Ground balls and Knuckle heads

A case for Eckstein's defense

Well, a whole winter has gone by, and almost all of spring training, and yet we're still hearing people complain about David Eckstein's alleged defensive deficiencies, not just from FOX or TSN, but from Cardinal fans, who you'd think would know better.

So once again, I present to you the analysis I did in the days, taking a look at just why David Eckstein had such a low Range Factor (RF) in 2004 compared to the dearly departed Edgar Renteria.

I decided to check the GO/AO (ground ball and fly ball) rates and also the strikeout (K) rates for the Cardinals' and Angels' pitching staffs. The results were a little startling - Renteria had about 22% more fielding opportunities than Eckstein, but a RF only 15% higher than Eck's. Here's how it worked:

Sorting the GO/AO ratio does indeed show the Cards at the top at 1.47 GO per AO, followed by the Braves at 1.37, the Diamondbacks at 1.36, and the Rockies at 1.34.

Seattle was the worst at 0.90; the Angels and Devil Rays were tied for second-worst at 1.01.

I'm presuming that these figures alone wouldn't be enough to determine the exact formula; you'd need to also calculate the GO/AO per 9 innings pitched rate.

To do that, we check the innings pitched (IP) totals and see that the Cards were 10th in MLB with 1453 2/3 IP; the Angels were 9th at 1454 1/3 - so Angel pitchers only pitched 2/3 of an inning more than Card pitchers - which is a difference of just 0.046% - completely negligible for our purposes.

Then, we need to check the strikeouts. We can dispense with K's per 9 IP, since the two teams' IP rates are so close.

And we see that the Angel pitchers had 1164 strikeouts (3rd in the majors) to the Card pitchers' 1041 (16th in the majors). That's a difference of 153.


Taking the IP rates, we can calculate that Cardinal pitchers recorded 4361 outs and the Angel pitchers recorded 4363 outs.

Subtract the K's and we get 3320 non-K outs for Card pitchers, and 3199 non-K outs for Angel pitchers.

As a further refinement, eliminate the extra outs gained by double plays (DP) - the Cards turned 154 DP's (11th place in MLB) and the Angels 126 (third worst in the majors), and we get 3166 non-K-or-DP outs for Cards pitchers; 3073 non-K-or-DP outs for Angel pitchers.

Take the 1.47 and 1.01 ratios for GO/AO, and we get:

Card pitchers recorded 1886 outs by GO and 1280 outs by AO.

Angel pitchers recorded 1545 outs by GO and 1508 outs by AO.

That means Card pitchers recorded 22% more ground outs than did Angel pitchers.

So what?

Well... Renteria had a 4.41 RF to Eckstein's 3.83. That's only 15% better than Eckstein; given the 22% advantage the Cards had over the Angels in terms of ground outs, Renteria *should* have had a RF of 4.67 to Eck's 3.83; or Eck should have only had a 3.44 RF to be 22% below Renteria.

In other words, thus, the combination of the Angels' staff being more of a fly out/strike out pitching staff should have reduced Eckstein's RF by 22% for him to be comparable to Edgar Renteria. Since his actual RF was only 15% below Edgar's; the implication is that on the same neutral staff, Eckstein's RF is actually *better* than Edgar's - at least for 2004 - and that his moving to the Cards, a relatively low-K, low-AO, high GO staff, could result in an RF as high as 4.67 - a 5.9% improvement over Renteria's RF for 2004.

Considering that Edgar's highest RF as a Cardinal was 4.66 (in 2001; he's been at 4.28, 4.15, and 4.41 since then), it does mean we could actually see a slight improvement in 2005 with Eck instead Edgar at SS.

But he's got a ways to go to catch Ozzie - I don't see the numbers at's site, but I seem to recall one of the old Bill James Abstracts calculating Ozzie's top RF at around 6.15 (!!) in 1980, the year he set the assists record in San Diego.

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