Defensive Woes? Bonifacio, Izturis, DeRosa, and Lawrie

As mentioned previously, Emilio Bonifacio had a record-tying 3 errors in game 1 against the Red Sox, two of which occurred in the same inning. Those errors cost the Jays a run. Mark Buehrle has already mentioned that Bonifacio is a good OF, but hasn’t seen him play much at 2B. In his first three games, Maicer Izturis has made two errors and stumbled on another sharply-hit-but-relatively-routine ground ball, costing him a play at the plate. The out was recorded at 1B, but the go-ahead run scored. Mark DeRosa, in his first start of the season, made a throwing error. That’s 6 errors in 4 games by 3 guys getting more PT (“playing time”..shout out to Dick Vitale!) than expected. So, what gives? Brett Lawrie is absent because he’s injured. That’s what gives.

Brett Lawrie is a darn good third baseman. The sample size isn’t huge, but the numbers are pretty impressive. His UZR was 4.8 in his 2011 debut and his RngR was 5.1, but the sample size (380.1 innings at 3B) didn’t leave us comfortable enough to draw any firm conclusions. Fair enough, says Brett. His 2012 defensive effort virtually duplicated his brief ’11 call-up, with a 4.5 UZR and a 4.5 RngR. The sample size was a satisfying 1072 innings at 3B. Now we have a good foundation for our expectations. It isn’t Moustakas or Beltre territory, but those a pretty good numbers at the hot corner. But there’s an oblique injury preventing him from playing so far in the much-ballyhooed, highly-anticipated 2013 season.

Previously, especially during the injury-plagued 2012 season, the Jays’ bench has been a concern. After Alex Anthopoulos dealt Roy Halladay to the Phillies, the cupboard had a couple cans of kidney beans and some creamed corn. The bench has been limited to one-dimensional bit players like John MacDonald (a Toronto icon) and Mike McCoy (an icon? Not so much…). Guys like Rajai Davis, an excellent 4th OF, were actually starting. The bench started as a concern but when the injuries hit, it became a glaring weakness.

Enter Maicer Izturis, Emilio Bonifacio, and Mark DeRosa, in that order. In 3 moves, the Jays seemingly addressed their bench-depth problems. They all have considerable experience as starters and as bench/role players, they’re all talented, and they bring intriguing skills with them.

So, why are they playing so poorly? Let’s start with Maicer. Maicer plays well at 2B and 3B, but he’s a better 2B than 3B. In 1965.2 innings at 2B his RngR is 3.0, his ErrR is 4.7, and his UZR is 12.2. His corresponding numbers at 3B are 11.3, -6.3, and 4.2 in 2288.2 innings. He takes his second baseman’s range and arm to 3B when he plays there, allowing him to cover a lot of ground at the hot corner, but he’s error-prone. Interestingly, that’s exactly what we’re seeing in the first few games of the 2013 season.

Emilio Bonifacio is a different kettle of fish. Mark Buerhle said he hadn’t seen Bonifacio at 2B very much but he played 122.2 innings at 2B in an injury-plagued 2012, which was the second-highest total of his career. Buerhle and Bonifacio were teammates in MIA last season, but Bonifacio only played 64 games, so we should probably file Buehrle’s observations under ‘Nice, but less relevant. Thanks anyways’. In 625 career innings at 2B, Bonifacio is an average-to-below-average performer (1.4 RngR, -4.6 ErrR, -2.8 UZR). His great speed allows him to cover the territory—which we’ve seen: he made a play against the Tribe to keep a ground ball on the infield with a runner in scoring position—but he’s highly error-prone and his UZR is substandard. That said, he’s even worse at 3B (1000.1 innings, -1.7 RngR, -3.6 ErrR, -5.4 UZR) and SS (750.2 innings, -3.6 RngR, -3.0 ErrR, -6.3 UZR). Emilio Bonifacio is a speed merchant whose talents are better suited for the OF, particularly the corner OF positions.

Mark DeRosa, the last of our 3 bench players, is 38, was injured last season, and was signed mainly as a veteran with good experience (WS ring in ’10 with the SFG) who could mentor young, impressionable, and highly-emotional Brett Lawrie. We won’t go into much depth about what he offers defensively, except to say that he’s played all over the IF and both corner OF spots over the last few years. But he hasn’t played 200 innings at any position since 2009. Offensively, since ’10 DeRosa has posted wRC+ totals of 54, 91, and 57 and has 11 extra base hits in 121 games. He’s paid to be the Jays 25th player and an extra coach.

This is the sort of difficulty created when Lawrie’s injured: manager John Gibbons needs to play the game of comparative advantage. Maicer’s a better 2B than 3B, but he’s a better 3B than Emilio. Emilio is a better OF than IF, but the OF is set for now. DeRosa is a better mentor and coach, but Lind is replaceable and Maicer and Emilio are struggling defensively. The result? Decent offense, with a couple of homers, but shoddy defense: 3 guys, 4 games, 6 errors.

A key to this season could be Mark DeRosa’s impact on Brett Lawrie. If he can help Lawrie to channel his incredible drive, forget making every play like it’s his last (it’s baseball, not football), and to help him to mature (no helmet tossing), Lawrie could be an all star. More importantly, however, Brett might learn to play 140-150 games every season.

Wes Kepstro


1 Response to “Defensive Woes? Bonifacio, Izturis, DeRosa, and Lawrie”

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