Pre-season Defense: Catcher
Well, I already know I'm going to be scolded by more advanced sabermatricians for this series of posts, but I'm gonna take a layman's approach to evaluating the Cubs defense for 2005.
I'll begin by saying the Cubs had both a very good and very bad defense in 2004. They were very good in the sense that the players were fairly surehanded. As a team, the 2004 Cubs had the third fewest errors in MLB, and the third best error percentage.
As a team, the 2004 Cubs defense had the 27th best range factor in MLB. The only teams worse were the Mariners and Angels. In other words, these two factors put together lead me to believe what my eyes told me. The Cubs defenders caught what was hit at them, and weren't quick enough to get to many balls they should have.
Catcher: In 2004, the Cubs catching corps consisted of Michael Barrett, and Paul Bako. For 2005, Bako has been replaced by Blanco. Last year, Barrett did most of the heavy lifting, registering 1081 innings behind the plate, while Bako picked up 377. (We'll ignore Mike DiFelice' 6 innings.) In '04, Barrett registered a .994 FPCT and a 9.01 RF, Bako on the other hand dropped to .989 and an 8.63 RF. The only real defensive bonus Bako supplied was his .294 CS%, compared to Barrett's .250 CS%. Additionally, we have to take into account the fact that Bako caught most of his innings for Maddux, so its doubtful Barrett would have fared as well throwing out runners as he did if he had to catch Maddux on a regular basis.
Where does Henry Blanco help us? Well, he caught 872 innings for Minnesota last year. His fielding percentage was .991, but his range factor was only 7.53. I don't know exactly how a catcher's range factor affects his ability to catch a pitched ball, but I'm wondering if we won't see an extra boatload of passed balls when Greg Maddux is pitching this year. However, on the third metric, Blanco represents a significant improvement over Barrett. He threw out 49.2% of the runners who attempted to steal off of him. When you consider that Blanco will be mainly catching Maddux, this could be a tremendous defensive boost in 2005.
So, my prediction? The Cubs will see better defensive production next year than they did last year at catcher. I'll drink the blue Kool-Aid on this one and say that Barrett is improving... because thats what I'm told by the media. Also, I can see the numbers that tell me that Blanco should do a decent job catching Maddux.