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May 2, 2014

Pebble Hunting

The Best Defensive Game of April

by Sam Miller


Good days at the plate are pretty easy to identify. If you’re looking for the best game any hitter had in April, you can look at total bases (as in Ryan Braun’s three-homer game) or at hits (as in Charlie Blackmon’s 6-for-6 game) or at win probability added (as when Kyle Seager hit two homers, including a walk-off, for a one-game .906 WPA); or, simply RE24, which would lead you back to Blackmon, who produced more than five runs all by himself. Similarly, for pitchers, pretty easy: Andrew Cashner’s 9/1/0/0/2/11 was the month’s best game score, though you might opt for Jose Fernandez’s 8/3/0/0/0/14 for dominance or Julio Teheran’s 1-0 shutout for value.

Defense is trickier. How would you go about identifying the best defensive game of the year? Does a guy who makes 10 routine plays top a guy who makes a couple web gems in an otherwise quiet night? The busy fielder didn’t necessarily have much to do with those 10 balls coming to him, but he did turn them all into outs—and, as we are smart enough to know by now, what seem like routine plays aren’t always routine (as opposed to the residue of good positioning, good first steps, or an Andreltonesque ability to make difficult plays look easy and impossible plays look merely difficult). We also know that Web Gems aren’t always the most difficult plays—leaving one’s feet being noticeable but not always the sign of excellent defense.

This comes up because this year we wanted to highlight the best defensive game of each month (or so) using statistical means. We turned to Inside Edge, which provides advanced data to major-league clubs (and elsewhere), to help us out. We’re starting simple, but we might get a bit more complex as the year goes on, demonstrating ever-broader expressions of defensive excellence, separating our standouts by position and getting more precise with what we consider valuable. Mostly, of course, this is an excuse for me to make GIFs of pretty baseball things.

So, without further introduction, the best game of the 2014 season so far, according to Inside Edge. It will come as no surprise to you that it was produced by a 24-year-old National League shortstop. Of course, it’s Andrelton Sim—

Wait. Actually, it’s not. It’s Starlin Castro, a shortstop whose defense has long been questioned, who has finished first or second in the league in errors every year of his career, whose move off the position has been considered inevitable by many, whose lapses in concentration have led to tension with his club, and who has only once received any votes for a Fielding Bible award (finishing 15th among shortstops in 2012). But if this seems at all odd to you, remember: Charlie Blackmon, first paragraph.

Inside Edge puts each chance in one of six categories:

  • Routine: Greater than 90 percent chance that it will be fielded
  • Likely: 60 to 90 percent chance
  • Even: 40 to 60 percent chance
  • Unlikely: 10 to 40 percent chance
  • Remote: 1 to 10 percent chance
  • Impossible: 0 percent chance

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Related Content:  Defense,  Chicago Cubs,  Starlin Castro

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Raising Aces: Too Earl... (05/02)
<< Previous Column
Pebble Hunting: The Me... (04/30)
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Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Who's ... (05/05)
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Overthinking It: This ... (05/02)

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