The story goes like this: Once while chastising third baseman Pedro Guerrero about his poor fielding, former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda asked Pedro about the first thing that would go through his mind while he was on the field as the pitcher was about to deliver his pitch. Pedro is said to have replied that he would pray that the batter wouldn’t hit the ball to him. Lasorda then asked about the second thing that would go through his mind, and Pedro said he also prayed the batter wouldn’t hit the ball to second baseman Steve Sax. I know how he felt.
I’ve heard it said that defensive statistics are widely considered the least developed, least accurate indicator for a given player’s fielding abilities at this point. That rings true for me. Obviously, traditional measures like fielding percentage fall far short of providing an accurate comparison. But even advanced measures don’t tell the whole story. There are so many variables to consider. Field conditions, wind, spin on the batted ball, defensive placement, did the pitcher throw the pitch called in the proper location, was the play made appropriate to the game situation, and on and on. There are a lot of small details that factor into every fielding play, especially those involving more than one fielder.
As a more seasoned fan (I bathe in salt water with a splash of lemon pepper and Lawry’s), I tend to fall back on the old standby, the eyeball test. Many of you will say that is the least reliable way to evaluate fielding ability. Maybe. But I trust my gut. And nobody needs advanced statistics to know that the Royals are and have been a terrible defensive team for quite some time. And lousy defense begets poor pitching.
Who is the player that most induces a little prayer from me when the game is on the line and the Royals are on defense? Who am I chanting ‘please don’t hit to ______, please don’t hit to _____’ over and over again in the ninth inning of a tight game? Judging by the Royals blogs and fan sites I peruse, for many of you that prayer is focused on Yuniesky Betancourt. For me, it’s Mike Aviles.
I love underdog stories. It’s great when an overlooked, afterthought of a late round draft choice proves all the critics wrong and makes it to the big leagues. I cheered Mike’s success in 2008. I didn’t get to see many Royals games that year (maybe one or two via AFRTS) as I was living in Madagascar at the time, but I listened to the archived radio broadcasts and followed his exploits via the internet.
But watching him on a regular basis this year has led me to conclude that he is a major liability on defense (not to mention providing very little production on offense as well); much worse than Betancourt, in my opinion. The only hope may be that this is just a bad year, and that he isn’t one hundred percent recovered from the elbow surgery and all the missed playing time from 2009. I sure hope that’s the case. Because as of now, I see no reason to believe he can fulfill any meaningful role — even as a utility man — for the Royals in the future.