After I wrote a piece on new metrics and the way we view defense, I coincidentally happened upon two articles that also touched on the subject.
Baseball Prospectus wrote that just as Billy Beane found an inequality in the market regarding on-base percentage, the Rays found (or stumbled upon) a market inefficiency regarding defense. Top defensive players bring far more 'bang for the buck' than top pitchers. Tampa's strength last year was its defense, which was the best in baseball (converting 71% of balls in play into outs (vs. the Yankees' 68%, sixth from the bottom)). The Yanks followed suit:
... the Yankees' fixation on high-strikeout starters, who minimize the damage done by porous defensive units, represents something more than a visceral reaction to an overdose of Sidney Ponson (landing Mark Teixeira and allowing Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu to do what they do best—walk—should compound the benefits).
They also wrote that two hits prevented by a defender were roughly equivalent to one run. So despite Brett Gardner's fallibility at the plate, each spectacular grab he's going to make will be equivalent to adding half-a-run to his offensive production. Just an interesting factoid to keep in mind. (Speak of the devil: Gardner just went deep off Aaron Harang in the third inning today.)
BPro also pointed me in the direction of Baseball Digest Daily, which has the inside scoop on a hit-tracking system to be implemented this year, much like the pitch-tracking that's been going on for several years. It's appropriately called Hit-f/x:
Trajectory, angel, velocity, etc. measurements would all be recorded but the technology would be limited to just the initial batted ball data. The Hit-f/x system would not be able to track the entire trajectory of batted balls but from the recorded data, researchers would have the ability to correlate the recorded data with results data (hits, outs, errors, etc) and figure out answers to a range of questions including whether a hitter should try to hit more fly balls or if a hitter is having”bad luck” on their line drive rates. There is no firm time line for the roll out of this system yet but I was told that it is definitely on the radar for the ‘09 season. New software is being built and tested so its only a matter of time before we’re able to dive into another seemingly limitless goldmine of baseball data.
If you're a stat-head like me, it's very exciting.