Pirates Notebook: Is defense as bad as it looks?
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DENVER -- The statistics most commonly cited to measure defense are errors and fielding percentage, and the Pirates have been awful in both: Their 22 errors are third most in Major League Baseball, and the .978 fielding percentage is fourth lowest.
But how much do they mean?
Using a variation on the Ultimate Zone Rating statistic, which tracks a wide array of information that emphasizes range and takes into account exemplary plays as well as errors, the Pirates' 6.5 rating is seventh best in the majors. The UZR/150, as this variety is called, is the primary metric used by the Pirates' management and other teams.
To that end, the Pirates had a meeting late last week in Pittsburgh in which Dan Fox, the team's statistical guru, shared this type of information with manager Clint Hurdle in an attempt to paint the clearest picture.
The consensus: While the Pirates have flubbed more than their share of routine plays, they also are making enough that are above and beyond.
"That's the read I get, too," Hurdle said. "You're not always going to go entirely by the numbers, but I think you can see that, as well. We're making our share of above-average plays in the field."
Perhaps the most striking example is Ronny Cedeno, whose 18.5 rating ranks second among regular shortstops in the majors.
Given Cedeno's team-high five errors and numerous other lapses, the naked eye would appear to tell a different story. But Cedeno also has above-average range, especially to his right, as well as a tendency to make difficult plays look easy. That happened twice Friday night on plays to either side, and they looked effortless enough that neither is likely to show up on ESPN.
Cedeno expressed some surprise at his high UZR/150 rating, but then pointed out that, this past winter in Venezuela, a team there used cameras specifically to track players' ranges in the field. And he was told he had the second-best range in the majors, based on that and other information.
"I feel confident I can make the hardest plays," Cedeno said, "and that made me feel good."
The Pirates' best rating is that of left fielder Jose Tabata at 22.9, ranking No. 5 in the majors at his position. The lowest is the minus-15.1 of usually reliable first baseman Lyle Overbay.
"The capability is there for our team to be really good defensively, and that's the most important thing," Overbay said. "I don't think I realized until the season started how many of our guys can make plays."
Catcher Chris Snyder was taking plenty of ribbing for an article Friday in the Wall Street Journal that identified him as "the slowest player in baseball." The article, pinned over his locker stall by teammates, reached that conclusion solely because Snyder has played 607 games without a steal, the fourth-longest stretch in baseball history.
"Hey, any press is good press, I always say," Snyder said with a shrug. "I'll get one someday."
Is he really the slowest?
That distinction almost always has gone to former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bengie Molina, and new Pirates infielder Brandon Wood, once Molina's teammate, predicted that Snyder would win a race between the two.
"Or not," Wood said, with Snyder in earshot. "If he loses, then the article's right."
• Josh Rodriguez, Rule 5 draft pick the Pirates designated for assignment April 22, was returned to the Cleveland Indians, his original team. The Pirates thus receive $25,000 back from their original Rule 5 payment of $50,000.
• The Pirates have no immediate plan to promote flamethrowing Stetson Allie, their second-round draft pick last June, from extended spring training to Class A West Virginia, director of player development Kyle Stark said. That had been the apparent plan in the spring. Stark did not elaborate on why Allie is staying put, but he did say Allie is not injured.
• The Pirates are 8-6 on the road, and a victory tonight would give them their fourth road series victory, matching their 2010 total.
First Published April 30, 2011 12:00 am