This is part four of a five-part series of posts that will be on the site throughout the weekend.
Question Four: Should the Braves shift the focus back to players who are good defenders?
Consider for a moment that the 2010 Atlanta Braves had almost twice as many errors as the 2010 New York Yankees. This year's Braves had 30 more errors than the 2009 Braves. In fact, you have to go back 10 years to the 2000 season to find a Braves team that committed more errors than this 2010 squad. For a franchise historically built on pitching and defense, this year they only got the pitching part right.
But their pitchers have one thing in common with the rest of the team, they too were bad defenders. Every position on the Braves ranked in the bottom half of the National League in both total errors and fielding percentage. That put them alongside teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington, and Florida as the worst defensive teams in the NL. While the other playoff teams -- Cincinnati, San Fransisco, Philadelphia, and even San Diego -- were the best defensive teams in the NL.
For all their good pitching and timely hitting, they suffered too many self-inflicted wounds because of these errors (see every postseason game for evidence). It's actually quite a testament to their pitching that it was able to overcome the majority of these errors. That can be seen in the difference between their ERA (3.56 - third-best in baseball) and their FIP (3.65 - best in baseball).
Add to this that regulars like Martin Prado and Chipper Jones, while not gold glovers at their positions, were at least above the league average, but backups Brooks Conrad and Omar Infante were below (and in the case of Conrad, well below) the leave average at every defensive position they played.
Certainly some players who were defensively inept can be sacrificed, like Matt Diaz and Melky Cabrera. Freddie Freeman should be a huge upgrade defensively over Troy Glaus at first base, and will likely save the rest of the infield some errors. But at what risk to offensive production does Atlanta sacrifice to improve their defense?
Is this a case where the team should cut above average offensive bench players like Infante and Conrad in favor of defensive-minded backups? Can we sacrifice the roster spot of someone like Eric Hinske for an extra infielder who is purely a defensive sub?
We must also ask if this bad defense will continue. Chipper Jones will undoubtedly lose a step after his second ACL surgery. Alex Gonzalez is good, but not great. Brian McCann, while he posted the best caught stealing percentage of his career, also committed the most errors of any year and tied the lowest fielding percentage of his career.
If these are the players Atlanta is stuck with, then anyone else that's added needs to either be an above league-average defender or be such an offensive force that his production at the plate more than makes up for his inadequacy in the field.
As a team it seems apparent that the Braves must refocus their organization on defense, both with the players they add this off-season and with the players they already have. Perhaps this was one of the reasons we saw the Braves choose not to retain Glenn Hubbard and Chino Cadahia -- two of the primary coaches responsible for preparing the team's defense. Terry Pendleton won three gold gloves in his playing career, and could be a good asset and a fresh voice when teaching defense. Let's hope that defense is something Fredi Gonzalez makes a priority for his 2011 Atlanta Braves.
Coming up later, Question Five: To Tender or Non-Tender