Cardinals GM John Mozeliak called his team’s defense “porous” and suggested that the club would look to improve in that area this winter, Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
This year’s St. Louis team has been one of the worst in baseball by measure of UZR. Mozeliak evidently agrees with that assessment, though it should be noted that DRS rates the Cards’ D as average. Apart from the matter of allowing unearned runs, the Cardinals landed in the middle of the pack at preventing earned runs, posting a 4.13 team ERA one season after running up a league-best 2.94 mark.
Clearly, there are other causal factors at play beyond the glovework. The pitching staff’s uninspiring performance is chief among them, but there was also some inevitable regression in store after the team’s hurlers outperformed the peripherals last year. Still, the runs prevented by stellar defense are just as valuable as those avoided owing mostly to pitching.
The question in bolstering the defense, though, is how to accomplish that goal without taking runs off the board by sacrificing productivity at the plate. “A lot of times it’s at what cost,” says Mozeliak. “To get better defense, we may have to take a step back offensively.”
There were some positives on an individual level this year. Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko both showed well, with the latter representing a pleasant surprise in a versatile role. The position-switching that the team ultimately employed to account for injuries and keep its best bats in the lineup may ultimately have contributed to the fielding malaise, Mozeliak hinted. (Indeed, Jhonny Peralta was panned by defensive metrics after his move to third base.) But, he added: “I still see clubs that have better defensive flexibility that have played better defense.”
It will be interesting to see what route the organization takes to improve its defensive effort in 2017. The infield seems largely set heading into the winter, but perhaps the outfield will be an area of focus. Matt Holliday remains a question mark — his option probably will not be exercised, but he could be retained — and the Cards could look to fill in with a defensively proficient replacement or instead pursue a new center fielder while shifting Randal Grichuk to the corner.