There has been a lot of talk about defense lately, especially about what I call The Defensive Spectrum: the difficulty and value of each position. If you watch shows like Clubhouse Confidential on MLB Network, you know what I’m talking about. The gradient is thus:
C SS 2B CF 3B RF LF 1B DH
Catcher is by far the toughest and most physically demanding position and also requires the most intelligence and “people skills”. Catchers are involved in every single action of the game. A good defensive catcher, say Yadier Molina of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals or Matt Wieters of the Baltimore Orioles (they were the 2011 Gold Glove winners in the NL and the AL) is so valuable that virtually ANY offense he brings is considered a bonus. Give most managers a choice between a Gold Glove catcher and a Silver Slugger winner, all things being equal the Gold Glover wins every time.
Shortstop has traditionally been regarded as the position for the best athlete on the field. Lateral range to left and right, a powerful throwing arm to make plays from the deepest part of the infield (that’s why they call it “the hole”) and impeccable footwork around second base in turning the double play as well as going into the outfield and down the third-base line for pop-ups give the shortstop a wide range of plays to make, many with a high degree of difficulty. Again, a Gold Glover here is a prize possession. When you combine Gold Glove defensive skills with Silver Slugger offense, you have a superstar like Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies.
Second base is not quite as difficult as shortstop, principally because the throws are shorter; otherwise, the second baseman is making most of the same plays as the shortstop, just on the opposite side of the keystone. If anything, the second baseman has a somewhat more difficult pivot on the double-play as his back is to the runner whereas the shortstop sees the runner head-on. The prototypes these days combining offense and defense would be Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox and Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees. In the NL, prior to some recent injury-plagued seasons, Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies would be the kind of player who creates imbalances by providing tremendous offensive production with excellent defensive skills although he has never won a Gold Glove.
Next week we’ll cover the positions of centerfield, third base, and right field.