Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE
Nobody really talks about pitcher defense, so let's talk a little about pitcher defense.
Even though it seems like they deserved consideration with their highlight-reel defense, Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham will not be in the Gold Glove conversation. In order to laugh to keep from crying, A.J. Pierzynski made the list of finalists for American League catchers for the second straight year.
It's hard to pin down why Ramirez and Beckham aren't widely considered elite defenders. The easy answer is popularity, but after that, it comes down to year-to-year samplings of defensive metrics and an incomplete knowledge of their competition, and any arguments are pretty flimsy. We know they're good, and it's fun to watch them play together, and their awesome double plays will keep you warm this winter.
But the White Sox have another finalist besides Pierzynski, and it's not Alex Rios. He would have been my odds-on favorite if asked to name a Gold Glove candidate who isn't Ramirez or Beckham, but the panel is just as enamored of Jeff Francoeur's defense as Hawk Harrelson, so Rios isn't in the running there.
No, the other White Sox Gold Glove contender is Jake Peavy. Which is interesting, because it made me think about something I've never really considered: Peavy's defense as a whole. I know what he does against the running game, but that's about it.
My blind spot is probably a good thing, because it's easy to recognize when a pitcher does not handle his position well. You can sort their defensive faults into categories, like:
- Guys who really fall off to one side of the mound (Addison Reed)
- Guys who don't end up in great fielding position otherwise (Gavin Floyd)
- Guys who really should be farther than 60'6" away due to reflexes (Philip Humber, Edwin Jackson)
- Guys who just can't throw to first (Clayton Richard)
Peavy doesn't meet any of these descriptions, so it's a pretty solid bet that he can field his position with dignity. But good defensive White Sox pitchers seldom gain recognition unless the name rhymes with Park Early. For instance, Jon Garland was a guy I thought was just a notch below Mark Buehrle with the glove, but it never really came up. Since we have the rare opportunity to consider pitcher fielding with Peavy, we may as well take advantage of it (unless you want to go over Rick Hahn's socks some more).
We can start with how well he controls the running game, because that's the steadiest aspect of pitcher defense -- especially since Pierzynski has done the bulk of the catching all the while.
Score a point for Peavy here. For one, he's shown steady improvement with his ability to give his catchers a chance. Look at the numbers over the three season he started as a member of the Sox:
- 2010: 12 steals in 15 attempts, two pickoffs (107 innings)
- 2011: 10 steals in 15 attempts, no pickoffs (111 2/3 innings)
- 2012: Nine steals in 17 attempts, one pickoff (219 innings)
For right-handed pitchers, keeping the success rate near 50 percent is quite the accomplishment. But to get a full idea of how much Peavy and his battery partners improved, it's important to factor in the amount of innings pitched. Fortunately, he was considerate enough to throw as many innings in 2012 as he did in 2010 and 2011 combined, so it's easy to clean it up:
- 219 innings in 2012: Nine steals in 17 attempts, one pickoff
- Previous 219 innings: 22 steals in 30 attempts, two pickoffs
That's a pretty staggering improvement, and worthy of some recognition. If he doesn't win the Gold Glove, well, at least we noticed it.
After the running game, errors are the only other defensive quantity left, because there aren't enough plays in a 32- or 33-game set for most pitchers to showcase their skills. We know the error stat is flawed, but let's put it to a quick test to see if it does anything to separate a decent defensive pitcher from a poor one:
|Errors in 2012|
OK, so it has at least a little bit of value.
Peavy only committed that one little error on the season, and for all we know, maybe the first baseman couldn't handle a scoopable throw, or Peavy failed to make a difficult play that should have been ruled a hit. I GIF'd it so we all can decide if Peavy was to blame, or if some rogue official scorer decided to stick it to the ol' Bulldog just fo--
-- never mind.
Fortunately, the good video evidence outweighs the bad. MLB.com deemed a number of his plays worthy of the highlight reel, and you can get an idea of the range of his skills from a small sample.
His pickoff move:
His quick thinking (note the one-throw rundown!):
And his reaction time:
So add it all up, and we can at least say with some confidence that Peavy's defense is better than most. He may not be Buehrle-good, but Buehrle's in the National League, so that's a comparison Peavy won't have to sweat.