Who Needs Defense?

When Carlos Zambrano is performing at the top of his game, as he did today and as he has in all four of his starts since "The Slugout In The Dugout" three weeks ago, it almost doesn't matter who's behind him in the field.

(For the record, Zambrano's numbers since June 1st: 3-1, 1.14 ERA, 35K and just 13 hits allowed in 31 2/3 IP.)

But since the Cubs' won-loss record is still a less than mediocre 33-39 and there are still 8 1/2 games separating the Lou Crew from first-place Milwaukee, I'm looking for something--ANYthing--to feel good about, and the latest fielding statistics at The Hardball Times do paint something of a rosy picture.

THT is now publishing Baseball Info Solutions' Zone Ratings for all Major League fielders and updating the numbers daily. Hardball's Dave Studeman explains Zone Ratings this way:

"The central idea is to evaluate the fielding of individual players by analyzing only those zones in which the average fielder at that player's position fields at least 50% of balls for outs. This method allows you to split the playing field between fielders and assign responsibility for many batted balls."

The latest Zone Ratings show Derrek Lee ranking 14th among NL first basemen (Albert Pujols is 1st). However, Aramis Ramirez comes up 4th among third baseman (Pedro Feliz is 1st), Cesar Izturis is 3rd among shortstops (Omar Vizquel is 1st); and Alfonso Soriano leads the way among all NL leftfielders. No other Cubs have played enough games at their respective positions to qualify as Regulars in the rankings.

In the team figures, the Cubs are looking quite strong, having turned 46 more of the opposition's batted balls into outs than could be expected. That's the second most in the NL: the Mets are first with 59.

Breaking the numbers down even more, the Cubs are 5th in the NL at turning ground balls into outs, but they're the very best in the league at turning balls hit into the air into outs. (Thank you, Alfonso and Felix!)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)


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