Defense wins championships.
The old adage applies in almost every sport, and that includes baseball.
Many people overlook this aspect of the game when thinking of successful teams on the diamond, immediately imagining a dynamic offense or a shutdown pitching staff instead. However, defense is still key, and if overlooked or done without complete concentration it can cost a team games.
The No. 25 Longhorns are a perfect example of this; they hit well as a team with a .281 average and also have very respectable pitching numbers with a team ERA of 3.65. This has allowed them to have a solid 18-12 record, but one that’s not exactly up to the high standards that are set upon a legendary program like Texas baseball.
A lackluster defense performance this season is a huge part of Texas’ pedestrian record. The Longhorns fielding percentage is .966 on the season, and while that doesn’t sound bad, to put it in perspective, that total ranks them 135th in the country in fielding.
The team has the talent to play defense with the best of teams. They’re athletic with good speed and arms in the outfield, quick and adept at making the correct reads in the middle of the infield, feature a strong-armed third baseman and catcher and even have a first baseman capable of making difficult picks out of the dirt.
However, these tools can make the players lethargic and it seems, at times, bored. This causes minor miscues to happen in the field, and a kicked ball here, a poor throw there and an incorrect decision with the ball tend to add up.
Those plays cost the team runs and sometimes can even turn into a mark in the loss column. Most recently, this was seen in the second game of the Texas Tech series last weekend in the 14th inning.
A routine ground ball was hit to Jordan Etier at shortstop, which looked like a sure double play ball, but instead of concentrating and fielding the ball cleanly, Etier was already looking to make the toss to second for the double play. As a result he booted the ball and couldn’t make a single out, allowing both runners to reach base, and both eventually scored, costing the team the game.
Mental lapses and defensive errors like these have plagued the Longhorns all season, and no matter how well the pitching staff and offense play to make up for it, the inconsistent fielding will continue to be an issue.
In prior seasons, defense was the aspect of the game the team could lean on even if the bats were faltering or the pitchers were struggling to get outs. Last season, Texas was ranked in the top 10 in the country in fielding percentage at .982 for the season and only committed 47 errors all year.
But in 2012, the Longhorns have already committed 40 errors, and that’s with 20 more games left to play, plus whatever postseason action they see.
For this team to be successful, all three main phases of the game will have to be effective, and it will be up to the players to put in the effort and concentration needed for stellar defense. Perhaps head coach Augie Garrido puts the solution to the defensive issues the best.
“It just needs to be more consistent,” Garrido said.
Printed on Friday, April 13, 2012 as: Defense needs to catch up to pitching, batting