MORRISSEY: No defense for White Sox’ shaky defense
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com April 21, 2013 7:35PM
Chicago White Sox center fielder Dewayne Wise chases down a 3 RBI double hit by Minnesota Twins' Josh Willingham during the seventh inning of an MLB American League baseball game in Chicago, April 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Updated: April 21, 2013 9:32PM
Since the first day of spring training, White Sox manager Robin Ventura has stressed the importance of defense. He hasn’t just talked about it; he has evangelized it in a way only a recent convert or a six-time Gold Glove winner can.
Ventura’s flock seems to be experiencing hearing loss. In 18 games, the Sox already have committed 12 errors, tied for the fifth-most in baseball. They lost 2-1 on Saturday to the Twins when shortstop Alexei Ramirez’s throwing error allowed the winning run to score in the 10th inning.
You expect that sort of thing from the comical Cubs, who committed three errors and allowed four unearned runs Saturday against the Brewers. You don’t expect it from the Sox, who set a franchise record for fewest errors in a season (70) in 2012. The Sox also led baseball with a fielding percentage of .988 and allowed the fewest number of unearned runs (30) last season. They already have allowed seven unearned runs this season.
The sample size is very small, but it doesn’t make what’s happening any less disconcerting, especially for a team that isn’t hitting. On a positive note, Adam Dunn broke an 0-for-31 slump with a home run in the Sox’ 5-3 loss Sunday to the Twins. Then he struck out to end the game.
Ventura isn’t panicking about the defense.
‘‘It’s not good, but I look at it more as it’s not going to continue like this,’’ he said Sunday. ‘‘You continue to work at it, preach it and make people believe they’re good at it.’’
In football, general managers and coaches talk about special teams being just as important as offense and defense. They even might think they mean it. But if special teams is so important, kickers, punters and long snappers would be making a lot more money.
Fielding in baseball is a little like that. Everybody talks it up, but people can’t take their eyes off offensive stats when the season starts. Catching the ball is undervalued. The stats guys
don’t seem to know what to do with defense.
When push comes to shove, even baseball people struggle with defense in the grand scheme of things. They say they want good defense. Then a fielding-challenged free agent with gaudy offensive numbers comes along, and they say, ‘‘Defense? What’s defense?’’
‘‘Sometimes teams will look at a guy’s offense and say, ‘Well, I’ll take that a little more over the defense,’ ’’ Ventura said. ‘‘But both eventually are going to bite you. It just depends on when they do.’’
The irony is that a great defensive play is almost always more exciting than a big hit. It’s why the daily top plays on ESPN’s ‘‘SportsCenter’’ often feature diving catches. It’s why the ‘‘Web Gems’’ segment has become a staple on ESPN’s ‘‘Baseball Tonight.’’
But it’s catch for show, hit for dough.
‘‘That’s how guys get paid,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘But to win, you have to be able to play defense. I’ll never stop believing that. For us, pitching-wise, we need to play good defense. It’s that simple.’’
It doesn’t help that the Sox are without injured Gordon Beckham, one of the best second basemen in baseball. And with the Sox’ measly hitting (.232 team average), an error can be deadly. They were flawless in the field Sunday.
‘‘Every time you give the other team another opportunity, eventually it’s going to hurt you,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘You’ll run through stretches where every time you give them a little bit, they’ll take a lot. The more you allow people on the other side to believe that they have a chance, eventually they’re going to come through.’’
Hitting a baseball is harder than catching one. A player has more control over his fielding than he does his hitting. Ventura, who played a great third base for the Sox from 1990 to 1998, says ‘‘control’’ might be the wrong word.
‘‘I don’t know if you can control it,’’ he said. ‘‘I think it’s something you make important. It’s the one thing you can make important. That doesn’t stop. I made errors [as a player]. Even though I think defense is important and I was supposed to be good at it, I still made errors. It’s how they’re made that matters.’’
Being out of position, not paying attention — those are the things that drive him crazy. Or as crazy as the mellow Ventura can get.
The Sox have lost nine of their last 12 games, and defense has played a role.
‘‘We’re not worried,’’ right fielder Alex Rios said. ‘‘We’re a talented team.’’
Talented is one thing. Alert is another.