James discusses defense

Had a chance to speak at length this afternoon with Bill James, who will be given the Judge Emil Fuchs Award for long and meritorious service to baseball by the Boston chapter of the BBWAA at tonight’s dinner.

James finds that amusing, considering how long he was at odds with the mainstream media over how best player performance should be analyzed.

I asked James, given the winter moves by the Sox, whether defensive metrics were as trustworthy as those for offense.

“The only difference between our ability to evaluate defense and offense at this point is confidence. Defense, at this point, can be evaluated with the same degree of precision and the same degree of agreement among different methods as offense,” he said.

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According to James, we trust the offensive metrics more only because we are more familiar with them. Defensive stats still seem a little mysterious.

“We haven’t been doing it all our lives,” he said. “But we’ve had pretty good methods now for five or six years. I’ve been doing the (offensive) stuff all my life. I know what’s a normal gap between two seasons (offensively) and what isn’t. I don’t know the same (defensively).”

In that regard, James is interested to see how the coming season plays out.

“What I’m most curious about in 2010 is how much better we’re going to be defensively,” he said. “I don’t think anyone questions that we’re going to have a better defensive team. But are we going to be as much better defensively as we want to believe we are and is that going to have as much impact on (the pitching staff) as we hope it does?”

See the paper tomorrow for more from James.

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Meanwhile, the Red Sox avoided arbitration with Hideki Okajima, signing him to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million. He can earn as much as $200,000 more based on games pitched.

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