The stupid thing about this play is that it begins with Bethancourt erring. If he'd smothered the ball, or at minimum kept it in front of him, then the ensuing chain of events never would have happened.
Instead Bethancourt had to retrieve the loose ball from the back of the cutout. He then dodged the umpire and made an impossibly good, strong throw from behind the right-handed batter's box to second base, which allowed Andrelton Simmons to apply a nonchalant tag. That play serves as a monument to almost everything about Bethancourt's defense—from his athleticism to his brilliant arm to his receiving woes—while giving us a glimpse of what's to come—albeit hopefully without the initial mistake. —R.J. Anderson
2. Ryan Goins
This play is fun because both the ball and Goins’ hand seem to suddenly be yanked in a crazy direction by unseen strings: boing! Only Astroturf can make this play happen. It’s fun because after Goins makes a barehanded grab in midair, he lands and makes a perfect throw to first. It’s fun because it ended the game, which happened to be Marcus Stroman’s first career shutout. And it’s fun because the play happened in Toronto, which means I can call it not my favorite but my favourite fielding play of the season. —Adam Sobsey
3. Jared Foster (Louisiana State University)
You probably don't know who Jared Foster is. You're probably asking yourself why he would be on a list with Steven Souza, Andrelton Simmons, and a host of other major-league stars. This is what he's doing on such a list:
Jared Foster was a senior at LSU, and a vital member of the Tigers' bench. He played in 43 games while starting just 13, but his skills in the field are obviously what got him in the LSU lineup.
Not only was this an absurd catch, but it also came at a crucial time. 5th ranked LSU was tied 4-4 with Texas A&M in the bottom of the 9th. A&M had the bases loaded when an Aggies player drove a ball deep into the left field corner. An upset was in the books, until it wasn't. Foster was having none of that having come off the LSU bench earlier in the game.
Sure, other catches were excellent. Some even wrapped up neat statistical oddities like a no-hitter. This though, was quite literally a game-saving catch. LSU would go on to win in extra innings, something that would not have been possible if Foster hadn't made this catch.
I'm as much of a sucker for slick-fielding infielders as the next guy (hello Manny Machado), but man, this catch was unreal. When it comes to difficulty, importance, and execution, Jared Foster gets perfect 10s across the board. —Jeff Long
4. Charlie Blackmon
Blackmon was making plays all over during this series, but this one takes the cake. With the game tied in the 10th and the winning run on second, Welington Castillo drills a ball into the gap in right-center. The game should be over.
The game ended up with Blackmon playing right field and the Cubs winning in 16. Thanks to this great catch, six innings of additional baseball–with an impact on the race for a top draft pick–were required. —Harry Pavlidis
We’re spoiled with MLB’s multiple camera angles, high-def resolution, and slow motion snaps that pierce our innermost emotions. Minor-league highlight videos are the closest things we have to Zapruder-style films. One angle and decide for yourself.
The announcers clearly have no idea at the time whether this was a catch, but the umpire ruled it as such, and Sellers knew it (or at least sold it). Even replaying the same angle, it looks like the ball hops off the ground and into his glove—or would it have hopped higher? I choose to believe this was a catch off his foot, and a terrific one, but there are likely Clippers conspiracy theorists who contend there was a second baseball in play, and we’ll have to live with the ambiguity. Teach the controversy. —Matt Sussman
6. Adam Eaton
The best defensive play is one that leaves a hitter completely demoralized. If that's your jam, it's hard to do much better than this:
Think about the agony involved for David Ortiz here. It's early in the season, it's cold, and he's a lefty standing in against Chris Sale. He works a full count and gets his barrel to the one truly drivable pitch he'll see all night. His liner looks destined for the seats before Adam Eaton—who looks a little too good for U.S. Cellular's tiny center field in this video—leaps up to rob a home run. He's come two inches away from becoming the first lefty to homer against Sale since 2012, but there is no consolation prize tonight, only out no. 3.
Bonus points to Eaton for making the catch in difficult circumstances. Not that robbing a home run is ever routine, but it's a little easier to make the play with the momentum of a dead run or with adequate preparation to set up and time a jump. Here, Eaton has to run hard, shuffle his steps to slow down as he approaches the wall, and leap without getting a long look at where the fence is. Whether the ball was destined for the yellow line or the seats is irrelevant: either way it's an amazing catch and a career highlight for Eaton. —Brendan Gawlowski
7. Steven Souza
On Sunday, September 28th, Jordan Zimmermann was on pitch no. 103, two strikes away from finishing the first Nationals no-hitter in history.The ninth inning started with a weak ground ball and a deep fly out to Michael Taylor, the Nationals center fielder for the first two outs.
Miami's Christian Yelich had other ideas and hit the ball to deep left-center field; at first glance, it looked as though Zimmermann's no-hitter was over. But, seemingly out of nowhere, Souza made a game-saving catch in deep left-center field with a Web Gem for the ages. And with it, on the last day of the season, Jordan Zimmermann showed us that on any day in baseball, anything can happen.
The catch from the fan's angle below just continues to amaze me, especially considering its timing. To make the over-the-shoulder grab in mid-stride and to continue the process through the catch is a feat Nationals fans will remember forever.
To conclude, it's worth noting that Souza had only entered the game in the ninth inning as a defensive replacement, and moments later, he saved the day. It goes to show that being a manager, you're faced with some tough decisions. Sometimes, you look like a fool; other times, your players reward you in the biggest moments.
8. Andrelton Simmons
When featuring the defensive plays of the year, a Lineup Card post would feel incomplete without a section filled with Andrelton Simmons highlights.
You love watching Andrelton Simmons play defense. I love watching Andrelton Simmons play defense. Sam wrote an entire article devoted to why we should all love watching Andrelton Simmons play defense. It’s impossible not to get excited watching Andrelton Simmons make plays that basically nobody else in the game makes.
Somebody with the privilege of watching Simmons play more than nearly anybody is Atlanta play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports South, Chip Caray. When Caray was a guest on The Jonah Keri Podcast earlier this season, he had this to say about Simmons:
“He has tremendous baseball instincts, he knows where to position himself, you almost never see him out of position or in the wrong place. And he plays with … such a great arrogance at shortstop and by that I mean there’s not a play on the field he doesn’t think he can make.”
Caray’s last point—about the high standard that Simmons holds himself to—is what I wanted to bring to light. We’ll get to the Simmons Web Gems that you all want to relive, but first, let’s take a look at what types of plays that Simmons actually beats himself up about not making. It quickly becomes clear that Caray’s comments about him aren’t all that exaggerated. First, this grounder hit into the hole off the bat of Dee Gordon on August 13th:
Simmons is the only shortstop in the world who would come that close to throwing out Dee Gordon on that play. With Gordon running, Simmons’ transfer and jump throw had to be quicker than even his own best play made in the hole, which we’ll get to in a bit. This would have been a strong candidate for the play of the year, but Dee Gordon was still running, so there was no out recorded. Yet, Simmons’ immediate reaction to the play was…
Fast-forward a few weeks to August 30th on a Casey McGehee grounder up the middle. MeGehee isn’t fleet of foot, but Simmons started out at a standard shortstop position and the ball wasn’t hit particularly hard. Yet, the play is still somewhat close because Simmons miraculously makes a throw that hits Freddie Freeman on the fly despite throwing across his body while sliding on one knee and falling away from the infield.
Nobody makes this play! It’s amazing that it was even as close as it was and the Turner Field crowd recognized his effort with a standing ovation. Yet, here we have Mr. Simmons, unsatisfied that he wasn’t able to get more behind his nearly impossible throw.
We’ve seen how high Simmons has set the bar for himself, but even if we temper those expectations slightly, there is still an outstanding collection of plays to choose from when considering his best of the season. Ben and Sam have narrated these plays at length on Effectively Wild, and rightfully so, as there aren’t too many better ways to spend your time than to watch them on loop.
First, there’s this ridiculous barehanded play that Simmons made on this broken-bat blooper to shortstop:
With a speedy Will Venable running out of the box, Simmons approached the play expecting to barehand it, but with the amount of English on the ball, Simmons’ quick reaction and long reach were really put to use. The slow-motion replays really accentuate how difficult the play was.
Then there’s arguably the best Simmons play of the year, which also happened to prevent a game-tying run from scoring in the eighth inning of a game against the Mets in late August. Travis d’Arnaud hits a grounder deep in the hole at short and Simmons ranges to his right to reach this ball…
…while somehow managing to stay on his feet. Simmons then demonstrates his arm strength with a ridiculous off-balance jump throw to nab d’Arnaud.
Finally we have this play from July, when the Marlins put on a hit-and-run with a runner at first and no outs. Not only does Simmons—who was running to cover second base—stop his momentum and reach out to backhand Jordany Valdespin’s hard-hit grounder, but he then contorts his body in such a way that he’s able to dive back and tag second base to record the force out.
When watching this play, it’s difficult not to be amazed and wonder how Simmons was able to make this type of play that you’ve probably never seen before. But Simmons, being the perfectionist that he is, wasn’t simply satisfied with making a highlight-of-the-year caliber play. Instead, moments later, he was pacing back and forth, kicking himself about how he hadn’t converted the ball into a double play. Classic Simmons.
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On the postive side, the most impressive catch may be the one by the LSU reserve outfielder. That was interesting.