Arizona Diamondbacks: Lack of defensive execution compromises early success
By Jake Lieberman
Errors plagued the Arizona Diamondbacks during the early weeks of the season.
The Diamondbacks offense and pitching are off to a hot start, but the defense is looking brutal. Last year, the Diamondbacks finished 22nd in the league in errors with 101. Many players were out of position like Chris Owings and Brandon Drury, but the defense certainly contributed to some of the pitching and overall struggles. This year there have been multiple mistakes and errors that have already contributed to a loss.
The first big error of the year was a groundball hit to Brandon Drury off the bat of Buster Posey in the 3rd inning of the second game of the year. The ball was hit hard, but Drury had time to keep it in front of him and keep it close to make a play. The ball took a huge hop off of him, and there was no play at first. This error led to a run in an eventual loss.
The next play that affected a game and series immensely was the Taijuan Walker error in his second start in San Francisco. The bases were loaded with one out. Matt Moore, the starting pitcher for the Giants, placed a swinging bunt in between Walker and Goldschmidt down the first base line. It took a while for Walker to get to the ball, and there seemed to be a miscommunication. Walker threw the ball home to cut off the lead runner, but Jeff Mathis wasn’t ready. The runner from second took off for home as Mathis went to the backstop to get the ball. Mathis’ throw to cut of that runner went off Walker’s glove towards first base. The runner from first base was running hard the entire play, and he scored too.
The Giants scored three runs on a play that could’ve had possibly been an inning-ending double play. The original throw from Walker to Mathis looked like it would’ve been an out if Mathis was ready. The D-Backs scored one run that game, and that error seemingly ended the game with Matt Moore carving up our lineup.
Most recently, in a close game April 15 against the Dodgers, the defense failed to support their starting pitcher. Patrick Corbin threw six quality innings, but he was doomed by two huge errors that shifted the entirety of the game. The first error was committed by Nick Ahmed at short on a groundball off the bat of Scott Van Slyke with one out. The throw was high, and the next batter singled to right field advancing Van Slyke to third. The next batter hit a sacrifice fly to right to tie the game at 4 to 4.
Then with two outs in the 5th inning, the Dodgers had runners on first and third, and the runner at first took off for second base. Chris Herrmann pumped faked a throw to second, and then he looked to third to see if the runner would be off. Enrique Hernandez, the runner at third base, was anticipating a throw, and he was shuffling towards home. Herrmann had an out at third, and he tried to pick off Hernandez. The throw hit Hernandez, and the ball deflected into left field. That gave the Dodgers a 5-4 lead and all the momentum. The Diamondbacks would go on to lose 8-4.
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The first misplay that stood out was a line drive hit by Brandon Belt to center field that should’ve been a single. Instead, A. J. Pollock went aggressively after it to make a diving catch, but it dropped right at his feet. He pulled up to try to catch the ball on a hop, but it was too late. The ball went to the wall and ended up being scored a triple. Belt ended up scoring, but the Diamondbacks went on to win 8-6 in the third game of the year. While it didn’t affect the final score, this misplay and one other kept the game close.
The other misplay in that game was a groundball single up the middle that Brandon Drury made a nice play on to knock down. Eduardo Nunez was at second base though, and he rounded third hard. Drury got up from his dive, and he hesitated for about two to three seconds instead of throwing the ball in. Nunez, one of the fastest base runners in the league, ran through his stop sign from the third base coach, and he scored on a close play at home. If Drury just would’ve thrown that ball in quick, Chris Iannetta would’ve had time to receive the ball and tag Nunez out.
Another ball misplayed was a lazy fly ball hit to David Peralta in the top of the fourth against Cleveland last on April 8.. Carlos Santana started the inning with a double, and Francisco Lindor hit a pop up to Peralta. Peralta’s first reaction was three steps in, and then realized the ball was hit further. He was unable to get behind the ball to get momentum to throw to third. Santana, a slow runner, saw this and took off for third. An average read and throw on that fly ball would’ve either prevented Santana from tagging up or make a close play at third. Instead, Santana got to third easily, and he scored on a single the next batter. Keeping Santana at second base could have prevented a run scored because the next two hitters after the single popped up to second base and struck out.
Related Story: Peralta's Early Struggles
Throwing Errors in the Infield
Lastly, the throws in the infield have been bad so far. Chris Owings has a league-high, five errors now, and most of them are on throws to first base. One error was a tough one as he ranged up the middle and spun to make a throw that took Goldschmidt off the bag. Eduardo Nunez was running, and it would’ve been a spectacular play if Owings pulled it off. That is an error from which Arizona pitchers can deal. His other throwing errors have hurt like a double play ball hit to second base when Owings didn’t have his foot on the bag as he was receiving the toss from Brandon Drury. He then pulled Goldschmidt off the bag at first resulting in no outs on a routine double play. Infielders are always told that you must get the first out in double play balls. Owings couldn’t get either.
The Diamondbacks’ bullpen has looked pretty good other than the closer Fernando Rodney, who has struggled to end games smoothly. While he has four saves, he has also given up 7 runs (6 ER’s) in just 5.1 innings.
The defense has to have his back, and Jake Lamb didn’t help in the Cleveland finale April 9. In that 3-1 game, Lamb sailed a throw to first base when he had all the time in the world to throw out the runner. It was the first batter of the ninth inning, and the runner ended scoring to make it a one-run game. Rodney finished the inning giving up just that one unearned run, but Lamb put unnecessary pressure on Rodney and the defense.
How to Fix the Defense
Most of these errors and mistakes appear mental and focus issues. For example, Pollock and David Peralta are good defenders, but they seemed to lose focus on the two plays mentioned earlier. This could be because it is early in the season. With an extended Cactus League spring training, the NL-leading errors and mistakes are worrisome.
Shortstop and left field carry the most risk at this point. While Yasmany Tomas hasn’t had any plays stand out yet, Tomas’ fielding runs above average was -13.7 in 2016. If he starts to slump at the plate at any point, Torey Lovullo will be forced to experiment with different options in left field. Tomas is currently hitting well with a slash line of .300/.333/.525 though.
Chris Owings can be the solution for defense in left field. Currently, Owings is struggling at shortstop with five errors through early games. Nick Ahmed would be a huge upgrade for the infield, and Owings would be an upgrade defensively over Tomas. Owing’s bat keeps him in the lineup, but Ahmed could continue to get more time if throwing errors continue to haunt Owings.