Earlier this month I brought forth the idea that while the Astros were saying they were trying to improve the offense, the real focus was instead improving the defense. I'd like to expand upon that idea and while I'm not one for predicting the future, I think it's safe to assume that the 2011 Astros should improve on defense over the 2010 squad.
First we'll break down the 2010 statistics with the focus being Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Two positions that will not be covered is pitcher (i know you're disappointed about not being able to discuss Wandy's defensive prowess) and catcher, the reason being there just isn't enough defensive statistics to sift through to give us a clear picture.
In 2010 there were only three positions in which the Astros ranked above average in both DRS and UZR. Centerfield, rightfield, and yes first base. Obviously your familiar with Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence defensive prowess, but what you may not know is that Lance Berkman has been above average defensively at first base over his career. Both Brett Wallace and Carlos Lee did nothing to hurt that ranking either as they performed at an average to above average level defensively, albeit a small sample size.
That leaves second base, shortstop, third base, and left field as areas of below average defensive play. We are all aware of the issue with having Lee in left field, but surprisingly shortstop and third base ranked just as bad defensively last year. When you take a moment to think about it though it's not really all that surprising. Both Tommy Manzella, and Chris Johnson struggles defensively are well documented. Angel Sanchez doesn't have the range to play short, and Pedro Feliz was ineffective defensively at third. As for second base it was closer to the other positions than to being average.
So where do the Astros go from here?
Well Barmes and Hall should solidify the Astros middle of the infield. Last year Barmes posted a 14 DRS and a 4.3 UZR in 361 innings, granted it's a small sample size, but over 2689.2 career innings (333 games) he's posted well above average numbers defensively. Even if we were to be pessimistic with predictions about Barmes defense he's still a significant upgrade over who the Astros employed at the position in 2010.
On the other side of the second base bag, Bill Hall, is a little harder to predict. While Hall has excelled at other positions, at this point and time he appears to be at best average at second base. His -3 DRS and -3.5 UZR indicate he was below average last year, but those numbers are still a slight upgrade over the Astros second base situation in 2010, who combined for a -9 DRS and -3.7 UZR. Over Hall's career he has spent 1176.1 innings (155 games) at second with only about average results. Given a full season he could prove to be at least average at the position due to his range, and because he has excelled at the other more demanding positions. There is hope, but there's also a question mark.
The only other position in which the Astros could see significant improvement defensively is in left field, in which case Brett Wallace would have to fail miserably for that to occur. Moving Lee to first base would be the most significant improvement the Astros could do to improve the ball club defensively. Putting even just an average outfielder in left field in place of Lee last year would of resulted in a near positive 15 to 20 point swing in both DRS and UZR. I have every reason to believe that a Jason Michaels/Brian Bogusevic platoon in left would result in above average play defensively.
That leaves Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, and Chris Johnson. With both Bourn and Pence heading into their fifth Major League season we can expect above average defense from at least two-thirds of the outfield. Johnson on the other hand is heading into his first full season, and while last years defensive numbers were not pretty, they are considered a small sample size. Given a full season of data we will be better able to pin point his defense at third, but given his age and more experience we should see an improvement in those numbers.
Overall the Astros ranked 19th in UZR (-13) and 22nd in DRS (-20), which is well below average. The addition of Barmes should significantly upgrade the shortstop position, while Hall should at least keep the status quo if not improve it slightly. Bourn and Pence should continue to do their thing, and even Johnson should improve upon his defensive numbers. The biggest defensive improvement to bad is still in question however. In the small amount of data we do have Wallace does have better defense at first, but moving Lee to first would provide a 15-20 positive swing in both UZR and DRS. That alone could make the Astros defense average, however even if El Caballo is found to be roaming the outfield the defense should still be improved.
Of the teams that made the postseason last year only the Phillies and Braves were considered below average in either DRS or UZR. Both teams were knocked off by the defensive sound Giants, who ranked in the top three for both statistics. Just because the Astros didn't add enough offense this offseason, doesn't mean they aren't moving in the right direction.