Defensive statistics stand on shaky ground, there's no doubt. Perhaps no stat has inspired so many sports writers to invent their own CSA (complicated sounding acronym) to throw at the "nerds in the basement under the naked lightbulb (© Dan Shaughnessy) as UZR, with its combination of being both unpronounceable and incredibly complicated in its calculation.
But, generally speaking, even if they aren't as exact a science as we'd like, they do tell us some things. And what they tell us right now is that the defense side of this whole "pitching and defense" thing isn't working out perfectly. Now, to be fair, things have certainly gotten better since the beginning of the year, when the team was generally ranking amongst the worst defensively by both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating. Now, the team is actually 7th by UZR, and is held back on DRS primarily by a very bad stolen base number. Still, all is not well.
Looking at individual numbers, we can see there's a few guys who are very noticeably dragging the team down defensively, and yes, it's exactly who you suspect. The first thing you'll notice is "Wow, that's a lot of "Bill Halls" at the bottom (allow me a short tangent here: Can you really consider a guy to be a utility fielder if he can't play any position particularly better than some guy you grab off the street?), and yes, yes it is. Hall manages to have not just a negative UZR at all the positions he has played (technically, the 9 innings at 2B are not enough to determine a UZR, but DRS has no problem giving him a -1 there), with UZR/150s that could probably offset a whole team's good work in the field. His bench friends Darnell McDonald and Jonathan Van Every are not much better.
Combined, this group has cost the team 10 runs in relatively limited time, or what is generally considered an entire win.
Luckily for the Red Sox, it seems like they won't have to put up with this too much longer, as their disabled duo of outfielders are finally about ready to return. Jacoby Ellsbury, for his part, was managing a 19.2 UZR/150 in left field, and while Mike Cameron's -2.5/150 was unimpressive, his career numbers point to a much better defender. Either way, getting the two back should be a huge boon.
But will this help our pitchers? Well, yes, obviously. Having 3 legitimate outfielders instead of just 1 is obviously a plus, but the thing is that the worst parts of our group have different problems. The two pitchers who are getting unlucky by FIP are not suffering so much from a bad defense (their BABIPs are certainly high, just not so much as to explain away the massive differences) as they are from another problem.
Josh Beckett, with his remarkable 4.11 ERA-FIP, has been the victim of the long inning and a general inability to strand runners. While 1 more out here or there should help, generally speaking it's less about recording outs for Josh than it is about recording outs at the right time.
Ditto Daisuke, who has given up 75% of his runs in just 3 of his 21.2 innings. These innings are generally fueled by walks and the longball (both of Daisuke's homers and more than half of his walks can be found in these few innings), with just a few base hits scattered here-and-there, usually the result of getting behind in the count. But the thing is that there's no real reason that he's getting hurt by the bad inning, other than possibly a "slump". It should, in short, work itself out.
As for John Lackey, defense should help, but that's just because the guy can't keep the ball out of play.
Long story short, the Red Sox definitely need Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron back, both offensively and defensively. But they will not be a cure-all. The only answer to the Sox' worst problems right now is simply for people to start performing, particularly our 3 high-paid starters who don't even look like #5s of late. Luckily, that should for 2 of them come as their bad timing solves itself.