Sullivan: Defense (and defensive metrics) needed the Royals

From Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs on October 15, 2014:

I’m writing this underneath a framed ESPN magazine cover from the 2010 baseball preview. The cover features Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, and Ichiro Suzuki, and right up top are these words: “Outs are in — and so are the Mariners”. It’s funny now, and it was given to me half as a joke, because of course the 2010 Seattle Mariners were a total catastrophe. But I remember the feeling, the state of things back then. The 2009 Mariners had set a UZR record, and then the front office brought in Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman. The goal was to win by prevention, and the prevention was there, but what happened was the Mariners prevented their own scoring too and lost 101 times. Things changed rapidly for the organization. There was a missed opportunity to have defense front and center on a national stage.

We’ve never been real shy about WAR, and as such, we’ve never been real shy about the more advanced defensive metrics. FanGraphs didn’t exactly invent the concept of baseball players with good gloves, but statheads have argued for years that defensive players deserve more respect, that a guy can be incredibly valuable because of what he does in the field, instead of the box. Naturally, there’s been resistance, because hitting is a lot more visible, and nothing in the field is as valuable as a home run. And, absolutely, offensive value does have a higher ceiling than defensive value, just because of the limited opportunities. But defense, as a concept, needed a mascot. It needed a representation that would allow more people to understand how significant it can really be. Defense needed a team like the Royals.

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Originally published: October 15, 2014. Last Updated: October 15, 2014.