Smell the Gloves: They Stink
5.4.03: Oh, God. I think I'm going to be sick.
I haven't squirmed like this since I watched my fiancée get laser eye surgery.
The Red Sox don't "play" defense, they "fight" defense. I'm still trying to figure out which of today's throws to the plate was most nauseating: Johnny Damon's embarrassing fling from shallow center, Nomar's almost physically impossible misfire from shallow left or Shea Hillenbrand's gack from 70 feet away. Sure, the bullpen has been a disaster, but that could be largely solved with one deadline acquisition. The team's wretched defense and organization-wide disregard for its importance will plague the Sox this season and beyond. And don't be fooled by fielding percentage. While the Sox made a bunch of errors in dropping this weekend's series, it's the balls they don't get to, the DPs they don't turn and the cutoff men they miss that kill them.
Where to begin? Well, since we embarrassed ourselves against the Twins, let's start with our twins: David Ortiz and Jeremy Giambi.
Ortiz and Giambi are clones offensively. Ortiz has a career .264 batting average with an .805 career OPS and Giambi has an identical .264 BA and an .809 OPS. They are both incredibly slow and yet in their brief time with the Sox both have hit the ball on the ground more than in the air. But the real similarity is on defense, where both are zeroes. I watched a spring training game in which Ortiz looked lost on a bunt popped in front of him, let another popup land right behind him and butchered a routine ground ball. No range, no instincts, no hands. What does it say that Grady Little believes Giambi is worse? And why would you need both these players on your roster? Do we really need to do more research on the October effectiveness of stockpiling slow, stone-gloved DH-types? These guys are the poster children for not caring about defense. Can you imagine how quickly the bile would fill your throat on a difficult chopper hit to Ortiz's right in a close playoff game?
What about new acquisitions Todd Walker and Kevin Millar? I love their approach at the plate, but, again, they are significantly below average defensively. Walker's range limitations are well-documented, his pivot is less than slick, his arm unimpressive and his hands none too soft.
Millar is a gamer, a terrific hitter and clearly a wonderful teammate. I love this guy. But without a bat in his hand, he's hurting the team. For some reason he was playing first in the bottom of the ninth with a one-run lead in Anaheim last weekend - perhaps Grady forgot that he had dubbed Shea our late-inning defensive first baseman. Millar charged a ball he should have waited on, turned it into an in-between hop and booted it. It wasn't that he made an error -- everyone does -- it was the way he booted it that was so depressing. In that moment, your suspicions were confirmed. Our new favorite player is basically another DH.
Against the Twins Friday night Millar had three misplays that were not errors, the most embarrassing of which was being several feet from the bag as he tried to complete a routine 3-6-3 double play. The ball finds your weak defenders. And on this team, how can it not?
Today, the Sox created one of the largest Bermuda triangles in Major League history by starting Millar in right with Ortiz at first, leaving second baseman Bill Mueller responsible for all the acreage between the two thick-wasted statues. If you remember, though you can be excused for trying to forget, all the trouble started on a pop fly by Dustin Mohr down the right-field line with the Sox leading 4-0. Mueller made a solid effort in trying to reach the ball, but Millar and Ortiz weren't even in the picture when the ball plunked down in fair territory. Captain Ahab and Peter Stuyvesant would cover more ground than this seemingly peg-legged duo.
While we're out there, let's talk about our regular rightfielder. Trot Nixon tries his hardest on every play. It is very hard to fault a guy for this. But here goes. Most of Trot's defensive mistakes stem from his consuming desire. Even though his arm is not in the Ichiro-Vlad class, he wants to throw everyone out, no matter if the guy is already three-quarters of the way home as the ball reaches him. This leads to his chronic airmailing of the cutoff man. How many times has a runner moved up into scoring position under the comical parabola of one of Trot's rainbows? But perhaps the best example to date of Trot's desire hurting the team came last week against Kansas City. With two outs and nobody on, Carlos Beltran hit a sinking line drive at Trot. Base hit all the way. But valor always being the better part of discretion for Trot, he made a ridiculous dive for the ball, failed to get a glove on it and had the ball bounce over him for an inside-the-park home run. It reminded me of Mike Greenwell's "bad hustle," the kind of unthinking effort that announcers usually excuse with the lame "you can't fault a guy for hustling like that." Guess what? You can. You should. Dumb plays are dumb plays. With the winning run on third, you dive for that ball. With two outs and nobody on in a scoreless game, you take it on a hop.
And why does Johnny Damon look like he's throwing with his off hand? This is the throwing motion my mom uses to toss the football around with her grandson. Seriously, can a guy have this weak an arm in the Major Leagues? He would have the third-strongest outfield arm on my softball team. (I'm not kidding.) In today's debacle, the less-than-speedy Corey Koskie tagged and scored on a 200-foot pop fly to center. I actually thought Damon's throw might come to rest before it reached home plate. The worst part is that even Johnny was apparently surprised that someone would try to score on such a shallow pop, so instead of gathering behind the ball and catching it in mid-crow-hop, he caught it flat-footed before starting his arthritic, herky-jerky throwing motion.
Which brings us to today's other two nominees for most humiliating imitation of an adult male throwing a baseball.
For the second time this season -- anyone remember Pedro's lone unearned run in the Opening Day calamity? -- Shea Hillenbrand failed to throw a guy out at the plate when he could have beaten the runner by rolling the ball home. But, in fairness, Shea continues to improve at the hot corner, and if he plays a couple games at first each week, I'll bet he doesn't even lead the league in errors by a third baseman for the second straight year.
Nomar, however, made a strong statement Friday night that he won't give up the American League Error Crown he won last year without a fight. After leading the league with 25 E's last season, Nomar doubled his early-season total with three E-6's in Friday's loss to the Twins. Somehow he avoided another error today when the official scorer awarded Michael Cuddyer a triple -- on a ball into the left-field corner? -- after Nomar made one of his classic Bend It Like Beckham throws, oh, 30 feet off target in the direction of home plate. The sad thing is that all three runners would have been out at home with the simplest C+ throws.
So let's sum up:
The Red Sox left side each led their position in errors last year. The Red Sox new right side is a significant downgrade from last year and perhaps the worst in the American League. The centerfielder can't throw. This team was built for 12-9 games in July.
What is it again that wins championships? Pitching and...