Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Commitment to Defense...

Is a culture adjustment the Nationals will likely make at some point during the next nine months. Take the game last night, for instance. A key momentum shift occurred late in the game when Melky Cabrera robbed Elijah Dukes of bloop single to center, then an inning later Nick Swisher cut off a sure double from Austin Kearns with a fleet-footed play in right. Neither of these were guaranteed to generate runs, but the defense takes the pressure off CC Sabathia, or who ever is on the mound.

In the bottom of the seventh, the middle of the Yankees order ripped two balls to deep center that Dukes missed by a combined six inches. Dukes has the range to play center, but doesn't seem to have the reflexes to finish the play (may also explain his penchant for getting picked off). If he catches either of those balls, the Yankees may not win in regulation.

In the off season, the Yankees made a commitment to improving their defense. The first move was to remove Johnny Damon from center field completely and install him in left, where his lack of arm strength is not as evident, but his range could still excel. Their remaining outfield options going into the season included Xavier Nady, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher (and Hideki Matsui, but he has been the primary DH). Nady going down week one opened up innings for the other three, who are all better defenders. Next, they replaced Giambi at first base with a much more athletic Mark Teixeira. They are still weak up the middle with Cano and Jeter, but both are playing better than 2008. Their defensive improvement have allowed them to survive the new Yankee Stadium by allowing fewer base runners. The Nationals will have the opportunity to make similar changes this off-season.

The other point that Rob Dibble brought up a couple times in the later innings was that walks are killing the Nats. The additional base runner will put the defense in a position to fail, such as with Pena's single in the eighth, which would have been easily caught with the infield at normal depth. I think this is more "Chicken-Egg" theory. Martis is not a big strikeout pitcher, and was clearly nibbling Barry Zito style to avoid the big hit. He managed minimal damage despite the five walks. Martis gets away with it because he locates his pitches well and doesn't get hit hard. Most Nats pitchers do not and will get hit hard. This leads to the conundrum of whether or not throw hittable pitches with a porous defense or continue to try and get swings out of the strike zone. The latter will up the strike out totals and take pressure off the defense in one aspect, but the risk of walks will force the hand on the others. The starters have been hit hard at times because they are throwing strikes.

In the end, and improved defense next season will vastly improve the pitchers' results.

No comments:

Post a Comment