Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Defense is Overrated

One tenet of sabermetrics is that run prevention is as important as run creation.  This essentially means that preventing a run from scoring is as useful as creating a run offensively.

In principle, I agree with this. After all, the point of the game is to outscore your opponent, and it doesn't matter if the final score is 1-0 or 15-14. (And yes, I picked two infamous scores from Phillies history)

But when it comes down to it, I feel that a player's contributions towards creating runs are much more valuable than his contributions towards preventing runs.

Why?  It's a simple matter of opportunity.

By nature, every spot in the lineup is going to get at least three plate appearances a game.  And in most games, each spot in the batting order is going to come to the plate four or five times.  Which means that most regular players are going to get four or five opportunities to contribute on offense.

In contrast, there is no certainty as to how many opportunities a player will get on defense.  Theoretically, a player could go an entire season without having to make a defensive play.

So if a player is going to have much more of an opportunity to contribute on offense, shouldn't we be more concerned with his offensive performance rather than what he'll do with his potentially limited chances on defense?

If he goes 4-4, this error will be easily forgotten

I'd much rather take the good offensive player who is a little shaky on defense than the defensive whiz who can't hit.  I know he's going to get several opportunities to help the team on offense, while his chances to be a detriment on defense will likely be much less frequent.

On the other hand, a good defensive player who can't hit MIGHT make a play that helps save a run on defense, but chances are, he'll do more damage to the team's chances in his four or five times at bat.