Defense The Unlikely Hero For Brewers Against St. Louis | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

There’s always more to a baseball game than two plays, but there is also no denying the importance of two specific plays in Monday night’s Brewers victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. First, in a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fifth, Nyjer Morgan capped off the biggest inning of the Brewers second half to date with a three-RBI double to center field. Then, thanks to a questionable (read: blown) call at first base, the Brewers turned an inning ending double play in the following inning to escape a bases-loaded jam.

In sum, these two plays contributed +31.4% in terms of win probability for Milwaukee. And regardless of your point of view, defense clearly played a huge role in both.

To be sure, there is a level of snark hurled squarely in the direction of Tony La Russa when we ask “Would Colby Rasmus have cut off (or even caught) Nyjer Morgan’s double?” But it is of La Russa’s own actions we have come to this point. Rasmus is considered one of the better outfield defenders in the game — and I tend to buy league-wide opinions and scouting reports over 100 games of UZR data. Jay has plus speed, a favorable reputation by his own right, and gets generally good reviews from those who watch the Cardinals, but…

But watching this play live, and then watching it over and over again, it’s hard for me to find something good to say about Jay’s defense. The crazy amount of spin Nyjer Morgan’s inside-out swing puts on the ball makes it look at catchable at first and then drift towards no-man’s land in left-center, but Jay never looked like he had a chance at catching the ball. Once the ball dropped Jay made an immensely unathletic pickup and throw to the infield, allowing Corey Hart, a man who can almost remember what speed is, to score all the way from first base.

Of course, the Brewers are no strangers to poor defense. This is a team employing Prince Fielder, Casey McGehee, Corey Hart, and, most infamously, Yuniesky Betancourt. So, naturally, Betancourt would be involved in the biggest (and, again naturally, the most controversial) defensive play of the night. Although it was Felipe Lopez who actually fielded the broken bat grounder off the stick of Skip Schumaker, first base umpire Rob Drake isn’t even given the opportunity to blow the call at first base if Yuniesky Betancourt doesn’t release the ball as quickly and as sharply as possible.

Betancourt took full advantage of the neighborhood rule in retiring David Freese at third, and a strong throw at least made the play close enough for Drake to reward the Brewers with an out call. It’s not completely obvious from the live feed or the replay on, but a slow-mo replay on the FSWisconsin broadcast clearly showed Schumaker touching first before the ball hit Prince Fielder’s glove. Still, some amount of credit goes to Felipe Lopez and (mostly) Betancourt for getting the ball in and out quickly.

There can be healthy debate on which team is more talented overall; there can be none on which is superior defensively. Surely Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman didn’t make themselves look great tonight, but the Brewers have major issues defensively that simply don’t exist for St. Louis. According to Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, the Cardinals make plays on just under 2% more balls in play than the Brewers. That doesn’t sound like much, but considering that each team has played 100 games, with many going to 40 or 50 at-bats, we’re talking about a very large sample. The difference comes out to 48 plays made in the Cardinals’ favor, or about one extra play made every two games.

Things were different on Monday night, as the Brewers hit the Cardinals in what just might be their trouble spot in the outfield, and Milwaukee’s own trouble spot up the middle came up big when it counted. Let’s just hope the Brewers don’t count on a repeat showing over the next two days, because they’re not likely to be quite so fortunate again.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Chris says: August 2, 2011

    In your excoriation of the Brewers defense you mentioned many of the usual suspects, but forgot one: Ryan Braun. Dude made a nice play on Sunday, but he remains, in general, a butcher in LF. The best thing that can be said about Braun’s defense is that he is not Carlos Lee out there.

  2. Chip Hunter says: August 2, 2011

    Good piece. And last night also featured another illustrative case – the pop over McGehee’s head that hit him on the glove-side wrist. Tough play for him or for most 3bs, but from TV it looked like the kind of ball that a quicker shortstop catches. And that doesn’t even show up as a ball in play because it’s foul.

  3. JC says: August 2, 2011

    Disclaimer: I am new to the stat community.

    Is the difference in the number of plays made by the Cards over the Brewers related to the fact that the Brew Crew has struck out 145 more batters this year than the Redbirds staff? That is almost 1.5 outs per game more.

    Thanks in advance for an explanation.

  4. Jack Moore says: August 2, 2011

    No, balls in play is ABs – Strikeouts – Home runs, so we’re only talking about batted balls landing in the field of play.

  5. Craig Lewis says: August 2, 2011

    Tremendous job here Uecker. Yep, I’m a Cardinal fan. I’m in agreement that the STL defense last night was more representative of an average AA team. Jay looked like a fool on Morgan’s fly ball. In addition to the wrong route to the ball & bobbling it off the wall he then airmailed a rainbow to neither of two possible cutoff men allowing Mr. Hart to score from 1st. There was Schumacher’s failure to cover 1st base on a bunt fielded by Molina, a Brewer runner being held up after passing 3rd base so far off the base that all it would take was anyone who had a glove near 3rd base to just catch the ball and apply a tag. David Freese the Cards 3Baseman stood 6 or 7 feet north/northeast of 3rd base almost out of touch with reality, perhaps thinking about membranes in multi-universe string theory as opposed to where the runner was that he could have tagged out. This kind of stuff has been happening behind Carpenter all year. Though he won’t admit to it in the press, he gets pissed and starts giving up hits. At that point, quickly, its time to come see him, and given the quarts of sweat pouring off the bill of his cap perhaps it was bullpen time. STL just beefed up its bullpen why not use the damn thing? Nah, can’t do that. And then there’s the inability of players with runners in scoring position to exercise a little bat control and hit the ball down into the hard ground in front of the plate, or direct the ball towards an area where the easiest double play possible cannot be pulled off. How about the big 3, Albert, Matt & Berkman. What is it that prevents these guys from hitting in concert with each other. Did they make a blood brothers agreement pre-season to not light up opposing pitchers back to back to back, or even back to back? And what’s wrong with Theriot at short? Based on his recent benching after hitting 6 for 7 with 6 rbi’s in 2 games against the Cubs, I think I may have correctly surmised that Theriot has become Rasmus’ replacement for TLR to wage war against with mind bullets. In other words I don’t believe Furcal was needed. However, I’m just a fan that watches every game, every pitch, every play of Cardinal baseball plus many more MLB games each year. I study the stats, follow players, the AAA teams, prospects, filter out the corporate speak of management, learn more and more of the history of the Cardinal organization each day as well as other teams. Heck I even have a 64 Ueker STL Topps card in my collection. Man I’m frustrated.


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