Projo B. MacPherson 7 8 11
Theo Epstein was roundly ridiculed early last season when his pitching-and-defense team didn't pitch and, at times, didn't play defense.
But Epstein was following in the footsteps of the resurgent Tampa Bay Rays, who have built successful pitching staffs on the foundation of tremendous defensive teams who net them extra outs they wouldn't otherwise get. The Rays have been one of the top three defensive teams -- as measured by Baseball Prospectus' Defensive Efficiency -- in the major leagues in three of the past four years. They're turning 73.5 percent of batted balls into outs this year, tops in the major leagues. Seattle is second at 72.6 percent, and the Red Sox are third at 72.4 percent.
Epstein made a point of improving what had been a woeful defensive team, and the efforts appear to have paid off, according to the Defensive Efficiency leaderboards:
1. Seattle, 72.8 percent
2. Los Angeles Dodgers, 72.5
3. San Francisco, 72
29. Boston, 69.1
1. Oakland, 72.6 percent
2. Tampa Bay, 72.2
3. Seattle, 72.1
14. Boston, 70.8
1. Tampa Bay, 73.5 percent
2. Seattle, 72.6 percent
3. Boston, 72.4 percent
A quick perusal through the Baseball Prospectus leaderboards reveals that this is the best defensive team the Red Sox have had since the dawn of the Steroid Era. The 1975 Red Sox had a 72.3 percent defensive efficiency. Dick Williams' 1967 Red Sox turned 73.7 percent of batted balls into outs, though that still was only good for sixth in the major leagues that year.
There's one other short-term trend that's interesting: Since the end of the Steroid Era, the best defensive teams are getting better and better. In 2008, the year of their ascent, the Rays led the major leagues by turning 72.3 percent of batted balls into outs, and the Chicago Cubs ranked second at 71.9 percent.
This season, however, the Rays would rank fourth and the Cubs would rank ninth with those same numbers.
When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007, they did so with the third-best defense in the major leagues -- a 71.6 defensive efficiency rating. That would rank them in a tie for 10th this season.
As analysts try to figure out why batting averages and ERAs have tumbled, it might be worth looking at the players in the field -- players who appear to be making more plays and turning more batted balls into outs than they once did.