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Must-click link: how the Pirates got better

Sep 16, 2013, 9:50 AM EDT

John McDonald Getty Getty Images

A great story by Travis Sawchik at about the Pirates. Specifically, how they got better. More specifically, how it was largely a function of improving the defense. Not by merely getting good defensive players, but through strategy, research and hard work:

The Pirates experimented with a comprehensive defensive philosophy the past several seasons, but this was different.

• Position players had to change. They had to shift from areas of the field where they had been stationed their entire careers and trust the pitching staff’s ability to locate pitches.

• Pitchers had to change. The staff had to rely on a new primary pitch and trust the radical defensive alignments behind them.

• Old-school coaches had to change. Coaches trained in 20th century baseball orthodoxy had to trust 21st century concepts.

The club’s improvement would not come through adding Gold Glove-caliber fielders or pricey free agent pitchers but rather improving the sum of its defensive parts.

The plan has been a success.

Go read the article and check out the plan. It’s a great explanatory piece in and of itself and it’s a great example of how defense likely will never be reduced to a single or even a couple of overarching stats. So many moving parts. Watching the moving is pretty fantastic.

  1. apkyletexas - Sep 16, 2013 at 10:07 AM

    From worst to first in defensive efficiency. +12.8 Defensive WAR. That’s an insane stat.

    • apkyletexas - Sep 16, 2013 at 10:37 AM

      The article does not give enough credit to the fielders, however. Neil Walker and Clint Barmes are elite level infielders who don’t get the notice they deserve.

    • apkyletexas - Sep 16, 2013 at 10:40 AM

      Even better stat – they’ve gone from -25 runs saved last year to +55 this year, with no additions to the infield.

  2. pitpenguinsrulez - Sep 16, 2013 at 11:01 AM

    And to think 5-10 years ago that con artist Kevin McClatchy and Dave Littlefield basically sold off or traded any of what little good guys we had and got junk Single A players in exchange.

  3. NatsLady - Sep 16, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    Very interesting article. As Steve McCatty would say, strikeouts are bullsh**. If you have good D, get the ball on the ground. Wonder when fangraphs will catch up! Y’know, quit basing WAR so much on FIP. Fielders are IMPORTANT, and if you have them–use them.

    • dlf9 - Sep 16, 2013 at 11:57 AM

      NatsLady ~ I think you are mistaken about FIP. The statistic’s proponents don’t argue that fielders aren’t important. And never have argued that the difference between one team’s fielders and another aren’t relevant. Voros and those who followed have just argued that there is little consistency of difference between two pitchers results on balls in play *before the same fielders.* That is, over the long run, we would expect nearly the same BABIP for Jeff Locke as for Gerrit Cole.

    • paperlions - Sep 16, 2013 at 1:44 PM

      Missing the point entirely. The point of FIP is exactly that fielders are important and that ERA does not belong to a pitcher but to the pitcher AND his fielders. FIP (and other FIP-type metrics) try to partition out the contribution of the pitcher to run prevention from the contribution of the fielders.

      • davidpom50 - Sep 16, 2013 at 5:14 PM

        ERA was also originally an attempt to partition out the contribution of the pitcher to run prevention from the contributions of the fielders – that’s why it eliminates “unearned” runs, caused by fielders making errors. FIP (and SIERA and xFIP) are just far more advanced ways of doing it. In 10 years, I’m guessing we’ll have even better methods, utilizing PitchFX and HitFX.

  4. slizzyslizz - Sep 16, 2013 at 1:48 PM

    I know I’m late to comment but Andrew Friedman had been employing those tactics for a couple years now…I’m surprised more teams don’t focus on that, especially ones with more flexible budgets.

  5. The Blitzburgh Press - Sep 17, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    Reblogged this on

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