For a supposed offseason emphasis, the Cardinals defense has been subpar
For everyone who has been in a deep, deep sleep since the Cardinals won game one of the season: the Cardinals have been struggling lately. There are a lot of reasons for the Cardinals recent slide, and we’ve discussed many of them.
The offense has been poor, sans the hot starts of Stephen Piscotty and Aledmys Diaz, the bullpen has been awful but one facet where the Cardinals have also struggled is defense.
If you’re thinking, “hey isn’t that every facet of the game except for pitching?” you’d be right. You’ve got to be bad at a lot of things to have the worst record in the national league.
In baseball, we don’t always point to defense as the main cause a team is struggling. Offense is more fun to analyze, bullpens have a more palpable impact, and the rotation is more prominent.
Normally, defense takes a back seat until the end of the season think pieces that ponder the efficacy of defensive runs saved and all those advanced metrics.
However, when a defense is this bad after it was supposed to improve, it doesn’t hurt to do a little digging.
Exactly how bad?
By almost every metric the Cardinals are one of the worst defensive teams in the majors. If you wanna go the traditional route, that’s fine. They rank 10 out of 15 national league teams in errors, and 13th out of 15 national league teams in fielding percentage.
If you want the fancy stats, I can do that too. The Cardinals are also bottom five in defensive runs saved, with -14. I don’t think I need to tell you the importance of giving up 14 runs on defense when your run differential is -21.
Yes I know that’s not how those stats work, but it definitely matters in discussing just how large the impact of the Cardinals atrocious defense has been on their poor start. Clearly, the defense has played a major role in the hole the Cardinals find themselves in.
So, now that we’ve established the defense has been bad, who exactly has hurt the Cardinals the most?
Yes, Dexter Fowler has not been good this season. However, his offense will almost assuredly improve. It’s hard to go from the second highest OBP in a season to worse than Alexi Ramirez in the span of a couple of months.
However, his defense is another story entirely. Fowler has never been a plus defender, and with a weaker supporting crew than his Cubs tenure, the holes are really starting to show. He’s already cost them 2 defensive runs saved this season and is on pace to cost them 22 runs over the course of the entire season.
Fowler’s defense is not so much alarming as it is disappointing. Mozeliak promised to improve the defense, and then added basically one position player, which was Fowler.
Fowler has never been a good defender, and expecting him to be better at a difficult defensive position on a defensively weak team was a recipe for disaster. Fowler’s offense may be a small sample size victim, but his defense probably isn’t and that does not bode well for the future.
Grichuk’s offense has started to improve after a slow start, but for a player that many thought would improve on defense, he has been pretty horrid no matter where he plays. In left field, he’s cost them three defensive runs and in right field he’s cost them two for a total of five. Overall Grichuk’s defense has cost the Cardinals 35% of their defensive runs given up.
That’s…not good. The season, like Grichuk, is still young, but the Cardinals are running out of options for Grichuk.
The hope was that a solid defensive position would give Grichuk some time to learn the outfield, but between his constant shifting between left and right field and his poor range, time is running out for Grichuk to improve his defense.
— Alex Crisafulli (@alexcards79) April 14, 2017
*sigh* more like Fatt Adams.
You knew it was coming, I knew it was coming. Matt Adams should not be sniffing left field. The article in the tweet above by Fangraphs already did a great job outlining it, but there’s really no point in playing Matt Adams in left field. Adams has only played 27.1 innings in the outfield, but that’s 27.1 innings too many.
He’s on pace to cost the Cardinals around 40 defensive runs if he continues playing out there His range is extremely poor and his hitting doesn’t even come close to making up for it. Right now, Adams is batting .167 with an OBP of .259 in 27 plate appearances featuring 10 strikeouts.
Why does Matheny feel the need to shoehorn him into the lineup when he isn’t hitting? Beats me. All I know is if Adams isn’t hitting, there’s no reason for him to be playing.
The good news is that Adams hasn’t played left field in almost a week. Whether or not that’s thanks to the recent spat of American League games or Matheny learning his lesson, we will see. One thing is clear though, there isn’t really a place for Matt Adams on this team.
Although he came back this offseason in “the best shape of his life,” if he can’t hit there’s not really a role for him to fill. Carpenter is stonewalling him at first, and he’s virtually unplayable anywhere else. Even if you want to use him as a pinch hitter, he’s struggling too much to trust him in a high leverage situation.
I know it seems like I’m really ragging on Adams, but that’s because I am. For a team that praises fundamentals, it’s confusing to consistently throw Matt Adams out there, a player that can’t play defense and cannot hit lefties.
The Cardinals’ defense has been bad this year, but honestly we should have seen this one coming. Last season, the Cardinals defense was among the worst of any playoff teams, and that was with Jedd Gyorko instead of Jhonny Peralta.
Now? Peralta has more playing time and the only new addition, Fowler, hasn’t can’t keep up with his defense from last season. I didn’t even write about Stephen Pisoctty, Jhonny Peralta or Matt Carpenter who are all also struggling on defense.
Last week I wrote about how I expect the offense to improve, which I still do. The problem is I don’t expect the same for the defense. Who is going to carry the defensive load on this team? None of the outfielders and every infielder sans maybe Kolten Wong is a poor defender.
At this point, the Cardinals are banking on a several very bad defenders suddenly becoming a very good defenders, which is basically like hoping Greg Garcia can suddenly become Mookie Betts.
The Cardinals coming improvement on offense will probably take them out of last place in the national league, but their stagnant defense will probably keep them a ways away from the playoffs.
Photo captured by Jeff Curry – USA Today Sports