Diamond Diaries

Cardinal baseball, from the girls

Tag Archives: defense

Is Defense Overrated?

Sometimes it takes the right baseball question to jumpstart a conversation.  Yesterday on twitter, just such a question popped up.

A very good question, indeed.

First, the glorious numbers:

Matt Holliday is leading (numero UNO) all of baseball in batting average (.398) and Lance Berkman is #2 (.374).  Berkman also sits atop the Major Leagues stats board in runs batted in (32) and is one of the top five players for homeruns so far this season (10).  As a team, the Cardinals lead the Majors in team batting average (.285).

(psssssst….. by the way, those big numbers are primarily from two Cardinals not named Pujols.)

Two Cardinal starting pitchers are in the top five National League pitchers in wins: Kyle McClellan (5) and Kyle Lohse (4). And our lefty with the red-hot glove, Jaime Garcia, is 3rd in the National League in Earned Run Average at 1.99.  Hooya!              (*stats from 5/9 espn.go.com/mlb/statistics)

(psssssst…. those are three of our pitchers not named Wainwright or Carpenter, by the way.)

The flip side -because there’s always a flip side, especially with baseball stats- is that our darling Redbirds also happen to have the 2nd most team errors in all of baseball this year.  (The Texas Rangers have that dubious lead at 32 to our 29.)  Ryan Theriot is tied for the most errors (8) at shortstop, and Albert Pujols currently has more errors (4) than any first baseman.

So, back to that good question:  With our boys smacking away and hurling the ball off the mound as they have in the first 5 or 6 weeks of 2011, do we worry about the nose-dive in defense?  Does this season’s early power surge make all that whining and complaining about the front office trading away superior defense for a little better bang in the bats look, well, kinda silly?

I don’t think so.

Here are my meager sticking points.

  1.  I’m a gal who loves flashy gloves, dirty uniforms, diving catches and gritty double plays (the defense kind, not the kind our Cardinals have been hitting into with reckless abandon this season.)  Sloppy errors aren’t sexy, they’re embarrassing.
  2.  Ask the losing pitcher in a close game what they think about defense/errors.  I’m fairly certain they’d have strong opinions. During the last month, the Cardinals have lost 9 games.  In 6 of those games, we scored 5 or more runs. And in 4 of those games, we lost by only one.)
  3. A few early losses may make a big difference down the road. 
  4. Even if our boys are hitting, it still takes three outs (sometimes four) every inning to shut down the opponent. 
  5. And of course, cue the chorus:  Ground ball pitchers need good infield defense.

Which brings me to another thought-provoking tweet, this time from Aaron Hooks back on May 6th :

Aaron, with his tell-it-like-it-is-no-matter-how-much-it-hurts counterbalance to my optimistic cheerleader-type Cardinal fan personality, may have the perfect response to the question that started this off.  Only time will tell if those errors will continue to haunt the Cardinals.  However, errors alone don’t tell the whole story.  Making the routine (and not-so-routine) plays, being in the right place at the right time and turning efficient outs are all crucial to good baseball.

A truly great team, one built to win a World Series run, should have it all: solid defense to complement strong offense.  Without dependable, steady gloves, a team is left susceptible to unpredictable hitting droughts or arms breaking down through a long season.

If the Cards keep playing as they have in the past month (winning 2 games of every series,) life is good.

If the power dries up over the long season or injuries take a further toll, defense could take center stage.

If Albert powers up and joins Berkman and Holliday in the offense leader boards, 2011 may be a very special year.

Obviously we won’t know how it all shakes out ‘til we’ve played 162. And isn’t that part of what makes baseball so great?  The what if’s.  The numbers can’t tell us what will happen.  The boys must get out there on the field and play the game.  We fans hang on until the last out because anything can happen.  And those late-inning home runs (and errors) may tip the scale.

Hopefully it just keeps tipping in our direction!


The Cardinals play the first of three games against the Cubs at Wrigley today at 7:05.

Chris Carpenter gets the ball against Carlos Zambrano in what could be called a Clash of the HotHeads.  😉

Go Cards!!

The Simple Proof – Wins and Losses

Yesterday’s game was frustrating. The offense is obviously frustrating, but for some reason I was fixating on the defense, so today you’re getting a little middle infielders by the numbers. Erika and I (along with several other diehards in Cardinal Nation) had a collective heart attack when we heard that Brendan Ryan and Jon Jay were the two names that had been potentially offered to the Astros in return for Roy Oswalt. Now, I don’t think this is actually a true offer, just a rumor, sent out into the world to make fans spaz out and scribes scramble to find out whether or not it is actual fact or fiction. We won’t go into that one any more today…


After seeing a couple of botched double plays yesterday afternoon, and hearing one of our middle infielders dropped into trade talks made me wonder what this team has looked like with our various fielders in and out of the games.

I’ll admit – I didn’t go too in-depth on this one. I think you will see that it wasn’t particularly necessary. All I did was look at sheer numbers – did the team win or lose on any given day with any given player playing at various positions. So here it is – Aaron Miles, Tyler Greene, Felipe Lopez, Skip Schumaker and Brendan Ryan by the wins and losses:

With Miles…

  • starting at 2B: 3-4
  • starting at 3B: 0-1

I’ll admit, this is a very small sample size. Fair enough. Moving on.

With Greene…

  • starting at 2B: 2-2
  • starting at SS: 6-7

This is still a small sample size. Let’s keep going.

With Lopez…

  • starting at 2B: 6-5
  • starting at SS: 6-10

The numbers are getting bigger, and they are starting to paint a picture.

For Schumaker and Ryan I looked at it a little differently. They both have started in just the one position (in the middle infield at least), and I was curious as to how they fare with and without each other. Let’s look at Skippy first.

For Skip…

  • starting at 2B: 43-29
  • starting with either Lopez or Greene: 12-13
  • starting with Brendan: 31-16
  • sitting on the bench at the start: 11-14

The number line to catch here: Skip and Brendan in the lineup together has produced a Cardinals team that is 15 games over .500. Yes, I did contact Erika when I found that out. She and I thought the same thing, ‘No way and HECK YES!‘ But we’re just getting started…

For Brendan…

  • starting at SS: 42-20
  • starting with either Lopez, Greene or Miles: 11-8
  • staring with Skip: 31-16
  • sitting on the bench at the start: 12-23

This absolutely blew my mind. Brendan Ryan in the lineup equates to 22 games over .500, and out of the lineup is 11 games under. 

Scott Rovak – US Presswire

I think the answer is simple. Put Brendan and Skip in the lineup and let them play. Just by observation (read: don’t yell at me for the next sentence – it’s my observation), it looks like Brendan and Skip have the easiest camaraderie on the field. I don’t know if it’s because they have played together more than any of the other pairings (although that would make sense) or if they just blend the best. Obviously they have both had their share of errors, miscues and otherwise ugly plays this year. The fact of the matter remains – Brendan and Skip in the lineup together has produced winning baseball.

Wins and losses don’t lie.

Bloops and Bleeps – the Deception of Aaron Miles

BJ Rains of foxsportsmdwest.com started this train of thought last night when he stated the following about Aaron Miles in his midseason report:

The scrappy utility infielder is hitting .314 since joining the Cardinals and has played surprisingly well in the field. While the popular opinion seems to be dumping Miles in favor of Tyler Greene, the veteran infielder Miles has done more than enough to deserve a spot on the roster.

Sorry BJ, because I do enjoy reading your work, but I completely disagree. You’ve failed to mention the fact that he’s only hitting .314 over 39 at-bats prior to last night, which means he only needed 11 hits (9 of which were singles) to pull off that amazing .314 average. Small sample size? Definitely. Consider this – last night Miles went 2 for 3, plating a run and taking an extra base on errors. His average this morning? .342! This is an April batting average in terms of plate attempts, and you are absolutely joking me if you think he’s going to hold that up consistently.

As for those 2 hits last night? They both looked like this. Yes, he made contact, but both of his hits were little bloops and bleeps that dropped just over the fielder’s head. 2 feet shorter or 5 feet farther and it gets a lot closer to being caught. Some of the most hard hit balls of the night were hit right at people, hence why Allen Craig and Brendan Ryan, both of whom had some of those harder hit balls, have no hits to show for it. Sometimes life just isn’t fair, boys.

Back to Miles – his defense is also deceptive. Go basic and you see he only has 2 errors. Another layer? He only has 23 attempts. Another layer? He has no range. He makes the plays on the balls hit to him, and sometimes he even makes them look flashy. However – last layer – his zone rating is negative. That means he’s actually getting to fewer balls than the average player. To reference – Brendan Ryan, for all his struggles this year, is still playing well above average at his position because he gets to balls that no one else on the team can snag. Because of this, he probably will have more errors because he often has to get up and make a fast play, instead of being a player that only is playing the balls hit right at him.

I won’t get too far into that, but the point is saying that Miles is playing surprisingly well in the field is overblown.

Let’s talk happy. Beating the stuffings out of Clayton Kershaw last night was awesome, and has set a good tone for the beginning of the second half. Let’s keep it up tonight when Jaime Garcia takes the mound at 7:15 PM!

Happy Friday and go Cards!!!

In _____ We Trust

As I was watching the broadcast last night, the silly text poll that Fox Sports Midwest runs every night caught my eye. The question was on who the fans trusted the most for the Cardinals – the offense, the defense, or the pitching. For the first time that I can recall, I honestly had no idea which one I would choose. These things happen when you are playing .667 ball, one would hope.

So let’s break this down a little. I’ll hold my final decision for the end, and we’ll see if it holds water. So buckle in for fun with numbers with Ang (I promise it’ll be at least as fun as one of my math classes – no really)!

The Offense 
Coming into the beginning of the year, we were all feeling fairly confident that the Cardinals would have no trouble scoring runs. After having some fun with the sortable stats on mlb.com, here’s where I’ve found the Cardinals stand with the rest of the NL:
Hits: 4th (Cubs are first – bet you didn’t expect that, did you?)
Home runs: 3rd
Walks: 5th
Strike outs: 3rd most, with 210… 3 true outcomes, anyone?
Here’s a fun one – intentional walks: 1st with 21. No other team even is in the double digits. Fear? Respect? I’ll accept both as correct answers.

Obviously I did not choose very in-depth numbers or newer statistical measurements here. Heck, I didn’t even throw any percentages at you! But it’s safe to say even with these small-ish sample sizes of the last month+ that this team is going to get on base (the OBP of .340 told me so… oops! Percentages!). I know that we’ve had those games where Albert’s up with the bases loaded or one of the bench guys like Stavinoha pinch hits in a critical situation and we as fans just know that this is going to be the at-bat that breaks open the game. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, and Albert pops up or Stavi strikes out. Still, the Cards are creating 5.4 runs per game. We’ll lose some 1-0, but we won’t lose a lot of them.

It’s safe to say that our pitchers have been stellar this season. They’re tops in the league with a 2.58 ERA, an 88% quality start percentage, and have given up the fewest home runs with 13. It’s said that pitching wins games, and when we’re winning on the strengths of Adam Wainwright’s curveball, Jaime Garcia’s incredible poise for a rook, Chris Carpenter’s command of a general, Brad Penny’s flames and Kyle Lohse’s quality starts, it’s pretty easy to see why our starters are a combined 14-4. Ready for this? We’re also second in runs, earned runs, walks, and walks/hits per inning pitched.

Surprise! Those numbers include the bullpen guys. All the accolades I’ve heard for our pitchers have been aimed in the general direction of the starters, but the pen’s held their own rather admirably. Consider this – they’re tops in the league with a mere 18% of their inherited runners scoring. The league average is 35%, and they’re having fun out in Arizona where the pen’s allowed a whopping 53% of their inherited runners to touch home. The pen isn’t getting cheap luck either – they’ve got the highest leverage index in the league – meaning Tony isn’t afraid to go to them when the game is on the line.

Everyone knows we’ve got a fairly groundball-heavy staff, thanks to Dave Duncan’s pitch-to-contact/live and die by the sinker mentality. It’s pretty nice for Carpenter to be on the mound with 2 on and 1 out and know that he’s got a .989 fielding percentage running around behind him waiting to gobble up double play balls, isn’t it? 1 error for every 100 chances – that’s roughly what it breaks down to. That’s out of 1,082 total chances. That right there should be enough, but let’s look closer…

It doesn’t hurt to have a Gold Glove winner like Yadi behind the plate throwing out over 40% of would be base-stealers; Freese, Brendan, Skip, and Albert turning a stunning 32 double plays; and a mere 13 errors so far on the year. True, sometimes the errors become glaring, as they did for CDD favorite David Freese in Milwaukee back in April. However, I spend much more time marveling at the diving stops, flying catches, and catch/spin/throws than I do the rare errors. We’ve already got 3 Gold Glove-winning players on the team, and I know Erika, Chris, and I aren’t the only 3 that think Brendan could easily win one, plus Freese has been flashing the leather as of late as well.

Bottom line, to me anyway, is to send my vote the way of the defense. Our pitchers are scary beyond words, but throw them out there with Florida’s defense (a .974 fielding percentage, 14 double plays, and 25 errors) and some of our pitchers’ rougher innings suddenly look a lot more rough. You can’t keep a groundball staff going without a strong defense behind you waiting to snag every ball they can dive, jump or stab at. Yes, our offense is absolutely terrifying and our pitchers make hitters weak in the knees, but on the nights where the runners aren’t crossing the plate (see last night) or the pitchers are struggling to find location, the defense is there, doing their job and doing it amazingly well.

Agree? Disagree? Fell asleep with all the numbers? Debate in the comments!

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