Cardinal baseball, from the girls
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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- A few early losses may make a big difference down the road.
- Even if our boys are hitting, it still takes three outs (sometimes four) every inning to shut down the opponent.
- 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.