting? Cubs play a lot of shifts so Castro could for instance be out of position on a play that would normally be in the higher odds range.

  • Wow, I am blown away by this article. This is probably the best analysis of the reasoning behind how the Cub FO operates the way they do. Excellent and very thorough John.
    Look for the kid at Myrtle Beach, Chesny Young, to be a prominent producer from this Cub way of drafting hitters who can be taught better fielding mechanics. I see him as a future Zobrist clone with his bat and decent fielding tools. Once again Theo & his minions doing what they do best. Bravo John.

  • In reply to Chicago Aces:

    Thanks for the kind words, Aces. Very much appreciate it.

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    In reply to Chicago Aces:

    Chesny Young is promising; clearly, he can make contact. Sometimes small players can get exposed at higher levels. Look no further than Stephen Bruno.

    Let's see how he handles AA; that will be the real test

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Agreed, however it appears the Cubs are trying Young at many more positions than the have with Bruno who has pretty much stayed at 2B for the majority of his professional career.

  • In reply to Chicago Aces:

    He was even at 1st the other night, IIRC.

  • HOLY COW! What an informative article! What i like best is you breaking down the number of chances by position and the impact it has on the game. For all the bemoaning of Soler's relative lack of defense prowess, actually he is doing precisely what he is asked to do, same for Bryant, Fowler and Schwarber/Coghlan. Furthermore if I were a boss I would like to see this overlaid with a transparency showing the number of strikeouts the Cubs have vs league and competitors and ID the level of importance making the routine play and then the next difficulty and where the outs come from.

    Therefore like it always was said, build your defense up the middle, it is where the chances are and where the miscues add up and offer team more outs.

    thanks John, this was a great read.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Thank you, glad you liked it. What is strange is I had no idea what I was going to write about when I started. Sometimes those turn out to be some of my best, for some reason.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Stream of consciousness writing is fun.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I don't know about fun but I will say time seems to fly when that happens!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, that is often the case with me, but everyone else knows I had no idea what I was talking about anyway.

    The only addition that might add some more perspective is this:

    I recall looking at chances by position and it went, SS, 2B, 3B, CF, LF, 1B, RF, P and catcher.

    Therefore the percentages then fall in line as to routine, tough, etc.and then translate into outs

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    That's pretty much where I've been on Castro and Russell since Spring Training. It's still hard to see where Castro fits in long term but I think he could be a lot better at second base. The time he gains from being on the right side of the infield will take some pressure off and may help him make the routine plays. The guy we saw early in his career has the bat to carry second so it may be how he revives his career, which would be awesome.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    He has always seemed to have difficulty gauging how much time he has to make a play and that has lead to him rushing plays he didn't need to and being late when there is no reason he should have been. 2B should theoretically cut down on some of that because he will have more time to make every play.

  • Just an incredible article. Thanks so much for this.

  • In reply to IThrewSomeRocks:

    You're welcome and thank you.

  • Even better than usual, John! Thanks!

  • In reply to CubMartyrComplex:

    Thanks, CMC!

  • As far as the eye test, Soler has been brutal out there. I'm confident he will continue to work and improve however I'm not sold on defensive stats such as these either.

    It states Soler makes 100% of the routine plays but based on his routes and poor jumps I get the feeling that there are a good number of balls that are dropping that would be considered routine plays for other OFs.

    Again, I'm not trying to dump on Soler - I like him a lot. However, I think some of these numbers discount how poor he has been defensively.

  • In reply to Eric:

    This is true. There have been a few plays at least that I've seen Soler take a poor route to a base hit and the baserunner gains an extra base. Those plays should decrease though with experience. I'm sure the same will happen for Schwarber and Bryant (if he plays more OF)

  • In reply to Eric:

    Your correct that defensively Soler has not been good. I still suspect his ankle is not 100% and it most shows up in his OF play. The Soler I saw last yeat, when healthy, looked like a serviceable OFer with a cannon arm.

  • Good thing is all will get better

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    I'm wondering what Sandberg's numbers would have been like with these stats. I would think his routine plays would be almost 100% and the 60% also pretty high.

  • In reply to Dan Strickland:

    I'd bet on that as well. Probably not as high on 10-40% as say Jose Lind or Roberto Alomar, but as we have noted, those plays are rare in general. The 60% and up is where most of the plays in baseball are.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Awesome article...I love this site. As far as routine plays, how do they determine those? A few readers said they don't take into account when soler takes a bad angle on a ball. It seems for it to be accurate they would account for those things.

  • In reply to Bill Judd:

    It is accounted for. The only thing that matters there is the result of how many balls are hit in a certain area (and likely at what velo/trajectory since fly balls are easier to get to than line drives given the same distance to travel). It doesn't care how he gets there, it only care IF he gets there.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    This reminds me of Mike Tomlin (Steelers head coach) after winning a game something like 9-6: "That was a beautiful win. You guys think I'm kidding but what matters is the W-L record, not 'style points.'" His play might not inspire poetry, but if he can make the catch I will take it. I think a lot of his problems will be ironed out with experience.

  • In reply to Dan Strickland:

    My guess is he would have almost annually been the highest in the routine plays, and his percentage in the tough plays would have been fine, but his number of chances in the tough plays would have been among the lowest.

  • Wonderful article! Thanks for the breakdown. I have been worried about this team's defense but in the same way the bats should mature from these young guys, so should the gloves.

  • In reply to DarBar15:

    Thanks!

  • Great article.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Thank you, mj.

  • I feel spoiled by the writings on this site. Always looking at the game from different aspects and angles.
    I know that Fowler has been productive (more recently) but is he worth a multi year deal this offseason or would a QO be worth while with some of the outfielders coming up in the system. Just wanted some thoughts.

  • In reply to DHigg:

    Thank you, DHigg That is always our goal, to try to look at things in different way and challenge convention.

    I am not sure Fowler is worth the QO either, but for one year it may be worth it. Not easy to get a quality leadoff man/CF into the fold and Fowler has proven to fit well in the lineup and in the clubhouse.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I think you give him the q.o. lack of free agents with proven hitting track records suggests he will decline. Cespedes, upton, heyward, zobrist the only of's that are above average hitters with fowler and heyward the only 2 capable of playing center.

  • Good points on how fielding at the premier defensive positions play a bigger role than other position on the field. For as good as Beef is playing in Arizona, I still think having Ross and Montero where good investments for our pitching staff.

  • In reply to cub since 89′:

    Thank you and I think so too. Beef needed to be in a different situation to thrive and I am glad he had that chance, but I think Montero and Ross have made huge impacts on the staff and in the clubhouse.

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    Great analysis, John. I love the depth of detail you cull from statistical websites and bring together into a clear, cohesive article. Already shared on FB and with my HS son.

  • In reply to Tom McNelley:

    Thanks, Tom. I hope they enjoy it as much as you did. It's always fun for me to try to tie these kinds of things together.

  • Best article I have read in awhile. This makes me excited for some fall baseball.

  • In reply to Reedo4:

    Thanks Reed! I am with you on fall baseball. That used to mean the AZ Fall League for us Cubs fans. Now it might mean playoff baseball.

  • Great article. It's amazing how far defensive stats and analysis has come in the last few years.
    A few years ago I read this story about how Tampa was so far ahead of everyone else in using defensive stats and they tied the analysis into the way they pitched. Every pitch was called by the bench and at the same time they moved their defenders based upon what was being thrown. Obviously hitter tendencies factored into this, too.
    Key players in doing that...Madden and Martinez. Just sayin....

  • In reply to Howard Moore:

    Thanks. I think defensive metrics have probably come further than any other phase in the game over the past few years. I still think baseball is learning the best way to interpret it alll.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Defense is one of the hardest things to "quantify" in my mind. And to come up with a meaningful statistic we kind of have to use something we can count. I think defensive stats take the most knowledge as well. A batter's "slash line" is pretty straight forward, and a pitcher's stats are pretty straight forward as well, but it seems like defensive stats are less intuitive in my mind. But as they become more refined and people are better able to use them some fun things will happen.

    I heard a story once that someone was trying to quantify who were the best defensive 1B in baseball. It was late 80's or something like that. He kept looking for a stat that would truly quantify it. But when he looked at PO, A etc. he ran into the predictable problem: 1B are involved in a lot of plays that require relatively little skill: Catch a thrown ball. Because of this the statistician kept getting odd mixes of players. Players with good reputations among those with bad reputations as fielders. Then he stumbled on something: "Assists to someone OTHER THAN the pitcher. Suddenly the top guys were guys like Hernandez, Olerud, Grace, etc. My question on something like this, though, is "Did he keep looking until he found the result he expected or did he truly find something?" Intuitively, I think he found something and if we look hard enough, the data is possible to collect.

  • Great article. Where do you get your data from? I saw a great pitching stat recently called "hit spot %", a statistic I hadn't seen before but essentially shows whether a pitcher accomplished what he sets out to do on every pitch, hit is spot. The percentages were surprisingly low, I think with the average being in the high 20's. Would love to see an article relating that statistic to overall pitcher success.

  • In reply to corleone:

    Thanks, corleone. The Inside Edge info is available on Fangraphs.

    I will have to check out that site and look into that idea. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Great piece John, as others have said even better than usual. For me it's the numbers you show for the rookies that stand out. Theres a lot of evidence to show why this might be the first team with 4 rookies over 300 PA to make the postseason or even win more than 86 games. If one had unlimited time (HA!) it would be interesting to see where some of the best of those teams, particularly the 4 that won the 86, stood in comparison.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Thanks. That would be interesting. I will file that idea and hopefully some time to delve into it another day.

  • If Baez is ready by the start of 2016 does Bryant go to the OF?.
    Is it best just to trade Castro? Can Almaro's defense give him
    the CF job? What is the best way to get the best defense?

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I know two players are the same but there was once another 25 year old that struggled to find consistency at SS. They moved him off the club for spare parts and the receiving team made him a 2b. He has since won 4 gold gloves and a silver slugger award. I'm not saying the same will happen for Castro, but the parallels between him and Brandon Phillips strike me as uncanny. Brandon was asked to be a big part of the offense in Cincy during that time. If Castro can get anywhere close to where he was and at the bottom of our order we may just want to pump the breaks on any trades. The pressure is off Castro now and he may become a new player, like the guy that carried us in April.

  • Great piece. Bryant to center next year, he's got the speed. Save his back. Need superb infield defense.

  • In reply to wastrel:

    That's an interesting take. And thank you.

  • Boring is good. It lets us fly under the radar if there are not too many highlight replays. Teams won't expect much from us and we can ambush them. Who in SF thought they were about to be swept by the Cubs this past week? No one. Who in StL will expect to lose to the Cubs this playoff season? No one. (Sinister laugh here)

  • I'll take issue with just one point John. While I agree that making the routine play is the most important thing, the ability to make the ridiculous play at the margin is much more valuable than you're letting on, and I'd use the Royals as the perfect example. I watch KC games a lot, and it is not an exaggeration to say that spectacular plays have literally won them a half-dozen games this year--minimum. Those are plays and games that the Cubs don't win.

  • In reply to notcarlosdanger:

    Like I said at the opening, there is more than one way to win, but the Royals way is difficult to employ consistently. I don't think there are enough spectacular plays to account for 6 wins in it of themselves, not when you are talking about the objective value of such plays. Now, if you get them sequenced favorably (i.e. a great number of spectacular plays in high leverage situations) then that makes a bigger impact. But for the most part, that is not something that is controllable and sustainable.

    It is dependent on chance to a larger degree because it depends on the lower probability of those events (difficult plays in high leverage situations) actually occurring.

    I am not saying the Royals method doesn't work -- it does. I am just saying that it's almost as difficult to rely on as the Cardinals clutch hitting numbers were.

  • Because I'm greedy...

    Any idea how these missed plays translate into actual differences in wins added?

  • What would have happened if Dunston was put in the OF?

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    The Cubs would not have needed any other outfielders and could have gone with 6 infielders :)

  • OK,... you sold me on moving Russell onto SS,... as long as he continues to make all the routine plays. Boring (on defense) is usually good.

    So,... then assuming that Castro swings into another position and gets a handle on the routine plays,....and isn't traded before Next April,....

    Do you move Castro into 2B and see if Baez is convertible into an OF guy or move Bryant into the OF? Or do you see if Castro can play a solid defensive OF/CF?

    These are the kinds of roster-related problems I don't think I have ever seen the Cubs have to deal with,.... nice problems to have.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I think the Cubs just have to leave their options open. It could well be that Castro is the 2B long term if he plays well, but my guess is that either he or Baez is traded -- maybe even both.

  • One of the most intriguing articles I have read on baseball. I found it very interesting and at times a little surprising (the comparison of Soler and Heyword, for example). Thanks.

  • In reply to Cphil:

    Thank you, Cphil

  • Alex Gordon, though a decent hitter, is not the impact bat the Fast Hulk is. especially considering Schwarber is still a rookie, and basically is playing out of position.

  • Terrific article John. Love the sources you used for defense metrics and how you employed and presented them. Really fine, in depth work here.

    Kansas City's recipe for air tight defense--a nails bullpen and speed on the bases is something i enjoy watching. I dig the long ball as much as chicks do--but old school rock solid fundamentals are just as fun for me.

  • In reply to cubfever7:

    Thanks cubfever!

    The Royals formula works for them. I don't know if many other teams can pull it off -- but they have done it two years in a row now. There is definitely more than one way to win.

  • In reply to cubfever7:

    In large part the Royals have had to build a team like they have is financial - and in part it is a practical side-effect of having to play half their games in a season in Kauffman Stadium.

    Kauffman probably has the biggest outfield acreage in the AL - a lot of ground for outfielders to cover. One of the reasons that the Royals have had to make sure that they have speed to spare is to make sure that they can cover that expanse of turf. Gordon is the slow one compared to Cain and Dyson.

    Also helps to have speed on the team to take advantage of the gaps in that field on offense. The Royals as a team have hit a LOT of doubles and triples - even though Home Runs can be scarce. The hot & stagnant air there in the Summer, combined with the size of the place, challenge most HR hitters.

    IMO - the Royals built their team that way because they have had to.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Great points on how the Royals have built to suit so to speak..sounds like some of the old astroturf football teams. :)

  • In reply to cubfever7:

    Lived in KS c1995-2004 and the few games that I got to were watching generally woeful Royals teams get beat.

    Back then - the teams always had speed and decent defense - but the pitching was generally BAD. Now they have some decent (mostly cheap) rotation guys, that shutdown bullpen, and some very solid defense that limits what other teams can do to them home, or away.

  • Best column I have seen you write.

  • In reply to Cubmadness:

    Thank you.

  • Echoing what so many others are saying: This is a terrific article. Thanks so much John. One of the best things about being a Cubs fan is Cubs Den.

    Regarding Castro, I just hope he can start hitting again. If his OPS were to stay under .600, he wouldn't bring much value even with gold glove defense at second.

  • In reply to October:

    Thanks for those kind words, October (hope that tag has new meaning this year!)

    No doubt Castro has to hit. History says he will hit again, but until that happens the Cubs have to keep options open.

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    Yet another great article. Curious to hear more thoughts on Cubs OF 2017. Do we think Almora makes that cut? Or are we looking at Schwarber/Happ/Soler? Just thinking about this team is so much fun. I've done so many different lineups in my head. Even had Bryant at CF a few times.

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    In reply to holychao:

    Basically, I would love to hear your projected 2017 and 2018 lineups

  • In reply to holychao:

    Thank you. Too early to say on Almora vs Happ vs FA vs other for CF I think the Cubs may just take this one year at a time and see where it stands next year and then in 2017.

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    Really great stuff John! The one SS I wished you would have referenced was Jhonny Peralta instead of Andrelton Simmons. Castro has been a guy that has been viewed by many as a bat first defense second. The same kind of thing was the way Peralta was labeled when he was a free agent.

    Peralta was known to make the routine plays but lacked range. That's kinda boring defense yet he is working out very well for the Cards in their overall team concept. It might be more of and apples to apples comparison.

    Thanks again for the great content you and your crew come up with here day after day!

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Thank you. Actually there's not much difference when we're talking about the 60-90% range because those are plays that most SS with avg to abv avg skills should make. Where Simmons separates is below that percentage. I could have used any solid to great SS and I think it would have make the same point.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    A quick look, though, shows that Peralta is very bad at non-routine plays, he makes a little fewer than Castro at 60-90% and he makes nothing below 60...nothing. Wow.

    But just on those routine plays alone, Peralta makes 18 more plays than Castro, but Castro makes up ground in the more difficult plays (11), making a total difference of just 7 plays between the two. Not surprisingly, this is Peralta's worse year by any metric and he, in fact, has been worse than Castro on defense by most metrics if you can believe that.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    That's kinda what I expected to hear. So it sounds like one basic thing that has been Castro's downfall this year. That thing is his bat. If he's hitting the .278/.318/.397 his average over his career then he's still our SS. His current line is .235/.271/.303 and is just plain horrible.

    Someone is going to get themselves a great bounce back candidate over the next Winter. Unfortunately I doubt the Cubs get a big return for him as this FO seems ready to just move on. In the long run it should be good for both the Cubs and Castro especially if Castro gets moved to an organization that doesn't have the high pressure of a big market like New York or Philly.

    Thanks again

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    I think the offense may have hastened the move a little but the Cubs would have moved him from SS anyway.

  • This is a very informative article, John. A lot of good info to chew on regarding defense. But when talking specifically about Soler's numbers, since he has only played in 80 games, you should multiply the missed plays by 2 when discussing the affects over the course of a season. Not to pick on Georgie, I love how he's hitting lasers with consistency.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    That's a good point, but actually they're not all that different because Soler has had more difficult chances per game played than Heyward and is just short by one on thoseoverall. And we can't multiply by two in any circumstance because Heyward has played 108 games vs Soler's 80. Heyward's had 56 more chances on routine plays but since Soler hasn't missed any routines, I can multiply 0 missed chances by any number and still get zero.

    As for the 60-90, even if we assume Soler will continue to keep the same pace of more difficult plays, we can say he's played 3/4 of the game Heyward has. At his pace of he plays 28 more games, he'll have 4 more plays to make in that 60-90 range, not twice as many. Of those 4 plays, it is most likely he will make 3 of them, so it may add up to another missed play, two at the most. We're still talking a difference of 4-5 overall.

  • This is a great composition. One idea, switching Castro to 2B and Russell to SS, leads to a great illustration of defensive metrics, leads to how the Cubs draft and evaluate talent. Brilliant.

    I kind of see Jhonny Peralta of the Cards as one of the kinds of players you talk about. A very good hitter, that makes all the routine plays. That has been a great signing for them, and at the time they signed him I thought, "he can hit, but will hurt them at short."

  • In reply to couch:

    Thanks, couch.

    Peralta is starting to slip a little now. Still makes all the routine plays but his range is really starting to decline.

  • Great article John. You earned your big fat paycheck with this one.
    But...one question. If Andruw Jones gets a great jump on a smoked line drive and makes the play "look easy", does that have the same value as Fowler taking a late break on a smoked line drive and leaving his feet to make the play? I.e. Isn't play difficulty (especially in the OF) a very subjective task of analysis based a lot on player's personal ability, or did I miss the point?

  • In reply to Tnighter88:

    Thanks, I don't think it's done in that subjective manager as far as how a play looks. We're talking specific zones and types of balls batted to those zones, so it doesn't matter how they get there or how easy they make it look, it only matters if they get there.

    This is not to point out that Heyward is marginally better than Soler. He's much better -- but the point is that since most plays are routine or semi-routine, as long as Soler makes those plays, there isn't enough difference in the number of difficult plays that have to be made to make a huge impact.

    It's different at SS, who is involved in so many more plays than a RFer. If one SS makes 94% of the routine plays that another SS makes, that doesn't seem so bad on the surface, but because many SS have about 3 times as many routine chances as a RFer, then those number of missed plays are multiplied as well. That is why you hide guys in corners, Just less plays there to make. If we're talking 300 routine plays, we're already talkng about a difference of 18 plays made.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Okay. I misunderstood the method for determining type of play, then. I also went back in the article and saw your response to Bill Judd. Sorry I missed that earlier.
    This was a great article and has me going over to fangraphs for more research.
    The commentary has been top notch as well.

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    Defense may be boring but your articles aren't. John, one of the most informative you've written. Also it puts into perspective what we see but maybe can't quite describe it--now the percentage of routine plays and difficult plays makes sense.
    Next year I see the Kyle Driver Schwarber in LF, Bryant in CF, Soler RF, infield from 3rd to 1st--Baez, Russell, LST and Rizzo, Montero catching.
    Next year Batting:
    LaStella
    Schwarber
    Rizzo
    Bryant
    Baez
    Soler
    Montero
    Pitcher
    Russell
    What do you think?

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Thanks, Jonathan.

    It made me think that some of the old wisdom is true. I used to think that we overreact to errors on routine plays because they hit us on a visceral level --- and that the emotion that comes with that kind of frustration just makes us more likely to be aware and remember it. That may be true to some extent but I was wrong to dismiss the impact of routine errors as much as I have. It does make a difference over the course of a season strictly from an objective standpoint and possibly from intangibles as one (making the pitcher throw more pitches, the loss of confidence in a pitcher in his defense may change his approach, etc.)

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I also think that our reactions to errors on a routine play are more intense because we assume it's a given that they're made. I think that's why fans have reacted to Starlin because of those errors and not the more difficult ones. Other players too, but the focus has been more on him than the others.

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Who do you have in CF?

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    In reply to bocabobby:

    Bryant.

  • Love the article and being given a fresh perspective to think about baseball.

  • So, interestingly Fangraphs has the Cubs as the fifth best defense in all of baseball. Led of course by Addison Russel, but with KB giving the fifth most defensive value.

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    The advanced scouts have caught up to Schwarber. It's all a sham we'll never win anything.

  • This Cubs team!! Cogs provides so much value getting his bat in the line up at 2nd base. Rizzo climbs into the stands- won't forget that play as long as I live. Schwarber as Mini-Babe Ruth, Soler proving me very wrong and I'm glad to be loving it, A Russell superstar, KB hitting dongs and fine D, Fowler getting on base like a champ, Montero doing a great job. Starting pitching absolute studs and BP featuring some inning eaters and a decent 2-3 guys for the last 2 innings. And Joe Maddon- what a revelation this man has been!! Kudos to every single member of the Cubs organization and kudos to John and the fine staff here for a steady stream of essential info and analysis. This is the time to be a Cub fan!

  • Error was big in that inning.

  • Ok... I'll say it... Rizzo is playing like a legit MVP candidate. I never considered that until tonight. With the way he is playing on both offense and defense, if the Cubs make the playoffs, he's got a chance.

  • Ill say this Montero has a couple of 45 lb plates in his arse, He is calling the sliders away and his inability to move his feet and smother a slider cost the Cubs a win in regulation, Pirates catcher smothered those all day from Happ . No excuse , just none .

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    And so Russell completely invalidates this article.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Well, kids learn from their mistakes. That was indeed a miscue. Learn from it.

  • Not complaining here, just making an observation but isn't Rondon looking a lot like the early Carlos Marmol years. One pitch pitcher , slider or nothing.

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    In reply to Chicago Aces:

    Fastball is pretty good, too, but the slider is excellent and almost unhittable. Unfortunately one was both unhittable and uncatchable.

  • In reply to Chicago Aces:

    Rondon doesn't have his control completely leave him. At least as far as I'm concerned he doesn't come close to driving me as crazy as Marmol did.

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    G** D*****, Miggy. Did you not see the script said one of the rookies was supposed to do that? Will you please be a team player in the future?

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    I think Montero was a good pick up--don't you?

  • And Montero redeems himself. He didn't look like he was moving that well on the wild pitches to me.

  • In reply to lblegacy:

    He just manned up to that in the post-game interview. Way to hold yourself accountable, Miggy.

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    I've totally changed my mind on this and not just because of the home run. This interview shows why Miggy needs to be the catcher next year. This guy is one of the best teammates in the clubhouse.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Two left handed power hitting catchers. Life is hard.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    The way he led Rondon through the ninth the other day was as good as it gets.

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    Cardinals win again. Cubs are a game and a half back of the first wildcard spot.

  • Who is this team, and what did you do with the guys who score half a dozen runs before the 3rd inning?

    We made mistakes, but played well enough to win. Keep crushing the have-nots! It's what good teams do.

  • Rizzo's catch was the chrome tonight! That guy just leads by example. I got the same feeling when I saw that catch that I got when he went after the entire Red's dugout last year. Damn, it feels good to be a Cubs fan right now!!

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    In reply to vegascubsfan:

    Cheers to that. And I have a feeling there are going to be some harsh words exchanged to the pirates and/or cards with as many games as we have against them in sept.

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    Its funny that you mention Babe Ruth and Schwarber. I thought the same thing a few years ago before the Cubs picked him. He kinda has some facial similarities too. If he is half as good I will be ecstatic

  • In reply to Ironman McGinnity:

    Yup. He's like a slightly smaller Bambino. Rizzo is Gehrig and the Cubs have an updated version of Murderer's Row. This is only the beginning!

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    Now if Baez can become Lazzeri we could be on to something!

  • In reply to Ironman McGinnity:

    I guess Jeff Baker is Wally Pipp.. ..

  • You had to write this article the same day Addison Russell makes an error on a play that should have been routine.

    Your fault, John lol.

  • Awesome article. Basically, this scientifically backs up the old school defense first up the middle philosophy. I like Castro, but if Russell really makes that much of a marginal difference, the switch was imparative. This also made me hope the Cardinals sign Heyward to a payroll busting contract. It seems that he may be a bit overrated after all.

  • John, this articke will definitely be added to your short list for this years Pulitzer submission!

  • Ha! Thanks.

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    GREAT article from a GREAT blog!!

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