Spiegel: A good baseball defense can be poetic
There's an aggressive, unified elegance to a good defensive baseball team.
Watch a truly great one like the Kansas City Royals. They'll be at Wrigley this weekend for what should be a very fun series.
On any batted ball, especially with a runner on base, every player is moving.
Let's say it's a groundball to short with a man on second. The first baseman hustles back to the bag in advance of a throw. The right fielder is running into foul ground to back that up. The third baseman runs to his base in case there's a play on the lead runner. The second baseman creeps toward his bag to be ready if the runner gets too far away.
The pitcher should be headed toward foul ground between third and the plate, to back up a possible throw to either base. The catcher has his mask off, ready to bark instructions and cover the plate should the runner round third hard. The center fielder and the left fielder ought to be making their way toward the infield to back up throws to second from different angles and be available in case a rundown develops.
It's free-flowing team fundamentals in action. To some of us, it's poetry.
You don't see this when you watch the White Sox. It's frustrating. There are a few good defensive individuals, but as a unit the concepts are lost. Infielders often don't get to the right spots to field cutoff throws, and sometimes they get overthrown or missed anyway. The baserunning is its own serious problem, albeit a connected one.
This sloppy chaos can happen when you're dealing with a piecemeal, store-bought team full of strangers. It's a team of guys who learned in other systems, coached by various managers who may or may not have prioritized the basics.
I understood and applauded what general manager Rick Hahn was aiming for in the off-season. He has tried a rolling rebuild of sorts, adding MLB-ready young and cheap secondary prospects to plug in around an ace and an elite slugger.
But it hasn't worked. It hasn't worked because the offense has not produced to cover up the aforementioned flaws.
The Sox are dead last in the American League in the following categories: runs, home runs, slugging percentage, stolen bases and SB percentage. They are second to last in OPS, doubles, and walks. They have 15 fewer extra-base hits than the second-worst team in that category.
Jose Abreu is statistically the only Sox offensive player in the positives of the all-inclusive (though imperfect) Wins Above Replacement.
If you trade for and/or sign a bunch of folks, they're supposed to produce some runs.
The Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, and Dodgers have tried to do this. The Rangers and Phillies had their time. All those payrolls were larger, but the principle ends up being the same.
If the new guys' bats don't produce, the rest of the inadequacies get magnified and .500 is a longshot.
In our weekly conversation with Joe Maddon, he spoke of a recent lunch with the longtime NFL offensive coach Tom Moore. Maddon got excited hearing, and then telling us, about Moore's belief in the power of repetition and mental consistency.
"He talked about breaking the other team's will through fundamentals and technique, and I absolutely loved him talking about that …. I gave it to our catchers the other day, and I want to start using it more …. I love simplicity … there's a more academic method to football coaching than there is to baseball, so getting that line from him the other day was outstanding."
Breaking another man's and team's will is harder to measure in baseball than football, but the principle holds. If you do things systematically, compulsively better with consistency, then the other team will make the big mistake first.
It ties into how a great defensive team lowers their risk of failure.
Do simple better.
• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The Spiegel & Goff Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.