>Mythbusters: 2009 Mets Defense

>Last week, Dan Budreika wrote this sentence in an article about Mike Pelfrey getting hurt by the Mets defense for Rotographs:

“Interestingly enough the Mets were without a doubt the National League’s worst team with the leather as the Nationals had the second lowest mark in the NL at -26.7 which is over 20 runs better than the Mets.”

I want to Mythbust this idea that the Mets were some sort of miserable defensive team in 2009. It is untrue. The Mets were at least an average defensive team in 2009, maybe even a good one. Some of this myth comes from images of Fernando Martinez and Daniel Murphy falling down in the outfield, Luis Castillo dropping a pop-up, Mike Pelfrey falling down on the mound, Jeff Francoeur hiding himself from the ball, Luis Castillo falling down the dugout steps – just lots of falling down. Even more of it comes from Fangraphs UZR, which has the Mets as being -47.3 runs as a unit defensively, indeed the worst defensive team in the NL.

Let’s assume for the moment that this is true, and the Mets really were -47.3 runs below average defensively. If you ignore the Mets – and oh my, what a pleasant sensation that can be – the other 15 National League teams in 2009 surrendered an average of 725 runs for the 2009 season. The Mets surrendered 757 runs, 32 runs more than the average NL team – so we can say the combination of Mets pitching and defense equals -32 runs compared to the average.

However, if the Mets defense was indeed 47.3 runs below average, that should make the Mets pitching staff 15.3 runs above average: +15.3 pitching runs – 47.3 fielding runs = -32 runs. If you watched the Mets this year, you already know this is all kinds of crazy. The Mets did not have a good pitching staff this year – Livan Hernandez (read: a bad pitcher) was third on the team in innings pitched and Tim Redding (read: an even worse pitcher) was fourth. I should admit that I might be slightly misusing UZR here by comparing it to the actual runs allowed, but the point stands. If the Mets were as horrible defensively as UZR says, but somehow only allowed 32 runs more than the average team, their pitching must have been around average or better – which doesn’t make any sense. I haven’t even mentioned Oliver Perez yet. Let’s momentarily ignore all that and give UZR a shot by looking at some other defensive indicators.

If the Mets’ fielding was really this shoddy, we would expect the team’s FIP to be significantly lower than their ERA – if the defense is letting a lot of balls in play to turn into hits, the pitching staff’s ERA is going to balloon compared to what it should be. Only this Mets team FIP was 4.50, and their ERA was 4.46 – implying that maybe their defense actually saved the pitching staff a couple of runs. In addition, the Mets team FIP of 4.50 puts them 24th among the 30 teams – so I don’t think they can be called an average pitching team in 2009. On top of all that, the Mets’ defensive efficiency, the rate at which the Mets turned balls in play into outs, was 69.3%, good for 13th in the Major Leagues. This doesn’t sound like the worst defensive team in the NL ruining an average pitching staff. This sounds more like an average defensive team backing up some crummy pitching. All those extra runs the Mets allowed came from their pitching and not their defense.

I think it’s safe to call the Mets 2009 UZR data a bit wacky, but how do other systems view the Mets defense? If you add up all the +/- Runs Saved for the Mets, Dewan has the Mets as +18 runs defensively. Now we have a 65.3 run gap between UZR and Dewan – so depending on who you believe the Mets were either a horrible defensive team or a good one. What’s going on here? Let’s break it down further between the infielders and the outfielders, which will give us our answer.

UZR and +/- Runs Saved are in general agreement about the infielders, excluding Runs Saved’s torrid crush on Daniel Murphy – and in their defense, he can be quite dreamy, with all that business talk. This isn’t all the infielders, just the ones who played the most:

Both systems say the Mets infield defense is well below average. David Wright had a bad year, Luis Castillo is still the “The Rangeless Wonder of the NL East” in both systems, and there was a whole bunch of “. . .  meh” playing shortstop. If you look at some of the Mets ground ball pitchers – Mike Pelfrey, Bobby Parnell, Jon Neise – that group has a FIP lower than their ERA. So yes, Mike Pelfrey was likely hurt by the Mets poor defense. The Mets did not have a good defensive infield, and it shows up in UZR, Runs Saved, and the ground ball pitcher’s ERAs. So if both systems are in agreement on the infield, that means all those mismatched runs must be . . .

You guessed it, in the outfield, which is indeed a tale of one Citi. Again these are just some of the outfielders, because I figured no one cared about Emil Brown and his 8 innings in the field:

 This disparity is harder to reconcile. The Mets have either a terrible outfield defense by UZR or a great one according to Dewan. Maybe this will help. I’ll give you the names of the four people who played the most inning in the Mets outfield in 2009: Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran, Jeff Francouer, and Ryan Church. Those are four more-than-capable defensive outfielders, despite whatever madness 2009 UZR is spewing. I have to go with Runs Saved here – the Mets probably had a good defensive outfield in 2009, and it would have been even better if not for Gary Sheffield. I believe UZR is still using Shea Stadium park factors, and my guess is that therein lies the problem. All UZR data for Mets outfielders should probably just get defenestrated until park factors for Citi Field are determined. Citi Field has deep expanses and, more importantly, high walls, meaning the high number of unfieldable balls are probably throwing off all the outfield numbers.

The Mets outfield for next year will be Jason Bay*, Carlos Beltran, and Jeff Francouer – all of whose 2009 UZRs are much lower than their Runs Saved. This is no case for concern, as the low UZRs are just noise from their ballparks. Jason Bay was stuck in front of the Green Monster last year, while Beltran and Francoeur got to have their UZR destroyed by the expanses and high walls of Citi Field. Look for UZR to continue hating all three in 2010 and for Runs Saved to have the Mets 2010 outfield as again above average.

* Was anyone else in the Pepsi Picnic Area at Shea for the Mets-Pirates game in 2007 – the one where John Maine his a home run – when some drunk guy just screamed, ”
Get on your horse, Jason Bay” at Bay for nine innings? And to think that some people wondered why it took him so long to sign with the Mets . . .


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11 responses to “>Mythbusters: 2009 Mets Defense

  1. Anonymous

    >Just because the NL average was 725 runs allowed, that does not mean the Mets pitching/defense would be average if they allowed 725 runs. They play in Citi, which means the expected runs allowed should be less.

  2. CaseStreet

    >I'm not sure how you compare actual runs scored to UZR runs. It's apples and oranges.

  3. Patrick Flood

    >@ AnonymousYou are right. I forgot to adjust for the park. An average Mets team probably should have allowed closer to 718 runs.

  4. Patrick Flood

    >@CaseStreetI mentioned that I was misusing UZR by comparing it to actual runs, but maybe it's a bigger crime than I thought. Even if that was all nonsense, I still think the amount of disagreement between outfield +/- and Runs Saved means something, and my guess is that Citi Field is somehow messing with UZR.

  5. Anonymous

    >I am also not so sold on your methodology here sir, sorry. Although I do tend to agree with what you appear to be getting at, that the Mets infield defense was pretty awful but the outfield was likely good.My problems:*) Can you compare UZR and runs scored like that? Seems irresponsible to just apply it how you see fit.*) There is no Fernando Tatis anywhere in this article and he played in the fourth most innings of any Met this season. I understand he would be confusing as he played (quite well actually) in so many spots, but you should mention him nonetheless. To a similar extent, you don't mention what you are using for Murphy.*) Are catchers and pitchers not also a part of team defense? Our catchers were pretty awful, in my opinion.*) This is more style, but you could've organized those tables by innings played or something, or at least added those numbers.*) You add in Wilson Valdez 218 innings but not F-Mart's 202 or Carlos Delgado's 217… You shouldn't publish things with such authority when you are being so inconsistent in your*) This is just general advice, don't use statistics if you don't know how.I like your idea to question if the Mets were the worst defensive team this past year considering teams like the Nationals and Pirates, but you could have done better. Please just take this as constructive criticism and not me trying to be a jerk.

  6. Anonymous

    >Sorry, I meant to say being so inconsistent in what you choose to analyze.

  7. Patrick Flood

    >@ Anonymous # 5I love constructive criticism. I have in the past gotten comments that are just "Patrick, you are an idiot", which I do not find helpful – for obvious reasons. I could very well be an idiot, but it's more helpful when someone explains why. So, thanks. Anyway, here are my answers:*)I probably shouldn't have been comparing UZR and actual runs – and I admitted so. I just wanted to point out that the Mets actual runs allowed doesn't really match up with their pitching and UZR.*)I left out Tatis because I just didn't feel like splitting up and re-adding all his UZR and +/- between the infield and outfield, not because it was too "confusing". Tatis is a UZR +1.6 infielder and a +2.1 outfielder, and a +8 Runs Saved infielder and a +1 outfielder – Runs Saved just likes first basemen, I guess. For Murphy I just used his first base numbers, because he's on the infield chart.*) I left out pitchers and catchers because there's no UZR for them, so there's nothing to compare the +/- to. If I recall, Santana was +4, there are a two or three other +1 pitchers and catchers, and then everyone else is negatives – I think Santos is -3. So the pitchers and catchers were indeed not good. The +18 Dewan number I listed is everyone's Runs Saved added up, including pitchers and catchers.*) Yup, probably should have adding innings.*) For the infielders, I just used the starters (Wright, Murphy, and Castillo) and then the three guys who played the most shortstop. Again, I was just trying to do the starters in the outfield. I should have just listed everyone, but I'm not sure how much stuff I should be taking from behind the paywall.*) Again, I am aware I did a bit of misusing with UZR, and I said so. Outside of that though, I don't think I did anything too horrible. Could you be more specific with what I am misunderstanding?

  8. Patrick Flood

    >* for the second to last point, what I mean is that I'm not sure if I should/can list every Mets' player's +/- data for comparison. +/- usually must be paid for.

  9. Patrick Flood

    >I put up another comparison between the Mets UZR and +/-, for anyone who wants more.

  10. Anonymous

    >haha for Tatis I guess I meant harder, not confusing.

  11. Sokojoe

    >Hey real late to the party, but I was actually sitting in the Pepsi Picnic area during the Bay game in question. I was also there the game before or after can't remember which but in that game a drunk fan chanted "Bay is gay" for 9 innings, so yeah he I really can't believe it took so long to get him here.

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