Defense matters! One play changed everything.

Spit it out Victor Robles, why were you playing Tommy Edman so shallow and why did you take a step in on the ball and then slow up approaching the warning track? At that moment, the Washington Nationals had a 5-0 lead. After this inning — the lead was down to 3-runs in a 5-2 game. Not only did those two runs prove to be crucial in an 8-6 final score — it was the extra stress that starter Josiah Gray had to endure in that inning that might have buried him in his fifth inning as his pitch count went final at 102 pitches, and four more runs given up in that frame. Defense matters. That one play changed everything.

Here is a partial video to the Robles’ play:

You cannot see the first move from Robles which was a step in. That was a crucial mistake. The irony is that during the play, the Cardinals broadcaster assumed that Robles would still catch the flyball, and even complimented him as, “Robles is a terrific defender” while he was tracking the ball.

In the fourth inning until the end of the game, you might have noticed that Robles was playing about a dozen feet from the warning track in what you would describe as a “no doubles” defense — except this was the fourth inning! The five weeks that Robles missed on the IL, can you remember even one play that Alex Call missed over his head? In fact Call made that sensational play in Atlanta going full-speed to the wall and jumping up to rob a home run.

The key in the analytics age of baseball is you play a little deeper because the cost of an extra-base hit (XBH) is greater than giving up a shallow single. It is a tradeoff. Robles was playing Edman shallow, and even after stepping in by mistake, he still had the speed to get to the ball but he slowed up approaching the warning track and that cost him and his pitcher and his team in the end.

If you think I am being too harsh on Robles, here is a tweet from MASN’s beat reporter:

First off, Call catches that ball easily because he would have been playing 30-feet from the warning track. Positioning is a key. Nobody is saying Call is the better defender — but Call makes that play with minimal effort squared up at the warning track.

The media did not ask manager Dave Martinez why Robles was situated so deep from the fourth inning on. They did not ask what happened with the Robles’ non-catch. What Martinez did discuss was the problem with not striking out batters in two-strike counts.

“With a team like that, you’ve got to make your pitches. Get to two strikes, you’ve got to finish them off. Today, [Gray] just couldn’t do that.”

— Martinez said after the game

Sure, the loss doesn’t fall on Robles. The team lost the game. But that was the biggest play of the game until the point that Gray unraveled on the mound in the fifth inning. Defense matters. You have to make that play.

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