Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs. Three center fielders roaming the outfield in Progressive Field. It was supposed to be an elite trio that would help out the Tribe’s pitching staff.

So did the Tribe’s pitchers benefit from the defense?

Surprisingly, not only did the defense fail to help out it actually may have hurt the Tribe’s pitching performance.

The Indians pitching staff ranked 19th in opponents batting average on fly balls (excluding home runs). It’s impossible to pin that all on the defense, but by eliminating home runs the defense plays a fairly significant role in the stats.

Take a look at the top three pitching staffs in opponent’s batting average on fly balls this season, in addition to those teams’ Defensive Runs Saved in the outfield this year.

Athletics – .115 Opp BA, +7 DRS
Rangers – .116 Opp BA,  +29 DRS
Yankees – .118 Opp BA, +16 DRS

It’s tough to say to what extent defense plays a role pitching performance, but it’s fair to say – based off these numbers and simple common sense – that defense factors into the equation somewhere.

So take a look at how the Tribe’s outfield faired in these metrics…

Indians – .142 Opp BA, -3 DRS

The Indians rate below average in both categories, with the DRS metric estimating that the outfield’s performance actually cost the Tribe a few runs over the course of the season.

It’s worth noting that the high wall in left field factors into the equation. The Indians ranked 22nd in opponents average on fly balls to left (for obviously similar reasons, the Red Sox ranked dead last).

But the Indians worst defensive effort actually came from Drew Stubbs in right field.

Stubbs ranked 20th out of 28 qualifying right fielders in defensive runs saved this season. If Ultimate Zone Rating is your defensive metric of choice, he didn’t fair much better (16th out of 28).

hit-chartBased on these stats, it should come as no surprise that Tribe pitchers ranked 24th in opponents average on fly balls to far right field (chart on right shows the exact location of the “far right field” balls).

As you can see in the hit chart, there’s a cluster of balls that appear to drop just in front of the right fielder, perhaps indicating that Stubbs plays too deep.

But if Stubbs is intentionally playing deep, one would expect a decrease in extra-base hits. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case, as the Tribe’s right field slugging percentage ranked 26th overall.

I imagine some of you are skeptical as to the correlation between defense and pitching performance on fly balls to these locations. After all, some balls simply land in places where the fielder can’t make a play.

Hopefully these numbers can win you over… The following is a list of the top five teams based on opponents average on fly balls to far right field and their primary right fielder’s rank in Ultimate Zone Rating.

1. Yankees – Ichiro Suzuki, 4th (out of 28)
2. Diamondbacks – Gerrardo Parra, 1st
3. Athletics – Josh Reddick, 3rd
4. Dodgers – Yasiel Puig, 11th
5. Royals – David Lough, 6th

And now the bottom five…

26. Cubs – Nate Schierholtz, 15th
27. Rockies – Michael Cuddyer, 27th
28. Tigers – Torii Hunter, 20th
29. Phillies – Delmon Young, 26th
30. Twins – Chris Parmalee, 18th

So how much could upgrading the outfield defense impact the pitching staff?

Even if the Indians only upgrade Stubbs, it could have a significant impact. If we take the MLB average number of plate appearances which end in a fly ball to right field, the difference between the Indians’ and the MLB average is five hits over the course of the season (small, but potentially enough to impact a game or two).

The difference between the Indians and the top-ranked Yankees, however, is equivalent to 26 hits. Over the course of the season – a season in which the Indians lost the division by one game – it is highly likely such an upgrade could play a significant role in the win-loss column.

Given Stubbs’ issues in the field it would be nice to see an upgrade in 2014. And since neither Brantley nor Bourn excelled in their roles, the Tribe shouldn’t limit themselves to looking for a right fielder. Either Brantley or Bourn could shift to right if the Tribe can find an adequate upgrade in either left or center.


  • Gvl Steve says:

    Stubbs was acquired to play CF, a move that became obsolete when Michael Bourn was signed. Stubbs is not a RF, offensively or defensively. It would not be a surprise to see him traded or non-tendered by Christmas. He is a misfit on this team now, much like Coco Crisp was when Grady Sizemore arrived. And I can’t see the team paying him $3.5 or $4 million to be a backup. We don’t have money to blow like that. With Santana likely moving to 1B/DH next year, RF is the obvious position to upgrade offensively, either by signing a power bat like Nelson Cruz or adding another 1B and moving Swisher to right. That keeps Raburn in the super utility role where he was so successful last year.

    • Ryan McCrystal says:

      Completely agree with everything except the Stubbs/Crisp comparison. You can’t make excuses for Stubbs just because he hadn’t played there before. Moving from CF to a corner OF spot is a fairly simple transition and players who make the move almost always improve their defensive metrics. Crisp went from being an average defensive CF to an elite defensive LF. He led all LFers in DRS and UZR in 2005.

  • medfest says:

    I was disappointed by the outfields defensive play in center and right this season,but overall it was still a huge improvement over the past few seasons.

    Switching leagues for Bourn and Stubbs may also be a factor in their drop off in defense,though not a major one.

    I’m expecting to see improvement in 2014 and I’d like to see Stubbs stick around as a legitimate fourth outfielder,but at 4 million or more that will be too rich for the Indians.When they extended Raburn, Stubbs became superfluous.

    I don’t see how the Tribe will have the cash to sign a significant hitter(I’m figuring payroll will max out at 82-83 million),the FA money will be sunk into the pitching staff.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    I agree that Crisp was much more effective switching to a corner outfield position, especially on the defensive side. The question at the time was whether he would hit enough to justify a corner OF position and the $5 million salary he was due. The Indians decided that he wouldn’t and gave us the dreaded Delucci/Michaels platoon instead. These were the same geniuses who decided that Jhonny Peralta was a better player than Brandon Phillips. But I digress.

    • medfest says:

      The Phillips trade was 100% Eric Wedge’s doing.He couldn’t and wouldn’t get along with Phillips,the deal had nothing to do with Peralta.Still,it was the dumbest in a long line of dumb moves by Shapiro.

    • Ryan McCrystal says:

      And the same geniuses who acquired Asdrubal, Choo and Santana for Eduardo Perez, Ben Broussard and Casey Blake.

  • E. C. Olson says:

    Buried deep in an otherwise decent article is one sentence – or rather, a portion of one sentence – that is so errantly nonsensical that it calls into question the entire analysis. I’m (naturally, obviously) referring to the second to last sentence that reads “And since neither Brantley nor Bourn excelled in their roles, the Tribe shouldn’t limit themselves to looking for a right fielder.” While Bourn admittedly had an off year…criticizing Brantley???? Seriously???? Maybe a review of the facts are in order: He led the team in hitting. (And since this article is about defense) he led the team in fielding – no wait…he led the ENTIRE AMERICAN LEAGUE LF’S IN FIELDING…oops sorry: HE LED ALL OF BASEBALL IN LF FIELDING!!! WITH ZERO ERRORS!!!! NOT ONE ERROR IN 268 CHANCES!!! And he did all this earning a whopping $527,000. Yeah, I’d sure be shopping for an upgrade.

  • JimM. says:

    “But the Indians worst defensive effort actually came from Drew Stubbs in right field.”

    I watched/listened to ~130 games this season. The above statement is exactly what I observed and it appears the advanced stats confirm what I saw. Time after time he would misplay the ball and allow the runner to advance an extra base. With little offensive impact he was supposed to an all world defensive outfielder. That didn’t happen. I don’t care that his natural position is CF, a MLB player shouldn’t have that much trouble moving over a position (a position that also requires you to cover less ground).

1 Trackback or Pingback