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The Best Defense Is The Best Defense

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Could the Giants' secret weapon this year be a flash of leather? I'm not talking about The Machine, you sillies. I'm talking about defense. It certainly wasn't a weapon last year, what with Pat Burrell, Miguel Tejada, Orlando Cabrera, Jeff Keppinger and Eli Whiteside all butchering, er, playing significant innings.

Burrell: 350 innings in LF: -21.1 UZR/150
Cabrera: 294 innings at SS: -6.9 UZR/150
Tejada: 334 innings at SS. -9.9 UZR/150
Keppinger: 460 innings at 2B: -11.1 UZR/150
Whiteside: 584 innings at C: 18 of 71 (25%) CS, 7 PB

You could also add Carlos Beltran to the mix:

Beltran: 363 innings in RF: -12.6 UZR/150

Big caveat, of course, is that UZR/150 is a wee fickle mistress. (For those who don't know, it's Fangraphs' all-in-one defensive measure, and it's widely argued that one-year data, as I've provided above, isn't reliable. For a gobsmack full of UZR explanation, click here.) But those small sample size numbers sure as hell line up with what we all saw last year.

Feel free to argue with the premise, but let's assume the negative ratings aren't wrong. That's 2,385 player-innings of bad D. Leaving pitchers aside, there are 11,664 player-innings of defense per year (neither counting extra innings nor discounting bottoms-of-the-ninth not played when the home team wins). So what if the Giants can replace those 2,000+ innings with good D?

Ideally, they will. Let's get even more giddy and assume the projected starters stay wonderfully healthy. The Giants could well have an all-positive UZR defense: The "weak link" in the infield would be Aubrey Huff, and even he has positive ratings the past two years as a Giant (before that, as an Oriole, not so much). Brandon Crawford, you know him; Freddy Sanchez will be well above average if injuries and age don't catch up with him; and Pablo Sandoval has quietly become a top third baseman.

In the outfield, Nate Schierholtz, 'nuff said. Angel Pagan had a bad defensive 2011 according to UZR, but he was also playing through a tough ribcage injury. Melky Cabrera in LF will be the wild card. There have been oohs and aahs about his D this spring, and the conventional wisdom is that he's a much better in a corner than in center. However, UZR says in LF he's in negative territory, career-wise. Could his positive rating last year be part of the Melky Renaissance, a stronger, fitter, more dedicated baseball player? Or just a statistical fluke? Either way, giving Burrell's innings to Melky will result in better defense. Heck, giving Burrell's innings to Carol Doda will result in better defense. And a big thumbs-up from Burrell, to boot.

Behind the plate, Posey and whoever backs him up will be better than Whiteside's nearly 600 miserable innings, hampered by a bum elbow.

It's a two-part story, really. Part One: A relatively healthy Giants team will be better on defense than last year by default unless Mike Murphy replaces everyone's jockstraps with ferrets. Part Two: With some excellent health and a few players hitting previous heights, the team could be one of the best in the field this year. Brian Sabean, you sly dog.


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