In all the uproar over Boston's lost season, one thing (at least) has been overlooked. The Sox are playing good defense. Now, maybe chicks dig the long ball, and purists love the no-hitter, but Theo and company deserve some credit for having at least part of their pitching and defense strategy work out.
Boston is 6th in the AL,* and 11th in MLB in Ultimate Zone Rating (the last, best hope for measuring fielding), at 12.1 runs above average. If you look over here, you can see just how our players are doing - you might be surprised at the results.
First, some non-surprises. The Red Sox leaderboard is filled with familiar names:
Adrian Beltre 3B 7.2 UZR, 12.5 UZR / 150 Games
Dustin Pedroia 2B 5.8 UZR, 10.6 UZR/150
JD Drew RF 5.2 UZR, 12.1 UZR/150
Anyone who didn't expect to see these guys at the top is either delusional or a Yankee fan (likely both). But the next tier of players includes some players that are less predictable:
Marco Scutaro SS 3.3 UZR, 5.3 UZR/150
Mike Lowell 1B 1.4 UZR (only 123 innings)
Jacoby Ellsbury CF 1.0 UZR (only 104 innings)
Long ago (December 2009), a hot-headed, red-blooded pundit called out Theo for foolishly signing Marco Scutaro, in contravention of all that we as a Nation hold dear (see here, and here). Nine months later, I am still a hot-headed, red-blooded pundit, and Theo Epstein is still GM of the Red Sox. Scutaro has been a revelation, providing stability, solid offense, and great defense at a position that has seen approximately none of those things since 2003. A sensible person would admit defeat and defer to Epstein's superior baseball talent, but since I am a sportswriter, I will double down on my unwise predictions by deflecting the issue. Did you know that, with Scutaro, Boston is in 3rd place. Coming soon to fine booksellers near you, The CURSE: How Marco Scutaro Singlehandedly Sunk Boston's Playoff Hopes.
And Mikey - who'd have thought that Lowell with all his injuries would have been a decent first baseman? Granted, it's only 123 innings, but maybe he'll keep up the pace. Darnell MacDonald has been good on the corners (2.1 UZR in left, 1.0 in right), and Bill Hall is above average at 2B, with a 0.8. And for someone missing almost the whole season to injuy, Ellsbury's been solid in Center field, which is a nice change of pace from his previous years there.
Some players have shown striking declines in their defensive performance, however.
Kevin Youkilis 1B 0.5 UZR, 0.9 UZR/150
Mike Cameron CF -8.0 UZR, -27.9 UZR/150
Youkilis' numbers are still positive, just far from his usual excellence; last year, for example, he had a 7.9 UZR at first base. But Cameron's are shockingly bad: the worst overall on the team, and a major departure from his reputation of defensive excellence. This isn't unprecedented - in 2007 with San Diego, Cameron finished the season with a -14 UZR. With MacDonald weakest at CF, and Ellsbury out, the middle outfield position has been a big black hole in our defense.
Still, on a team struggling for good news almost as badly as it is struggling for wins, the solid, steadfast defense is encouraging. And it's a sign that at least one part of Theo's master plan is working out.
Fun Pessimistic Non Sequitur: Jonathan Papelbon has a 9.5 VORP as a pitcher, good for sixth on the team. Daniel Bard's is 19.1, Dicek's is 14.6 and Lackey's is 14.1.
*Teams ahead are the Rays, Twins, Rangers, Athletics and Mariners