First Place M’s Winning With Pitching, Defense

Franklin Gutierrez has improved the M's outfield defense so far.
Franklin Gutierrez has improved the M's outfield defense so far.

Last week’s Sports Illustrated featured an in-depth look at the value of baseball’s defensive statistics.  In the article, a short discussion of the new-look Seattle Mariners ensued. As it turns out, the team’s new front office staff has a group of statisticians devoted to divulging the hidden meaning behind defensive stats. Which means that the addition of new center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, among others, was no mistake.

The M’s are placing a premium on defense because it’s cheaper to obtain than offense, and statistically, it plays a much bigger role than we realize.

The ballclub finished their opening road trip with a 5-2 record, including a sweep of the Oakland Athletics that culminated in a 1-0 victory yesterday afternoon. Onlookers would have been less surprised had the M’s limped back into Seattle at 0-7 right now, rather than in first place.

But the genius of the Mariners’ new brass has structured the team to win such close ballgames.

We’ve already seen the benefit of Gutierrez, who, with a ridiculous diving catch in Minnesota, cemented his lofty status as one of the game’s premier defensive outfielders (based on statistics, at least).

The defensive help has also come from fellow outfield addition Endy Chavez, as well as utility man Ronny Cedeno.

The trio of newcomers possesses one common trait that lends itself to defense: speed. Their inherent quickness allows them to simply make more plays on batted balls, no matter where they happen to be playing at the time.

The improved defense has allowed the M’s pitching staff to put the ball over the plate in confidence, knowing the position players around them can make plays. That has led to fewer walks, more strikeouts, and most importantly fewer runs allowed. Meaning more 1-0 games in the team’s favor aren’t out of the question.

It’s early, of course, but after a miserable 2008 and the relative success among our local sports team in ’09, one can’t help but gain optimism from the Mariners’ fantastic start to the season. The team has yet to play a home game, and we’re already a winner. That’s great news. Keep it up, M’s!

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