James: Move toward defense no trendsetter
So how does Bill James, the Red Sox senior advisor for baseball operations and legendary statistical analyst, evaluate the club's emphasis on defense this winter? Is this the new edge, replacing on-base percentage, that the smart teams have learned to exploit in assembling their clubs?
"Well, I don't think so,'' said James, who Thursday night was presented the Judge Emil Fuchs award for long and meritorious service to baseball at the Boston Baseball Writers dinner.
"I believe it's accurate to say that it was our perception that that was where the value was in this year's market, in this year's set of conditions. It also had to do with the needs of last year's team. Last year's team needed some defense, we had to invest in some defense, and the market seemed pretty good for it. But to say that's the new thing and it will be that way from now on, I wouldn't do that.''
So, was this more of a temporary correction?
"Well, it's in the line of march,'' James said. "I think we understand we've had good defensive metrics now for five or six years. When I started with the Red Sox we didn't have them, we had kind of primitive ones. We've got pretty good ones now for several years. It has reached the point at which not only us but a lot of teams are confident about that now and are starting to let the money flow toward gloves, which is a good thing.
"So I wouldn't say it's a one-year correction at all. But I also think next year's market will be entirely different. It may well be that next year, we'll look at our team and say we need to put our money in thunder.''
The steroids era, and the drug testing system that has been put in place, has played a part in the trend toward defense, James said.
"In fact,'' he said, " that may be a better way of explaining what's happening with defense than the other [market efficiencies]. One of the things that the steroid era did was to prolong the period of players' growth, so that quite a few players continued to get better after the age where they would normally have leveled off. This created a period in which maybe you would invest more in an older player because of an expectation he might reach new heights. That's over. We're going back toward a period of expecting players to have more normal aging curves.''