Through 13 games in 2016, the St. Louis Cardinals (7-6) dubiously lead all of Major League Baseball with 15 errors (.970 fielding percentage) on defense. Admittedly, the error statistic is inherently flawed, and players with extended range typically become victims of inappropriate defensive analysis. Shortstop X could get to a ball that Shortstop Y has no chance of getting to, but follow that up with an errant throw to first base. Shortstop X gets penalized for giving his team a chance at recording the out while Shortstop Y is busy harmlessly receiving the cutoff throw from the centerfielder on a guaranteed single for the opposition.
Yet, with a sample size of only 13 games, some counting statistics, in this case, the error, can be eye-opening when compared to other teams across the league. For perspective, the Red Sox (12 games played), Royals (12 games played), Dodgers (13 games played), Nationals (12 games played), and Mets (12 games played) each have 11 fewer errors than the Cardinals thus far. The obvious culprit has been the Cardinals' infield defense, which has been nothing short of shaky, particularly up the middle, in the absence of Jhonny Peralta, one of the most sure-handed shortstops in the game.
Cardinals Error Leaderboard Thus Far
As you may recall from my very first scouting interview on the topic of potentially signing Aledmys Diaz, it was questionable at best as to whether or not Diaz's glove projected to be adequate at the shortstop position. Directly from Joe Kehoskie, a long-time baseball consultant who had the privilege of watching Diaz play in Cuba:
VEB: We've all heard grumblings about Diaz's defense at short. What are his major problems? Range? Poor hands? Bad decision making? Arm?
JK: By current ML shortstop standards, Diaz probably has the arm to stay at short, but his glove and range were lacking in Cuba. I didn't see enough of Diaz to get a sense of his decision-making.
Well, Diaz has indeed flashed a strong but relatively inaccurate arm (even on "easy" plays), and his hands have been as advertised as he has already bobbled a handful of ground balls, particularly those scorched right at him with in-between hops. It does not help Diaz's cause that at least two of his errors have come during critical parts of the game. Last night, in the seventh inning, the Cubs, leading 1-0 at the time, had runners on first and second with zero outs when Jorge Soler hit a screamer to Diaz. Now, I won't blame Diaz for not picking the ball up cleanly (even though the good shortstops would have), but his errant throw allowed a run to score without recording a single out. The Cardinals' win expectancy plummeted from an already low 20.3% to 8.4% after the miscue.
Gyorko is not an everyday shortstop, so it is not in the least bit surprising to find his name on the error list with two, despite playing only 25.2 innings at shortstop in 2016. Wong, arguably one of the rangiest second baseman in the league with possibly the quickest double-play turn, continues to struggle with routine ground balls for whatever reason, just as we saw in spring training and years prior. While Carpenter has already recorded two errors, he has looked particularly spry over at the hot corner, and plus, at the end of the season, he will almost certainly have provided the team with average defense and above-average to All-Star level offense, the aspect of his game that the Cardinals truly value.
Career Ground Ball Rates for Current Starting Pitchers
In 2015, the league-average ground ball rate for starting pitchers was 45.2%. As you can see in the table below, four of the five Cardinals starting pitchers have experienced above-average ground ball rates in their respective careers.
Thus, given that the Cardinals possess a ground-ball-heavy starting rotation, quality infield defense is paramount. Instead, so far in 2016, the infield defense has been a glaring weakness, whether you look at the error total or not. With Peralta out until at least June, it will be interesting to see how the infield defense progresses as it continues to shake the offseason rust. Ruben Tejada was activated from the disabled list yesterday, and despite Diaz's hot start at the plate, I would not be surprised if Tejada was given a handful of starts per week at shortstop. I have a strong distaste for giving too much credit to coaches (because I truly believe they are often given too much blame as well), but you have to wonder the effect of Jose Oquendo's absence on the infield, particularly with positioning.