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The winter of 'run prevention' continues

Two seasons ago, the Tampa Bay Rays made a staggering 31-win leap (from 66 wins in 2007 to 97 in 2008), and last season the Seattle Mariners improved by 24 wins over the year before. Both teams did so despite the fact they actually scored fewer runs than they did in the prior season. The reason for those turnarounds is obvious: The 2008 Rays allowed 273 fewer runs than they did the previous year, while the 2009 Mariners allowed 119 fewer runs.

There being no secrets in baseball, the notion of run prevention has subsequently taken over this off-season -- aided by a free agent market short on impact bats but deep in impact gloves. And there being just two primary means of improvement from one season to the next -- scoring more runs, or preventing more -- the smart teams have put their focus this winter on the latter.

No team demonstrates this focus better than the Boston Red Sox, who on Monday night signed third baseman Adrian Beltre to a one-year contract worth $9 million for 2010, plus a $5 million player option (or a $1 million buyout) for 2011 -- continuing the reconstruction of their overall team defense.

In 2009, Beltre was the best defensive third baseman in baseball, according to Fangraphs.com, with a UZR/150 (or ultimate zone rating per 150 games) of 21.0.

The Beltre signing follows a pattern for the Red Sox. Earlier this winter, they signed Mike Cameron, one of the top defensive outfielders in the game, to play left field, and Marco Scutaro, an above-average defender, to play shortstop. They also -- in the name of run prevention -- snatched up the market's top free agent pitcher, right-hander John Lackey.

"We needed to improve our run prevention," GM Theo Epstein said at the news conference for the Cameron signing.

After making a failed run at re-signing left fielder Jason Bay -- a strong hitter, but a defensive liability -- the Red Sox took those same dollars and added both Cameron and Beltre, who should prevent about as many runs as Bay would have produced. (They also don't have to worry about subsidizing Bay's inevitable decline in the latter years of a long-term contract.)

Look around baseball this winter: Glove men such as Adam Everett, Jack Wilson, Chone Figgins, Pedro Feliz and Placido Polanco were among the first free agents to sign, while bat-first guys such as Miguel Tejada, Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye remain unsigned. Even the Yankees have turned away from big hitters such as Bay and Matt Holliday (and even Damon and Hideki Matsui), while trading for Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez.

This is the winter of run prevention, and the smart teams are all over it.

By Dave Sheinin  |  January 5, 2010; 11:20 AM ET
 
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Comments

119 runs fewer allowed over a 162 game season is not so telling for the M's, as baseball is played on a runs per game basis, of course. Losing 13-1 is the same as losing 2-1.

The M's played better situationally -- hitting, pitching, base-running, fielding, and managerially they made different decisions -- they performed better and won more games. Luck is a big factor too -- how the ball bounces and how well the other guys played against them certainly matters.

Beltre and Cameron are great glove guys, but they are also both 20+ HR guys who should hit well in Boston and who were available at reasonable prices, and Scutaro was the best offensive SS available as a FA, not the best glove. Adding the "glove guy" is not some rage among GM's - there are not many MLB ready SS's around and this year's FA class is not big on offensive star power, it is that simple.

Posted by: dfh21 | January 5, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

119 runs fewer allowed over a 162 game season is not so telling for the M's, as baseball is played on a runs per game basis, of course. Losing 13-1 is the same as losing 2-1.

The M's played better situationally -- hitting, pitching, base-running, fielding, and managerially they made different decisions -- they performed better and won more games. Luck is a big factor too -- how the ball bounces and how well the other guys played against them certainly matters.

Beltre and Cameron are great glove guys, but they are also both 20+ HR guys who should hit well in Boston and who were available at reasonable prices, and Scutaro was the best offensive SS available as a FA, not the best glove. Adding the "glove guy" is not some rage among GM's - there are not many MLB ready SS's around and this year's FA class is not big on offensive star power, it is that simple.

Posted by: dfh21 | January 5, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

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