Good/Bad Defense: Third Base

Two gifs courtesy of today’s games illustrate in a nutshell the consequences of good defense.

First, we look at young Matt Dominguez of the Houston Astros. He’s alright with the glove, not the best but renowned for keeping his eye on the ball and undergoing hilarious face contortions when throwing off balance. Observe a section of his Topps card:

In the Astros’ 6-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday, Dominguez made the following play to record the first out of the inning. The next batter hit a home run. When Dominguez made the play he likely minimized future runs allowed, although there is no way to know what could have happened. At the time it was just a nice play to start an inning, free of any real tension or importance. Good defense gets noticed when it saves the pitcher in a tense situation, but those moments of drama are rare. The main task of a defense is to avoid those situations as much as possible, to keep the stress low throughout the long grind everyday games. In this way good defense effaces itself.

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Bad defense on the other hand compounds its failures. A weak arm or a slow fielder allows one runner to reach base and later in the inning he scores on an error, that sort of thing. High-stress, game-changing situations are brought about and then bungled. The defense need only be responsible for one event in the chain, but there are some instances where it is responsible for the whole thing. Dividing responsibility between hitters, pitchers and fielders is messy and sometimes contentious business, but this much I believe: defense has yet to receive its full share of credit.

A tempting argument: Pablo Sandoval committed an error that led directly to Arizona scoring the tying run. The game went to extra innings and Arizona won; therefore, Sandoval’s errant throw decided the game.

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You see there were two outs at the time, strengthening this argument. What, then, is the proper way to register this play? There’s no telling if a fielder’s next miscue is going to come in a big situation or in the late innings of a blowout. If you want to project future performance you of course wouldn’t assume that Sandoval is an especially poor fielder in big situations. But if you think he’s a poor fielder in the first place you should be extra wary when he’s out there with the game on the line.

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