A's 2011 Report Card: Defense

The grades are in! Swingin’ A’s hands out grades to the 2011 Oakland Athletics. This is the third and final part of a three-part series that takes a closer look at some of the A’s triumphs and struggles during the 2011 season. Read more below to see which players got a passing grade and who came up short in 2011! 

Entering the season, the A’s had hoped their defense would be a reliable source of support for the team’s young starting pitching. While the Athletics boasted one of the better pitching staffs in the American League, the team’s defense, to say politely, wasn’t up to par.

All politeness aside, the A’s defense proved to be downright atrocious in 2011. In addition to the numerous injuries the team sustained and the inconsistencies on offense, the A’s had to deal with the defense’s miscues. In the early goings of the season, the team’s young pitching kept the team in contention, but after the injuries to Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Tyson Ross, and a few others, the A’s quickly sank to the bottom.

The struggles on offense and defense ultimately proved to be too much for the A’s this season. Over the course of the season, the Athletics committed an AL-leading 124 errors (2nd in MLB) and posted a team .979 fielding percentage.

The inconsistencies on defense is just another example of how 2011 proved to be a Jekyll and Hyde season for Oakland. In 2010, the team prided itself on its strong defense. The A’s committed just 99 errors and posted a .984 fielding percentage that season. When you typically think of the A’s, you usually associate the team with having a strong pitching staff and a strong defense.

Oakland’s shortcomings on defense makes 2011 a hard season to swallow, as many fans expected much more out of the team. The Athletics, with a few exceptions, saw pretty much every one of their players struggle at some point or another with defense this season.

Grading individuals, given the fact that the team as a whole struggled on defense, seems a bit unfair. So, instead of singling anyone out as good or bad, I’ll just go ahead and share some of my thoughts and observations of Oakland’s 2011 defensive unit.

Here we go:

  • Did you know that A’s outfielder David DeJesus posted a 7.5 UZR this season? If you’re like me, you’re not too excited, as UZR statistics are pretty iffy when it comes to a single season’s worth of numbers. It’s best, if you’re looking for a better understanding of a player’s true defensive skill set, if you take a look three-year UZR’s.
  • Cliff Pennington, a surprise on offense, remained somewhat of a liability on defense. His 22 errors this season led the Athletics, and was the fourth highest total among active shortstops in baseball. 
  • Scott Sizemore and Kurt Suzuki both tied for the second-highest total of errors committed this season, with both players committing 13 errors this season.
  • In all fairness, however, Sizemore deserves some recognition for having to assume the role as Oakland’s third baseman after Kouzmanoff was exiled to Triple-A. Sizemore was a second baseman with Detroit, but he had to learn how to play third basically on the fly. So, in my mind, he did a solid job.
  • It’s a good thing Kouzmanoff was sent out of Oakland when he was. I just don’t know if I could’ve suffered through an entire season watching him botch plays left and right. In 46 games with Oakland, “Kouz” committed 9 errors. He finished the season with a total of 13 while splitting time with Oakland and Colorado.
  • Suzuki is no longer my favorite A’s player. He used to be, albeit for a brief moment, but he’s just not the same player he was during the ’09 season. He was an offensive threat (15 HR, 88 RBIs), but now that his offensive numbers have been on the decline, his defensive shortcomings have been all the more noticeable. He’s handled the young pitching staff well enough, but had the hardest time throwing opponents out in 2011. Now it’s not all Kurt’s fault, as other factors like the rest of Oakland’s infielders and pitchers should accept some of the blame. It’s just hard not to notice that Suzuki struggles with throwing people out.
OVERALL: D-, the A’s entered the season with a ton of hope and optimism. Unfortunately that hope and optimism was met only with the depressing feeling of failure and a third-place finish. The A’s finished a whopping 22 games out of first place behind the division leading Texas Rangers. Oakland’s poor offensive start in addition to injuries and defensive miscues resulted the team’s sub-par performance in ’11. The poor defense is something that came as a surprise to many fans, and probably to the A’s front office, too. Oakland usually prides itself on its strong defense, but this year was clearly nothing to be happy about.
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