The St. Louis Cardinals defense: Is it really this bad?

Is the Cardinals' defense really this bad or is it just our perception? Here are some numbers that will answer that question.

St Louis Cardinals  v Miami Marlins
St Louis Cardinals v Miami Marlins / Mark Brown/GettyImages

The St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching has been awful this year. When looking at all the trade deadline proposals they all have the Cardinals getting new arms. However, when writing about the pitching I think there is a much bigger problem that won’t be fixed just by adding a couple of new pieces to the staff.

That problem is the defense.

With all the Gold Glove winners on the team, this should not be.

As recently as 2021 we had five winners in the same year. Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman, Nolan Arenado, Harrison Bader, and Tyler O’Neill all won gold gloves. Adam Wainwright has won a Gold Glove. Brendan Donovan won a Gold glove last year as a utility player. Paul DeJong is the fourth-best active shortstop in fielding percent.

We could have a lineup with Edman in center, O’Neill in left. Goldy and Arenado at the corners, Donovan at second, and DeJong at short, leaving only right field and catcher without an exceptional fielder manning the position.

In right field this year, we have watched Jordan Walker learning the position and he has taken a lot of heat for his fielding. Instead of criticism, I think he deserves a lot of credit. The league average fielding percentage is .988. Walker’s is .987. Not bad for someone learning on the fly. Also, I never understood taking someone that has played his whole career on the left side of the diamond, moving him to the other side, and expecting him to excel.

Is the defense really this bad or is it just our perception?

Baseball-Reference has a stat called Defensive Efficiency. It is basically the percentage of balls in play converted into outs. In 2021 under Mike Shildt, who made defense a priority, the percentage was .714; ranking the Cardinals second that year. Two years later that number is .663 and we rank dead last. Yes, the defense is bad.

So, with all the great defensive players what happened to our team?

The winning formula for years has always been to have good pitching, a lights-out closer, power on the corners, and a solid defense up the middle. That middle defense has left the building.










































Most surprising on this list is the only position that hasn’t dropped drastically is the catcher. So you now see the “what happened”. Let’s look at the “why”.

Center field

In 2022 we saw Harrison Bader and then Dylan Carlson with an equal split manning the position. Bader was perfect with a 1.000 fielding percent. There was a drop-off with Carlson but he was still above league average at .997. This year Lars Nootbar and Dylan Carlson have started the most games in CF. They are both below average at .984 and .985 percentages. Edman has stabilized the position a great deal.

Second Base

In 2022 second base was mainly Edman and Gorman. Donovan played enough games there to offset any drag Gorman had on the stats. This year it is Gorman and Donovan. They have identical fielding percentages of .976. The league average this year is .987. Ouch.


In 2022 we saw Dejong and Edman splitting the duties and both were above average. Edman was spectacular with a .997 fielding percentage. This year it is pretty much the same two.


This is not as big a drop as I thought it would be until I looked and remembered that Yadi only started 71 games. Contreras this year has started 56 games. This is where the real problem at the catcher position lies. In 71 games Yadi save 9 runs with his defense. This year playing just 15 games less Contreras is already at a minus 6.

Looking at all the moving parts it’s no wonder the defense is a mess and it starts up the middle.

Taking away one of the best defensive catchers to ever wear a mask who ended his career with a .995 fielding percentage and replacing him with one with a .989 is not an improvement.

Taking away one of the best fielding center fielders in the game in Harrison Bader caused a domino effect. The defense is bad enough that now Tommy Edman can’t spend as much time at second and short, boosting those numbers.

Whitey Herzog knew that even if Ozzie didn’t hit at all, his defense would win games. La Russa said the same about Yadi when he was first called up and was hitting .217. The first thing Mike Shildt did when he was named the manager was to make defense a priority.

I started this article by asking “Is the defense really this bad or is it just our perception?”

It’s really this bad because it's no longer a priority.

Next. 10 targets. 10 trade deadline targets for the Cardinals. dark