#Hot Corner

Was Oakland's defense great or terrible?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I don't know which teams are good at fielding anymore.

I thought I did, when Defensive Efficiency Rating (DER) was the only game in town, and the world was new. Oh, there was Fielding Percentage, which is a measure of the malleability of the official scorer, usually a team employee who drew the short straw or a beat writer working off a gambling debt. But no one believed in Fielding Percentage, not really. If they did, Larry Bowa would have won the Gold Glove in 1983 instead of Ozzie Smith.

But then Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) came along, and screwed everything up. Now I don't know who's a good fielding team and who isn't. Maybe I never did. According to DER, which is the percentage of balls in play converted to outs, Oakland had the best defense in the American League in 2013. But according to Defensive Runs Saved, which is based on the data recorded by a team of "video scouts" -- those aren't derisive quotes, by the way -- the A's were among the worst fielding teams in the majors last season.

Team DER Rank DRS Rank
Reds .727 1 33 8
Athletics .724 2 -56 26
Cubs .721 3 26 9
Rays .716 4 8 14
Pirates .715 5 68 3
Brewers .714 6 58 4
Braves .712 7 46 6
Royals .710 8 93 1
Dodgers .709 9 47 5
Orioles .709 10 17 11
Nationals .709 11 -16 21
Diamondbacks .708 12 86 2
Padres .708 13 7 15
Marlins .708 14 -5 18
Rangers .707 15 39 7
Blue Jays .707 16 15 12
Red Sox .706 17 9 13
Giants .705 18 4 16
Mets .705 19 -9 19
White Sox .705 20 -55 25
Cardinals .703 21 -39 22
Angels .699 22 -63 27
Indians .698 23 -42 23
Yankees .697 24 21 10
Astros .697 25 -43 24
Mariners .697 26 -99 29
Tigers .694 27 -66 28
Phillies .694 28 -102 30
Twins .691 29 -10 20
Rockies .686 30 -5 17

Two different statistics, one says the A's were great, the other says they were terrible. They can't both be right.

Or can they?

No, of course they can't. That's stupid.

Or is it?

No, it is.

So what are we to do? Who are we to believe? You got me. I've read all three volumes of The Fielding Bible, and while I think their methods represent real progress, it could be that Defensive Runs Saved, like Thomas Boswell's Total Average, "works" for individual players but breaks down when you add up all the individuals on a team. Or it could be that Defensive Efficiency Rating is simply obsolete and we should discount it in favor of newer metrics.

What we really need is an authority figure to settle disputes between various statistical sects. Someone with the power to issue edicts about which measure of team defense is best and which version of WAR is right and true and holy. Someone whose authority can't ever be questioned. Someone infallible. What I'm proposing is a pope of sabermetrics.

Just seeing if you were paying attention. You went straight to the graph, didn't you?

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