The Value of Defense

And old baseball maxim says ‘Good pitching and defense win championships.’ Lets face it, in baseball a run is a run whether it’s a run scored at the plate, manufactured on the bases or saved in the field. A run the defense prevents the opposition from scoring is equally as important as a run scored by the offense. A team stocked with players who can use the leather efficiently in the field gain an added advantage. As the New York Mets are learning the hard way – defense really does matter.

At long last the Mets elevated rookie shortstop Amed Rosario from Triple-A Las Vegas to Citi Field. Rosario, believed by many to be the top prospect in baseball, has appeared in just a dozen games so far for the Mets. Although the rookie is taking some time to acclimate to major league pitching (Rosario is batting .256 in 39 at-bats) the kid has been nothing short of sensational defensively at shortstop.

Here’s New York Daily News reporter John Harper talking about Rosario’s beginnings in New York City as a Met. “Rosario looks as if he may need some time to adjust to major league pitching, even after his game winning home run on Friday night.”

“But his defense at shortstop has been as outstanding as advertised. By my rough count he’s probably made a doze plays already, most toward the hole, that wouldn’t have been made by Asdrubal Cabrera or Jose Reyes. And his diving play up the middle on a hard-hit ball against the Rangers, which turned into a force out with a flip to Reyes at second, was the most obvious example of his outstanding range.”

Harper finished his short review of the Mets’ new shortstop quoting an unnamed National League scout. “He would have saved their pitchers a ton of runs if he’d been up earlier. He was going to need time at this level as a hitter no matter when he came up, but they had such a need for defense at shortstop that it still puzzles me whey they waited so long.”

The scout’s sense of bewilderment was shared by Binghamton baseball fans who watched Rosario for a lion’s share of last summer manning shortstop for the B-Mets. The kid was outrageously good. Anyone who watched
him play shortstop regularly in Binghamton understood Rosario was by far the organization’s best defensive player at that critical position even as a 20-year old. Binghamton baseball fans were left scratching their head earlier in the summer when it was reported Rosario’s stay in Las Vegas was extended partly due to his need to iron out some defensive issues.

One can only hope that Met brass is paying attention to what is happening in Binghamton this summer. The Rumble Ponies are putting together a playoff bound season currently sitting 19 games above .500 and 7 full games ahead of Reading in the chase for the Eastern Division’s second playoff slot behind League leading Trenton. Stellar defensive play is a critical component of the Rumble Ponies’ success this season.

Binghamton pitchers rank fourth from the bottom in the Eastern League in strikeouts but have surrendered the second fewest hits allowed and runs scored. Those kinds of numbers reflect the impact of the Rumble Ponies’ stellar defensive play.

Photo Credit: Logan Barer, MMO (@LBarer32)

The Binghamton outfield’s defensive play has been sparkling all season long. They have committed only 6 outfield errors while amassing 28 assists. The Mets outfield by comparison has committed 14 errors and chalked up only 18 assists. And, Champ Stuart and Patrick Biondi have outfield ranges that exceed all Met outfielders. Stuart has gunned down 10 runners from centerfield with Biondi, who has served more in a back-up role, nailing 7. L.J. Mazzilli, a slick fielding infielder converted into a right fielder some two months into the season, has an explosive outfield arm gunning down 8 baserunners.

Defensive statistics only tell part of the story. The eye test is equally important. Season ticket holders and other folks who watch Binghamton baseball can tell you the current edition of Rumble Ponies would contend defensively with any of the recent Binghamton squads who have realized baseball success during recent seasons.

As baseball great Willie Mays says it, “Defense is the key to playing baseball.” Everyone knows when you’re talking defensive baseball there is no better authority than the Say Hey Kid.

About John Bernhardt 165 Articles
MMO Minor League Analyst John Bernhardt is a retired public school teacher and administrator, who still coaches high school baseball. Growing up in a Yankees household, Bernhardt was an ardent Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra fan. When the Yankees fired Yogi in his first season as the Bomber manager, curiosity turned to passion when the Mets signed Berra as a player/coach and he has pulled for the Mets ever since. In retirement, John writes the sports for a local weekly, The Catskill Mountain News and hosts Tip-Off, a Friday morning sports hour, from 8:00-9:00 on WIOX, 91.3 F.M.