Everyone seems to be complaining about the Cardinals’ defense, and while it has underperformed, there are some easy fixes. The only problem is that nobody wants to make those changes.
“It’s horrible.” “It must be the worst in the league.” “It has cost them so many games.” “They can’t win a World Series with it.” Those are some of the things that I have heard about the Cardinals’ defense recently. The complaints aren’t necessarily without reason. The anger stems mostly from the fact that there have been many errors in key spots. Nevertheless, the team is down at 25th in the majors in UZR (though they are 13th in DRS), and not performing too well on that end.
I am not going to argue that the team has been good on that end, but I do think that we all need to recognize that this team has good fielders. The problem is that those fielders don’t always play. In the infield, many are assuming that Peralta will take Diaz’s role as starting shortstop while the youngster is hurt. After all, the job was Peralta’s before he got hurt in the spring. He played shortstop for most of his career, but he really shouldn’t any more.
After many years of bad defense in Cleveland, Peralta actually figured it out in Detroit and then St. Louis. He put together four consecutive, really good defensive years starting in 2011. However, age caught up to him last year, as Peralta recorded one of his worst fielding years ever. After returning from the DL this year, Peralta quickly cost the Cardinals four runs in just 237 innings. Oh, and that was at third base. He won’t get better when asked to cover more ground at shortstop.
In reality, the Cardinals may feel like they don’t have a choice. Peralta is the only option who has at least one full good offensive year on his resume. Greg Garcia and Jedd Gyorko each have good half seasons (this one for both), but they are small sample sizes. However, both backups are far superior fielders. Garcia has saved a full run in less than 100 innings at shortstop in 2016, and Gyorko has saved a combined eight runs between second and third base. Neither one owns Peralta’s bat, but they both represent a defensive upgrade over either Peralta or Diaz.
Not one Cardinals fan is shocked that the defense cost the Cardinals a win in pivotal game.
— Cards Nation (@CardsNation13) July 31, 2016
I don’t know exactly how I would play it, but with Carpenter returning soon, I would probably plan on rotating Garcia, Gyorko, and Kolten Wong in the middle infield positions, with Wong only playing second. Peralta would represent a good bench option while the Cardinals could actually improve in the field with Diaz out. You may not want to hold Peralta out of the lineup, but it would help fix the defense that we have all whined about.
Moving on to the outfield, the Cardinals actually have two great fielders and one good one. Of the two greats, one of them (Randal Grichuk) is in Memphis. The other one, Stephen Piscotty, turned himself into one of the league’s best right fielders a year after being one of the worst left fielders. Tommy Pham was supposed to be the third outfielder, but he took a huge step back defensively. Last year, he saved five runs in center in just 242 innings. This year, he has cost the Cardinals three runs in center in 190 innings. UZR also notes his decreased range, and shows that he has been part of the problem.
The other good fielder is actually Brandon Moss. He is much more effective in right field, where his arm plays a bigger role, but he also shows decent range out there. For his career, UZR rates him as about five runs above average per 150 games in right field. I know he doesn’t look the part, but he can play it. Considering that Piscotty has a terrible arm, he should be just as good, if not better, in left field. The answer to the defensive problems is on the roster, but nobody wants to use it. Not Mike Matheny, and not the fans.
I already said that fixing the defense requires benching Peralta, and the guy I left out of the outfield is Matt Holliday. Holliday is the biggest culprit for the defensive woes, but everybody loves him. I suggested that the Cardinals bench him earlier in the year, and you all hated that. Now, the Cardinals have to choose between two evils: angering the fans by leaving a bad defense out there or angering the fans by benching Peralta and Holliday.
I would vote for the latter simply because I don’t think the offensive gains outweigh the defensive problems. However, I realize that I am probably in the minority on this one. Cardinals fans want to see a better defense, but probably not at the expense of the bats of those two. Just keep in mind that every time you ask for a better defense, you really are asking for Matheny to take out Peralta and Holliday.
Photo Credit: Jeff Curry – USA TODAY Sports