Picture a beautiful defensive play in your head. For me, it’s Andrelton Simmons charging, slightly to his right. He picks an awkward hop cleanly, transfers it smoothly, and fires a strike to first base to get a speedy runner:
Maybe you’re the outfield defense type — you see Victor Robles at a full-out sprint, a seamless transition to a slide, and a line-drive double transmogrified into an out. Either way, beautiful defensive plays are a combination of impossibly fast-twitch muscles and learned grace.
Next, picture a team that excels at run prevention. This one is more abstract, so I’ll guide you a little. The best four teams in terms of ERA- last year were all among the top six in strikeout rate. They were all among the top six teams in preventing walks. In fact, out of the top half of the league when it comes to ERA-, only four teams had a below-average strikeout rate, and two of those were almost exactly average.
That makes sense — defense can help your pitching out on the margins, but not as much as good pitching helps itself out. But what’s less clear is how exactly this relationship works. Strikeouts keep the ball out of play, and defenders can’t…