I took some social media flak last year after making a snarky remark about Matt Carpenter’s lack of prowess as a first baseman. Someone immediately countered that Carpenter was one of the best fielding first baseman in the league.

At first, I suspected sarcasm. But, the guy backed up his claim with what was admittedly and impressive array of letters and numbers that supposedly showed Carpenter was the second coming of Keith Hernandez.

I’m not arguing the numbers. They are readily available, updated daily at baseballreference.com. But, the numbers don’t always pass the eye test.

I’m trying to not be overly critical because Carpenter was not a natural first baseman, but his footwork around the bag was suspect. His decision making on going to his right or yielding to the second baseman was suspect.

Finally, Carpenter was hesitant to come off the bag to stop wide throws. When the ball inevitably skipped to the wall, the runners would advance to second and the other infielder would be charged with a throwing error.

And don’t even think about Carpenter charging a bunt or a slow roller and turning to get a force out at second base. It wasn’t happening.

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Yet, the numbers suggested Carpenter was a candidate for the Gold Glove.

Likewise, the numbers won’t tell you if an infielder can go to his right and still get himself in position quickly to make a strong throw to first. The numbers don’t accurately indicate if a shortstop or second baseman can go down the line to catch fly balls in foul territory.

The player may have great hands, great footwork and even a strong arm, but there can still be shortcomings in his overall defensive game that aren’t reflected in the numbers.

When Chris Duncan played outfield for the Cardinals every line drive in his direction was an adventure. It certainly wasn’t his defense that got him to the major leagues, yet the defensive metrics suggested he was well above average.

Duncan was asked about that in a radio interview. He acknowledged the numbers didn’t accurately portray his defensive abilities.

So yes, the numbers can be insightful, particularly when verified by the eye test.

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On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​


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