On McGehee, Betancourt, and The Gulf Between Their Gloves | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

I have this theory.  Well, it’s not a theory so much as a hunch on the verge of becoming a hypothesis.  If the Milwaukee Brewers win the World Series, they’ll do so with the worst defense between second and third of any champion team in recent memory.

Here’s the meat of it.  Casey McGehee is really slow, or at the very least his reaction time with seemingly catchable line drives and grounders is terribly erratic. Once he actually gets a hold of the ball, he does alright, rarely throwing it away these days… but it’s that getting it thing that seems to trouble him.  Anyway, he’s made quite a few errors and some of them have been at particularly sensitive moments.

Yuni is bad, as pretty much everyone knows by now.  As with McGehee, he just doesn’t get to stuff that even a below average infielder routinely does.  He makes the occasional spectacular play, but it’s hard to say how much this has to do with innate skill or with overcompensating for catches he should’ve made sooner and more easily.  His UZR/150 has hovered around -10 since 2007.  This means, more or less, that his fielding has cost teams something like 10 runs a season for the last 4 years.

My theory, then, is this: when a team has two slow, crappy defenders between second and third, it’s really hard for it to win the World Series.  They might do well in the regular season, while playing a mix of great, good, and mediocre teams, but once the mediocre are taken out of the mix, subpar fielding becomes even more glaringly so.  (To make sample sizes large enough, I’ve combined fielders’ TZR and UZR to get to 1000 cumulative innings.  I figure if there’s a platoon, or a backup fields a significant number of innings, it has to be taken into account.)

Playoff games are often won on the margins.  You break another maybe equally good team down by playing against their weaknesses.

So if you’ve got a slow but otherwise decent fielder at third and a defensive powerhouse at shortstop, my guess is that they cancel each other out.  The guy with the better-than-average zone will at least occasionally get to balls that Mr. Heavyfoot can’t reach.  Moreover, shortstops are given a larger, more important area to cover.  Their mistakes are bigger and more costly.

The data bears this out, to some extent: only one champion team from the last six years has had a shortstop with a negative TZR or UZR (the 2007 Red Sox).

Unfortunately, two slow dudes with bad zones and average arms leave a large swath of ground unguarded.  Surely, the better teams know this about their foes, and react accordingly.  Left-handed hitters can swing away, and righties who can consistently pull the ball will do so.  Hits that shouldn’t be hits will surely come into being, like manna from baseball heaven.

A really crappy shortstop just doesn’t bring home trophies.  Great teams sniff out weaknesses and play to them.  Yuni’s cost the Brewers at least ten runs over the course of the season, and something tells me he won’t have an easier time against playoff-tested NL teams.  (Also, incidentally, can we agree that “The Commissioner’s Trophy” is a totally awful name for the thing you give to the best baseball team in the world?  It sounds like something you give to the best high stepper at band camp.  Let’s rename it after Branch Rickey or Paul Giamatti’s dad.)

And as it turns out, only four championship teams in the last ten years have fielded either a third baseman or shortstop with less than average fielding zones.  Of those teams, only the 2002 Angels had a cumulatively negative UZR between SS and 3B.  The 2009 Yanks had pretty bad fielding courtesy of ARod, but they obviously made up for it with scary pitching and hitting.  An .839 team OPS will make up for a lot.

I really hope I’m wrong about this.  Luckily, I only half understand the stuff I’m talking about here, and I’d love for someone to tell me I’m stupid and full of crap.  Go for it, guys!

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Patrick says: September 3, 2011

    This is arguably the worst post I’ve read on this website. I avoid most blogs because they lack quality writing. I have been reading this blog for the last year with great satisfaction- mainly because disciplesofuecker blends the objective analysis of baseball with quality writing and foregoes innate personal opinion. I think we can all agree that the Brewers defense at SS and 3B is “crappy.” I just wish we could articulate the issue a little more eloquently.

  2. Eric says: September 3, 2011

    I stop by every now and then to see what the Brewers “fans” at Disciples of Uecker think about the goings on of the team. Every time I come around though I see the same thing. They still think the Crew sucks.

  3. desertfool says: September 3, 2011

    Patrick, I think was well put, even if you didn’t like it. Yuni B and Mcgehee aren’t going to win a World Series for the Brewers, but they might cost the Brewers a World Series.

    During a home game against the Cubs I told a friend that the 3B and SS side of the infield was a bad weakness as they didn’t move. Hits to that side went through as the both could only move forward, not side to side. It is just a hunch, but to watch them play, when they don’t hit, makes you wonder why the Crew hasn’t replaced them.

  4. cravizzle says: September 4, 2011

    This article also overlooks the fact that once Weeks returns Hairston will most likely move to short thus moving Yuni out of the line up.

  5. Kris says: September 4, 2011

    If Roenicke is smart then Yuni will be replaced by Hairston yes. But I don’t see it happening for whatever reason. Don’t get me wrong, I think Roenicke is a good manager for the most part but for some reason he thinks Yuni is the answer at short. His hot streak (which has cooled off considerably) is part of the reason for that I’m guessing. And Casey was useless up until somewhere around July and he still played nearly every game.

  6. Dan Karbler says: September 4, 2011

    Brewers are 21-30 against teams that currently have a winning record. This does not bode well for a team with post-season aspirations.

  7. Scansin says: September 5, 2011

    Now what I don’t get is why when you have a perfectly good player like Taylor Green, RR doesn’t at least start him a couple of times at SS. Now if we all think back about 2 months, RR sat Casey because he was having less than stellar ABs. What I also can’t understand is why RR can’t do the same thing with Yuni B, the dude’s at least a guaranteed out or maybe even double play. This is a player that’s been widely regarded as the worst regular starting player in all of major league baseball. If his excuse is that he wants to show confedence in his players, okay. But there’s a point where you need to stop trusting your players saying they’ll get it next time and that point is long past for Yuni B.

  8. Kris says: September 5, 2011

    Green can’t play SS, he doesn’t have the range. Putting him at third and having him split time with Mcgehee wouldn’t be a bad idea though as Casey hasn’t exactly been great at any point this season (other than one 3 HR game). If Yuni was permanently replaced by Hairston I think Jack and anyone who knows anything abut baseball would agree with the move.

  9. Internet Bilbo Baggins says: September 5, 2011


  10. Tim Schaefer says: September 5, 2011

    Patrick, I’d love to use more unnecessary ten-dollar words, but I’m trying to become the Ernest Hemingway of Brewers writing. Or at least the Dr. Seuss.

    I wasn’t meaning this to be the end of the conversation, or even the beginning (obviously, this isn’t the first time anyone’s spoken ill of Yuni.) I’m merely interested in understanding how big a barrier having a crappy SS (sorry, Pat!) is to championship hopes. That’s all.


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