Aug 19, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) fields a ground ball against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

What Can Possibly Fix A Defense This Bad?

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On Saturday, the Tribe committed their 100th error of the season (most in the major leagues by far), which is already more than the team’s 2013 total of 98.  But that’s not even the worst part.  Here are a few more stats to show you why the Indians’ defense is embarassing.

-Entering Sunday’s game, the team’s overall defense was rated at -82 defensive runs saved, which also ranked worst in the majors.  The second worst rating was the rival Detroit Tigers at -56.  The division-leading Royals stood at +32.
-Entering Sunday’s game, the team’s Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) was rated at -72.6 for the season, worst in the majors.  The Astros were the second-worst with a score of -58.4.  Kansas City ranked second place in the majors in UZR with a score of +42.2
-Entering Sunday’s game, the Tribe’s Range Runs Above Average stood at -60.7, again worst in the majors. Kansas City ranked at +25.9 in that category.
-Entering Sunday’s game, the Indians also ranked last in defensive wins above replacement, fielding percentage and overall defensive rating. Kansas City was in the top five in all of those categories.

To put it lightly, the Indians have been about as graceful on the baseball field as a paraplegic buffalo with an inner ear infection.  So what’s the solution?  Defense this bad doesn’t simply turn around.  However, there is a bright spot:  his name is Francisco Lindor.

Let’s put things in perspective.  Although the Indians have been terrible overall, the defensive numbers have been dragged down largely by the left side of the infield.  Nearly half of the 100 errors have come from shortstop and second base.  Lonnie Chisenhall alone has 16 errors on the year, and Asdrubal Cabrera wasn’t far behind with 14 before being traded to the Washington Nationals.  Add in three errors by Jose Ramirez, five by Mike Aviles and half a dozen by Carlos Santana when he was playing third base, and we begin to get a pretty clear picture of where most of Cleveland’s issues have come from.  For those of you who don’t like doing math, that’s 44 errors from two positions, or 44 percent of the team’s total defensive blunders. Nick Swisher added another nine from first base, before being regulated to designated hitter and later, lost for the season to injury.

The good news is that Cabrera is already gone.  We can find more solace in the fact Swisher won’t be playing first anymore, and Santana has been stunning there defensively.  But the really exciting factor here is that Cleveland has a glove set to come up from the minors very soon that prospect gurus unanimously describe as elite in the minor leagues.  Francisco Lindor is a defensive wizard whose UZR and DRS ratings are through the roof.  He’s easily the best defensive shortstop the Tribe has had in the system since the days of Omar Vizquel, and is going to make a tremendous difference for the Tribe’s defense when he arrives.  He’ll replace negative zone ratings with sky-high positives, and is unlikely to commit nearly as many errors as the Tribe has seen from its other shortstops this season.

Even more interesting is the fact that the Tribe is set to have an infield log jam at the major-league level next year.  Lindor will surely be up to start the season, while Aviles has a cheap contract option, and Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis aren’t going anywhere.  Further complicating things are the solid performances of rookies Ramirez and Zach Walters, both middle-infielders by trade.  Since Lindor is an obvious candidate to play at shortstop full time, and as Kipnis is locked up to a lengthy and expensive contract extension, it seems that something has to give at third base.  It’s likely Walters will begin to receive some at bats at third, while Aviles will continue to find time there as well.  This means Chiz will probably see more at bats from the DH spot than he has this year; a change that will certainly eliminate some potential errors from the Tribe’s count.

While Kipnis’ defense hasn’t been great, he has only six errors on the season, which is on pace to be less than his 2013 total.  With Santana doing his best Gandalf impression at ground balls hit towards first, and Ramirez set to be a solid backup infielder, the right side of the infield looks pretty safe.  When defensive prodigy Lindor comes up, shortstop will be a brick wall.  And if Chiz sees more time at DH, it’s likely the Tribe’s infield defense will be pretty solid next year.  Which should help a pitching staff that’s already showing flashes of stellar performance.  The defense situation may have derailed the Tribe’s playoff hopes for this season, but the future doesn’t look quite so bleak.

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