If Defensive WAR or Defensive Runs Saved Are Your Thing, the Cubs Are Golden

darwin barney gold gloveBecause the abilities that inform defensive value are more difficult to quantify than pitching or hitting, defensive statistics have long been the bugaboo of modern baseball analysis. Sure, fielding percentage or error totals – not unlike batting average or hit totals – have some descriptive value, but they convey very little information when you start thinking about what a defender actually does.

To that end, advanced metrics have sought to better describe defensive performance, including a number of attempts at a defensive WAR value. There is also a calculation of defensive runs saved, a metric that, in my mind, hews a little more closely to what a defender is trying to accomplish.

In either case – whether by dWAR or defensive runs saved – the Cubs have three of the top defenders in the National League: Darwin Barney at second base, Anthony Rizzo at first base, and Welington Castillo behind the plate.

Interestingly, although the advanced metrics say the trio should take home Gold Gloves at the end of the season, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see the Cubs shut out.

Rizzo is “new” enough that he might not get the managerial support needed to win, even though we’ve heard for a couple years now that his defense is purported to be “Gold Glove caliber.” Similarly, Castillo’s emergence as a top defensive catcher – and the presence of Yadier Molina – is sufficiently new that I don’t think he’s going to get the votes. We’re just a year removed from folks wondering whether Castillo was going to be able to put together an overall average set of tools behind the plate. (Seriously: his defensive emergence this year has been remarkable, and relatively quiet.)

As for Barney, I can’t help but feel like Brandon Phillips – personality and all – will win the Gold Glove. Barney’s victory last year felt like it was buoyed by his errorless streak, something on which he can’t lean this year. His numbers are still tops in the league, but I get the sense that the managers and coaches were just waiting for a reason to return to voting for Phillips on the basis of his flair and his at bats.

We’ll see if my instinct on these decisions plays out. Fair or not, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cubs with a few bridesmaids when the defensive hardware is handed out after the season.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

93 responses to “If Defensive WAR or Defensive Runs Saved Are Your Thing, the Cubs Are Golden”

  1. Boogens

    Hi Brett,

    I think that you nailed it. Phillips will win it this year not because he is better but because Barney didn’t have some overwhelming reason this year, despite being a better fielder.

    1. CubbieBubba

      I hate Phillips, but he has made all of the best defensive plays I’ve ever seen. Barney is consistent, but Phillips makes outrageous plays defensively on top of his consistently solid d.

      1. Jon

        On the bright side, if Phillips wins it maybe tHom will have one less thing to cry about on the broadcasts.

      2. dw8

        watch Brendan Ryan.

      3. Eternal Pessimist

        Using our “newest” fun stat, he has a DRS of -1 and his fielding percentage if off his pace from last year when he was so sure he would win it…and he sure doesn’t do anything to “win the hearts and mind”. I’m guessing it wound be Phillips.

        1. Eternal Pessimist

          Wound = won’t.

  2. Cubbie Blues

    Didn’t one of the coaches, at the end of last year, compare Castillo’s ability to Molina’s?

    1. hansman1982

      I think I remember that as well and there was much ado about it.

      1. Cubbie Blues

        I guess the coaches sometimes know what they are talking about …

        1. hansman1982

          Nah, they are like DieHard…everyone once in a blue moon the law of averages works in their favor.

          1. TWC

            Oh, puh-LEEZ, Joe, don’t say “the law of averages”. There’s no such thing.

            1. MichiganGoat

              Ah BetterMath at its finest hour

              1. TWC

                Ha. Well, not exactly what I meant. That was a whole ‘nother pile of bad maths.

                I’m just objecting to the “law of averages” being used as if it were a real thing: “Well, I’ve flipped heads six times in a row, the Law of Averages says the next flip MUST be tails!” Total nonsense. It gets (mis)applied in baseball — nay, in life! — all too often.

                1. MichiganGoat

                  TWC you might enjoy this Radiolab episode about stochasticity

                  http://www.radiolab.org/story/91684-stochasticity/

                  1. TWC

                    Oh, yeah, I remember listening to that one a few years ago. Great episode of a great program.

                    1. hansman1982

                      Jesus, a throwaway comment that mockingly compares our coaching staff to Diehard generates this response?

                      Get a life, dude.

                    2. TWC

                      And here I thought someone who takes all the opportunities presented to him to correct others’ misapplications of baseball statistics would appreciate a little good-natured jab. That Iowa rain has thinned your skin today.

                    3. miggy80

                      Sounds like someone needs a Hamburger.

                    4. hansman1982

                      And here I thought that someone who takes every opportunity to shart all over everyone else’s dumbassery would appreciate a little good-natured jab.

                    5. miggy80

                      Ah it’s time to crank up my Zune. Like literally I have to hand crank my Zune to charge up the battery.

                    6. TWC

                      I’m mostly concerned that my response was taken as a defense of Die hard. I have a reputation to uphold.

                2. willis

                  The “law of averages” theory has taken many of dollar out of my pocket when playing roulette in Tunica. It hits red 8 straight times, starting around the 5th time I start loading up on black, you know, law of averages, and it continues on red for ten more turns. Then I cry and beg for at least a comped buffet.

                  1. N8theGr8

                    Even if you follow the law of averages to the fullest end, the coin eventually will land on its edge.

  3. justinjabs

    Phillips is a D. Anecdotally, Barney seems a bit less “on” than last year. But I’ve missed a bunch of games.

    Last night’s crowd was pretty bad. Even with the Brewers up by five, the home supporters were completely tuned out by the ninth inning. The game seemed to drag.

    Also, why include W/L in Pregame posts? I like the addition of FIP, but why not drop W/L for another pitching metric or the innings count to give ERA/FIP a bit more meaning?

    1. terencemann

      I was watching at home and, even though the Cubs showed a few signs of life and made the game “interesting” with their defensive antics, it felt really slow and dull.

    2. miggy80

      “Last night’s crowd was pretty bad”

      I was thinking the same thing, Did you see how many fans got hit by foul balls? It seemed like every foul ball hit someone got plunked. No one was paying attention to the game.

  4. cubchymyst

    I think Rizzo is going to lose out the Goldschmidt for 1B. It seems like offense still gets factored into the vote and Goldschmidt has had a great offensive year to go with a good defense year.

    1. terencemann

      Goldschmidt is also a slightly longer tenured player which seems to affect voters, too.

    2. cubzfan23

      Which is insanely pathetic since it is a defensive award. I have never liked this tought. If a player leads with the best fielding % he should win the award no excuses. Baseball should change this.

      1. terencemann

        Awarding the best fielding % is a really bad idea and is how Jeter got a lot of undeserved GGs.

        1. frank

          Agreed–but I think the larger point is well-taken. The Gold Glove should be awarded based on defensive metrics alone, rather than a combination of defense, offense, time served, and whatever.

      2. Wilbur

        To imply that subjective motives might override objective metrics may be “pathetically insane” to you, I truly understand. However, I would submit it is how most of us make many of our decisions daily …

        Kind of explains the irrationality we see all around us. My world of course is perfectly rationale!

  5. terencemann

    I have a feeling the RTO is going to really hurt Castillo when it comes to GG voting. Teams just don’t run on Yadi and, if they do, he’s throwing out almost half of them. I’ll take the batted ball defense, though. It’s great especially considering some of the issues the Cubs have had with their pitchers fielding. Take the EJax one hopper to first last night, for example.

  6. King Jeff

    A Pittsburgh newspaper has a very good article about the PIrates changes in defensive shifts, pitching, and overall defensive approaches, and how they have lead to the Pirates turnaround this year. It’s a pretty good read, and show some of the potential for the change the Cubs are putting in place in their system. http://triblive.com/sports/pirates/4689239-74/pirates-defensive-season#axzz2f4BnFVMH

  7. Headscratchin

    “We’re just a year removed from folks wondering whether Castillo was going to be able to put together an overall average set of tools behind the plate. (Seriously: his defensive emergence this year has been remarkable, and relatively quiet.)”

    So quiet, in fact, that I think I missed it. I must be playing back old tapes from last year in my mind, but It sure seems like we see a lot of the back of his jersey as he chases balls back to the screen. Seems like there have been a lot of pitches go right through the 6 hole.

    Happy to be corrected in my thinking, I guess I need to pay a little closer attention to his defense the rest of the year.

    1. terencemann

      It’s not so much that Castillo’s receiving skills are great as it is that he’s shown great skills at fielding batted balls.He’s still tied for 2nd in the NL in PB. DRS and UZR don’t take into account receiving stats or throwing out runners on stolen base attempts.

    2. Cubbie Blues
      1. Headscratchin

        I am a loooonnnggg way from a saber ninja (calling me a novice would be charitable), but how can PB NOT be part of the calculation of DRS for a catcher? In order to get a past ball, a runner must have advanced. Do PBs count as errors, so DRS is equitable, no matter what defensive position??

        1. Cubbie Blues

          RPP uses the *passed* balls and he is at 2.0 (between above average and great).
          http://www.fangraphs.com/library/defense/catcher-defense/
          Based on his pitches seen he should of had 49 (CPP) based on pitches thrown, but he only had 8.

          1. Headscratchin

            Thanks, I obviously have a lot to learn.

            1. Cubbie Blues

              FanGraphs has tons of articles on, well, everything SABR.

  8. BD

    Whatever you do- don’t forget to consider a player’s hitting statistics when voting for a defensive award.

    1. Josh

      Totally agree with you on this BD, got be a good hitter to win the gold glove, but a shitty fielder can win a Silver Slugger, what gives voters!!!!!

  9. cubsfanforever

    I don’t care if Barney is a gold glove material. ADIOS

  10. Josh

    Here is my question on who is the better fielder, the guy who has to make spectacular plays, or the thinker and the student who puts themselves in much better defensive position to not have to make those plays??

    1. Spriggs

      The thinker and student is usually told by his coaches exactly where to park himself. So let’s not give Barney more credit than he deserves on positioning. If he was such a great thinker, maybe he’d have figured out how to hit a baseball with a little more success by now.

      1. Cubbie Blues

        Oh, he can hit the ball just fine. It’s the success part he has trouble with.

    2. ClevelandCubsFan

      I think you’re more than a little on to something. There’s spectacular when spectacular is the only way, and there’s spectacular because you were forced into it. No question B.P. is an incredible defensive player with some fantastic moves that are often spectacular for the right reasons. We cheer at an oufielder making a diving catch–difficult to be sure! But we don’t cheer when a better player had a better read, took a better cut, and made the play look routine. The same things happen on the infield–the right cut, the right first step, the positioning (yes, some is given by the coaches, but MLBers are not looking in to the dugout on every pitch or batter for a position assignment… managers and coaches don’t do that), the situational awareness. I think it’d be hard to find too many plays where you’d say, yeah BP made that play but DW couldn’t have pulled it off.

  11. Brain

    A team can afford a world-class caliber defensiveman like Barney if they have hitting in the middle. Usually he’d hit 9th and buttress the team in unpredictable ways and clutch defensive situations. It’s a disservice to the talents that he does have that we have none of the above in place. He just looks like a terrible hitter with a negative OWAR in this environment. Really, the “plan” seems executed to make everyone look bad and worse, from our promising young hitters who need another year or two of seasoning, to our rock-solid coach who’s been given a young and revolving door team without chemistry.

    It’s the anti-PR team, constructed to maximize profits for a few and make the rest of us feel bad about loving baseball.

    1. Cubbie Blues

      ” He just looks like a terrible hitter with a negative OWAR in this environment.”
      Good I thought people might think he was good with the bat.

      “It’s the anti-PR team, constructed to maximize profits for a few and make the rest of us feel bad about loving baseball.”
      If they really wanted to maximize profits they would be putting a servicable team out there and not spending in the Minors and in Mesa or coaching or computers or scouts or minor league coaching or …

      1. Brain

        I know you mean this sarcastically, but it still doesn’t answer why they wouldn’t do this and build the minor leagues at the same time. We’ll see this offseason, maybe they’ll get on track. I just don’t see how the team can possibly even be mediocre for the next 3-4 years with the current lineup and AAA maturity levels.

        There’s some genuine talent down there but their talent doesn’t equate to victories in the near future. It’s just a total disaster area in need of major financing and scaffolding before they can even begin construction.

        1. hansman1982

          If all you are using is the current lineup and what is ready in AAA, then ya, the team will never be competative unless Samardjiza, Castro, Castillo, Rizzo all become 10 WAR players.

          1. Brain

            Exactly, so I’m looking forward to this offseason. If it goes status quo with the last winter and we simply pick the most mediocre possible free agent pitcher and then take a nap, there’s going to be riots next year.

            1. Norm

              What free agent pitcher do you recommend this year?

              1. Brain

                This year I would recommend that we hire two big bats to transform the lineup right away. Or, make some calculated trades for bats on other teams. You gotta set things in motion for them to be in motion. You can’t go from last to first in a year or two, so without some “heart” in the lineup to start this rebuild takes 7-8 years.

                1. mjhurdle

                  what big bats are available, short of the 200 million dollar man, that would transform this lineup right away?
                  What team is willing to trade one of their ‘big bats’ that is having an impact in their lineup?

                  i don’t disagree with the premise, but i am just not sure how realistic it is. Unless you are referring to guys like Corey Hart as big bats.

                  1. Brain

                    Skepticism agreed with here, but it has to be in the plan to try at least. And yes I think we should try to sign Cano if we can get a creative contract out of him that doesn’t go too late-career. It’s the cavalier “we’ll try later” mentality that makes me crazy.

                  2. When the Music's Over

                    The sad thing is that the current state of baseball free agency has so many fans very gun shy about reaching for any free agent.

                    If the Cubs front office were to think the same exact way and not use free agency outside of low and mid-range bargain seeking signings, Cubs fans better pray the Cubs drafting and development machine is light years ahead of almost every single organization.

            2. Cubbie Blues

              You are dismissing the fact that there are two players in AA (Baez and Bryant) and possibly a 3rd (Arismendy Alcantara) who will be coming up.

              1. When the Music's Over

                Until these guys reach and perform well at the MLB, historical precedent would suggest fans shouldn’t etch these players production into stone yet.

                It’s been very hard to not do that myself, especially with the combination of yet another shit season in the books and shiny new toy syndrome. However, I’ve been burned way too many times, both as a Cubs fan and as a fantasy baseball manager (waiting on minor league players to save my team) to rely on AA players to be great.

                1. Cubbie Blues

                  Oh, trust me, I’m not putting anything in stone. I do however think they will be coming up next year. What they actually do when they arrive? That is another thing altogether.

          2. Cubs_Questions

            Absolutely not. Baseball-Reference lists 8+ WAR as being MVP worthy. You think the Cubs will never win unless they have four MVP players on their team? That’s incredibly unrealistic.

            1. Hansman1982

              I never said that. In the scenario given, using Jeremy roster and AAa players only, we’d need those 4 guys to become MVP candidates in order to contend. The roster, as of Sept 17, is crap.

              If you don’t account for AA players, FA signings or trades, then how else do you get to 90 wins?

        2. Cubbie Blues

          The second part was not sarcastic at all. That is exactly what they would be doing if they were only concerned in profits.

        3. ClevelandCubsFan

          “but it still doesn’t answer why they wouldn’t do this and build the minor leagues at the same time”

          1. Because the budget isn’t unlimited. $80 or $100 mil. given to a 40-man guy is $80 mil. or $100 mil. not available for building new facilities, adding the right development staff, ability to sign guys over slot value, etc.

          2. Because the roster size isn’t unlimited, taking up a slot with a name written in stone is one less slot available for developing a young guy–or frankly, protecting a young guy from the Rule 5 draft.

          3. Because doing them at the same time would be much, much slower, and it might not accomplish anything in the short term. Winning 85 games might put more buts in the seats, but that’s about it.

          4. Because doing term at the same time might require us to make near-term decisions about long-term assets. In July, no one was pressuring the Cubs to flip Baez for 3 months of Cano to put us over the top. Thank goodness! Let the Rangers do that kind of silly.

  12. Ed
    1. terencemann

      The sidebar on that article just alerted me to the fact that the Cubs currently have 3 players who qualify for the batting title and Starlin Castro is leading them with a .241 avg. I mean I batting average is overrated but that’s kind of hilarious.

      1. cubs2003

        This is interesting to me. At what point does tanking seasons become a negative in the development of players at the MLB level? Especially multiple years in a row. 162 games knowing you have little chance of success has to wear on players that are competitors. Especially in a large market. Also, when your two offensive “cornerstones” have already received(relatively) big contracts. Small market teams do it by absolute necessity. I still believe in the plan long term, but I’d hope the Cubs figure out a way to get some free agents that help in the meantime. Right now this team is without an anchor and it’s showing. Get the young guys some help. Just my opinion.

  13. Gutshot5820

    “Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke wanted to get outfielder Caleb Gindl going, so he gave him a start against the Chicago Cubs.”

    I guess we are now officially a joke of a franchise, Need a rookie that has been slumping to rebound? Stat him with the Cubs,

    “Baseball America’s Ben Badler cites Japanese media outlet Sanspo in reporting that the Yankees, Red Sox and Diamondbacks all had scouts in attendance once again. All three were said to have scouts in attendance for another recent Tanaka outing.”

    The Ricketts really are planning to go cheap this year. You can FORGET about any chance that you may have thought that we could land Tanaka. If we don’t have any scouts watching Tanaka at the end of the season, we are probably not going to make any type of serious bid.

    On the bright side Baseball America says Eloy Jiminez and Gleyber Torres will be in the Cubs top 30 and will skip DSL and head straight to Rookie Arizona League.

    1. Cizzle
  14. David

    The below is Bruce Levine’s blog. Hope it’s true!!! He should be ready in 2015????!!!

    From all indications from my baseball contacts, Tanaka is the Cubs’ No. 1 offseason priority.

    1. 1060Ivy

      Carrying on the fine Cubs off season tradition, fans should expect to hear that the Cubs were rumored to ‘put in an extremely competitive bid for the free agent’ narrowly missing out.

      Darn it.

      1. Hansman1982

        It’s awesome that there are fans capable of believing this FO has nothing better to do than appear to be in on FAs.

        1. Pat

          The team has a PR position in the front office, right? What, exactly, is more pressing to the person than making them team look as good as possible to the fans?

  15. cubs2003

    I’m a little surprised Barney wasn’t marketed as a SS during last year’s trade deadline. Maybe he was for all I know and there were no takers. It seems like he has the defensive ability to play there. Maybe not great range or arm, but he doesn’t make mistakes. If I remember correctly, he would have been an upgrade for several teams. I love his defense, but the bat he’s showing now is a tough sell at 2B on an everyday basis.

  16. N.J. Riv

    The only way I can see Barney starting for this team is if the NL adopts the DH.

    1. cubs2003

      I don’t even know about that. If your OPS is below .600, you better be an elite defensive SS or an elite defensive catcher. Even then it’s pretty iffy. I still like him as a bench guy up the middle, though. I think he’s up for arbitration this year and the GG might get him more than he’s worth.

      1. Eternal pessemist

        The NL would need two DH’s, one for the pitcher and one for Barney.

  17. Gutshot5820

    Andrew Cashner just threw one one the most dominating performances ever for a Padres pitcher. I know it’s too early to judge, but considering our need for an ace pitcher, how many people would trade Rizzo back for Cashner right now? I would have to believe that Theo would take back Cashner in a heartbeat and if the FO asked San Diego to take back the trade, they would be told Hello No. Which is one way to tell who won the trade. But what do I know.

    1. Luke

      I’m still happy with the trade. I’d be perfectly content to make that trade again.

      1. MightyBear

        It was a good trade for both teams. Getting Rizzo was a great deal for the Cubs and I believe he will be very successful for the Cubs.

        1. MichiganGoat

          The only question is who has the better batting average ;)

          1. DarthHater

            Nuh-uh. Cashner has way more wins. :-P

            1. MichiganGoat

              But he only has 10 and 8 losses what a bum, he’s obviously only a 4/5th starter.

              1. mjhurdle

                He is no Logan Watkins, thats for sure

    2. Gutshot5820

      When the trade was made, I was very happy as I’m sure was most people. But in hindsight knowing what we know today, it’s hard to believe anyone would actually make the trade today. If we had Cashner and Rizzo was on the Padres and they offered up Rizzo for Cashner, I’m pretty sure this board would go in an uproar for even thinking about that possibility. But that’s all past and I’m satisfied with Rizzo, but I would trade him back for Cashner in a New York minute.

      1. cubchymyst

        Cashner has a history of arm issues, and this is the first year he has ever thrown more than 100 innings. I’d take Rizzo at the time of that trade and I even now I’d still take Rizzo. Outside Rizzo’s average his numbers look good for a 23 year old MLB players.

        1. mjhurdle

          both Cashner and Rizzo have a 2.2 WAR this year according to Baseball reference.
          Given the fact that Rizzo is younger and Cashner still is an injury risk, i would still take Rizzo even today.
          Right now looks like both sides might benefit from the trade.

        2. cubs2003

          I still don’t think it was a bad trade. Probably even. We’ll see. He seems like he could use a consistent bat or two behind him, though. It’s got to be tough for a 24 year old in his first full season to be expected to be the center of a lineup.

  18. BigsmokeJ

    Gutshot5820 before you say you would take Cashner back you need to factor in the park he is pitching in. Take a look at his home/away stats, pitching in Petco makes a big difference.

  19. Jon

    And last year Cashner was nothing more than an average bullpen arm. I’m disappointed as anyone in Rizzo’s year, but its hard to take anything a pitcher does in that park at face value

  20. Jon

    And I’m still a big fan of that trade. I’d like to see them do some more ‘prospect swaps’

  21. another JP

    The Rizzo/Cashner deal is exactly the type of win-win trade that a team that has surplus talent needs to engage in. Not like the Cubs had a surplus of big arms in the minors, but the opening was there for a young 1B with power & Rizzo was available. To have a total WAR of 3.2 while with the Cubs at the age of 23 isn’t so bad for Rizzo…. he’s just getting started.

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