By pretty much every possible measurement, the Cubs were the best defensive team in Major League Baseball this season. And if you put any credence in park-adjusted defensive efficiency, they had the best defense of all time. As in ever. That matters not to Wilson Sporting Goods, which named the San Francisco Giants MLB’s top defensive team of 2016.
Wait, were only Bay Area teams considered? Were the sponsors angry over the extra “l” in the Cubs catchers’ name? I thought we only handed out participation trophies to little kids.
I guess the Giants did have two Gold Glove winners and Brandon Crawford was named DPOY among all shortstops. Then again, the Cubs had two Gold Glovers and Anthony Rizzo was DPOY at first base.
Awarding the Giants as the league’s best defensive team is insanely, egregiously bad. Remember that whole PADE metric I mentioned earlier, the one that measures the percentage of balls in play a team converts to outs while adjusting for varying ballpark environments? The Cubs were nearly four times better than the next-best team this season. That team: the Washington Nationals.
After the Nats came the Dodgers, Blue Jays, Reds, Yankees, and Mariners. And there, way back in eighth place, were the Giants. Dude, Javy Baez is a better defensive team than San Francisco.
Yeah, yeah, I know this is a contrived award that means less than nothing in the grand scheme of things. It just that it’s soooooo bad that I can’t help from shaking my fist at the sky in self-righteous anger. Grrrrrr, stupid even-year BS!
It’s times like these that it helps to take a cleansing breath and remember that the Cubs are the World Series champions. And that they were the best defensive team in MLB in 2016, whether Wilson wants to acknowledge it with a fake award or not.
Because most of my attention was focused on college basketball when I originally wrote this, I wanted to go back and look at a few more stats. The Giants were indeed the best team in baseball in terms of fielding percentage and, naturally, number of errors. Those figures, however, can be misleading because all teams were within one one-hundredth of a point in terms of overall fielding percentage. There are just so many plays that simply not making errors isn’t really indicative of performance. There’s also the idea that you can’t make an error on a ball you can’t get to, which means that a team with less range will have fewer chances.
That said, we could look to something like range runs, which measures the number of runs above average a player is based on how he is able to get to balls hit in his general vicinity. The Giants were second in baseball with 41.7 runs above average, which is really good. The Cubs had 68.4 RngR, a mere 64% better than San Francisco.
Or what about ultimate zone rating, a catch-all stat that combines range runs, arm runs, double play runs, and error runs? The Giants had an admirable 47.7 to lead all teams not called the Cubs. As for the World Series champs, their 73 UZR was far and away the best in the majors, only 47% better than second place.
Finally, we’ll look at defensive runs saved, which is a pretty self-explanatory metric. This may come as a surprise, but it’s once again the Cubs at the top and then everyone else looking up at them. Way up. Their 82 runs saved were 31 runs better than the second-place Giants.
If you’re interested in the historical significance of these stats, the Cubs’ UZR is fourth all-time (since 1871 anyway), DRS is third, RngR is second, and PADE is the best ever. Oh, and there’s one more: the Cubs had a Def (FanGraphs’ overall defensive measurement) of 69, which was nice enough to lead MLB (Giants 53.7) in 2016 and put them ninth ever.
Why am I mad online about this? It’s less about the Cubs not winning a frivolous award and more about trying to fight against the idea that fielding percentage should determine it. Eh, whatever.