clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How has Arizona softball’s defense fared against the best this season?

Part 2 of 3 looks at Arizona’s fielding numbers against the best and the rest

arizona-softball-top-10-unranked-stats-comparison-fielding
Jessie Harper
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

As the Arizona Wildcats head into Pac-12 play this weekend, how have different aspects of their game fared against different levels of opponents? Since they will face No. 1 UCLA, No. 5 Washington, No. 17 Arizona State and three teams receiving votes (Oregon State, Oregon and Stanford) in conference, can we use past performance to project future results?

This is part two of three in a series that looks at how the Wildcats fared against different levels of opponents to see what their strengths are and where they need to improve. The first part covered pitching. Now, we move on to fielding and unearned runs.

Overall, the Wildcats had a fielding percentage of .969. That put them at No. 50 nationally, tied with eight over Division I teams.

Eight of their opponents ranked higher than they did, including all four of their top-10 foes. The lowest-ranked in that elite group was Alabama at No. 26.

The 21 errors committed by the Wildcats is the third-highest number among teams ranked in the top-50 in fielding percentage. How did those errors end up affecting Arizona’s fortunes on the scoreboard?

One of the major takeaways from the look at pitching was that the team gave up considerably more unearned runs than its top-10 competition. Arizona surrendered 14 unearned runs over 160 innings.

The only top-10 team it played that had a similar number was the Florida State Seminoles. The Seminoles allowed 12 total unearned runs, but played almost 10 more innings than the Wildcats. Their 508 put-outs and 177 assists also outpaced Arizona, which committed their 14 errors against 480 put-outs and 173 assists.

The 14 unearned runs allowed, and the fielding percentage, point to another hurdle that could get in Arizona’s way once Pac-12 play starts. Their first opponent will be Oregon, which is No. 8 in fielding percentage and started the season on a hot streak before losing six straight games.

How is the Arizona defense doing against the different tiers of opponents? How many of those fielding errors result in runs scoring?

Let’s find out.

Fielding vs. the Top 10

Against the elite teams on their schedule, the Wildcats were feast or famine on the field. They went error-free in four of the six games, and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza played spectacular, run-saving defense in the second game against Florida State.

However, in the two games where the defense faltered, it faltered severely. Against No. 7 Alabama, the Wildcats committed four fielding errors, which led to three unearned runs. That’s a 75 percent chance of runs coming around to score after errors.

In the three-game series against FSU, the defense was solid behind both Taylor McQuillin and Gina Snyder. Behind Alyssa Denham, the story was different.

In the final game of the series, the Wildcats committed two errors, leading to one unearned run. That run was the difference in the 4-3 Florida State victory.

The team is averaging just over an error per seven innings versus the elite squads on their schedule, but those errors are coming in bunches in individual games.

That would seem to suggest a mental hurdle. Perhaps some players are getting ahead of themselves after the initial error is made, allowing the problem to spiral in certain games.

Table 1: Arizona errors and unearned runs vs top 10 opponents

Rank Opponent Innings Errors Errors/7 Unearned Runs UR/7 Ratio UR/ERR W/L Score
Rank Opponent Innings Errors Errors/7 Unearned Runs UR/7 Ratio UR/ERR W/L Score
5 Florida 6 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA L 2-3
7 Alabama 7 4 4.00 3 3.00 0.75 L 1-6
4 Oklahoma 7 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA L 1-2
1 Florida St 7 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA L 3-5
1 Florida St 5 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA W 11-3
1 Florida St 7 2 2.00 1 1.00 0.50 L 3-4
Totals 39 6 1.08 4 0.72 0.67 1-5 21-23
Rankings are reflections of when the game was played. The field for ratio of unearned runs to errors attempts to show roughly how many times an error eventually leads to an unearned run.

Fielding vs. No. 11-25

For the most part, the Wildcat defense performed well against ranked teams who are a step down from the elite. They had no errors in three of their four games...but that fourth one was a doozy.

Against No. 19 James Madison, Arizona committed three errors that led to two unearned runs. Those unearned runs forced the game into extra innings. The offense came through in the bottom of the eighth inning, but extra outs are something they can’t give to Pac-12 opponents.

Against these teams, the frequency of errors is only 0.72 per seven innings compared to just over one per standard game against top 10 teams. Unearned runs drop to 0.48 versus 0.72 against the better teams. That suggests that McQuillin, who pitched all four of these games, was better able to pick up her defense against these four opponents.

Overall, the issue followed the same patterns as it did against the elite teams. Most games were error-free, but once an initial error was committed in a game, the situation spiraled. Just as with the elite teams, there was a 2-to-3 ratio of unearned runs to errors.

Table 2: Arizona errors and unearned runs vs opponents ranked No. 11-25

Rank Opponent Innings Errors Errors/7 Unearned Runs UR/7 Ratio UR/ERR W/L Score
Rank Opponent Innings Errors Errors/7 Unearned Runs UR/7 Ratio UR/ERR W/L Score
19 Michigan 7 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA W 2-1
20 Oklahoma St 7 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA W 3-0
23 Minnesota 7 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA W 2-0
19 James Madison 8 3 2.63 2 1.75 0.67 W 8-6
Totals 29 3 0.72 2 0.48 0.67 4-0 15-7
Rankings are reflections of when the game was played. The field for ratio of unearned runs to errors attempts to show roughly how many times an error eventually leads to an unearned run.

Fielding vs unranked opponents

Most surprisingly, the Wildcats committed almost as many errors per seven innings against unranked teams as they did against top 10 teams. Against the elite, that number was 1.08 per seven innings. Against unranked teams, it was 0.91.

All of those errors were committed at Hillenbrand Stadium.

Arizona also tallied a surprising number of unearned runs off those errors against unranked teams. While they gave up 0.72 unearned runs per standard game against the elite teams on their schedule, their 0.61 per seven innings against unranked opponents wasn’t too far behind.

Just as with their other opponents, the ratio of unearned runs to errors was 2-to-3. If the defense was unable to keep a runner off base, a run was going to be scored 67 percent of the time.

Arizona did allow several inexperienced pitchers to get starts against these opponents, but most of the errors were committed behind McQuillin or Denham—the two pitchers with the most career starts.

They had varying success in keeping runs off the board after an error. McQuillin had four unearned runs score after two errors were committed behind her, while Denham had two unearned runs off five errors.

Table 3: Arizona errors and unearned runs vs unranked opponents

Opponent Innings Errors Errors/7 Unearned Runs UR/7 Ratio UR/ERR W/L Score
Opponent Innings Errors Errors/7 Unearned Runs UR/7 Ratio UR/ERR W/L Score
South Florida 7 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA W 4-1
Illinois St 5 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA W 9-1
NC State 6 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA L 1-4
South Florida 7 2 2.00 4 4.00 2.00 L 1-4
Illinois-Chicago 5 2 2.80 0 0.00 0.00 W 10-1
New Mexico 5 3 4.20 1 1.40 0.33 W 15-1
CSU-Fullerton 7 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA W 6-0
Long Beach St 7 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA W 12-3
UCSB 5 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA W 9-1
Drake 7 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA W 4-0
Drake 7 1 1.00 1 1.00 1.00 W 9-4
Kent St 5 1 1.40 0 0.00 0.00 W 10-0
Kent St 8 3 2.63 2 1.75 0.67 W 7-6
New Mexico St 6 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA W 11-3
New Mexico St 5 0 0.00 0 0.00 NA W 11-1
Total 92 12 0.91 8 0.61 0.67 13-2 61-30
Rankings are reflections of when the game was played. The field for ratio of unearned runs to errors attempts to show roughly how many times an error eventually leads to an unearned run.

How does Arizona’s unearned runs-to-errors ratio compare to its ranked opponents?

Overall, Arizona had a 2-to-3 ratio of unearned runs to errors, meaning about two-thirds of the time an error eventually led to a run scoring. This is on par with Florida State which committed 18 errors, leading to 12 unearned runs in their first 27 games.

The problem for both Florida State and Arizona is that their pitchers were less likely to overcome an error by keeping runs off the board afterwards. Of Arizona’s eight ranked opponents, there were only two teams that allowed their foes to score off of errors more often than these two: James Madison and Minnesota. Both of those teams saw unearned runs cross the plate after an error over 85 percent of the time.

The very best teams in this comparison were twice as effective as Arizona at keeping errors from hurting them. Florida (No. 1 in fielding percentage) and Oklahoma (No. 6) only allowed unearned runs to score off of errors 33 percent of the time. Alabama, the other top-10 team in the group, saw 39 percent of errors eventually result in runs.

Table 4: Ratio of unearned runs to errors for Arizona and ranked opponents

Rank Team IP Errors ERR/7 inn Unearned Runs UR/7 inn UR/Errors Fielding %
Rank Team IP Errors ERR/7 inn Unearned Runs UR/7 inn UR/Errors Fielding %
12 Arizona 160 21 0.92 14 0.61 0.67 0.969
1 Florida St 169.3333 18 0.74 12 0.50 0.67 0.974
4 Oklahoma 137 9 0.46 3 0.15 0.33 0.982
5 Florida 170 6 0.25 2 0.08 0.33 0.991
7 Alabama 163 18 0.77 7 0.30 0.39 0.974
19 Michigan 150 18 0.84 11 0.51 0.61 0.970
19 James Madison 140.3333 14 0.70 12 0.60 0.86 0.967
20 Oklahoma St 150 28 1.31 12 0.56 0.43 0.958
23 Minnesota 140.6667 15 0.75 13 0.65 0.87 0.975
Rankings for Arizona’s opponents reflect how teams were regarded at the time the game was played. The current ranking is listed for Arizona.

In the final article in the series, we will look at hitting. Can Arizona’s offense lift them when they struggle with pitching or defense?