dale sveum starlin castroWith limited video and a no advanced defensive metrics, there isn’t a great way to judge which team has been the best defensively in Spring Training. Heck, even if there were advanced metrics available, those metrics would scream at you for trying to use them to “prove” anything of substance, given the small sample and erratic nature of Spring Training play.

That said, the Chicago Cubs’ fielding percentage as a team this Spring – .984 – is tied for third best in baseball, and it comes on more total chances in the field than any other team in Spring Training. Does that put the Cubs at the top of the heap?

Well, numbers or not, Dale Sveum thinks so.

“You’d be hard-pressed to think there was a better defensive team in Spring Training this year,” Sveum said, per the Tribune. “We’ve played really good defense all the way around. Our catching has been outstanding, obviously our infield play has been off-the-charts, and our outfielders have done a good job. When you play good outfield in Arizona, you can play outfield anywhere.”

Ultimately, you probably put more stock in Sveum’s eyes-on evaluation than fielding percentage, which isn’t a great defensive metric, for a variety of reasons. Then again, managers can be overly optimistic, and will generally frame these things in the most positive light. So, I guess if we combine the fielding percentage with Sveum’s comments, we can conclude that the Cubs have been very good defensively this Spring, even if not necessarily “the best.”

Does it even matter if the Cubs have been the best defensive team in Spring Training? Eh, I mean, it’s probably better than being the worst, but I’m not sure it tells us that the Cubs will definitely be an above-average defensive team this year.

The Cubs do have a strong defensive infield, and an outfield that could be strong in all ways except for range. Castillo and Navarro are solid behind the plate. And Matt Garza is starting the season on the DL, so the pitching defense might be average. (Sorry, Matt.)

  • Spencer

    This catching duo is very, very solid defensively.

  • Cubbie Blues


    • DarthHater

      Yea, but that jerk in the stand totally deserved to get nailed…

      • cubsnivy56

        That is funny!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I was there!

      And I will always love that gif.

      • Spencer

        me too!

      • NCMoss

        “What was your favorite game, grandpa?”
        “Well, sonny, I was there when Matt Garza threw his best fastball into the stands. If I remember right, 10 people died from the impact.”
        “It was the cat’s pajamas.”

    • BD

      It took me 5 or 6 views until I realized where that throw went in relation to the first basemen. I had forgotten how seriously awful that throw was.

  • #1lahairfan

    Does Ian Stewart have plus defense?

    • Tommy

      Nobody knows. We’ve never seen him play.

      • Craig

        That was funny

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Above average, yes.

    • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Mr. Know It All (Kyle)

      I’d call it average or maybe a tiny bit above.

      • Grant

        Before he was sidelined last year, he had some highlight-reel plays in the field. Perhaps a result of small sample size, but I’d put him above average.

  • Rich H

    When you have a team that has very limited power, you have to be able to play top notch defense just to compete. Most great defensive teams have the headliners up the middle. Other than Barney at second can you say one of the guys up the middle (c,ss, cf) is above average right now? Castro has a chance to be a very good defensive player if his head is right. Castillo’s problem was never the measurable defense but game calling and communicating with pitchers. Dejesus is an average at best center fielder. So looking at the individual players involved in his best defensive team this spring we need everyone one of them to play at a very high level for this praise to be accurate.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Actually, if you have limited power, then the only way to compete is to have such excellent pitching (particularly from the starters) that the other team has even less power. Every net homer is worth about 20%-25% of victory, after all.

      Now, assuming that you manage this, the next step is to both flood the basepaths with guys (and that means a lot of walks!) while not giving up many. Somehow, I’m not going to hold my breath on that one!

      However, note that both of these antidotes focus on pitching and batting, not fielding. Stopping the other team from hitting doubles simply cannot make up for letting them hit more HR than you do.

      • Edwin

        What about the Giants last season?

        • Edwin

          Their team ISO was .122, second to last in baseball. Their BB% was 7.8%, good for 16th. They hit 103 HR, and let up 142 HR. They won the world series last year.

          • CubFan Paul

            Pesky facts.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          Last season, slightly over half of the variation in winning percentage was explained by difference in net home runs. The relationship was such that every 3.7 net HR provided about 1 victory. That’s a touch high, but well within the relationship between winning and HR over the last 40+ years. Teams like the Nats, Yanks, O’s, Rays, Rangers and A’s led the way on one end, and the Cubs, Rox, Astros, Indians, Royals and Twins led on the other.

          As for particular teams, the Giants benefited from being in a weak division: basically, the Giants, Dodgers and DBacks were all middle-of-the-pack for net production (all would have been about 0.500 teams with a balanced schedule), and one of them had to win. Fortunately, the Giants were playing well in September, and that’s all that is important come October.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Incidentally, although the Giants were as badly outhomered as losing teams, they were *not* outwalked (-6 total), and they came out ahead in 2B+3B enough that the net OPS was actually positive (0.018). That was tops among NL West teams: it would have been good for 4th in the NLC and 3rd in the NLE. When people look to the “luck” factors, they too often confine themselves to bad-calls, bad-hops, etc. However, the biggest “luck” factor probably is, in which division do you play? If 8th best in the NL happens to be best in the NLW, then you (probably) still get to go to post-season, anyway.

            (The Giants did out-single the opposition by a huge margin, +162: but there usually is no significant correlation between out-singling the opponents and winning.)

            • Edwin

              So they came out ahead in doubles and triples, which helped make up for the fact that they got outhomered?

              • DocPeterWimsey

                No, it really was the singles: 162 more! If you look at their TB+BB (+31), it comes down to those 162 extra more than the doubles + triples. However, that’s pretty freakish, and also means that they must have had an excellent (= lucky) BABiP.

                Moreover, remember that this is all probabilistic, and I therefore should have added a 3rd option: get lucky as all hell. However, I was tacitly referring to *repeatable* formula for winning. Now, last year was a little high for the amount of variation in winning percentage explained by HR (usually its about 40%, not 50%), but it’s always very high and very significant, with a slope such that you gain one win for every 4-5 HR. The wins above/below that slope (residuals in the “biz”) correlate strongly with both net walks and net 2B+3B; it turns out that after you factor out the correlations between walks, 2B+3B & HR (which is not insignificant), then walks likely are more important of the two. And there just is not much fielding can do about those!

                • Edwin

                  I know. I was just having some fun.

                  • DocPeterWimsey

                    I’ll have to check, but the Giants net singles last year might be one of the highest in years. Of course, the Angels managed 155 more singles, so maybe it’s not: but the next best was the Nats at 106. On the other end, only the A’s, Marlins and Astros had more than -100 net singles, with the ‘stros down to -141! (Many, they really were historically crap last year.)

                    • DocPeterWimsey

                      OK, over the last 10 years, the ’10 Rangers (good), ’08 Cubs (good), ’05 Phils (~ 0.500) and ’04 Mariners (0.389 – is “awful” strong enough for a 0.389 team?) outsingled the opposition by more than the Giants did last year.

                • jt

                  ” I was tacitly referring to *repeatable* formula for winning.”
                  not a small caveat. It is a qualifier worth mentioning.
                  Look up the 2012 NL teams above avg in run prevention.
                  Then look up the 2012 NL teams above avg in run production.

                  • hansman1982

                    So the 5 teams in all of MLB that were in the top 13 (arbitrary cutoff alert) were:

                    White Sox

                    3 of the top 5 scorers and 4 of the top 5 run-preventers made the playoffs.

                    • hansman1982

                      (both scoring and not-letting-the-other-team-scoring)

                    • cubsnivy56

                      good stuff

                    • DocPeterWimsey

                      If you just look at net HR, then here are the teams with nHR 20 or higher:

                      WSN 65
                      NYY 55
                      OAK 48
                      TBR 36
                      MIL 33
                      BAL 30
                      CHW 25
                      STL 25
                      TEX 25
                      CIN 20

                      Here are the teams with -20 or lower:
                      PHI -20
                      NYM -22
                      BOS -25
                      HOU -27
                      COL -32
                      KCR -32
                      CHC -38
                      CLE -38
                      SFG -39
                      SDP -41
                      MIN -67

                      The big mistake that people make is to take the Giants and ask: “what were they doing right?” The answer is: “Getting lucky.” Getting outhomered by that much is not a repeatable formula for success.

                      As for what the ChiSox and Brewers did wrong, well, the Brewers: 1) did very poorly for net walks (-59), and 2) were in a division with two other teams that did very well at out-homering the opposition. The ChiSox, well, it was both net walks (-42) and net 2B+3B (-11). Their net OPS was 0.018, so they won exactly as many games as expected.

                    • DocPeterWimsey

                      Incidentally, here is what all 30 teams did for net OPS:

                      WSN 0.074
                      TBR 0.065
                      TEX 0.064
                      NYY 0.060
                      STL 0.059
                      LAA 0.051
                      DET 0.041
                      CIN 0.031
                      OAK 0.030
                      ATL 0.025
                      MIL 0.022
                      SFG 0.018
                      CHW 0.016
                      LAD 0.015
                      ARI 0.014
                      BAL 0.010
                      PHI 0.003
                      PIT -0.004
                      NYM -0.015
                      SDP -0.019
                      BOS -0.029
                      MIA -0.036
                      SEA -0.037
                      KCR -0.046
                      TOR -0.056
                      MIN -0.060
                      COL -0.061
                      CLE -0.061
                      CHC -0.079
                      HOU -0.092

                      Now, here is the big mistake people make. “Look at the Giants: they won it all despite being 12th in net OPS! Clearly net OPS and winning are not correlated.” Now, look at the top 11 and count how many NL West teams there were in front of them. (1… 2… 3…) Yup, zero. All the teams at the Top either made post-season, or were in the post-season race until quite late. Last year, each 0.01 in net OPS accounted for about 2.3 wins away from 0.500 (the average is 2.1 over the last 50 years), and net OPS accounted for about 86% of the variation in wins (the average is 80% over the last 50 years).

                  • DocPeterWimsey

                    If it is not a small caveat, then it is because it is a tiny caveat.

                    At any rate, if you look at the deviations from expected wins given either run differential or OPS, then there is no correlation between either run prevention or run creation and too much / too little success. (Last year, there was a weak negative correlation between “luck” and offensive OPS and a weak positive correlation between “luck” and pitching OPS; however, neither was remotely close to significant, and both yo-you around zero year-in and year-out.)

                    You can look all you want, but there simply is no pattern to success above/below expectations of net OPS.

                    • jt

                      Materials expand when heated; contract when cooled.
                      Water expands when frozen. It lies outside the statistical norm. Is water mystically lucky or is there cause?
                      OPS is not dependent upon HR total. Yes, a large HR sum contributes but is not the sole contributor.
                      Run differential is not dependent upon OPS. Yes, a large OPS contributes to run differential. But is is not the only factor.
                      For a given era, is there a best practice for efficient team creation? I would guess that there probably is such a concept. Is that the only way to achieve success? It would seem not. There are exceptions and they are not hard to find.
                      To say the only way to build a winner is through the HR is just not true.
                      It is entirely different to say that the best way build a repetitive winner is through the HR or SLG or however you phase it in a particular post.
                      At times you say that best way to create a winner is through SLG ( or HR ). Then when cornered it becomes run differential. Then it becomes run differential unless you have luck. Then is becomes run differential unless you have great pitching.
                      Repetitive success over time can best be achieved through continuously creating a large run differential. That is a lot different than the above.

                    • jt

                      In your HR differential post you asked “What were the Giants doing right”.
                      The correct answer came in your OPS differential post where you showed SF being able to create a + OPS diff despite the lack of the HR. I didn’t look it up, but I’m pretty sure that pitching factored in.
                      StL had one more HR than Philly. The HR differential differential (the double word is intentional) was 45 twixt the teams. It would then seem that the 7 game sway in the Card’s win column would be a result of run, or in this case HR, prevention.
                      It seems that you have proven that there is more than one way of doing it.

                    • Hansman1982

                      Water still contracts when it cools and expands when heated. And thank God it expands when frozen, or we probably would not be on the internetz debating this at this moment in history.

                      Anyway, saying that it isn’t necessarily important to out homer your opponent isn’t correct. If you want the most likely and most consistent way to win you build a team that:
                      1. Hit a lot of home runs (typically guys who homer a lot also slug a lot of doubles and triples)
                      2. Walks a lot.
                      3. Stops the other team from doing so.

                      Doc just gave a number much higher than 50% (on the phone so too much work to scroll up) for the relationship between out-walking and out-Homering the opponent. So a big chunk of winning has absolutely nothing to do with the defense (same would be true of many doubles as well).

                      What a good defense would do, is allow your pitchers to throw a few less pitches per game, for a team like the Cubs, that may partially neutralize the effect of the number of day games.

                    • DocPeterWimsey

                      “50+%” is the amount of variation in winning explained by out-homering the opposition. Now, keep in mind that last year was a little exceptional: the best teams badly out-homered the opposition, and the worst teams were badly out-homered. Over the last 50 years, it’s generally been about 40% of the variation.

                      Still, 40% of the variation in winning coming down to a single fielding-independent statistic is huge.

                      But JT keeps begging the question, “how did the Giants find a way to win?” Well, the answer is that they really did not: they just found themselves in a bad division where the a net OPS just above league-average was still the best in the division. And that is why their formula for winning is not repeatable: it depends on the Dodgers, DBacks, Rox & Pads not being good rather than the Giants being good.

            • OCCubFan

              Very interesting discussion. Just to nitpick Hansman: water does not always contract when cooled. It reaches a maximum density near 4 degrees F.

              • ReiCow

                Nitpicking your nitpick.. it is ~4 degrees C, not F (that is below freezing for water).


                • OCCubFan

                  Sorry, you are correct.

                • hansman1982

                  Nitpicking your nitpicked nitpick…

                  Two periods are incorrect grammar. Either one or three.

                  • OCCubFan

                    “Nitpicking your nitpicked nitpick…

                    Two periods are incorrect grammar. Either one or three.”

                    I can nitpick your nitpicking by noting that “Either one or three.” is not a complete sentence. You might have phrased your comment as

                    “Two periods are incorrect grammar: use either one or three.”

                    I then note that the colon is 2 periods of a sort. :-)

                    • hansman1982

                      Not sure if there are any nits left but…

                      Aw hell, I’m not that good at grammar.

                    • OCCubFan

                      Hansman, your original point was excellent. I apologize for sidetracking the discussion

                    • hansman1982

                      Meh…I’m used to my discussions getting sidetracked.

                    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                      I’m not sure a colon is appropriate there.

                    • hansman1982

                      A comma would probably be best.

                    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                      Nah. That would be a comma splice, because it would separate two independent clauses. I’d go for either two sentences, or a semi-colon.

              • hansman1982

                But, yes. I was speaking in generalities.

  • DONNIE621

    March 28, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink | Reply
    Yea, but that jerk in the stand totally deserved to get nailed… Darth are you referring to yourself?

    • DarthHater

      Yes. But in my defense, I was wearing my Donnie621 mask and making political rants a ballgame, so…

  • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Mr. Know It All (Kyle)

    I have a hard time calling us a good defensive team with DeJesus in CF. He’s just so out of position there. Otherwise? Yeah, it should be pretty good.

    • preacherman86

      Yeh he is out of position and a step slow for center, or two steps slow….but he positions himself so well and is smart out there…..I remember a CF from not long ago that was certainly not fast, but got good jumps and positioned himself well, also if I’m not mistaken he has a few gold gloves on his mantle….that being Jim Edmonds… I think DeJesus can at least hold his own by smart play out in cf. Like Brett said, the cumulative lack of range will be the toughest part, but if they all play smart they can make up for that….heck look at lil Tony, fastest guy in baseball, worst center fielder on the club last year….he wasn’t even good enough to be a defensive replacement for Sori!!!

      • DocPeterWimsey

        Edmonds got good jumps because he knew where the ball was going to land almost as soon as it left the bat. That’s part of what let him be such a hot-dog: he knew when to slow down just a touch as to spice up the catch with a dive or a leap.

    • CubFan Paul

      I worry about balls being hit to Left Center-ish already. Between the galloping Sori and rangeless DeJesus the OutField is not strong.

      I await BJax (and games against LHP)

  • Die hard

    He will go blind looking thru rose colored glasses out in the sun


    Cubs do have a very good defensive team. Only CF will not be on the good side of average, and that will change when Jackson takes over, as long as his arm isn’t still bothering him.

  • Orvis

    Other language spam.

    • DarthHater


    • Tommy

      You did realize that everyone here besides you is typing in English, right?

      • King Jeff

        Don’t worry, I translated it for you Tommy.

        “Orange and brown singing Sower Ha, this percussion thin ah All jump all in silence any resurrection, ah -“

        • Tommy

          Thanks Jeffro – now it all makes sense!

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