In defense of fielding

If you watched Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins you saw something the Mets had not done in ages. No Zack Wheeler did not pitch a No-Hitter, but he did have a good outing in which he scattered eight hits and a walk perfectly across eight innings; allowing two to reach base in only one inning. The unprecedented accomplishment done by the Mets was merely that they looked like a real major league team fielding in the infield, and specifically up the middle.

Adeiny Hechavarria and Luis Guillorme put on a clinic as Wheeler forced groundball after groundball. A total of 18 outs were recorded in the game due to groundballs thanks in part to three double plays. Groundballs made up 75% of the Marlins’ contact. With base runners in every inning, Wheeler and the Mets were able to not allow any runs in part to some fantastic infield defense.

Now Mets fans know middle infield defense has not been this team’s strong suit in decades, and especially not this year with their two main middle infielders, Amed Rosario and Robinson Cano, contributing a combined -19 Defensive Runs Saved per Fangraphs. Funny enough the duo has committed exactly that many errors on the season as well. While Rosario’s defense has noticeably improved as of late, this has been an ongoing issue for years on this team.

Everyone remembers the Rueben Tejada and Daniel Murphy years where there was a depressing lack of range, and every double play ball made you hold your breath. Mixed in there was the aging Asdrubal Cabrera who was never a highly-esteemed fielder, as well as Wilmer Flores playing everyday shortstop for a time. 2010 was probably the last time the Mets had solid infield defense with Ike Davis, Luis Castillo, Jose Reyes, and David Wright. However, just the year before Reyes was hurt, Murphy was playing first, and Castillo infamously dropped a popup in a subway series. I apologize for bringing this up, but it serves to drive the point home.

What was shown Tuesday night seemed to defy the laws of Mets baseball. The steadiness of Hechavarria combined with the quick hands of Guillorme, even though they overturned the neighborhood rule on one play, make for an impressive double play combination. This is something that the Mets need when they have groundball pitchers on the mound, and really maybe any pitcher.

The formula going forward may be as follows: expect great starting pitching, have the big bats hit a couple of solo home runs, have good defenders at every other position, and pray the bullpen can hold it down. Obviously, each game is unique, but it is hard to imagine the Mets celebrating much success if they are a team built on pitching that cannot field. As much as fielding is overlooked in sabermetrics, it is hard to not see the mental drain errors have on both a pitcher and the team as a whole.

The Mets still committed nine errors in the 14 games of their recent hot streak. That matches their season pace of errors per game. They simply cannot afford these mistakes against the Nationals, Braves, and other stronger squads they play in the upcoming weeks. While Hechavarria and Guillorme cannot hit, one of them needs to be in the infield every day and maybe even both if Rosario cools. Hopefully we see more games like Tuesday throughout the rest of this month and into September. Perhaps if we do, we’ll even see some in October.

6 comments for “In defense of fielding

  1. TexasGusCC
    August 8, 2019 at 9:32 am

    Guillorme hasn’t had a long opportunity, but has had some chances. Hechy isn’t going to change. Mike Puma says the Mets have locked in on Panik, and it’s understandable. But, the Mets always find ways to suppress their own and embrace other people’s castoffs. Hard to understand why Herrera isn’t up yet, but remember who owns the Syracuse team…

  2. Chris B
    August 8, 2019 at 10:45 am

    Good article Brendan. The idea of pairing a ground ball pitcher with good infield defense is a synergy. There are ideas out there that teams should be built around such synergies to create the ‘optimal’ roster.

    You raise a good point that the other night’s game was fun to watch. Hech and Guillorme put on a show and I found myself audibly excited by it.

    It’s unfortunate that Cano is a shell of his former self and will be a black hole for years to come, also can’t stick him at first. I believe that BVW was betting on the DH coming to the NL and that backfired.

  3. Bugsy
    August 8, 2019 at 11:56 am

    It has been shocking and dismaying to me that the Mets have ignored the importance of defense on a team that is built around pitching.

    For anybody who remembers the 69 mets, with agee and grote and buddy harrelson and others, or that great infield of olerud/alfonzo/ordonez/ventura,
    The defensive play of recent years has been painful to watch.
    I will always believe tgat The 2015 mets would have won the series if not for their many defensive lapses.

    • Brendan Vachris
      August 8, 2019 at 9:42 pm

      Wish I could remember those days, seems like my whole lifetime it has been nothing but terrible. I get it that fielding is not easy but how can some of these guys be so bad while working at it every day!

  4. Chris F
    August 8, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. The games are about to get faster putting defense at even more of a premium.

  5. August 8, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    Being strong up the middle is what championships are made of. The Mets have good if not above average pitching in most cases but their defense leaves a lot to be desired. This has been the case for too many years. Remember, plays not made are the killers that don’t show up in the boxscore.

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