January 6, 2017

The Cubs and their prolific defense

by Daniel Conmy

As a front office there is a certain way you want to construct your team. The easiest way to benefit is to create a team that plays better at home. With half your games at home, you give yourself a decent advantage to win all those games depending on the pitchers and hitters drafted, signed, and traded to your team. Some of these philosophies are very easily recognizable; groundball pitchers, pull hitters, and defensive wizards.

We saw the Kansas City Royals constantly discussed as a contact heavy team against a strikeout heavy pitching staff in the 2015 World Series. Was this lineup composed in a certain way to give the Royals the best chance in the playoffs? Did it just so happen that this was the case? More and more front offices are leaving less to chance and improve their club with a certain philosophy. With all that stated, did any team in 2016 play towards their home ballpark better than the rest of the pack?

The team that did better than the rest was the Chicago Cubs, but it came from a defensive standpoint.

Above are three defensive values - UZR, UZR/150, and Def - that show the superiority of the Cubs defense. The San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals are second and third in this category. I do want to stress this is not really a specialty of a home ballpark, but the importance of good defense should be stressed at all times given the data that is now readily available to the public and privately to teams.

There were only a few defenders that graded out in the negative UZR category, which means that there were no real weak links on this team defensively. While the Cubs had and still have the starpower, we see a shift in the rising of the tides. Teams are more importantly filling the back end of their 25-man roster with guys who will at least grade out to be average. 

If you are not at least a league average player on a team, you will soon find your way of a major league roster. It seems like the easiest way to add value to your team is with defensive values. Of course, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and they were led by their stellar defense. Yes, the bats and pitching were great, but the pitching staff outperformed their FIP by .62. Some of that performance can be traced back to the weak contact given up by Kyle Hendricks, but the Cubs defense constantly, as a unit, performed as the best defense in the league.