Cardinals return to old ways of defensive prowess

The team is returning to its rightful spot near the top of defensive metric leaderboards.
Boston Red Sox v St. Louis Cardinals
Boston Red Sox v St. Louis Cardinals / Dilip Vishwanat/GettyImages

Part of the reason why the 2024 St. Louis Cardinals feel different than the 2023 version of the team would be the defensive improvements that have been made this year.

Last year, the team fell in every defensive metric compared to the previous three seasons. For a team that could once tout 5 Gold Glove recipients and a team Gold Glove recognition in one season, to have but one player even nominated last year was indicative of a larger problem.

The defensive woes were attributable to a plethora of issues; the lack of shifts limited a groundball-heavy pitching staff, players were thrown into positions that were largely new to them (see Nolan Gorman and Jordan Walker), and the placement of players on the dirt and in the grass was revamped.

The script has largely been flipped this year. Below you'll find 2023 and 2024 statistics for 4 key defensive metrics: Out Above Average (OAA), Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and errors per game. The Cardinals' rank in the league is included in parentheses for each data point.







-7 (20th)

-7 (19th)

-17.9 (24th)

0.41 (4th)


15 (9th)

4 (12th)

5.4 (4th)

0.47 (8th

The differences are dramatic. The team is committing errors at a slightly magnified rate, but every other defensive metric shows growth for the Cardinals this year. Their 4th-place ranking in UZR shows that they are making the plays that they should. Last year, routine groundballs could make the average fan sweat.

Every defensive metric last year ended up being negative by September. This year, the Cardinals are a top-10 defense in baseball with the potential for more.

There are a few reasons why the team's defense is better this year. Personnel is foremost of those. Rather than seeing average players like Dylan Carlson, Lars Nootbaar, or Tyler O'Neill roam center, Oli Marmol has opted for defense more often than not by playing either Michael Siani or Victor Scott II. At shortstop, rookie Masyn Winn has been electric. Right field is now being patrolled by a combination of Dylan Carlson, Lars Nootbaar, or Michael Siani at times, all players who are better than Jordan Walker defensively.

In addition to personnel choices, we are seeing better performances from the team's cornerstone players. 2023 was one of Nolan Arenado's worst seasons on both sides of the ball. Defensively, things have taken a 180-degree turn this year. The same goes for Paul Goldschmidt. Both players were negative defenders according to OAA. This year, Nolan Arenado is second on the team in OAA with 3, and Paul Goldschmidt sits 18th as a neutral defender at first base.

The Cardinals' record may be reminiscent of the 2023 season up to this point, but the team is performing much more like its remarkable 2022 self defensively. Don't expect 5 Gold Glove recipients this year, but the notoriety isn't necessary for fans, players, and coaches to see that the defensive facet of the team's performance this year is dramatically better than last year.

If the bullpen and defense can remain stout, and if the offense can continue its pace from these past 10 games, the Cardinals could find themselves sneaking into the playoffs this year.