After Tuesday’s embarrassing loss to the Nationals in which the deciding run scored on a throwing error by Luis Castillo in the bottom of the eighth, manager Jerry Manuel put forth the regular platitudes about shaping up and playing better defensive ball. It occurred to me that beyond the management of the pitching staff, defense was probably the best area of the game for a manager to make his imprint. Defensive drills and positioning could go a long way towards helping the team play better defense.
Upon checking the numbers, I was surprised to find that the Mets are possibly the worst defensive team in baseball. That’s right, the worst. Their UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games) is -6.2, meaning that the average Met is 6.2 runs worse defensively than the average Major League baseball player. The Twins are at -6.0 and, not surprisingly for a veteran team, the Yankees are next at -4.8. All the way on the other end of the spectrum, the Mariners are 9.2 runs better, on average, per 150 games.
Roll back the clock to 2008, though, and the Mets were 4.4 runs better than average and fifth in the league. What happened?
It may just be the same story as what happened to the rest of the team. Take away Jose Reyes (+1.8 UZR/150 career) and replace him with Alex Cora (-5.4 UZR/150 this year). Then replace Carlos Beltran (+3.6 UZR/150 career) with Angel Pagan (-1.4 UZR/150 in CF career). Add in an 85-year old left fielder in Gary Sheffield (-23.1 UZR/150 this year) and a little seasoning from fellow octogenarian Luis Castillo (-10.5 UZR/150 this year), and you’ve got your bad defense right there.
Of course, turning Carlos Delgado (-3.8 UZR/150 career) into Daniel Murphy (+5.2 UZR/150) this year was a turn for the positive. Also, Jeff Francouer (+5.9 UZR/150 career) was a positive addition, even if most of his defensive ability is built into his rocket arm. But a couple fingers in the dike does not stop a flood.
Looking at these numbers, it’s hard to really blame Manuel. Castillo has been declining defensively for years, and Manuel did not sign him to that stupid contract. Sheffield can barely move in the outfield. Manuel didn’t hurt Beltran’s knees or take out Reyes’ hammy. All he can do is run the defensive drills and try to put his best defensive team on the grass.
But Omar Minaya? It looks like it’s time to put Luis Castillo out of his misery. He’s giving up more runs on defense than he’s creating on offense, and any step back offensively would make him absolutely worthless. Maybe a team doesn’t value defense much and wants Castillo, with some money shaved off the contract. It’s time to do it.
Remember that the easiest way to manufacture a quick turnaround in this game is on defense. Look at last year’s leaders in UZR/150 (the Phillies and the Rays) and learn from them. Get your studs back, and let the old men go. Think about the defense.