In my opinion, defense is the most under-appreciated aspect of baseball. Only recently has it started to become popular with fans and GM’s, likely the result of several new statistics that attempt to quantify solid defense.
Good defense is the most important part of the game. Crappy defense means errors, means second chances for batters, means more run scoring opportunities, and ultimately means more losses. I have always appreciated defense over offense, likely because I could never hit as a kid. That explains my love for playing infield and my extreme fascination for Tony Fernandez. It also explains my love for watching baseball live. You never see solid defense on the highlight reel – only spectacular catches, diving stops, or leaps into the stands. Watching a game on TV allows viewers to see the play, but not fully appreciate it. Watching a game live allows you to see a players reaction, his range and route to the ball, and his play making. It allows you to take in the whole play, judge a players instincts as to what base he should throw to, and how the rest of the team adjusts to opposing base runners.
Where am I going with this? Relax – this is not a poetic essay on the value of a solid defender. This is a commentary on the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays. They have been one of the best defensive teams in the league this season. Vernon Wells has recaptured his magic from a few years ago, Alex Gonzalez and now Yunel Escobar have been rock solid at short, Hill and Overbay fantastic on the right side. Team defense has been one of the main reasons behind their strong play. They have been lights out.
At the beginning of August, the Toronto Blue Jays were one of the top few teams in baseball in errors committed. As a team they had made only 51 errors in 106 games, one every 2.08 games. The defense wasn’t necessarily spectacular, aside from a few Escobar gems, but it was rock solid.
But in the last 30 days the Jays have played 27 games and commited 20 errors, almost one per game.
In the past seven days the Jays have played seven games and committed nine errors – more than one per game. Their fielding percentage is a brutal .966 over that time, 29th in baseball. Only the White Sox have been worse. After last night’s error by Scott Downs on a pickoff attempt, the Jays have now made an error in seven consecutive games. Those errors have lead to a total of nine unearned runs. When playing Detroit, they may be able to get away with sloppy defense (they were able to split the series). But playing Tampa Bay? There is already very little margin for error – giving the Rays second chances is a recipe for disaster.
So why has it been so bad recently? The injury to Escobar certainly doesn’t help, but the biggest culprits have been Aaron Hill and Johnny Mac – normally two of the surest handed guys in the lineup. Johnny has made three errors and Hill has made two – though only a generous scorekeeper in Tampa on Tuesday prevented it from becoming three. A ground ball through his legs in the fifth inning was somehow scored a hit.
As we approach the final stretch of the season, hopefully the Jays will clean up their butter fingers and get back to basics. Hopefully the last week was just an aberration and the solid fielding will return.
But as always I can find a silver lining. It could be worse – Encarnacion could be playing…