The First Two Weeks in Defensive Highlights

Over the past couple weeks, you might have noticed some of our advanced fielding data filtering into the system, as the scouts grading and categorizing each play go through their expert machinations. With two weeks of play in the books, and enough time for much of the data to come in (there is normally a slight delay), we can now look back on some of the highlights of the defensive portion of the game. Though the stats run a few days behind, we still have a lot to look at.

I’ve gone through each defensive position and pulled one or two of the best “remote” plays for each, giving us a veritable super cut of defensive gems from the early going. These are only the plays categorized as being converted into outs between 1-10% of the time. Though there could be some disagreement with elements of the classification for each play, there’s no doubt that these plays are among the best made since the start of the season. Let’s get to it!

Pitcher

A preface: obviously the pitcher position doesn’t have to make a lot of incredible defensive plays. Routine and sometimes awkward, yes, but not spectacular. That being said, there was one that made the cut:

Anthony DeSclafani, April 14th

Desclafani

Would this have been a base hit up the middle? It looked hard hit enough to at least make the play for the shortstop very difficult. Regardless, Desclafani took no chances, losing his glove on a behind-the-back effort before keeping his cool to get the out.

Catcher

Inside Edge is a little strange for catchers, as it’s not easy to go into the data and find the exact point at which they converted a remote play unless they caught a difficult pop-up (which doesn’t happen often). There have been only three catchers that have converted remote plays so far this season (one each), and as far as I can tell, they’re either double plays involving infielders or throwing runners out if they stray too far from bases. Let’s go with this one, of Russell Martin on April 19th, with the caveats above:

Martin

First Base

Justin Morneau, April 15th

Morneau

With the infield shifted, Morneau plays the equivalent of second base here, sprawling to his right to snare a soft liner. As it stands, it’s a great play created in part by a non-standard defensive alignment, which is something we’ll see a good amount of as we go through the positions.

Second base

Another preface: I’m sad to say that we only have one remote play that was converted into an out at second base so far this season. We actually didn’t have any in the system until late last night, and I was planning on putting a GIF of a puppy here. Instead, Dee Gordon will have to do.

Dee Gordon, April 18th

Gordon

Curtis Granderson is the batter for two of the plays on this list, and that seems unfair. This is the first, which is a scalded line drive. It’s fair to say that if you show up as the victim on a list that only includes plays made between 1-10% of the time, you’ve angered the wrong person/deity.

Shortstop

Andrelton Simmons, April 10th

Simmons

Guess who? Andrelton Simmons cares not for your attempted dive, Chris Johnson. When we announced the introduction of the Inside Edge fielding data last year, there was a commenter on the article saying that it was basically a way to measure how incredible Simmons is. You’re not wrong, friend. There aren’t many words to describe this sort of play, so I won’t try too hard, and just say that Simmons is really, really good. This was a hit for Travis D’Arnaud, right up until one guy decided to ruin the party.

Bonus: Adeiny Hechavarria, April 10th

Hechavarria

Hechavarria is a bit of a puzzling case, as he ranked dead last in runs saved by range at shortstop over the past two years, yet here he is — majestically flying through the air, robbing Rene Rivera of a precious run batted in. Fly on, Adeiny.

Third Base

Manny Machado, April 8th

Machado

Another usual suspect on highlight reels, Machado had everyone shouting about comparisons to Brooks Robinson after this play. And why not: there’s a lot for him to do here. The short hop on the liner while diving, the great footwork to get into throwing position, and the instinctual cannon to first base.

Bonus: Nolan Arenado, April 14th

Arenado

Arenado proves on this play that part of being a great defender is simply refusing to give up on balls most people don’t consider trying to catch. This is a lot like Josh Donaldson’s tarp catches from the past two years, but instead Arenado decides to up the difficulty by catching the ball over his shoulder while running through the bullpen, then almost doubling the runner off at third base. The Giants fans at AT&T Park applauded him for making an out against their team.

Bonus #2: Josh Harrison, April 17th

Harrison

Infield shifts seem to provide a good opportunity to make remote plays, as Harrison runs a really long way from where he was originally positioned to glove flip for the out. Suffice to say it probably wouldn’t have been possible if not for the notoriously fleet of foot Adam Lind racing down the first base line.

Outfield

Khris Davis, April 8th

K_Davis

Like Arenado, sometimes the best course of action to secure an out on a particularly well-hit baseball is to run as fast as you can to where the ball is going to land with no regard for obstacles or your personal safety. Davis executed this strategy with aplomb, and somehow managed to come out uninjured.

Billy Hamilton, April 6th

Hamilton

This one deserves to be on here not only because it was ranked as remote, but because of the insane spin on the ball that Hamilton has to contend with. Center fielders often say that line drives hit right at them are some of the hardest to judge — add really strange action to the ball, and you are left with something that looks like this.

Ben Revere, April 14th

Revere

And here’s Granderson again! Poor guy. It’s not often you see Revere’s name on the “best of” lists when it comes to defense, but this one deserves to be up there. Sometimes the most satisfying diving catches are the ones that the fielder just gets in their glove, and this one was certainly one of those. Illustration:

Revere_Extension

Outfield awards also go to Kevin Kiermaier, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian YelichGeorge Springer, and Kevin Pillar. The latter two robbed home runs, so they deserve inclusion with a combined GIF:

Pillar_Springer_Robs

There’s bound to be another remote play at second base that’s converted into an out sooner rather than later. Until next time, thanks for joining in this recap of embarrassing defensive riches.





Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

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Nelson S.
Member
Nelson S.

I dont understand the Arenado one. Why is the runner running from second to third?

Brad
Guest
Brad

The runner is tagging up on a fly ball. He figured that there was no way for a fielder catching a ball over his head running away was going to get the ball to third in time. He was almost out, but it ended up being a heads up play by the runner to get to third.

My favorite example of a tag like this was in the 84 WS. Rusty Kuntz at bat with Kirk Gibson third. A shallow pop-up to RF where the 2B Alan Wiggins chose to catch the ball instead of the right fielder. Gibson saw this and tagged up beating the throw to take a 4-3 lead. Gibson (after hitting a HR in the first inning) later hit a 3 run bomb to secure the championship for Detroit. The next time in the WS Gibson hit the famous PH HR for the Dodgers vs. Eckersley. Gibson’s last 5 WS AB’s… 4 R’s, 4 H’s, 3 HR’s 7 RBI’s and that head’s up tag.

J
Guest
J

He is tagging up.

burts_beads
Member
Member
burts_beads

I’m assuming he tagged up when he was Arenado fall into the stands.

burts_beads
Member
Member
burts_beads

*saw