Defense, Defense, Defense

Today’s Cardinals’ loss to the Nationals didn’t have to happen.  It happened because for the umpteenth time in this early part of the season, the Cardinals’ defense didn’t do its job.  Two mistakes at 3B by Matt Carpenter and a botched double play ball by Daniel Descalso led to the Cardinals’ loss.  One could try to pin it on the pitching—Carlos Martinez gave up some pretty hard hit singles— but what was a classic double play ball was misplayed by Daniel Descalso, and it kept Martinez from getting out of the inning unscathed, and allowed the tying runs to score.

The frustrating part in my mind is that Daniel Descalso was playing 2B at that time in the first place.  If Matheny had to take Ellis out, he had a much better defender in Kolten Wong sitting on the bench.  Why Matheny persists in his delusion that Descalso is a good fielder is beyond me.  Surely the Cardinals’ analytics department has pointed out that Descalso’s defensive metrics are very poor.  Descalso’s career UZR at 2B is -4.6.  That is below average.  He should never be relied upon for defense in a close game.  Ever.

I know some folks don’t like sabermetrics.  When I say that Descalso is a bad defender, I sometimes get people arguing with me using errors and fielding percentage as their authority.  I am willing to give some leeway to most traditional stats, because most of them have some merit, but two traditional stats that I think are completely worthless are errors and fielding percentage.  Errors are totally subjective.  They are based solely on the opinion of an untrained official scorer.  The only requirement to become an official scorer is to pass a test on baseball rules.  That’s it.  I know the baseball rules pretty well, why not create a stat based on my opinion?  It would be just as reliable as the errors stat.  Fielding percentage relies in part on errors, so as a stat it is just as unreliable.

So if you get into an argument with me about whether some player is a good or bad defender, and use errors and/or fielding percentage, please be warned that you will get nowhere.  You might as well tell me that the player is a good or bad defender based on the phases of the moon, because that is just as reliable an indicator as errors and fielding percentage.

Matt Carpenter is not a bad defender.  He has a career UZR at 3B of +3.  Why he has uncharacteristically made some major mistakes in the field in such a short time is a mystery to me.  Maybe it is related to why he has struck out 18 times, which is also out of character for him.   Hopefully it is just a bad stretch that will resolve itself with time.  I am patient enough to wait it out.

As we have painfully seen in several games in the last few weeks, bad defense will lose you games.  I know that many believe that a poor defender can make it up with offense, and in some cases that is true, but you have to be a superior offensive player for that to happen.  Not only that, you have to be a superior offensive player who doesn’t go through major slumps.  That is a tall order.  I tend to believe that relying on offense to overcome bad defense is a losing proposition over time.  You can have some poor defenders on your team and hide them with offense, but you can’t have bad defense overall and expect to win a ton of games.  Defense does matter.

I do believe the Cardinals’ defense on paper is an improvement over what they had last season.  The players just have to execute in relation to their abilities. Games like today cannot happen with any regularity.  I am sure the players know this and will take steps to correct the problem.  If they don’t, it is going to be ugly.


Thank you for reading.


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