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This is the first in a series of rankings of major-league defenders,
highlighting the top ten and bottom five at each position. The ratings are
a combination of Zone Rating, Range Factor and my best (and admittedly
grossly flawed) assessment of the job they’re doing.

The Top

1. Bret Boone, Padres. Boone has a very quick first step and
a throwing motion that is very compact and efficient. He’s not the best
double-play turner on this list, but his Range Factor and Zone Rating are
both in the upper half of the league. He looks a lot like that guy from
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off who is now on Spin City.

2. Pokey Reese, Reds. Reese has amazing balance moving in any
direction. A lot of players lose their balance a little if they favor one
direction more than the others; watch Randy Velarde closely for an
example. He covers a lot of ground and releases the ball well. He’s near
the top in both RF and ZR.

3. Ray Durham, White Sox. Durham sits at the top of a
surprisingly crappy group of American League second basemen. He has an
unorthodox defensive style; he probably doesn’t get the defensive
recognition he deserves because he doesn’t do a full crossover step, and as
a result looks awkward. He’s probably the best second baseman in baseball
at turning the double play without being clobbered.

4. Ron Belliard, Brewers. Belliard could probably play
shortstop if he had a slightly better arm. His release on turning the DP is
fantastic, and he has great instincts about where to take a ball in its
path; when he gives ground to a ball, he doesn’t buckle and go back on his
heels like most other guys. He leads the league in DPs turned, thanks
primarily to having a copious supply of runners on base. He’s solid in both
ZR and RF.

5. Fernando Vina, Cardinals. Vina goes to his left as well as
anyone, and makes some really boring, predictable throws when off balance.
I’ve watched him a few times on tape to figure out how he does it, but I’m
always impressed. Great ZR, middle of the pack RF.

6. Warren Morris, Pirates. When I hear Morris discussed on
local and national broadcasts, they’re almost always apologizing for his
defense. Why? Morris has little speed, but a lightning-fast crossover,
great balance and his arm is outstanding, if a bit erratic. If Morris
played in New York, he’d be a Gold Glover and the entire Olbermann family
could sleep at night.

7. Homer Bush, Blue Jays. Bush has good speed and makes
better use of it than other blazers (read: Luis Castillo). He gets
the ball out of his glove quickly, and Frank Castillo has an ERA of
4.23. I can’t make any observations that say more than that. I mean, this
is Frank Castillo.

8. Eric Young, Cubs. Young also has great speed, and is
probably the best athlete of the second basemen I spent a lot of time
watching. He could be the best defender in baseball if he had better
instincts for where to take the ball in its path, and did some training on
his first step. He’s still outstanding, but has some correctable holes in
his game.

9. Edgardo Alfonzo, Mets. Alfonzo was an shortstop in the low
minors, when Dorian Kim would bend my ear about what a great player he was
going to be. Dorian was right: Alfonzo is great and steady on both offense
and defense. One thing that Alfonzo does very well is execute his technique
when receiving the ball from the outfield. (It sounds minor, but bear with
me.) His release on getting the ball back in is beautiful: plant, turn
head, acquire target, pivot and throw. Fun to watch. I guess when you plan
to play both Darryl Hamilton and Rickey Henderson, your
infielders better be good at that…and at picking up balls on a hop.

10. Roberto Alomar, Indians. This is the top of the middle
tier. Alomar is turning into the Carney Lansford of second basemen,
but he’s still solid. His arm is a little weak, but his release has gotten
better over the years. Still favors his glove side too much, and that won’t
ever change. He could be the worst second baseman in baseball in three years.

The Bottom

1. Chuck Knoblauch, Yankees. Even aside from his unfortunate
and heart-wrenching case of the yips, Knoblauch is still pretty bad these
days. He’s favoring his glove side like Carlos Baerga used to, and
his first step has moved into geologic time measurements. I hope he’ll snap
out of it. All of it.

2. Miguel Cairo, Devil Rays. Hey, at least he makes up for it
with his bat.

3. Jose Vidro, Expos. Vidro might be giving up 15 runs a year
with his glove. I think Felipe Alou can live with that. If Vidro could move
forward and throw accurately, that would help. He’ll get better with time,
but right now, he needs help keeping his balance and turning the DP. He
doesn’t need help hitting lasers, though.

4. Luis Alicea, Rangers. Alicea looks like he’s aged about
ten years in the last two. His first step has slowed and his footwork has
gotten sloppy. It shows in his technique as well as his numbers. Maybe when
he gets healthy, he’ll pick up. I doubt it.

5. Jay Bell, Diamondbacks. Bell trails everyone in ZR and RF,
and makes me think he’s on cold medication when I watch him. His technique
and everything else is steady or solid, but slowed down compared to others.
It’s really kind of bizarre.

That’s all for now. Other positions will follow, so if you have any
comments, questions or suggestions (preferably limiting yourself to those
that are anatomically possible), feel free to e-mail me at
huckabay@baseballprospectus.com.

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