September 16, 2013
Carlos Gomez Hates Homers, and Other 2013 Exploits in Individual Defense
Carlos Gomez hates homers. Allowing them, that is. Gomez took a homer away from Jay Bruce on Sunday, which gave him five home run robberies on the season, according to Baseball Info Solutions. That's the most they've recorded for any fielder in a single season in the 10 years that they've been keeping track. I've collected all five here:
July 8, Joey Votto
July 5, Marlon Byrd
June 8, John Mayberry
April 3, Carlos Gonzalez
You can argue, I think, that a couple of those balls might not have been out, even had Gomez's glove missed them. But I haven't seen all of the available angles, so I'll give BIS the benefit of the doubt. The company assigns a value of 1.6 runs to a home run robbery, which means that those five catches by Gomez were worth almost a win. If you consider the context, the plays were worth even more; one came in a game the Brewers had already all but lost, but the others occurred when Milwaukee was tied, up by a run, or down by one or two runs. (Gomez, by the way, is also very good on balls that aren't on an over-the-fence flight path. Oh, and he can hit.)
Here's another interesting note. Four of the top five Defensive Runs Saved seasons ever (in other words, from 2003 on) have been posted by players in 2013: Andrelton Simmons, +41; Manny Machado, +35; Carlos Gomez, +34, and Gerardo Parra, +33. (Only Adam Everett's +34 2006 spoils the clean sweep for this season.) It might seem suspicious that the past decade's top seasons should be clustered so closely; maybe it has to do with improved defensive positioning. Those fielders might be getting to more balls not because they have better range or faster first steps, but because they've been shifted toward a more optimal starting point before the play begins (which doesn't necessarily detract from the value of their contributions).
But it's worth mentioning that FRAA has four fielders over 20 runs above average this season, which is also unusual. Only two of the four (Machado and Simmons) hold dual membership in the DRS quartet, though Gomez and Parra both place in our top 20. (The others are Jean Segura, surprisingly, and Shane Victorino.) Since 1950, there have been only 10 seasons with four FRAAs above 20—and because there are fewer balls in play (and opportunities for good fielders to separate themselves from the pack) now than there have ever been before, it's much more unlikely for that to happen today. There were four such seasons in the 1970s, and three from 1980-85, but only one in the '90s and another in the aughts.
Allowing for the usual caveats about single-season fielding stats, there's some evidence that we're seeing some special defensive performances in 2013. Even if shifting is partially responsible, we can still enjoy the sight of fielders getting to balls that we're not accustomed to seeing caught.
Thanks to Rob McQuown for research assistance.