Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Defensive Improvement: The Outfield

The deplorable 2007 defense dragged in the outfield, which was an above average defense before. 2007 had in rightfield a tandem of Jonny Gomes and Delmon Young. Jonny Gomes was not a good fielder, had poor reads of the ball, and a declining outfield arm. Delmon Young was not really good with his glove, average range, but he had a cannon of an arm. Statistically, these guys were one of the worst in 2007. Elijah Dukes, who primarily played centerfield, had also a low UZR. All together, the Rays outfielders had -27.8 UZR for 2007, which was the fourth lowest in the Majors. The Rays front-office knew that a good defensive rightfielder was needed for their pitching staff to improve.

For the past six years now, the outfield has been led by 5-tool player Carl Crawford. The most underrated outfielder, Carl Crawford has led or been second of all leftfielders in UZR from 2003-2008, except in 2007 when his UZR dropped 10 points. The keys to his success is his range, which lets him cover area that over half of Major League left fielders would be out of their diving range. His quick feet allows him to get to hit balls quicker and counters his average arm by getting his throws much quicker to the infield. The rising star to his left was converted infielder B.J. Upton. He was moved there after there was an opening in center left by Elijah Dukes. His long stride, rocket arm, and handle of the glove made him a perfect fit in center. Although his UZR is about average, he is still relatively new to the outfield and has one of the best arms in the outfield. For rightfield, the Rays signed former Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske, who was suprisingly good in the outfield. But the player they needed for their defense was acquired in mid-April this year from the Brewers, Gabe Gross. Gross had great range, an above average arm which also accurate, and could play all three outfield positions. Other players brought up from the minors also performed well and made some big plays: Fernando Perez, Justin Ruggiano, and Ben Zobrist. 2008 was also the return of Rocco Baldelli, who now moved over into right from center. Overall, the Rays outfielders improved their UZR to first in the Majors.

Season Rays UZR Rays UZR Leader
2006 23.3 Carl Crawford 14.1
2007 -27.8 Carl Crawford 4.3
2008 45.2 Carl Crawford 21.5

The Rays will continue to focus on improving defense and bring in players who can do so. They acquired another outfielder this offseason who can play defense, Matt Joyce. The improved defenses of the outfield and infield have help their pitching staff, kept them into ball games, and led them to the World Series.

Information was gathered from FanGraphs.

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