On The Atrocity That Has Been The A's Infield Defense

Perhaps "atrocity" is too strong a word. So if you prefer, "monstrosity". It's been that bad, and making it all the more puzzling is that going into the season infield defense was supposed to be a team strength -- or if regressing, certainly not a key weakness.

Part of the current problem stems from trading experienced defensive players at the corners, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Daric Barton, for on-the-job learners Scott Sizemore and Conor Jackson, and part of it stems from the rather astounding number of errors the pitchers have made: A major league leading 17 and counting. Even Jordan Norberto threw his first of many wild pitches to 1B. Perhaps he's just another geeky kid trying to fit in.

The past is past, water under the bridge (water which was, undoubtedly, tipped, spilled, and accidentally sent to the wrong side of the bridge). I have some concerns going forward as the A's try to build a better infield for 2012 and beyond...

First off, the A's need to remember that you sacrifice defense in order to get offense. You don't put up with inadequate defense in order to get inadequate offense. This is why Conor Jackson has been a lose-lose proposition, because playing at a position where you'd expect to get some hitting and some slugging Jackson, an "ok" defensive player at best at any position, sports a line of .264/.331/.356 with 4 HRs. Given his even more unsightly line of .250/.305/.319 against RHP, there's really no reason he should ever see the light of day against 3/4 of the league's starting pitchers.

This is the kind of lose-lose the A's need to avoid. Either get a really good defensive player at a position or at least get a hitter. Hopefully, 1B is where Brandon Allen will land and hopefully Allen will indeed save the franchise -- or at least hit well while playing perfectly adequate defense. Another possibility is that Daric Barton will return to give the A's above average defense at 1B, with Allen in the OF.

What about 3B and Scott Sizemore? I've been pleased in general with Sizemore, who has improved a lot from the dark days of watching him initially trying to learn 3B on the fly, and who has shown a quick bat and plate discipline. He is now adequate defensively and may or may improve to be more than that. My concern is that Sizemore has been very poor against RHP, something that has been somewhat masked by his prodigious production against LHPs.

Sizemore's line against RHPs currently stands at .188/.292/.299 (against LHPs he's a robust .361/.451/.508). My take on Sizemore is that if he could bat just a somewhat pedestrian .250/.330/.400 against RHPs he'd be a candidate to become a fine everyday 3Bman. But that's a stretch and I don't think the A's should be counting on Sizemore to hit adequately against RHPs. I like Sizemore but see him likely as a platoon player or good utility INF.

The A's "off-season checklist" should, IMO, include a LH hitting 3Bman, the past likenesses of which have included Hank Blalock. Inhouse, I wonder if 3B is a position Eric Sogard can handle and if so whether a Sizemore-Sogard platoon would be more productive, on both sides of the ball, than Sizemore alone.

Up the middle I have both concerns and hopes for Jemile Weeks, whose 9 errors in just 2 months lead all 2Bmen. Weeks' judgment should improve, while his arm won't. He's athletic but also a bit awkward in the way he moves and throws at 2B, in stark contrast to how fluidly his body moves when batting and running. It's hard to say what Weeks will end up being as a defensive 2Bman, but my guess is "average at best". So the A's need an anchor at SS, but that's a post for another day.

As for pitchers' fielding, it's hard to correct partly because the errors have been so varied: Throws to 2B, pickoff throws, fielding basic comebackers, covering 1B. Practice, practice, practice -- I think Bob Melvin is on the right track here and that this is one problem the A's might be able to solve simply through hard work.

As this rambling post suggests, there are a lot more questions than answers so far. How would you like to see the A's improve the infield defense going forward, while attending to their offensive needs, without spending money they don't have or attracting free agents who won't come in a million years?

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