Sullivan: Exceptional defense touches everyone

From Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs on February 28, 2014:

Here’s something that should be pretty evident: If you’ve got a ground-ball pitcher, you want him pitching in front of a strong infield defense. Likewise, if you’ve got a fly-ball pitcher, you want him pitching in front of a strong outfield defense. I feel like I don’t even need to explain the thought processes. How many times did people express concern over Rick Porcello starting for last year’s Detroit Tigers? Porcello’s a ground ball guy. Last year’s Tigers started Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder at the corners. Intuitively, that could’ve been a problem.

OK. As presented on FanGraphs, the UZR era stretches back to 2002. Over that span, last year’s Tampa Bay Rays had one of the best infield defenses, at +50 runs. Not surprisingly, ground-baller Alex Cobb posted an ERA well below his FIP. More surprisingly, fly-baller Matt Moore showed an even bigger positive difference. Let’s flip things around. The 2004 New York Yankees had one of the worst outfield defenses, at -68 runs. Not surprisingly, fly-baller Javier Vazquez pitched below his peripherals. More surprisingly, ground-baller Jon Lieber showed an even bigger negative difference. These are just carefully selected individual examples, but they help to set up a bigger-picture study.

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Originally published: February 28, 2014. Last Updated: February 28, 2014.