Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Difficult to defend this postseason
By David Schoenfield
The Gold Glove Awards are announced Tuesday night in the middle of the World Series, which is a bit ironic considering the defensive sloppiness we've seen from the Cardinals and Red Sox.
That's sort of been a theme the entire postseason. Consider some of the defensive lapses and misplays we've seen this October:
- Rays right fielder Wil Myers pulling up on David Ortiz's fly ball, helping jumpstart a five-run inning for the Red Sox in the ALDS.
- Evan Gattis playing left field like a catcher (which he is) in the opening game of the NLDS for the Braves.
- The Pirates making three errors in the first game of their NLDS.
- Yasiel Puig's adventures and misadventures in right field.
- The awful game Jon Jay had for the Cardinals against the Dodgers, with four misplays in center field.
- Jose Iglesias' costly error for the Tigers in Game 6 of the ALCS.
- The Cardinals' disastrous defensive effort in Game 1 of the World Series, with eight defensive misplays and errors.
- Those Red Sox throws to third base by Craig Breslow and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
- Will Middlebrooks waving at Matt Holliday's double in Game 3 and then not catching Saltalamacchia's throw.
You get the idea. It hasn't been pretty out there when a ball is put in play. Luckily for the defenders, batters are striking out more than ever so fewer balls are being put in play. We've had 26 games this postseason where a team has struck out 10 or times -- out of 74 team games, or 35 percent of all games. Compare that to a distant time from the past: The 1980s. There were 176 postseason games that decade, or 352 team games. A team struck out 10 or more times just 27 times, or 8 percent of all games.
We can measure defense more accurately than ever before, but teams have been willing to push players up the defensive spectrum to get a better bat in the lineup -- in part, because of all the strikeouts defense becomes less important. The Braves played Gattis in left field. The Dodgers played the hobbled Andre Ethier in center. The Tigers played Jhonny Peralta in left field, a position he had never played until the final three games of the regular season. When the World Series moved to St. Louis, the Red Sox sat Mike Napoli and played David Ortiz at first base. The Cardinals were willing to play Allen Craig at first in Game 5 even though he could barely move.
I can't say if teams are sacrificing defense more than in the past. The most famous defensive risk in World Series history came in 1968. The Tigers had four good outfielders that year but no shortstop who could hit (Ray Oyler hit .135, sort of the Pete Kozma of his day). Manager Mayo Smith decided late in the season to try center fielder Mickey Stanley at shortstop. He started eight games there in the regular season and then all seven games of the World Series. He made just two errors and the Tigers beat the Cardinals.
We have one game left, hopefully two. Ortiz and Craig will return to DH duties. But that doesn't mean we won't see a key defensive play -- good or bad -- having a major influence on the outcome.