After the first month of the season, the St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball. Their offense has been outstanding. Despite losing Chris Carpenter to the DL (yet again), their pitching has been surprisingly good. Everything seems to be clicking. Well, almost everything. There's something rotten in St. Louis, and it's their defense. Going into Sunday, the Cardinals have a major league leading 22 errors.
Poking around at Fangraphs, the errors been worth -4.4 runs. That's using MGL's error runs stat, a component of UZR, with is simply defined as "the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by the number of errors he makes as compared to an average fielder at that position given the same distribution of balls in play." Five of the errors have come from new acquisition Khalil Greene. Four have come from outfielder turned second baseman Skip Schumaker. Total, the duo have -2.2 error runs.
Errors can be overblown at times, and fielding is not just about avoiding errors, but it's also about range, throwing and turning double plays. Obviously, good infielders make more plays on balls hit in their vicinity more than the average fielder.
What I'm trying to get to is the Cardinals middle infield defense has been dreadful. In a winter where we saw defense become the new "Moneyball", the Cardinals expressed zero interest in resigning Cesar Izturis, whose glove was worth to them +9.1 runs in 2008 according to UZR. They ran off Adam Kennedy due to some weird personality issues with the manager, and Kennedy's glove was worth +10.6 runs in '08. Now it's only May, but newly acquired Khalil Greene, thought to be an upgrade with the bat, has a -3.8 UZR to go with a .310 wOBA. Only Yuniesky Betancourt has been worse among regular shortstops. (-4.1).
Now I have to hand it to the Cardinals for thinking out of the box by trying to convert Schumaker from the outfield to second base, but the experiment is not working at all right now, with Skip at -4.0 runs, worst among every day second baseman. It's also worth noting the Cardinals also at times have used Schumaker as a defensive replacement at times in left field, and apparently back and forth movement is messing with his head, as his UZR -2.9 in just 22.1 innings. He was worth +8.1 runs in left last year. Maybe it's just some sample size oddity, but I found it interesting.
I'd expect both players should seem some sort of improvement. I mean, their UZR per 150 games total is -81 runs (!!!), but Greene's glove has been in decline for a while now, and while no one expected Schumaker to be Mark Ellis after just a month or two, at this rate he'll make Jeff Kent blush. I'd still like to see if Schumaker can make the conversion happen, but the Cardinals may not be able to afford the luxury of waiting and see if it works out if they want to keep their lead in the NL Central.