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A Shallow Defensive Analysis
2003-03-10 08:42
by Jon Weisman

You still don't hear the "Defense, Defense" cheer at baseball games, but improved play in the field was one of the reasons the Dodgers were able to scratch out their 92 wins last season.

The team set a franchise record by making only 90 errors. Admittedly, errors are only a part of the whole fielding picture - they don't reflect the balls that the Dodgers didn't get to. But still, making fewer errors is better than making a whole mess of 'em.

Will defense continue to be an asset for the Dodgers? Let's try taking an unscientific look.

Outfield: Dodger outfielders made 11 errors last season: Marquis Grissom 4, Brian Jordan 4, Shawn Green 2, Hiram Bocachica 1. Dave Roberts made none in 257 chances. Roberts will get more time in center this year with Grissom gone, but left field is probably more vulnerable with Jordan being backed up by Mike Kinkade and Daryle Ward. Call it even, and continue to beware of tough balls hit to left that will go for doubles.

Third base: Adrian Beltre 20, Dave Hansen 2, Jolbert Cabrera 1. Beltre's rep is that he makes errors on the easy plays and nails the tough ones. He also was involved in fewer double plays per game last year in previous years. Still, fielding is considered a strength for him - he stays in the lineup even when he's not hitting. But just like with his hitting, we are wondering whether this will be the year it really all comes together for him. I say it will be, and predict some improvement.

Shortstop: Cesar Izturis 10, Alex Cora 5, Jeff Reboulet 2. This is the Dodgers' strongest defensive position. Izturis is a natural, and if he can hit enough to stay in the lineup, that's a good sign for the defense. Even if he can't, Cora is capable.

Second base: Mark Grudzielanek 7, Cora 2, Reboulet 2. Grudz and Eric Karros had shockingly low error totals - they were two main reasons the Dodgers set their record. But Cora often replaced Grudzielanek in the late innings for defensive reasons last year, indicating what Jim Tracy thought of the range of the soon-to-be-a-Cub. The thing is, Joe Thurston doesn't figure to be that much better. If Thurston hits - which is more important - this could be a place where the Dodgers backslide.

First base: Karros 4, Tyler Houston 2, Paul Lo Duca 1. Karros was a lackidasical fielder, league-leading fielding percentage or not. Fred McGriff's reputation is worse, though. A few more errors here for first base, and maybe a few more for the other infielders as well.

Catcher: Lo Duca 8, Chad Kreuter 3. The bigger issue for Lo Duca is whether he can improve upon his poor stats throwing out runners, and his 12 passed balls. The guess here is that he will do on the former, if not the latter. But replacing Kreuter with Todd Hundley will put a lot more defensive stress behind the plate. For the third position in a row, look for some overall dropoff.

Pitcher: Hideo Nomo 4, Odalis Perez 2, Andy Ashby 1, Kevin Brown 1, Kazuhisa Ishii 1, Terry Mulholland 1. This spot always seems like a fielding crapshoot to me.

Overall, the Dodgers defense looks slightly but not substantially weaker. It's enough that it could make a difference in a few games, but not enough to reverse the help that improved hitting and healthier pitching could provide. The Dodgers have won titles with worse defenses - back when the Dodgers used to win titles.

I'd still watch those error totals in April. If they are making more than three a week, I might start to worry.

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