"Holy Toledo!"

October 5, 2013

A’s Lose Game 1 To Tigers, A Lesson On Defense

Filed under: Baseball, Oakland A's — Bill @ 11:07 am

Once upon a time there was a man who taught me a great deal about the nuances of baseball. One of the things he taught me is the importance of defense. Often overlooked by many, defense can make or break your baseball team. While others are caught up in how many home runs a player has, or if he steals bases, I can’t help but wonder how he plays defense.

Sit around a group of baseball fans old enough to remember exactly where they were when they heard “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World” and you will inevitably hear one of them ask “Are they strong up the middle?” What are they talking about you may wonder? Explained briefly they are referring to the importance of a baseball team having good defensive players at these key positions, catcher, shortstop, second base, & center field. A team can have great pitching, speed, & power, but if they can’t play defense, particularly at those key positions up the middle, they will eventually be exposed & beaten.

What I’ve observed over the years is that there is an addendum that should be included, not only does a team need to be solid up the middle, they must have a good infield defense (which includes the 1st & 3rd baseman). If a team can bail out it’s pitcher with a sparkling double play, or save a double by knocking down a ball hit down the line, it dramatically improves their chance of winning. If on the other hand they are constantly giving their opponent an extra at bat because of an error failure is inevitable..

Last night’s game between the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A’s is our most recent example of this old baseball axiom. The game winning run was scored as a direct result of lack of infield defense. Already trailing 2-0 in the top of the 1st inning Victor Martinez came to the plate with 2 outs and nobody on base. He smoked a ball that Jed Lowrie couldn’t reach because of his lack of range at shortstop.

“Range”: A player might be able to make every play at his position, but if he is slow-footed, or has poor reactions, he simply won’t be able to reach a batted ball that other quicker players might. A player with good range can cover more ground, turn hits into outs, start more double plays, and help his team win more often. (Note: Bill James taught us that errors are not a true measure of a players defensive ability because a player who has more range can reach balls that others might not. If Ken Griffey Jr. runs like a deer only to have the ball hit off the top of his glove he is given an error. Had his 37 year old father been playing on that same exact play he would have never even reached the ball, therefore not getting an error on the play. Who is the better defensive player?

The ball that Lowrie failed to reach rolled all the way to the wall and Martinez ended up on second base. Jed Lowrie is an excellent hitter, has helped the A’s win many games with his bat, but let’s face it he’s not a glove man & lacks range.

Up steps the Tigers catcher Alex Avila. A’s pitcher Bartolo Colon needs only one out to get out of the inning. Avila hits a hard grounder towards A’s 1st baseman Daric Barton. The ball hits off his glove, and rolls away. By the time the ball is picked up Avila is safe at first, & more importantly Victor Martinez has scored to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead. As it turns out this run ends up being the game winning run in game 1 of the American League Division series.

Defense DOES win championships.

The A’s were fortunate that only one run scored as a result of their mediocre defense. On two occasions Lowrie didn’t record an out on balls he should have handled. Daric Barton also had two chances to bail out his club with plays he could have made. Granted all four plays were tough chances, no errors were given on those plays, but solid major leaguers make those plays in crucial situations. If the A’s want to succeed in the playoffs they have to make those plays.

The A’s lead the majors in home runs & doubles. Their bullpen is among the elite in baseball, & their starting pitching has been solid all year. However they rank among the lowest in turning double plays, and none of their infielders are considered above average defensively. Many of us hope they will do well this post season, this young team is fun to watch, & has given us great entertainment this year. By no means will I give up on them, but as that old guy taught me, this team won’t win without playing better defense.


1 Comment »

  1. The A’s opponents, the Detroit Tigers, boast a 1000-pound infield led by Miguel Cabrera, 270, at third base. Jhonny Peralta, 230, has been replaced at shortstop by Jose Iglesias, only because of Peralta’s suspension. The Tigers are better defensively with Iglesias, a brilliant young talent who can also hit. But their half-ton crew simply can’t pick it, as they used to say. Cabrera is woefully limited at third, in range and glove efficiency, Peralta can throw, but that’s it for his upside, Infante is only average at second and the rotund Fielder is at first base when he’s not eating. The Tigers simply don’t have an edge in fielding over the A’s. Ask Andy Dirks, otherwise know as the “one-hand all-star” in left field. He has the range, as he showed chasing a high foul fly last night, but when he got to the part where you finish the play with “a nice catch running catch”, he ball hit his glove and then it hit the ground. In essence, the Tigers and the A’s are like the old Orioles, waiting around for the 3-run homer, except they don’t have Brooks Robinson, Davey Johnson or Mark Belanger…the Tigers do have a Boog Powell.

    Comment by fansince57 — October 5, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

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