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Posted at 8:45 AM ET, 03/ 8/2011

What's up with the awful defense?

By Dave Sheinin
Morning brushback

Let's not sugar-coat this: The Nationals' defense the last few days has been atrocious. Seven errors in three games, and perhaps a half-dozen other misplays that weren't charged as errors. (Example: Late in Monday's game, non-roster first baseman Kevin Barker had a foul pop bounce out of his glove at the railing near the Nationals' dugout, which was generously ruled a "no-play" by the official scorer.)

"We've got to clean it up," Manager Jim Riggleman said after Monday's three-error horror show.

Here's the bigger question: Is there a major problem here -- or is this merely a case of "getting all the rinky dinks out" (to quote the eminently quotable Bryce Harper) in the early stages of the spring? The answer, of course, is complicated by the fact the Nationals built a large part of their offseason strategy around improving their defense and athleticism.

Here are a few reasons why I think we may want to wait before panicking over the defense:

*It's early. It stands to reason that with defense, just as with pitching and hitting, it takes time to get up to game-speed. You can take a million ground balls off fungo bats during infield practice -- or a million swings off sore-armed coaches during batting practice -- but nothing can replicate game-speed. We're eight games into the Grapefruit League schedule, and many of the Nationals' regulars have played in half the games or fewer. According to these stats, 14 of the 30 teams in baseball are averaging at least an error a game so far this spring.

*Four of the Nationals' errors were committed by players who have no chance of making the roster. (Two on Brian Bixler, and one each on Shairon Martis and Laynce Nix.)

*Adam LaRoche, the Nationals' slick-fielding, error-saving first baseman, has played only once in the field this spring. Maybe he scoops the errant throw from Ian Desmond on Sunday that wound up as a throwing error, maybe not. But that was part of the reason the Nationals signed him.

*****

The Nationals are in Port St. Lucie today, with a 1:10 p.m. first pitch against the New York Mets, and Jordan Zimmermann on the hill for the Nationals. I'll check in from Digital Domain Park in awhile.

*****

One quick personal note: This is my last day filling in for Mr. Kilgore this go-round, and I want to urge you to show your beat writer some love. These guys -- and that includes Bill Ladson, Ben Goessling and Mark Zuckerman -- work their tails off, routinely putting in 12-hour days and dealing with all sorts of indignities, from balky wireless coverage to horrible I-95 traffic to the occasional hangover.

In my days on the beat, all I had to produce on a daily basis was a main story and a notebook. Kilgore is cranking out all of that, plus blogging a half-dozen or so times, plus tweeting regularly. And I'm not sure how much you see the work of other beat writers in other markets, but he's one of the best. Trust me: You're in good hands here.

*****

FROM THE POST: Nyjer Morgan is trying to keep an "even keel," despite his spring struggles and the competition closing in.

By Dave Sheinin  | March 8, 2011; 8:45 AM ET
Categories:  Morning brushback  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Wrapping up an unsightly win
Next: Long toss: Should we be worried about Storen?

Comments

If anything, for the Natinals this is improved defense.

In 2011 I see the Natinals leading MLB in both earned and unearned runs allowed.

Shoot, I bet at some point the Natinals balk in a few runs.

Posted by: P00PY_MCP00P | March 8, 2011 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Well said, DS. While there will always be naysayers and nitpickers (positions to which they are entitled), I suspect the majority (perhaps vast majority) of us appreciate both the quantity and quality of the Post's coverage. Keep it up, and thanks.

Posted by: hitch39 | March 8, 2011 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Dave,

Thanks for filling in so ably and with such good humor. The baseball staff are a credit to the Post. Now just give us more. How many page hits do you need to convince the editors to provide more coverage????

Posted by: stantonpark | March 8, 2011 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Thanks DS for your work this week. Also MLB.com had a story about Houston kicking the tires on Flores, but they are worried about his shoulder.

Posted by: hansenjo | March 8, 2011 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Spring training is for sharpening your skills; that being said the amount of errors the last three games are troubling to say the least. The coaching staff, the manager and all concerned had better lay down the law that the kind of effort or lack of it seen lately won't be tolerated.

Posted by: dargregmag | March 8, 2011 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I'm here in the A-T-L and i must say i appreciate the effort of all the guy's they do yeoman's work thank you Adam,Bill,Ben,Mark and Dave.

Posted by: dargregmag | March 8, 2011 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Anyone see how my guaranteed O's win at the Yankees yesterday turned out? Not only did they not win, but our 'Varsity Team', as I called them, didnt even score any runs!
So if you all took my advice to tune in and 'see what a real team looks like', now you know: the O's look like crap.

But, as always, I am a moron.

Posted by: P00PY__MCP00P | March 8, 2011 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Wapo's submission rules:

"By submitting content, you are consenting to these rules:

1. You agree not to submit inappropriate content. Inappropriate content includes any content that:
* is predatory, hateful, or intended to intimidate or harass"

How is that guy still allowed to post?

Posted by: onesandfours | March 8, 2011 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Anyone see one of the O's stud pitchers shut out the Yankees yesterday? Hows Strasburg been pitching this spring?

Any Natinal fans still take wins/losses seriously in spring training? Of course they do.

Posted by: P00PY_MCP00P | March 8, 2011 9:50 AM | Report abuse

According to fake-poopy's logice the Yankees must be terrible too since they didn't score any runs. Oh the humanity.

Posted by: P00PY_MCP00P | March 8, 2011 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for your work, Dave. Adam's doing fine. Teach him how to use spell check and to review copy before posting and he'll be on his way to greatness.

(We kid because we love, you know)

Posted by: baltova1 | March 8, 2011 9:56 AM | Report abuse

I'm not really worried by errors committed by Kevin Barker, Jeff Frazier and Jonathan van Every. Those guys won't be coming to D.C. (although Frazier's bat has certainly been a'poppin').

Gonzalez made an error, but you know that's rare. Espinosa, the "Human Highlight Reel," made one but is somebody really going to fault his fielding -- I mean, whaddya want, eggs in yer beer? And Desmond made one when he hurried a throw, and even that might have been saved had LaRoche been on first at the time instead of Frasier.

So the numbers don't really seem to tell the story, and errors in the first week of Spring Training are to be expected in any event.

I think we'll be just fine in the field, perhaps the best fielding team in the whole darn shootin' match.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | March 8, 2011 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Does having "the best fielding team in the whole darn shootin' match" also include centerfielders who throw their glove down in a hissy-fit and let the batter get an inside-the-park homerun?

Cause if it does than maybe the Natinals do have that chance.

Posted by: P00PY_MCP00P | March 8, 2011 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I agree. Adam is doing great work. The tweets are prompt and informative. Be nice if the Post connected his tweets to one side of the blog that way the spot-on promptness we'll be seen for all to behold. That's the Post (and Miss Chatter and the Scooter ;) ) with that assignment, not Adam.

Posted by: periculum | March 8, 2011 10:23 AM | Report abuse

The St. Louis Browns and the Cleveland Browns. Original Baltimore colors. Brown like the Innuh Harbuh. Brown like Poopy's fly infested predictions from his latrine.

Posted by: periculum | March 8, 2011 10:24 AM | Report abuse

How is that guy still allowed to post?

Posted by: onesandfours | March 8, 2011 9:48 AM

He's been banned numerous times. What doesn't help now is that the "Report Abuse" inbox at the Post is currently full.

Posted by: Kev29 | March 8, 2011 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Good post - it's always nice when numbers are put into context. It would be very nice to see some crisp play from the Nats this season. At least I think it would be - having never seen it before I'm not really sure what it would look like.

Posted by: CommieX | March 8, 2011 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Ignore P00py and he'll go away.

We're in the 2nd full week of games, so things will now start to get really interesting.

Any word on when the next round of cuts will be?

Posted by: luv2bikva | March 8, 2011 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I'm not worried about Bryan Bixler, Barker, Martis, etc. making errors. I'm especially not worried about Pudge's cather's interference.

I'll take the defense we've seen from Espinosa. He may kick a ball here or there, but he'll also make plays that most will not. Zimm and LaRoche are givens and Desmond will be better this year.

Posted by: sollazo | March 8, 2011 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Adding my thanks for all the excellent work done by both the Post as well as Mark and Ben.

It is amazing how easy it is to zip past certain posts once you get used to seeing his name or style. Still not happy they are here but it is America and if they allow that crap at funerals I can easily skip posting by an idiot. Guess in a perfect world the Post could eliminate it and just let us concentrate on the baseball but "life ain't fair".

Go Nats!!

Posted by: sjm3091 | March 8, 2011 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Dave. NJ is still the first place I go even though the comments section has degenerated so badly. Still some interesting posts, but a lot of junk to wade through.

I'm certainly concerned about Desmond's throwing - his error the other day wasn't pretty. Errors by guys who won't be on the team, not so much - but I do want to see crisp play pretty soon.

Posted by: utec | March 8, 2011 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Quick question:

Isn't the example of the generous "non-error" ruling the Mr. Sheinin gives above actually a mandatory/automatic ruling? You can't give an error if it doesn't result in advancement, even if a presumed out is lost.

Or have I misunderstood this aspect of baseball scoring my whole life?

(And while I'm on the subject, can anyone confirm: an outfielder - or any fielder, I guess - can't be given an error if he doesn't touch the ball, no matter how badly he botches his route to the ball or the act of attempting to catch a fly?)

Posted by: stevie_in_gp | March 8, 2011 11:50 AM | Report abuse

(To clarify: the last, added question above is about balls hit in the air vice the ground, outside the infield . . . and still doesn't sound quite right to me.)

Posted by: stevie_in_gp | March 8, 2011 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Dave, and yes, most of us do appreciate Kilgore, although a mind boggling number of whiners post these days on NJ. With them, the troll, and peric's juvenile obsession with scatological responses to the troll (really, peric, focus on baseball and quit degrading the blog with such repulsive idiocy), the NJ comment section is sometimes a rapid-scroll-through zone.

But the reporting is great.

Posted by: NatsFly | March 8, 2011 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I am still optimistic about the defense. I think Desmond has learned a lot although he will never have Espinosa's hands. I have been in the anti-Nyjer camp since last season; a spring-training slump is nearly irrelevant. I just don't think he is a smart ballplayer and I don't think he is teachable.

More concerned about Maya's and Storen's poor outings.

Posted by: Meridian1 | March 8, 2011 12:07 PM | Report abuse

"More concerned about Maya's and Storen's poor outings."

Maya was "okay" not poor. Gaudin has pitched worst. Mock definitely worst.

Desmond still makes the same mistakes he made in the minors and last year in the majors. He should be playing second base and Espinosa at shortstop. Or at least they should be alternating to let the best man win.

What happened to Rizzo's competition memo? Pushed aside on Giggleman's Isle in favor of "veteran's preference", veterans getting locked down positions after 20 something ERA's last year? Washed up veterans getting Riggleman's "respect the veterans" start even though they are now AAAA/AAA? Respecting the game instead of fans who would like to see the best team on the field, would enjoy seeing their team win. Its a tropic island mess here on Giggleman's Isle.

Posted by: periculum | March 8, 2011 12:24 PM | Report abuse

stevie_in_gp: you've misunderstood that aspect of baseball scoring your whole life. If a fielder drops a foul ball, it's an error. And you don't have to touch the ball to be charged with an error.

See rule 10.12 here:

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/downloads/y201/official_rule/2010_OfficialBaseballRules.pdf

Posted by: joebleux | March 8, 2011 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Dave! Love the guest appearances and welcome back to Adam! He's been great since taking over the beat - great stuff. It's my way of staying connected from 3000 miles away.

Posted by: PattyinSJ | March 8, 2011 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Dave, and I agree with above that, being in SC, I appreciate all the info I can get (for free!) to keep me up to date. I laugh when I see guys critisize because of grammar, spelling, topics etc. on a free blog... Thanks to the whole team for the work you do. Now if we could just get someone, anyone, to clean up the trolls this blog could go back to being about baseball.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | March 8, 2011 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Wow, thanks for setting me straight, joeb:

"The official scorer shall charge an error against any fielder:
(1) whose misplay (fumble, muff or wild throw) prolongs the time at bat of a
batter . . ."

So the scorer yesterday wasn't generous at all: he/she was simply wrong.

And:

"It is not necessary that the fielder touch the ball to be charged with an error. If . . . a fly ball falls untouched and, in the scorer’s judgment, the fielder could have handled the ball with ordinary effort, the official scorer shall charge such fielder with an error."

So, my takeaway lesson for the kids: parents and coaches - even former-pro-ball-playing ones - are untrustworthy. Just memorize the rule book: it's all you need in life and growing up.

(Or it could be my memory, I GUESS.)

Posted by: stevie_in_gp | March 8, 2011 12:51 PM | Report abuse

stevie_in_gp: I think it's the "a mental error isn't an error" part of scoring that causes confusion. So if two fielders watch a pop-up drop between them; no error. If one of them reaches out at the last moment and the ball ticks off his glove, that'll be scored an error. Sort of promotes the idea that contact with the ball is needed for it to be scored an error.

Posted by: joebleux | March 8, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

The rule notwithstanding, I have never seen a muffed foul ball result in an error being charged but less for one being charged for "not getting to the ball."

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | March 8, 2011 1:41 PM | Report abuse

The "ordinary effort" clause is part of what you guys are getting at as well: it certainly allows for scorer interpretation and encompasses (or allows a scorer to exclude) the mental errors, sun-in-your-eyes, wind, poor outfield routes to the ball, poor positioning under the ball, last second (poor) adjustments to the ball.

And joeb, while the "I got it - No YOU have it" scenario you mention is a good one I hadn't thought of, the relatively common type of play that contributed to my confusion is the following.

Outfielder doesn't see the ball well off the bat or just takes a bad route, is under the ball sorta last minute, misjudges the ball and has to make a sudden arm move to try and catch it:

hits his glove, most often = E

misses his glove completely (actually indicating that his misjudgment is even greater than if it had ticked off it) = no E.

But of course I haven't seen every instance of that sort of a play and so am not sure how it's been scored in every case. Just my perception (bias).

Posted by: stevie_in_gp | March 8, 2011 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm, apparently I'm not the only one who thinks that Desi's throw might have been caught by a better first baseman.

Posted by: truke | March 8, 2011 7:50 PM | Report abuse

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