Bible in hand, preaching importance of defense

Leave a comment

franklin-gutierrez-091102.jpgAnyone who saw the results of the “Hank Aaron Award” yesterday knows to take the results of any award voting with a grain of salt, particularly if fans are involved. (No offense to the masses, but when Derek Jeter beats out Joe Mauer for a hitting award, something is wrong.)

Some awards, though, are worth giving a closer look. Witness the Fielding Bible Awards, which released their winners on Monday.

What the honor lacks in name recognition, it more than makes up for in heavyweight brainpower, with a voting panel that includes a mix of sabermetric guys and sharp writers, from Bill James and John Dewan (author of The Fielding Bible) to Joe Posnanski, Peter Gammons and Rob Neyer.

It’s not a popularity contest, so no, Jeter didn’t win as the best defensive shortstop (although in fairness, he has been good this year).

You can see the list of winners here.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this year’s group is the presence of three Seattle Mariners — shortstop Jack Wilson, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez (pictured) and right fielder Ichiro Suzuki. The only other team with more than one player was the Cardinals (first baseman Albert Pujols, catcher Yadier Molina).

In his first season as Seattle GM, Jack Zduriencik placed a heavy emphasis on improving the team’s defense, acquiring Gutierrez from Cleveland in the trade that sent J.J. Putz to the Mets, and at midseason replacing the tubby and disinterested Yuniesky Betancourt with Wilson at shortstop.

A look at UZR ratings from 2009 show Gutierrez ranked first in all of baseball. Wilson was seventh and Ichiro was 17th. Third baseman Adrian Beltre was eighth overall in UZR, though the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman (third) was even better, winning the Fielding Bible Award.

It all added up to the Mariners being the best defensive team in baseball in 2009 (compared to 20th in 2008), which no doubt played a big role in their improving from 61-101 in 2008 to 85-77 this season.

So will emphasis on defense be the next big trend in baseball? Or is it already happening? A run prevented is just as good as a run scored, right?

In a story that is at least tangentially related, free agent pitcher Jarrod Washburn says the Mariners are near the top of his list for 2010, which makes sense. After all, with that outfield defense behind him at Safeco Field, Washburn was putting together the finest season of his career before the trade to Detroit. Washburn is clearly a guy who can — and should — appreciate some fancy glovework.

Go here to follow me on Twitter. For more baseball news, go to NBCSports.com.

Eric Thames exits game with right knee soreness

Eric Thames
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Brewers outfielder Eric Thames made an early exit from Friday’s game against the Cardinals after colliding with Lorenzo Cain on an outfield catch in the first inning. According to an official report, he has been diagnosed with right knee soreness and is presumably day-to-day for the time being.

It was a brutal collision knocked both outfielders flat on their backs, but they were able to resume their positions and stick it out for the rest of the inning. Thames was up in the second, too, and struck out on five pitches from St. Louis right-hander Jack Flaherty before making an eventual exit in the top of the third. He was replaced on the field and in the lineup by Hernan Perez.

Entering Friday’s contest, the 31-year-old Thames carried a .230/.308/.516 batting line, 16 home runs and an .824 OPS in his second full season with the Brewers. He hasn’t replicated the career-high .247-average, 31-homer, 2.1-fWAR totals of his breakout performance in 2017, though that’s likely due to a combination of decreased playing time and lengthy recovery periods mandated by several significant injuries, including a torn UCL in his left thumb and a right hamstring strain. There’s no word yet on when he might return to the lineup this season.