The Best Way To Help A Bad Defense

June 20, 2012; Washington, D.C., USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Joel Peralta (62) pitches in the eighth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. The Nationals defeated the Rays 3 - 2. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

Let's not tap dance around the issue of the Tampa Bay team defense this season. It has been unacceptable to watch the team give away free outs like they are going out of style and last night. As Editor Emeritus Tommy Rancel put it on Twitter last night:

The first inning error that allowed Ryan Zimmerman to reach base and also permitted Bryce Harper to score from third as Sean Rodriguez and Jose Molina watched it roll in the dugout rather than flag it down was the 39th time the defense has put a free runner on base this season. That was also the 15th run the team defense has given the opposition on a play that should have been converted into an out.

By breakdown, here is how the team's 59 errors have happened by position as well as by error type (data per Baseball-Reference):

POS FLD THR TOT
C 5 4 9
1B 3 0 3
2B 5 4 9
SS 5 7 12
3B 8 8 16
LF 1 0 1
CF 2 0 2
RF 1 1 2
P 1 4 5

The return of Evan Longoria should put an end to the #replacementleveldefense as other players will be returned to more natural roles and amount of playing time, but when Longoria returns remains a mystery. In the meantime, one of the best ways to limit the effects of team defense it to simply keep the ball out of play. Luckily for the Rays, the team has several pitchers that are quite good at doing that.

Our friends at BrooksBaseball.net were kind enough to pull a report for me the other day that showed whiff percentages by pitch for pitchers that have thrown at least 200 pitches of a particular pitch type. Using all pitchers included in that report, these were the percentages of whiffs generated by each pitch type (as of 6/18/12):

PITCH WHIFF%
Splitter .269
Slider .251
Curve .237
Change .215
Cutter .215
2-seam .211
4-seam .205

Against those sample size averages, the table below shows how each qualifying Rays pitcher has done this season. WHIFF% is the total of whiffs/swings while WHIFF+ represents how much better of worse than sample size average the Rays pitchers has done with that particular pitch. The last column represents the frequency at which the pitcher has used the pitch this season (click to sort):

Num PITCHER PITCH WHIFF% WHIFFS SWINGS WHIFF+ FREQ
1 Burke Badenhop SI 7% 9 127 34 73%
2 David Price CU 47% 27 57 200 9%
3 David Price CH 26% 28 106 123 16%
4 David Price FC 20% 18 92 91 15%
5 David Price FA 16% 16 97 80 17%
6 David Price SI 16% 37 232 76 43%
7 Fernando Rodney CH 44% 31 70 206 31%
8 Fernando Rodney SI 18% 15 84 85 48%
9 Jacob McGee FA 24% 41 169 118 85%
10 James Shields CH 35% 98 282 162 32%
11 James Shields CU 24% 27 111 103 20%
12 James Shields SI 18% 7 39 85 7%
13 James Shields FC 17% 28 166 78 24%
14 James Shields FA 13% 14 109 63 18%
15 Jeff Niemann FA 34% 16 47 166 24%
16 Jeff Niemann SI 22% 15 68 105 30%
17 Jeff Niemann CU 21% 7 34 87 19%
18 Jeremy Hellickson CU 37% 13 35 157 8%
19 Jeremy Hellickson CH 30% 52 171 141 25%
20 Jeremy Hellickson FA 12% 22 186 58 43%
21 Jeremy Hellickson FC 12% 8 69 54 11%
22 Jeremy Hellickson SI 11% 8 72 53 13%
23 Joel Peralta FS 35% 26 75 129 31%
24 Joel Peralta FA 33% 34 103 161 44%
25 Joel Peralta CU 14% 4 28 60 24%
26 Matthew Moore CH 36% 49 135 169 19%
27 Matthew Moore FA 26% 87 336 126 56%
28 Matthew Moore SI 22% 19 86 105 12%
29 Matthew Moore CU 19% 11 57 81 12%
30 Wade Davis FA 21% 32 156 100 56%

Matt Moore is the only starting pitcher who is getting better than average whiff rates on three pitches in the rotation while Peralta is getting fantastic results on his fastball/splitter combination. David Price's breaking ball was a point of contention for many in the past, but when hitters are swinging at it this season, they are coming up empty on it slightly more often than hitters are on Fernando Rodney's changeup. Meanwhile, Jeremy Hellickson is the most interesting pitcher on the staff. His curve and change have two of the top ten whiff rates on the staff while his other pitches are among the worst on the staff. Only Burke Badenhop's sinker gets a lower percentage of whiffs than does Hellickson's fastballs or cut fastballs.

The defense has been below expectations for the Rays, but without the talented pitching on this staff, the results could be even worse than they have been so far in 2012.

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