Saturday, August 14, 2010

Delmon's Dismal Defense

All alliteration aside (sorry, I couldn't resist), it's hard to be nit-picky about these things when the team is winning, and it was especially hard to pick on Delmon when he was absolutely destroying the ball last month. But as his bat has predictably cooled off (he's posting a .208/.236/.283 line thus far in August, with no homers and only three RBI), it seems as though the head-scratching plays in left field seem to stick out a little more. In Thursday night's game, Delmon did one of his patented awkward-feet-first-sliding-attempts on a Juan Pierre liner that looked catchable and had the ball glance off the heel of his glove. Last night, he missed a Jack Cust fly ball by leaping too early near the wall, with the ball again going off the heel of his glove. He then crashed into the wall and lost his glove completely. Both of these were ruled hits, and neither was a "can of corn" by any means, but both seemed to be very makeable plays that produced very awkward-looking (but thankfully not game-altering) outcomes.

Last night's game featured Twins defense that was both spectacular and awful in equal measure, and Young wasn't the only one to make a gaffe (Casilla's error in the 9th could have been much more detrimental to the Twins' chances of winning), but as my dad commented in a email, Delmon has the tendency to "goof up the plays the beer leaguers make every night." This is obviously a more anecdotal, this-is-what-my-eyes-tell-me sort of look at his defense; if you look at his Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games for this season (which isn't said to be very helpful for small sample sizes, but it's the best we have for advanced defensive metrics) he should be markedly better than he was last season, with a current mark of -4.7 as opposed to the -22.7 he put up last season. It could very well be that he's taking better routes more consistently this year and is getting to balls a little quicker with a lighter frame, but that's often not something that is immediately evident. What are evident are the epicly awkward failures that seem to be occurring with some regularity.

Phil Mackey and others have pointed out that Liriano has the highest BABIP in the game right now, and especially during Thursday's game where he was forced to get himself out of a partly Delmon-induced jam, I wondered how much of that could be blamed on shoddy outfield defense. Oddly, though, Pavano's BABIP is .274, and he gives up many more fly balls than Liriano. Adam Peterson did some excellent analysis over at Twinkie Town on the BABIP of Twins starters, specifically trying to link high BABIPs to outfield defense. Although it's difficult to figure out just what role defense plays in BABIP without doing some extensive analysis on how many balls were just out of the reach of fielders or were even touched by fielders but ruled hits (as opposed to clean hits that no one would have gotten to anyway), it's probably fair to say that there's some degree of correlation there.

This isn't meant to be Delmon-bashing, and I realize he's never going to be Willie Mays. His bat has been a huge boost to an offense that has been missing Justin Morneau, and he's finally fulfilling a lot of the potential that we hoped to see from him when he arrived in Minnesota. I just hope that we don't see too many more outs given away in crucial spots in the game, whether in the outfield or on the basepaths (Jason Kubel, I'm looking at you for that one last night, although Scottie Ullger probably had more to do with it). As long as the wins keep coming, it's probably silly to be writing articles like this, and like I said, I'm not trying to nit-pick. I'd just rather see fewer cringe-inducing plays on balls that shouldn't be as difficult as Twins outfielders make them look. Is that too much to ask?


  1. I see lots of articles devoted to how bad Delmon is on defense, but isn't he better than Cuddyer and Kubel? Why is that?

  2. yeah i mean, if you go by single-season UZR as i mentioned delmon comes out on top. i think that it's become a much more visible issue as of late though as he's been the one making all the awkward plays. maybe it's because he's just been getting more chances, i'm not sure. obviously cuddyer and kubel are no gold glovers either, and even span has his share of mistakes. repko, on the other hand has made some spectacular plays, maybe he should get more looks as a late-inning replacement.