Here is an early vote for John Mozeliak as the Executive of the Year. It has little to do with the Cardinals winning the pennant. Once the playoffs start, it's a crap shoot. Kevin Towers did an excellent job in Arizona and I don't want to shortchange what he did. However, Mozeliak made adjustments during the offseason, and during the season, that made the Cardinals what they are.
People will focus on acquiring Edwin Jackson and the bolstering of the bullpen. Those were important moves to be sure, but the biggest moves were Rafael Furcal and moving Colby Rasmus out of town. A lot has been said about Rasmus and it doesn't need to be rehashed. In this case, the bigger key was getting Jon Jay into the lineup. In one broad stroke, Mozeliak moved two shaky fielders out of the lineup and put two good ones in their place.
So, when you read the rankings below, remember that much of that came between April and August. Once the calendar changed, the defense did as well. It is no coincidence that the Cardinals began their run when those moves were made. So, the Cardinals may have appeared to have had the shakiest defense of the playoffs, but the truth was something else.
DER: .687 (23rd)
RA: 692 (15th)
FLD%: .982 (23rd)
Baseball Reference: -6 runs (20th)
Fangraphs: -29.8 runs (27th)
Fielding Bible: -12 runs (21st)
Baseball Prospectus: -3.0 runs (19th)
Composite Runs: -12.7 runs
That is what general managing is all about. When you are still in the race you isolate your weaknesses and fill in the holes. The Cardinals had a thin rotation and bullpen, but the defense was a more acute issue. Bad defense makes a thin rotation look thinner. It makes a shaky bullpen shakier. So, the Cardinal team you've seen in the playoffs is dramatically different than the one you see above.
Pound for pound, the best defender on this team is Jon Jay. He was getting plenty of starts spelling Lance Berkman, Rasmus and Matt Holliday, but the trade allowed him to focus on one position. He likely won't get too much run for the Gold Glove, but he deserves some. Whether he is one of the top three defensive outfielders in the National League is open for debate, but he is definitely very valuable to the Cardinals.
From April to the end of July, the Cards were throwing out Ryan Theriot at shortstop. He has very sure hands, but he has horrible range for the position. He is a good contact hitter and he can play a number of infield positions, but he is miscast as a regular shortstop. Rafael Furcal isn't going to make anyone forget Ozzie Smith, but he was a measurable improvement down the stretch.
The dark clouds on the horizon are the negotiations for Albert Pujols. Like any superstar, he is almost as good with the glove as he is with the bat. After that, the club has to decide whether to pick up Furcal's option or risk losing him. Both sides want to see him back, but his performance down the stretch has earned him suitors.
Yadier Molina had an uncharacteristically down season behind the plate. He'll likely win the Gold Glove again, but it isn't deserved. These things happen from time to time for whatever reason. We can assume he will bounce back in a big way. If that happens, this defense will be even better than advertised.