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by Al McMordie - 05/21/2006
It's important for a team to have strong defense at key positions such as outfield, shortstop and catcher. Defense at centerfield, shortstop and catcher are where the term "Strong up the middle comes from." Good teams use defense to assist their pitching, turn double plays and help keep team ERAs down.
However, from a betting standpoint, defense is less important than you might think, particularly in the way of totals. For example, the Red Sox and Twins are the top two teams in the American League in defense. Minnesota has been strong for many years, as the organization is forced to preach the importance of defense and fundamentals in its minor league system. That's because they know it helps in winning, and the Twins don't have a big payroll, so in order to compete they need to maximize every possible edge.
The Red Sox, on the other hand, are only strong defensively this season because the front office made a concerted effort to prioritize the defense after a 2005 season where Boston's pitching and defense were flawed. Basically, they won 95 games with offense last season, which is why they got swept out of the playoffs quickly by the White Sox. They changed the makeup of the team and are far more balanced this season, bringing in SS Alex Gonzalez and 3B Mike Lowell while getting rid of poor defensive players like 1B Kevin Millar and SS Edgar Renteria.
While they are a better team because of it, it hasn't been important from a betting standpoint. Boston is 20-16 over the total, and Minnesota is 25-12 over the total! It's not that defense hasn't helped Minnesota, or Boston, it's just that other things can override it. For example, Minnesota's pitching has been poor, currently third-worst in ERA in the American League. With respect to totals, pitching ERA stats, hits and walk ratios are more significant than defensive prowess.
By contrast, the Tigers are right in the middle of the pack in fielding percentage defense. Yet, they are 24-12 under the total! Why? How about the fact that Detroit is No. 1 in team pitching in the AL, with a magnificent 3.19 ERA? Everyone else is over 3.90 in the AL! Detroit's defense is not bad, but the point is, their pitching is going to keep them in contention.
It is going to be interesting to see how the Cincinnati Reds do between now and the All-Star break. They have been a huge surprise in the NL, but notice this team is second worst in team defense, just ahead of the Marlins. We shall see if such poor defense begins to take a toll on the pitching staff and in the way of close wins.
Still, the final nail in the defensive coffin is the team that follows Boston and Minnesota in best defense in the AL: the Royals! Unbelievably, they have a very strong defense, but that's the only thing strong with this whole organization. The Royals are well on their way to 100 losses again, and have currently lost 9 straight games. Can you imagine where they might be without that defense?! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.