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Saturday, November 01, 2003

DEFENDING CARLOS

Changing minds in baseball is a bitch.

Entering this season, Carlos Delgado was defensively a below average first baseman. No question. However, I've watched Carlos play hundreds of games over the years and I can say confidently that he improved his defense tremendously in the 2003 season. (And I don't mean that in a "Manny Ramirez isn't that bad in left field" sort of way.) He worked almost exclusively on improving his glove work (when he wasn't working on his music) during spring training and it shows. Based on this season's performance, I now consider Carlos an average to a slightly above average defender.

Whenever I read stuff breaking down this year's AL MVP candidates they invariably dock Delgado marks for his defense. Over at Baseball Prospectus, David Cameron went so far as to lump Delgado in defensively with Manny Ramirez. Ouch, that's cold homey.

Beyond just taking my word on Carlos's improved D, let's have a look at those zone rating and range factor stats that the boys over at BP love so much.

Amongst AL 1st Basemen in 2003, Mr. Delgado ranks numero uno in range factor with a 10.26 rating. In zone rating, Carlos is about middle of the pack at .845, good for sixth out of eleven AL 1st Basemen. (Well ahead of defensively lauded players Carlos Pena and Scott Hatterberg.) By the way, Manny Ramirez was dead last amongst AL LFs in both range factor and zone rating.

I think that range factor is a bit disingenuous in determining a player's defensive worth given that it's a stat based on quantity as much as quality, dependent on the number of chances a player gets. Because Carlos played behind a groundball pitching staff that wasn't very good (except for that Halladay guy) he got the highest number of total chances with 1467. That certainly helps account for why he had the number one range factor rating. I think that zone rating is a stat more consistent with a player's defensive worth. Doug Mien-Ican'tspellhisname of the Twins ranks 1st in zone rating with a .900 mark, and to my eyes, he is the best defensive 1st baseman in baseball. But if you put stock in either of these stats either separately or in tandem, and you are willing to recognize them as an accurate reflection of Manny Ramirez's crap defense, I think you'd have to also recognize that Carlos Delgado is at least an average defender and might be slightly above average.

When you're making your AL MVP picks you might not want to give Carlos credit for his improved defense but, at the very least, please don't take away points for it. At the very very least stop comparing him to Manny Ramirez defensively. Not even Roger Cedeno deserves that.

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