Cardinals have lived up to defensive expectations – maybe not how you’d expect

By MARK SIMON

Coming into the season, the Cardinals were expected to be one of the best defensive teams in baseball.

Despite a season interrupted by a Covid-19 outbreak, the Cardinals have lived up to those expectations.

The Cardinals are tied for third in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved with 19. That’s despite having played only 32 games, while most of the other teams have reached or are approaching 40.

 Defensive Runs SavedGames Played
Dodgers3142
White Sox2041
Cardinals1932
Twins1942
Indians1440

The Cardinals rank first in the majors in turning ground balls and bunts into outs with a 79% conversion rate. They also rank first in the majors in turning balls hit in the air that didn’t leave the ballpark into outs (73%, with an MLB-best 67% rate on balls hit to the outfield).

The Cardinals have done this without having a player near the top of the Runs Saved leaderboard. Your five guesses at the team leaders would probably be Kolten Wong, Harrison Bader, Yadier Molina, Paul Goldschmidt, and Paul DeJong. They would all be wrong. Outfielders Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill lead the team with 5 and 4 Runs Saved, respectively. Carlson has at least one Run Saved at each of the three outfield spots. O’Neill has done his work in left field.

Wong, who won the Fielding Bible Award at second base the last two seasons has a respectable 3 Runs Saved. Seven players have more.  DeJong, who tied for the MLB lead with 26 Runs Saved at shortstop last season, sits at an MLB average 0 in 2020, the same total as Molina at catcher. Bader has 1 Run Saved in 2020. Goldschmidt has 2. They’ve all been alright to good. None has been great.

What sticks out about the Cardinals regarding why their Runs Saved total is so high is that they don’t have a bad defensive player. They have three players who are a smidge below average so far – Brad Miller (-1 Run Saved), Matt Wieters (-1), and Dexter Fowler (-2), with Fowler currently on the IL with a stomach ailment.

There are 72 players who entered Monday at -3 Runs Saved or worse this season. They’re on the other 29 teams. The Cardinals have none of them. They’ve maximized the talents of their players through the first half of their season.

The Cardinals Way this season seems to be to go about their defensive business with workmanlike consistency, not allowing bad performance to take root. Seems like a good way to approach things in the field.

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