It is clear the National League is behind the American League when it comes to overall power and hitting numbers, but they equal the playing field because they have better pitching and defense, both of which are major concerns for Cincinnati.
The Reds have proven at times this year that your pitching does not have to be spectacular to win games (although it helps), but you can't win games when you give opposing teams additional opportunities.
Remember back in the '80s during the "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" phase of finishing second in the division year after year? Cincinnati always had a top-five, if not top-two, defense. You have to give Barry Larkin and the crew some credit here, as the defensive prowess continued in the '90s.
Interesting how their pitching was better then as well—Coincidence?
You hear talk about how nobody focuses on defense anymore and they are all too interested in power and speed to get them to where they want to go. That makes me want to bang my head against the wall. It has been proven, in all sports, that consistent defense is one of the keys to winning.
Sure, the Reds are not having a good year and it could be worse, but just think where they could be right now if their defense was just little better.
Right now, Cincy is 16th in Major League Baseball in fielding percentage. That's not great, but not horrible. Now you have to look at who they are behind on that list. Nine of the 15 teams they trail reside in the National League. Furthermore, they are tied for 19th in all of baseball in total errors with 86.
Errors do not tell the entire season story, but when you are 14 games under .500, you have to entertain the notion that defense could have turned at least a few losses into wins.
I am not going to tell you this is why Cincinnati's pitching is suspect, but you have to believe it does weigh on a pitcher's mind when games are close. A calmer hurler on the mound equals better decisions and, more often than not, more opportunities to win games.
Players will be tagged with errors during the season; that is a given, but it's the frequency of those errors that paints the real picture.
For example, Brandon Phillips has been charged with nine errors in 133 games while playing at second base. With as many opportunities he gets per game, that is a more-than-decent fielding percentage. Joey Votto has 10 errors in 112 games, and when you examine the number of times he is asked to field, throw and take a relay, that, again, is okay defense.
Now we have to look at the problems.
In the last few years, you could have mistaken the official scorer's E-5 ruling during Reds games as a unique reference to Edwin Encarnacion. For as much as I thought he could evolve into a better player, his defense leaked like a sieve a third base. Though he was injured for part of this year before being sent to Toronto for Scott Rolen, in his 43 games as a Red he was tagged for four errors.
No, I wouldn't call that bad, but he was saved by being injured and not getting the opportunity to commit errors (in the previous three years he averaged 21 per year). He has already committed four in 26 games with the Blue Jays.
Before he was traded to the Yankees this year, Jerry Hairston Jr. committed seven errors at third and Adam Rosales committed six in 53 games at that position. Alex Gonzalez, who has since been traded to Boston, committed six errors in 68 games at shortstop. That's better, but still not good.
Sure, you can say errors don't have that much of an effect on some pitchers, but Scott Rolen (Eddie Error's replacement) has yet to commit an error in 25 games at third. If you have an infield that can keep ahead of the game by not letting their lackadaisical approach or focus on defense get in their way, you'll have a more sound pitching staff and more opportunities win.
That has been a big problem for the Reds over the last few years. It is nice to know some of the biggest culprits are now playing elsewhere. Every player is going to make mistakes now and then, but I think most of us would rather have those mistakes minimized.
Winning baseball games is about fundamentals; and in the National League, that is more of a priority now than ever before. Cincinnati needs to step it up. You can have a less-than-powerful offense, or you can have a not-so-great pitching staff if you are sound in all other areas.
Unfortunately, you cannot survive and win when your defense is not up to par. For the Reds, that has been the case for a long time.
I hate losing, but I would rather it be because opposing teams made good on baseball fundamentals. Not because Cincinnati gave it to them.
Dusty Baker, we are trusting you to force-feed defense and fundamentals in 2010.