Baseball by the numbers: Inefficient defense stings White Sox

In bygone eras, White Sox fielding by the numbers would have been no cause for alarm. The Sox’ 32 errors are only five more than the MLB average, and their .982 fielding percentage isn’t far off MLB’s .984 average.

Problem is, the Sox haven’t been very good at turning batted balls into outs, which shows up in defensive efficiency percentage, defensive runs saved and other modern metrics.

The Cubs have been better than average with 25 errors and a .985 fielding percentage, but they fall short in DefEff and runs saved.

Defensive efficiency is calculated by this formula: 1 – (hits – reached on error – home runs) / (plate appearances – walks – strikeouts – hit by pitch – home runs).

The idea is to factor out all outcomes that don’t involve fielders and leave only balls in play. If a batter reaches base, it’s a play not made, regardless of whether it’s a hit or an error.

Defenses short on range will fare poorly in DefEff.

The Sox rank 26th of 30 teams with a .676 DefEff, while the Cubs are 21st at .690. The MLB average is .699.

Teams best at converting balls in play into outs have been the Angels (.728), Padres (.724), Rays (.723) and Dodgers (.720). The Twins, who lead the Sox by 4oe games in the American League Central, are above average at .706.

Baseball Info Solutions’ defensive runs saved factors in fielder range, outfield arms, double plays, handling of bunted balls and more. While DefEff is a team stat, DRS is applied to individual fielders.

DRS measures runs above or below average, so an average fielder will have zero runs saved.

The White Sox are at -9 DRS, 25th in MLB, meaning defensive shortfalls have led to nine extra opponents runs. The Cubs are at -7.

By runs saved, the Angels remain a good defensive team at +9, but the best has been the Mariners at +28, followed by the National League Central-leading Brewers at +25. The Twins are at +7.

The Sox’ DRS leader has been catcher Reese McGuire at +5, with right fielder Adam Engel at +3.

On the downside, Andrew Vaughn is at -6, with -4 in 109 innings in left and -2 in 72 innings in right. Catcher Yasmani Grandal is at -4.

Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner and left fielder Ian Happ are at +4. Second baseman Nick Madrigal put up +3 DRS before his injury. But catcher Willson Contreras is at -4 and center fielder Jason Heyward -3.

The totals are a comedown for the Cubs, who haven’t been negative in DRS since -38 in 2014 and had a sky-high +107 in their championship 2016 season. Last season, they were at +29 after +25 in COVID-shortened 2020.

But the Sox have been defense-challenged for years, with a most recent positive DRS season of +7 in 2012. In 2021, they were at -40 and still ran away with their division title. In a closer race, giving away runs can be costly.

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