Defense key to Rangers' ERA

You want to find yourself in the SweetSpot? It's easy: Correct me, as Dave Cameron did today:

    Yesterday, Rob Neyer blogged about the Rangers improved pitching. Thanks to improved run prevention, Texas finds themselves in first place in the AL West, playing better than almost anyone could have expected. However, the continuing conclusion that ERA = pitching throws Rob's analysis off a bit, because the Rangers pitching has actually been worse this year than it was last year.
    As a whole, the Rangers pitching staff is averaging 3.4 BB/9, 5.3 K/9, and 1.25 HR/9 for a 5.17 FIP this season. Compare that with 3.9 BB/9, 6.1 K/9, and 1.1 HR/9 for a 4.83 FIP last season. The walks are down a bit, but so are the strikeouts, and the home runs are up, which more than offsets the drop in walk rate. Texas' pitching staff isn't doing any better this year than they did last year. They still aren't very good.

    Why is their ERA lower then? Texas got on the defensive bandwagon over the off-season, and their decision to realign the team in order to improve the glovework has made them significantly better. It's the defense, not the pitching.


    By shifting the assets around to make room for Andrus, the Rangers have drastically improved their infield defense at three spots. Not surprisingly, their team-wide UZR has gone from -51.7 in 2008 to +9.5 in 2009. This is expressly manifest in the lower team ERA that Neyer noted yesterday - their 4.72 ERA is 45 points lower than their 5.17 FIP, giving them the fourth largest gap between how well they are preventing runs and how well their pitchers are actually performing.

    This isn't an accident. The Rangers made a conscious decision over the winter to upgrade their defense, and it's paying dividends early on. They might not win the AL West, but they're better than most people thought, and they're headed in the right direction.

As Cameron notes, the elevation of Elvis Andrus pushed Michael Young to third base, plus Chris Davis is now the every-day first baseman, which winds up making three infield positions better than they were last year (oh, and here's Andrus making one of the defensive plays of the year).
As I noted, a significant bit of the Ranger pitching's "improvement" can be attributed to Kevin Millwood, whose ERA has dropped from 5.07 last year to 2.92 this year (granted, in just seven starts). But maybe Millwood only furthers Cameron's point, because Millwood's success has come despite a significantly lower strikeout rate, as the former power pitcher is averaging fewer than five K's per nine innings.

Keep those corrections coming!