During their three-game sweep of the Mets at Citi Field, the Cardinals fully demonstrated their strengths in playing defense and running the bases. They had a clear edge over the Mets in both areas, and the advantages were a factor in the three victories.
This, of course, was nothing new.
I tend to be too hard on Cards manager Mike Shildt, but I’ve never held back my praise for his impact on sharpening the team’s fundamentals. He’s done a superb job of ensuring that the Cardinals honor their tradition — and the cherished late instructor George Kissell — by making defense and baserunning a priority.
Under previous manager Mike Matheny, the Cardinals frequently played shoddy defense and ran amok on the bases. The glaring ineptitude cost the team runs, and outs. The sloppiness frustrated fans, and Matheny’s neglect was a factor in his dismissal.
Shildt has remained true to his pledge to put the time and effort into upgrading defense and baserunning by making it a focal point in spring training, and in team “Ball Talk” meetings during the season.
Note: I didn’t include 2018 in these numbers; Shildt took over for Matheny on July 15 and managed only 42 percent of the team’s games that season. The Cardinals did show improvement in their defense and baserunning after the change, but with two managers directing the club that season, it’s best to disregard 2018 in our accounting. I’ll use the numbers under Matheny from 2012 through 2017. And for Shildt, the pertinent seasons are 2019 through the present day.
RUNNING THE BASES
According to Bill James Online…
Net baserunning gain under Matheny: minus 98 in 972 games.
Net baserunning gain under Shildt: plus 90 in 365 games.
Net stolen base success under Matheny: plus 6.
Net stolen base success under Shildt: plus 90.
Forece-outs are never part of the accounting on baserunning. Not counting steal attempts, here’s the net difference between bases taken on the bases, and outs made on the bases…
Matheny: minus 104.
Shildt: plus 47.
Not much to add after seeing that. But I’ll point out that the Cardinals have made the fewest number of outs on the bases this season, with only three. And they are tied for fourth overall and rank second in the NL in bases taken at 43 percent.
FYI, I use the Fielding Bible data.
Defensive runs saved in 972 games under Matheny: plus 64.
Defensive runs saved in 365 games under Shildt: plus 182.
With Shildt as manager the Cardinals were ranked fourth in MLB for defensive runs saved in 2019 (73), were first overall in 2020 (36 in 58 games) and are ranked first this season with 73 runs saved.
There are multiple standouts on defense for the 2021 Cardinals. Let’s look at each spot on the diamond, and I’ll list the ranking of each Cardinal among all MLB fielders at his position for Defensive Runs Saved.
Catcher: Yadier Molina, +4, ranks 11th
Pitcher: Adam Wainwright, +3, ranks 8th
First Base: Paul Goldschmidt, +10, ranks 1st
Second Base: Tommy Edman, +5, ranks 7th
Third Base: Nolan Arenado, +7, ranks 6th
Shortstop: Edmundo Sosa, +6, ranks 5th. And Paul DeJong, +5, ranks 7th
Left Field: Tyler O’Neill, +10, ranks 1st
Center Field: Harrison Bader, +17, ranks second.
Right Field: Dylan Carlson, +2, ranks 13th
— It’s pretty remarkable to see that every Cardinal starter is a “plus” defender. Heck, they even have two plus defenders at shortstop.
— The Cardinals as a team have only one defensive runs saved at second base. But that’s because Matt Carpenter is a minus 7 at second base. He’s also a minus one at first base and third base.
— Bader ranks second among center fielders only because he’s played 296 fewer innings this season than Kansas City’s Michael A. Taylor. Without missing considerable time with injuries, Bader almost certainly would have more than Taylor’s total of 20 runs saved in center.
— Sosa would rank higher in the rankings for runs saved at shortstop, but 31 MLB shortstops have played more innings there than Sosa. That makes Sosa’s +6 DRS and No. 5 ranking even more impressive. DeJong has played 793 innings at shortstop this season compared to Sosa’s 451 innings.
— Sosa also has been credited with two runs saved at second base, and another run saved at third base. He has nine total runs saved at three infield positions this season. Only 12 infielders (regardless of position) have saved more runs this season than Sosa. But here’s the kicker: 102 big-league infielders have logged more innings than Sosa this year. So he ranks 103rd in innings played and is tied for 13th with runs saved? Edmundo plays exceptional defense.
— Arenado has been gaining ground on the defensive runs saved totals among MLB third basemen. But one of the guys who replaced in Colorado, Ryan McMahon, is second among MLB third basemen with 13 defensive runs saved. And McMahon has played 457 fewer innings than Arenado at 3B this year.
— Catcher DRS numbers are never fair to Molina; some of his finest attributes can’t be included in the ratings. Qualities that include pitch selection, coaching pitchers, and suppressing the running game because opponents attempt relatively few steals on him. Only 43 attempts in 920.1 innings so far. And he’s thrown out 42 percent of the runners who try to swipe a base on him. That’s the highest caught-stealing percentage among the 17 MLB catchers that had worked at least 700 innings this season through Thursday.
Thanks for reading …
It is my pleasure to write for you.
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.