Brett Lawrie is a Better Defender Than Josh Donaldson

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When the A’s traded Josh Donaldson for Brett Lawrie in November, fans took it hard. Donaldson had been the A’s MVP the past two seasons, and Lawrie has had a hard time staying on the field in his time in Toronto. The narrative since the trade has been, “If Lawrie can stay healthy, he’ll put up comparable numbers.” According to FanGraphs‘ Inside Edge, he already has the edge defensively. This chart compiles their career numbers.

Impossible (0%)Remote (1-10%)Unlikely (10-40%)Even (40-60%)Likely (60-90%)Routine (90-100%)
Donaldson0.00%13.00%34.00%57.40%76.10%96.30%
Lawrie0.00%8.80%37.50%59.20%81.80%97.30%

Of course, neither player makes the impossible plays, because they’re impossible. That’s just kind of the meaning of the word. Donaldson holds the edge in the “remote” plays, which have between a 1-10% chance of being fielded, according to the Inside Edge scouts.

From there, Brett Lawrie holds the edge in all of the other categories, which, to me is more impressive. Last season in 63 games, Lawrie made two errors, compared to Donaldson’s 23 in 150 games. At that pace, we’re looking at five to six errors from our new third baseman over the same number of games. While he may not hit as many home runs, or push as many across the plate, he’ll be saving runs with his defense, which will also keep the starters and the bullpen from being overworked.

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After the wild card game, it became apparent that the A’s needed to upgrade their defensive abilities, and Billy Beane has done just that. No, not just by trading Derek Norris, but the addition of Lawrie at third, Ben Zobrist seemingly wherever he goes, and Ike Davis at first will give Oakland a defensive upgrade over last season’s starters. With Lawrie and Davis, the possibility to provide the lumber is also a big factor in 2015, while Zobrist will hit for a decent average and provide some pop as well.

The A’s have tried being an offensive juggernaut, and it hasn’t worked. This season, they’re looking to win on pitching and defense. The big question will be whether or not their offense can keep up with the likes of the Angels and the re-tooled Mariners throughout 2015. Sometimes the key is just making fewer mistakes, and that’s where the A’s may hold the edge.

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