Worst: DC Eagles (-21.6)
The Eagles -21.6 ZR is easily the worst in the Premier League, more than 10 behind ninth place Los Angeles. The biggest offenders of DC’s Iron Glove Syndrome come from two premium defensive positions; shortstop and centerfield. Centerfielder Ken Karbach and shortstop Ernie Horton have combined for a -11 ZR as balls roll through unguarded holes and allies. Players at adjacent positions, like right fielder Orlando Burgueno and third baseman John Weatherford have done nothing to pick up the slack. Those two players combine for a -6.5 ZR. Their most valuable defender has a measly 0.9 ZR, coming from backup outfielder Andrew McKee, who accumulated that total in only 78.2 innings. DC’s collection of abysmal gloves tested the patience of their pitching staff, who has posted a 3.91 FIP with a 4.53 ERA to show for it. While the discrepancy between FIP and ERA cannot be attributed entirely to defense, the difference between the two accounts for approximately 42 lost runs so far this year due entirely to defense. As the great Dennis Eckersley once said, “Yuck”.
Best: Cincinnati Royals (21.3)
Effectively the polar opposite of DC, the Royals stellar gloves have been just a portion of their Premier League domination. However, their dominant bats and stellar pitching should not take away from what they have been able to do in the field. The Royals have only one starter with a negative ZR, and that belongs to third baseman Matt Anderson, who has been able to combat his mediocre glove with a .971 OPS. On the other side of the spectrum, deadly fast 23-year-old center fielder David Perez has robbed dozens of innocent hits on route to an astonishing 15.4 ZR in just 68 games. Perez’ abilities in the field have actually made his 65 OPS+ more than tolerable. Such is the life of a 6’3”, 190-pound athlete. Outside of Anderson, their infield has been more than adequate, putting up an 11.1 ZR between first, second, and short. However, with 72% of their defensive value coming from Perez alone, the Royals are one stumble down the staircase away from a case of defense “meh”-ness.
Worst: Indianapolis Hawks (-13.5) and Denver Wolves (-13.3)
The more the merrier! Unless we are talking about bone headed defensive plays, then it’s the less the merrier and these two teams are not getting the memo. Shoutout to Indy’s starting catcher Ricky Ruiz, who has thrown out just 17.3 percent of baserunners. Some analysts have estimated that the average umpire throws out more players than Ruiz. Neither of these teams have been quite as bad in the field as DC, and the performance of their individual players furthers that point. No player on either team has a ZR lower than -4.0, but neither do they have a player with a ZR higher than 5.3. The Hawks, who have the SL’s best strikeout rate and a formidable offense, have been able to overcome their defensive woes and currently sit in first place. Denver’s staff holds the second best strikeout rate in the league, but in their bandbox of a stadium, most of the balls that are hit go over the fence anyway. Perhaps they should increase their below average groundball rate and focus on some infield defense. Alternatively, they could not do that. What do I care?
Best: Chicago Gale (33.0)
Chicago holds the CBA’s highest team ZR, and they are almost 30 above any other Silver League counterpart. In a league rife with defensive mediocrity, the Gale has clearly decided to go all in. Chicago has two players with a ZR above 12: center fielder Jeremy Munroe and right fielder whose name was decided when a cat stepped on a keyboard, Shinrikiyaru Yoshimoto. This outfield has served as a brick wall in the spacious ADT Storm Bunker, and it has more than made up for their relatively unimpressive offense. Chicago’s defense can also be characterized by depth, as none of their starting players has a negative ZR. In fact, their worst offender is backup infielder David Holm, who has posted a -0.6 ZR in 142 innings. Get a grip, David.
Their defense has been a major contributor in the Gale’s league best 3.08 ERA, which sits 0.75 runs better than its 3.83 FIP, the second worst. The Gale’s poor FIP has come in large part from its eighth best strikeout rate, but that is exactly why their defense has been so important. We spoke with fly ball pitcher Omar Luna, who said, “Strikeouts are a lot of work, I just lob it in there in hope for the best. People keep catching it, so why should I stop?” Well said, Omar.
Worst: Great Lakes Monsters (-16.8)
The only thing the Monsters seem to do is hit dingers, but that has not helped them avoid a 27-40 record, good for eighth in the Bronze League. Their defense has actually been respectable almost everywhere on the diamond. It ranges on a scale of second baseman Randy Colbert (4.4 ZR), to elderly first baseman Jorge Maldonado (-3.2 ZR). Wait, why is their defensive so bad? No one seems to be – oh, look at that, it is right fielder Jonathon Maupin, whose 113 OPS+ comes attached to a -16.3 ZR in center field. Maupin, who has middling range and very limited experience in center field, has been sitting idle in Great Lakes’ massive outfield as balls go zipping by his head. With one single player accounting for almost all of a team’s defensive woes, this seems like an easy fix. The Monster’s do not have a particular strength at DH, so someone like Maupin would be much better utilized in that position. It is just a matter of finding someone who can hold his own in center.
Best: Carolina Aces (+18.0)
The Carolina Aces have long been one of the least impressive teams in the CBA, but things finally seem to be turning around. They have the highest run differential in the BL thanks to their well-balanced team that is a little bullpen help away from jumping to 1st place. But who cares about any of that, I’m here to talk about defense. Their infield has been nothing to rave about, with ZRs ranging from -0.5 to -1.8 from second, third, and short. Behind the dish, catcher Rich McNeil has been firing lasers to throw out 36% of runners who have tried to steal on him. Their poor infield has been saved by Dick’s Dominant Defender first baseman Sal Gutierrez, who has been scooping bad throws and snagging line drives all year. Outfielders Nick Arvin and Josh Fishback have also been helping out the pitching staff in center and right. Carolina has done a lot to keep Chris Anderson happy, and it has paid off.