Yadier Molina’s eight-year reign as the top defensive catcher in the National League ended this past week when Buster Posey unseated the St. Louis Cardinals legend as the Senior Circuit’s Gold Glove Award winner.
Those who saw Molina play regularly this season and are objective are probably not surprised. Though the 34-year old had a very consistent year with the bat, his work behind the plate was not up to his career standard.
Until I took a look at the measurements, I did not realize the distance of the drop. According to the SABR Defensive Index (SDI), Molina barely had a positive value for the 2016 season, at 0.7. That was eighth among NL backstops, with Posey, whose SDI was 15.2, ranked on top.
One year ago, Molina was third at 7.0, also trailing catching SDI leader Posey at 10.0.
Before you attack SDI, understand that it has a solid foundation, based on a group of defensive metrics. Though some discount any single-season’s worth of fielding results, those behind the SDI originally created and refined many of the measurements and devised the Index as a blended measure of multiple stats.
Like it or not, this calculation of Major League Baseball player defensive value by position is weighted at 25 percent of the annual Gold Glove Award voting, with managers and coaches carrying the rest. (SDI background can be viewed here.)
With that in mind, let’s look at how several St. Louis Cardinals fared in the final update of the SDI for the 2016 season. (Because of its importance in the Gold Glove Award results, the final SDI was not published until after the winners were announced.)
These rankings are especially enlightening, since the Gold Glove Award announcements only include the top three finishers by position.
As it turned out, Molina was not alone as a disappointing Cardinal on defense.
In fact, the overall story is worse.
Of the eight Cardinals position players listed, four of them compiled a negative SDI – while ranking near the bottom of their respective positions. They include three-quarters of the 2016 infield – Brandon Moss, Aledmys Diaz and Matt Carpenter – along with left-fielder Matt Holliday.
Of the four St. Louis pitchers among the 36 ranked in the NL, Mike Leake registered in the top tier. Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright were in the middle while Carlos Martinez is the fifth Cardinal with a negative SDI.
Here are the NL leaders by position with the various Cardinals listed alongside.
|National League||Top SDI||SDI||Cardinals||SDI||Rank|
|Catcher||Buster Posey||15.2||Yadier Molina||0.7||8th of 12|
|First base||Anthony Rizzo||8.6||Brandon Moss||-2.3||9th of 11|
|Second base||Joe Panik||8.5||Jedd Gyorko||6.0||T3rd of 14|
|Third base||Nolan Arenado||12.2||Matt Carpenter||-0.6||11th of 15|
|Shortstop||Addison Russell||17.2||Aledmys Diaz||-7.8||13th of 15|
|Left field||Adam Duvall||9.1||Matt Holliday||-5.0||10th of 11|
|Center field||Ender Inciarte||16.4||Randal Grichuk||1.1||5th of 14|
|Right field||Jason Heyward||15.9||Stephen Piscotty||2.0||4th of 13|
|Pitcher||Bartolo Colon||4.6||Mike Leake||3.1||6th of 36|
|Jaime Garcia||0.5||16th of 36|
|Adam Wainwright||0.2||20th of 36|
|Carlos Martinez||-1.0||27th of 36|
Looking at this in its entirety, it only confirms what we already witnessed with our own eyes – the 2016 Cardinals were a subpar defensive team.
One can already see the potential for improvement, however. Of the four position players with negative SDI’s, two have left the team (Moss and Holliday) and a third will be moving positions for 2017 (Carpenter from third to first base).
Further, if Grichuk is replaced by a better defensive center fielder, left field defense will improve as well. The same could occur if the team secures a new, good-fielding left fielder instead.
On the downside, the team’s worst defender in terms of 2016 SDI, Diaz, is returning. Given his considerable struggles in the field early in the season, perhaps the shortstop will improve in his sophomore year – though his late season results did not indicate that trend. In the August 7 update, Diaz’ SDI was -6.9, 11th in the NL. His final score was -7.8, with only two NL shortstops scoring worse over the course of the 2016 season.
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