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The Best Defenses of the Last Five Years

Defense is important. While we can quibble about the best ways to understand and evaluate individual defense (although Dan and Sky have done an excellent job), it’s hard to argue with Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (PADE) as an accurate measure of a team’s overall defense.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at team defense over the last five years. What follows below is a simple average of PADE ranking for each of the last five years, with comments following.


Analysis/thoughts after the jump.

Keep in mind, this is a simple average, and therefore is not necessarily predictive of the future. For example, it’s clear that Tampa Bay’s defense is going to be much better in the future than it has been over the last five years; however, it’s equally clear that their defense before 2008 (when they were third in PADE) was AWFUL (30, 30, 27, and 12 from 2007-2004, to be exact).

Here are some other notes/thoughts:

  • San Francisco at the top of list is shocking to me. They’re generally known for being old, and for playing in a pitcher’s park, so their defensive prowess is surprising. I wonder if they actively seek defense, or if this is simply lucky byproduct.
  • After San Fran, the next seven teams read like a who’s who of the most consistently competitive teams of the last five years. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Kansas City, Texas, and Cincinnati have been just consistently awful. While they have all had poor pitching during this stretch, their defense has made their pitching look a lot worse. There is hope in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, where younger players have the promise of being better defenders than previous players. Jon Daniels knows what he’s doing in Texas, and when the Rangers are ready to compete, it will be interesting to see if he moves Michael Young off of shortstop. Unless there is a drastic change in Kansas City or Cincinnati, their defensive future looks quite bleak.
  • Arizona’s relatively low ranking surprises me. They were 21st in 2008, and only in the top ten once in the last five years. I expect better in the future – especially if Eric Byrnes is healthy, as that would give them arguably the best defensive outfield in baseball.
  • Florida was 4th in PADE in 2008. Who knew? They actually jumped to 4th all the way from 29th in 2007. There was quite a defensive renaissance in the state of Florda from 2007 to 2008, as the Rays jumped from 30th to 3rd as well.
  • I was shocked to see Oakland in the middle of these rankings, considering that they have a reputation as being an elite defensive squad. In fact, Oakland only ranked in the top 10 of PADE once – and that was 8th in 2005. I wonder if PADE somehow underrates their defense due to their home park – perhaps PADE doesn’t accurately adjust for the spacious amounts of foul territory in the Coliseum. Or, perhaps Billy Beane’s reputation for building elite defensive squads exceeds his actual aptitude for doing so.
  •  The supposedly-defensively-minded Twins have actually been pretty terrible at defense. Their already-low ranking actually overrates them, as they ranked 4th in 2005, but were in the bottom half in every other year (including ranking 27th in 2008).
  • Even though the Red Sox place sixth in this list, they may be even better than this, having finished second and first in PADE over the last two years – even with Manny Ramirez in left field.
  • Over the last three years the Cubs have ranked first, third, and fifth in PADE. Who knew?
  • Even though they are only in the middle of the pack, the Dodgers ranking is drastically skewed by a first place ranking in 2004. They haven’t been in the top half of PADE since that year. When did they let Paul DePodesta go? Hmm…
  • Could Dave Duncan’s success in St Louis have something to do with the fact that the Cardinals ranked in the top 10 in PADE three times in the last five years, and in the top half in every year except 2008?
  • Say what you want about J.P. Ricciardi, but he sure knows how to build elite defensive teams. If there’s one team that should spend heavily on a designated hitter, it’s the Blue Jays (and the Rays, come to think of it). Too bad Ricciardi already insulted Adam Dunn’s mama…