How bad is the Oakland Athletics’ defense?


The Oakland Athletics made four errors in Saturday night’s game, which brings their total for the season to 32 errors in 32 games. That’s by far the worst in all of baseball (the Cubs are second-worst with 27), and the league average is 19 errors per team. On the surface, that means their defense is terrible, right? Well errors don’t really tell the full story.

Let me first mention that advanced defensive metrics are still iffy, but they are helpful in providing a rough estimate of a player’s ability defensively. It’s silly to call someone with 0.5 dWAR better than someone with 0.3 dWAR based on that metric alone, but the difference between 2.0 dWAR and -1.0 dWAR is obviously significant.

So with that being said, let’s go around the diamond and see if there are any major defensive liabilities that fans should worry about for the rest of this season.

Let’s start at shortstop, where Marcus Semien has been the poster boy for the A’s error-filled season (he leads the team with eight). However errors are not a great indicator of future defensive performance. If he ranges really far to get a ball and kicks it, I’m not that worried. If he charges a slow grounder and rushes a throw that goes over the first baseman’s head, I’m not that worried.

I start worrying when he takes a late break on a ball, makes a half-hearted attempt to stab at it, and it rolls into the outfield for a base hit. I haven’t seen Semien do that yet, but the image of Jed Lowrie and Alberto Callaspo doing that last year is still burned into my mind. Semien has 0.0 dWAR this season–exactly average even with all of those errors. He’s not the worst defensive shortstop in the league. He’s not going to be Andrelton Simmons, but he’s not the worst defensive shortstop in the league.

Brett Lawrie is second to Semien with five errors this year. In 2012 Lawrie had 20 defensive runs saved, which is gold glove-level defense. In the last two seasons he’s battled injuries and never really got back to his 2012 form. This year, his problems on defense are similar to Semien’s, but since he has a track record of defensive success in the big leagues, I’m not worried at all about him being a problem at third base.

Behind the plate, Stephen Vogt already has three defensive runs saved, which leads the team so far. Vogt also ranks 12th in the league in extra strikes, with 11.4 so far. Like other defensive metrics, pitch framing stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but that department certainly hasn’t been a problem for him so far.

At first base, Ike Davis has made some nice picks on balls in the dirt, but those seem to be overshadowing his severe lack of range. He’s only contributed two errors to the A’s pathetic tally, but last year he had a -1.5 dWAR and he already has -0.2 dWAR this year. His nice hands have saved him so far, but his slow feet and poor track record have me worried about his defense at first for the rest of this year.

Eric Sogard has primarily been playing second base with Ben Zobrist out, and he’s really been solid there this season. He’s had five defensive runs saved at second base in each of the last two seasons, and he already has two this year. His bat is another story, but don’t look into his three errors too much.

In the outfield, Josh Reddick has made some uncharacteristic errors, but his arm is still incredible and his range is still great. He’s still one of the best defensive right fielders in the league.

I’ve written extensively about my concerns for Coco Crisp defensively, although I think the move to left field should help him this season. Sam Fuld is 34 years old now, and his defense so far has regressed to about average (-0.1 dWAR). He’s not a problem, but he’s not a defensive stud either.

Mark Canha has looked awful in the outfield. His arm is neither accurate nor strong and he frequently makes mistakes with his routes tracking down fly balls. I haven’t seen anything to suggest that his defense at first base is a problem, but he’s definitely a liability when he’s playing in the outfield.

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Billy Burns has looked like a bright spot defensively for the A’s. He could be very similar to a young Coco Crisp. Crisp has no arm, but he’s very good at tracking fly balls and (used to) be able to use his speed to stop balls from falling in the gap. Burns’s arm hasn’t really been tested yet, but he may not need to use it very much.

This team will not continue to be the worst defensive team in the league. I am concerned about left field and first base, but at every other position there is an average to above-average defender. And if Craig Gentry rejoins the team soon, a Gentry/Burns/Reddick outfield could be one of the best defensive outfields in the league.

The A’s defense is not as bad as the error total makes it seem, and their defense shouldn’t really be an area of concern for the rest of the season. How bad do you think the A’s defense is? Let me know in the comment section below or on Twitter @mattmcsports27.