What happened to the Angels defense?

Posted By on Feb 15, 2014 | 0 comments


The Angels weren’t very good in 2013. Many factors, specifically the horrid starting pitching and underperformances from Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, led to a miserable 78 win season. Those two weren’t the only players to underperform as new acquisitions Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson were 2 of baseball’s worst starting pitchers. A huge component of the Angels struggles in 2013, however, was a drastic drop off defensively.

In 2012, the Angels ranked 2nd in UZR(Ultimate Zone Rating) with a 60.2 UZR and were 2nd in DRS(Defensive Runs Saved) with 58 runs saved. In 2013, the Angels’ UZR of -2.9 ranked 19th in baseball and finished a pitiful 27th in DRS with -63 defensive runs saved.

How does a team with a very similar roster regress so much in one year? Replacing Torii Hunter, a consistently well above average defender, with Josh Hamilton would hurt a bit but not this drastically.

The answer is everything that could go wrong with the Angels defense did go wrong. The Angels 112 errors was 4th worst in baseball ,only better than the Astros, White Sox and Brewers. Not exactly the best company to be in. Factoring in that with their below average range totals, it’s easy to see why this team struggled so badly defensively.

Who on the team struggled exactly? I’ll look at each position for the Angels and see what the big difference was between 2013 and 2012.  For every position except catcher, I will use UZR and DRS to compare the 2012 and 2013 statistics.

 Catcher

For the 2 catchers, I will use FRAA(Fielding Runs Above Average), which measures pitch framing. I’ll use caught stealing numbers as well as these are the 2 best available stats to use for catchers.

Chris Iannetta has never had the reputation as a good defensive catcher but last year he was pretty miserable behind the plate. His 19.2% of runners thrown out was a huge drop off from his so-so 25.8% mark in 2012.

What makes Iannetta a worse defender is his pitch framing skills.  Iannetta checks in as the 5th worst pitch framer in baseball, costing the Angels 15.1 runs over the course of the 2013 season. In 2012, Iannetta was below average, but his -4.8 RAA(Runs Above Average) was a far cry from his terrible 2013 season.

Hank Conger, meanwhile, was one of baseball’s best pitch framers. His 18.1 RAA ranked 5th in all of baseball. This was a big developmental improvement for Conger, who had been labeled a below average defender entering the season. His 24% of runners thrown out could improve but Hank was a bright spot defensively for the Angels.

 1st Base

 Difference: -3.5 UZR and – 8 DRS

The drop off at 1st base can be attributed to Albert Pujols not being healthy in 2013. Pujols has always been a well above average defender, including 2012, and was limited to a career low 34 games at 1st.

Mark Trumbo filled in admirably at 1st but he ultimately wasn’t as good as Pujols, which leads to this drop off defensively.

 2nd Base

 Difference: -8.7 UZR and -12 DRS

Howie Kendrick was slightly worse defensively in 2013 but his injury also cost him some games and potentially some gained or lost defensive value.

The big drop off was due to rookie Grant Green’s putrid defense. In 45 games, Green managed to finish with – 7 DRS and -4.1 UZR.

It’s probably safe to say that Green needs a lot of work defensively to carve out a successful career.

Short Stop

 Difference: -8.2 UZR and -5 DRS

Erick Aybar had a career worst defensive season, finishing as a well below average defender for the first time in his big league career.

Brendan Harris added fuel to the fire, accumulating -5.8 UZR and -5 DRS in only 21(!) games.

 3rd Base

 Difference: -4.3 UZR and -8 DRS

Alberto Callaspo was uncharacteristically mediocre for the first time in his career, finishing with slightly a below average UZR and DRS. This was steep drop off from his fantastic defensive performance in 2012.

Chris Nelson was below average in his time as Angels 3rd baseman, which has been the norm in his career thus far.

Luis Jimenez was a savior for the 3rd base defense, racking up 7.7 UZR and 4 DRS in just 28 games.

 Left Field

 Difference: -2.2 UZR and -6 DRS

In 2012, Vernon Wells and Mike Trout combined to be an above average defensive tandem.

In 2013, Trout’s defense was better in in left field. Josh Hamilton chipped in with some above average defense albeit in a small 19 game sample size.

The drop off was due to JB Shuck’s below average defense in 97 games.

 Center Field

 Difference: -26.1 UZR and -36 DRS

We have found our first big problem. Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos provided otherworldly defense in 2012, racking up 27.4 UZR and 30 DRS.

Peter Bourjos was hurt and not his normal defensive self in 2013 and Mike Trout struggled or possibly just regressed to his normal level.

Hopefully, Trout can make plays like he did in 2012 while playing full time in center field next year.

Right Field

 Difference: -14.6 UZR and -24 DRS

Torii Hunter was a great defender in 2012, just like he has always been.

Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun both were below average defensively in 2013.

 

Net Total: -51.2 UZR and -99 DRS

 

What does this mean?

The defensive drop off in 2013 was enormous. According to DRS, the Angels were 99 runs worse defensively. UZR saw a massive drop off as well, ending up with 51.2 less UZR in 2013.

Injuries and under performances were a big part in the drop off. The Angels barely had turnover to the roster and most of the core guys weren’t at a stage in their career where they should’ve had a steep drop off.

 What can we expect in 2014?

The Angels should improve defensively in 2013, even if it’s only moderate. Pujols, Trout, Calhoun and Aybar should be improved. Kendrick, Hamilton and both Iannetta and Conger should see similar performances. The Angels are adding a below average defender at 3rd base with David Freese and could see a drop off there, possibly a significant drop. Using Freese frequently at DH and putting Luis Jimenez at 3rd  could really benefit the team. Losing Bourjos will lead to a decline in the outfield defense but Mike Trout should have a better season since he’ll be more comfortable playing center field full time now.

 I wouldn’t expect the Angels to get back to their 2012 levels. However, they should be improved, in some sort of way next season. If the Angels struggle defensively again next year, it could mean another season without postseason baseball in Anaheim.

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