Defense Wins Championships

You already know what this post is about, so let’s get right to it: the Mets defense is horrific. Absolutely horrific. After the weekend sweep to Atlanta this issue has now been presented clearer than ever.

In particular was Friday’s embarrassment of a loss, when Jacob deGrom pitched his heart out on his 27th birthday, allowing only two hits as he entered the eighth inning. Sure the offense isn’t the best, but they gave Jacob a run for his birthday. I know, how thoughtful! It didn’t matter if it was one run or one hundred, deGrom had this game on lock. Right? RIGHT?! Wrong, says Wilmer Flores. Wrong, says Terry Collins. With a runner on third and one away, deGrom induced a ground ball to Flores from the mildly-quick pinch hitting Pedro Ciriaco. Flores looked back the runner (Andrelton Simmons) on third. And looked him back. And looked him back some more. My expert analysis is Flores got into a staring contest with Simmons, pump faking to make his opponent blink. After this detour, Wilmer remembered he was playing baseball and actually was in possession of said baseball, and finally threw the ball to first. Safe. Atta boy, Wilmer. Way to have your ace’s back.

You too, Terry. After 97 pitches and allowing a base runner that wasn’t his fault, Mets skipper Terry Collins pulled the excellent starter for the not-so-excellent reliever Sean Gilmartin. Gilmartin gives up a two-run double, and one inning later the Mets lose 2-1. Absolutely sickening to watch. After the violent puking and emptying my body of every tear it contained, I decided to enjoy the sight of the standings for one last day. Yes, the Mets were still leading the NL East. Yes, the Nationals are in the NL East. And yes, the division should be renamed the NL Least. Do the Mets have a shot at the division title? No way. Not with this roster. What could they do to improve?

Get healthy, for one. The best part of the Amazin’s offense remains on the DL in David Wright and Daniel Murphy. They don’t score often, but the dominant starting pitching keeps them in most games. But if the Mets want any shot at the postseason, they need to improve defensively. Defense wins championships, or so they say. Ruben Tejada isn’t a third baseman; Murphy’s return will sit Ruben down. When Wright returns, Dilson Herrera will find his way to the pine with Murphy’s move to second. The main defensive issue is at shortstop. Wilmer Flores isn’t a shortstop. He’s playing there. That’s a problem, plain and simple. Sure, his home runs are great, but the guy isn’t a wizard with the bat either. So what’s the solution? Call up Matt Reynolds. “That makes too much sense!” Mets GM Sandy Alderson probably says. Then what? Close our eyes, cross our fingers, and bow our heads every time someone hits it in Flores’s general direction? That isn’t working either.

How about a trade? “A what?” asks Alderson. A trade, Sandy. How about Kevin Plawecki, a catcher with a ton of upside and no playing time to show for it with d’Arnaud’s return. Starlin Castro is available in Chicago, but we aren’t trying to downgrade defensively. “We aren’t?” (also Alderson). That counts out Milwaukee’s Jean Segura. Ben Zobrist is an intriguing option, but his price tag may be too steep. The market for the thin-but-valuable shortstops appears to be a shallow one. The Mets appear to be stuck, like when your opponent profoundly proclaims check in a game of chess, and as you decide what to do width your next move, you realize that you’re actually in checkmate. This stinks for two reasons: 1. You lost a game of chess. 2. You lost a game of chess to someone so dumb they didn’t even realize they just beat you. The Mets are you: you felt like you were winning, but now you’re starting to realize that you’re without a move. The Mets should have addressed their shortstop problem a long time ago. Instead, they thought they could live with it, hoping the offense would outweigh the defensive mistakes. Now they’re seeing the harsh reality: defense really does win championships.

A lifelong Mets fan who never stopped believin'
  1. Steve Hussy June 23, 2015 at 8:51 pm
    I think every writer (and almost every reader) on Mets Today is fuming over the defense. It’s as much mental errors as lack of physical skills, and that makes it EVEN MORE annoying. Brilliant description of the Flores incident, Ryan.
  2. Extragooey June 24, 2015 at 10:21 am
    Not how I remembered the Flores play. He looked him back, but it was the extra pump he did before throwing to first that took too much time. Anyone have an video link?

    I agree that deGrom was taken out too early. Out of curiosity, did you second guess Terry on Harvey the next night as well. I didn’t.

    No thanks on the trade targets you mentioned.

    • argonbunnies June 24, 2015 at 3:06 pm
      Re: Flores, it was kinda both. He looked at Simmons a little too long, and turned away from him a little too slowly, and did that stupid glove-tap thing a little too compulsively.

      I first-guessed that Terry would stick with a gassed Harvey where he wouldn’t stick with a thriving deGrom. See the deGrom game comments for proof! It’s cuz Terry goes with his instincts that tell him the alpha tough guy is an ace and a battler who you owe extra batters, while the mild mannered deGrom is, y’know, just a guy you can take out when a platoon match-up or whatever catches your fancy. Terry is still voting for Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame.

      • Extragooey June 24, 2015 at 5:21 pm
        Flores isn’t the quickest. So all his motions and extra ones like the tap added up. I’m gonna say the extra pump or tap was the problem since it was the unnecessary one.

        I do agree that Harvey looked more gassed than deGrom. Harvey’s fastball was dropping down to 94 in that inning if I recall correctly. Maybe you’re right, Terry probably did have his mind made up.

  3. argonbunnies June 24, 2015 at 3:16 pm
    Not much to add to this article except even more pessimism:

    – A minor leaguer regarded as a borderline SS probably isn’t the answer. I’m quick to mock Sandy when he deserves it, but Tejada’s probably a better defensive SS than Reynolds.

    – Murphy’s return won’t improve squat. Yes he has more 3B experience than Tejada, but Ruben has better range, quickness, and accuracy. Probably hands and arm strength too. And it’s not like Murph is immune to stupid plays.

    – Wright’s return is unlikely, but even if it happens, he’ll be unable to dive for balls safely. So the 3B defense may or may not improve, and pushing Murphy to 2B will hurt the defense there.

    I spent all winter lobbying for cheap glove guys like Cliff Pennington but no one was enthused about that. 😛

    • Extragooey June 24, 2015 at 4:35 pm
      The problem with the idea that “defense wins championships” is just that it’s completely not true. You win with hitting, pitching, and defense, which is a distant 3rd to the other two. No teams has ever been good with just defense and no hitting and no pitching. But there have been good teams with bad defense and good hitting and good pitching. The 2005 Yankees won the AL East and many have said with probably one of the worst defenses ever. The 1999 Mets had that “best infield defense ever” Sports Illustrated cover won wildcard. Both teams made the playoffs and lost in the LCS. They certainly didn’t have defense in common. What they had in common was both hit and pitched like a playoff team. Pennington is what he is. But getting him probably won’t make much of a difference.
      • argonbunnies June 24, 2015 at 9:17 pm
        Hey man, I didn’t write the headline. 🙂

        It’s true, bad defensive teams have won. So have bad hitting teams and bad pitching teams. Not sure about “distant third”, though, because most of the results we use to measure pitching rely on defense. Those 1999 Mets got truly abysmal starting pitching, which the stellar defense made look merely mediocre.

        I think the “defense matters less” logic presumes a more compressed spectrum — the worst defensive teams isn’t THAT much worse than the best defensive team, as opposed to, say, the worst hitting team vs the best hitting team. There may be exceptions outside that typical spectrum, though, and it wouldn’t shock me if the 2015 Mets are one of them. If nothing else, they’re certainly botching plays at the most costly times.

        • Extragooey June 25, 2015 at 4:00 pm
          Actually, the Met pitching was relatively good compared to the league. The offense finished 5th in runs scored and the pitching/defense gave up 4th fewest runs. Remember this was 1999 we’re talking about. The league scored and gave up almost 13,000 runs. For comparison, 2014 saw around 9600 runs scored. So if you’re just looking at ERA and noticing every starter was over 4, then the quick conclusion was the pitching wasn’t so good.

          Now a more detailed look at the defense show that the infield was good, but the outfield wasn’t. So the defense probably didn’t help as much as I thought. Certainly the “best infield defense ever” cover was probably due more to the eye test than any advanced metrics at the time. Going by the baseball-reference numbers, the defense as a whole saved 22 runs. So pitching did most of the heavy lifting. By comparison, the same metric says the 2005 Yankees gave up 63 runs more due to their defense. The Yankees pitching was in the bottom half in runs given up so they were more affected by the inept defense.

          Well, the 2015 Mets defense is glaring because they can’t get any offense. So every single mistake is magnified. But yah, maybe the Mets are worse defensively than your typical team.