There are several ancillary items out there this morning that merit at least a passing mention (including, notably, the possibility of Ian Kinsler supplanting Elvis Andrus as the Rangers' lead-off hitter in 2011, which is a good thing if you still find yourself uneasy over his post-June on-base percentage of .306 last season, and a famously inconsistent Randy Galloway hinting that the Rangers may yet sign a DH-type player, which I would presume to be Jim Thome), but there is one brief point I wanted to dispense on Adrian Beltre before our collective interest in the subject fully transforms into tiredhead, and, not surprisingly, it concerns his defense ... but perhaps not in a way you have yet considered.
The saber-educated crowd appears to have readily embraced the idea that Beltre will impart a 20-run upgrade to the Rangers' defense at third base, at least relative to what Michael Young would have furnished had Beltre not been acquired; do, however, note that this is only a rough approximation, and that the inherent year-to-year volatility associated with defensive metrics could leave us with end-of-2011 numbers more suggestive of a mere 15-run upgrade, or even 25 runs. If one were to (a) incorporate each party's 2009 defensive numbers into the forecasting process and (b) include defensive runs saved as well, however, they would have a much simpler time envisioning the possibility of a 25-run upgrade.
Over the last two seasons, the spread between Young's and Beltre's respective Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) totals has been 17.2 runs (in 2010) and 22.3 runs (in 2009); with Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), it's been more along the lines of 23 runs (in 2010) and 39 runs (in 2009). It's easy to discern the outlier in this small data set, but one cannot simply disregard numbers that do not conform with our expectations, nor can one simply throw out DRS solely because it does not enjoy the same degree of popularity that UZR does. As always, the best way to go about things with defensive data is to examine multiple years' worth of data, and, where possible, examine data from multiple metrics (so long as they are reputable), and then formulate your projections. A 20-run upgrade or thereabouts is still the most likely outcome, but understand that a two-metric approach bolsters the chances of seeing that rare and unexpected 25-run upgrade. And those just aren't supposed to happen.
[A few other numbers of interest, courtesy of Bill James Online: Per DRS, Beltre was a whopping seven runs better than Young last season at fielding bunts alone, and -- take particular note of the change in context here -- 16 plays better than Young on balls hit to his left, one play better on balls hit straight on, and six plays better on balls hit to his right. I mention this because it is interesting to note that Ian Kinsler markedly improved on his handling of balls hit to his left after Andrus became his double-play partner, which is suggestive of the possibility that the improved range at shortstop enabled him to shift slightly left and enhance his coverage of balls hit to that side. This stuff doesn't happen in a vacuum, and I won't be surprised if the Young-for-Beltre swap proves beneficial to Andrus in some meaningful way.]
The point I really wanted to make, though, concerns pitching, the value of which is captured in the FanGraphs universe by fielding-independent pitching statistics (strikeouts, walks, and home runs) more so than anything else. Of course, arriving at fielding-independent ERA also requires total innings, and arriving at total wins above replacement also requires total innings, and these are not fielding-independent -- with all else being equal, and given an identical number of pitches, a starting pitcher with an air-tight defense who posts a .280 BABIP is going to secure more outs than a starting pitcher with a porous defense who posts a .320 BABIP, enjoy better pitch economy, deliver more innings (thereby reducing the burden on the bullpen), and produce higher WAR totals. The value of defense is not confined to a single area of the spectrum.
Now, I want to be cautious as far as not overstating the direct impact on FIP/WAR, but here's some food for thought: over the last two seasons, Beltre and Young respectively averaged around 250 and 275 batted balls hit into their fielding zones around third base, and in that time, Beltre was 4.2 percent better at converting those balls into outs (69.1 percent for Young, against 73.3 percent for Beltre), while also converting around 30 additional out-of-zone batted balls into outs per season. I dare not attempt to calculate the staff-wide implications, given the sheer quantity of variables in play (and the sheer futility of such an exercise), but the simplest way you can look at this is Beltre being projected to convert anywhere from 30-40 more balls into outs next year than Young would have been expected to convert. This is a great thing from a pitching standpoint.
Granted, none of this truly mitigates my concerns about the late-contract risk associated with $16-18 million salaries for a player who quite possibly could be a league-average player at best by the time 2015-16 rolls around, but as others -- including myself, at various times -- have noted, the Rangers' position on the marginal win curve helps justify the present cost, and Young's contract will be off the books by that point, and assuming all goes well from a competitive standpoint over the next several years, the Rangers' revenue streams could conceivably absorb the bad-contract hit. It's not a good contract, and you can very clearly see the albatross potential, but the future is the future and today is today, and for today at least, the Rangers have one hell of a defensive cast.