Game 1 of the 2013 World Series is in the books, with the Boston Red Sox drubbing the St. Louis Cardinals in the first outing of the seven-game set by an 8-1 count. There are a lot of takeaways from this one, but perhaps the largest one is something that should have already been known about the Cardinals, which came out on a national stage on Wednesday night.
For whatever reason, the Cardinals have been painted as defensive marvels during this 2013 MLB season. Sure, they do have some players that are individual standouts when it comes to the leather. Yadier Molina is perhaps the best defensive catcher in the game. Allen Craig had a fielding percentage of .999. As individuals, there are some top notch defenders. As a team, it's another story.
In fact, the defensive game is one of the few areas where the Red Sox may have a clear advantage over the Cards as this World Series wears on. While the Cardinals' team fielding percentage of .988 is tied for third in the league, and their 75 errors were the fourth fewest in all of baseball, the advanced defensive metrics, while far from perfect, tell another story entirely.
This is a Cardinals team that isn't efficient at all when it comes to flashing the leather. Again, the standard numbers look good, but when one takes a peak at the advanced metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), and Revised Zone Rating (RZR), as well as Range Runs (RngR) and Error Runs (ErrR), it's a much different narrative and something that doesn't reflect the "Cardinal Way" in the slightest.
UZR and DRS are very similar statistics and reflect very similar results for the Cards. Their team UZR during the regular season was worse than -49. That wasn't the worst in baseball, but it was very close, coming in at 27th in the league. UZR also takes into account RngR (how many runs above or below average when a ball enters a fielder's vicinity), where the Cardinals were almost at a -42 (25th in the league). In terms of their ErrR, however, which reflects runs above or below average based on errors committed, they're actually at a +11, fifth in the league.
Going back to the Defensive Runs Saved, which is essentially a simplified version of UZR, the Cardinals sink back into the depths of the league ranks. The regular season saw them at -39, which came in 22nd in the league, far behind the Washington Nationals, the next team in front of them. Their RZR for the year was .830, which was 20th in the league, and would certainly fit the description of "below average".
On an individual basis, the Cardinals have some standouts. For example, in the outfield, none of Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig, or Jon Jay have an RZR below .927, which leaves them at almost an elite level. However, as a team the Cardinals are largely unimpressive in the field. Of course, their prowess on the bump and their success at the plate allows them to greatly compensate for whatever shortcomings they might have with the leather. It's a disadvantage for them in this World Series matchup, but their ability to find so much success in other facets of the game prevents it from being a significant one. In the final six games of the series, the difference in defense between the two sides may not matter at all. Then again, in a matchup this tightly contested, it may be the very thing that deprives St. Louis from a title.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
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