Think the Cardinals have at least average to above average players at every position on the field? Think again. According to the metric “Team Runs Saved”, the Cardinals rank in a tie for 6th in the NL with a -4 runs saved for the season. Ranking 6th out of 16 teams sounds pretty good, or at least it may seem good until you look at the individual position breakdown.
- Pitcher: 5
- Catcher: 1
- 1B: 0
- 2B: -3
- 3B: -1
- SS: -5
- LF: 5
- CF: 3
- RF: -6
Surprised? Don’t lie (not even to yourself). Yadier Molina represents the Gold Glove (and platinum) standard for defense as a catcher, yet the Cardinals ONLY get a +1 from that position. Slow down and think about it for a moment. Yadi has allowed a few more balls to get past him this year than fans have grown accustomed to seeing, but a good bit of the blame has to fall on the pitchers. While Kyle Lohse does a superior job of holding runners on base and making Yadi’s job easier by varying his delivery to the plate, the rest of the pitching staff has yet to mimic Lohse’s success at preventing stolen bases. Also, consider the types of pitchers on the staff. Wainwright (curve, cutter), Westbrook (power sinker), and Garcia (breaking pitches) tend to place a lot of trust in Molina to block pitches that come up a bit short of the 60’6″ mark. Given all that fans have seen this year, it might be a minor miracle that the runs saved number is even positive at this point.
There is nothing wrong with admitting you are surprised at LF being a +5 in runs saved. If you have watched closely this year, Matt Holliday seems to have improved his footwork in both retrieving balls hit to the corner and setting a solid base for accurate throws to the infield. He has also managed to put several throws right on the money at home plate from medium depth locations in left field, and his efforts appear to be paying off.
The -5 from SS might surprise a few people who think of Rafael Furcal as a defensive stopper there. Maybe that was accurate a few years ago, but he combined time in LA and Stl last season for a runs saved value of -5 which was good for 23rd among MLB shortstops. For the sake of comparison, Brendan Ryan posted total runs saved numbers of 22 in 2009, 22 in 2010, 18 in 2011, and is already at 13 in 2012. Those numbers put Ryan at 2nd, 2nd, 1st, and 1st respectively. Granted, Furcal’s offense far surpasses Ryan’s, but the topic of discussion remains defense.
Is right field the place where out-of-position players go to wither and die defensively? Undoubtedly, a healthy Carlos Beltran playing the bulk of the innings in RF would help, but that might not remedy the problem completely. After all, Beltran put up a -3 in 2011 as a right fielder, and his last season in New York as a center fielder resulted in a -5 runs saved. The Cardinals certainly were not expected to be a bunch of defensive stalwarts, but the numbers show plenty of room for improvement.
After all, the team sits in a tie at -4 with the Houston Astros, and both the Reds (+6) and Cubs (+6) rank ahead of them. That just cannot be allowed to remain. Are the Cardinals as committed to defense as they should be? Definitely….maybe.
TIDBIT: Total runs saved and individual runs saved stats brought to you courtesy of Bill James Online or something.
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