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What Makes a Shortstop a Great Defender?

polanco fielding
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#1 dbminn

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Posted 25 February 2020 - 11:00 AM

When Statcast came out with infield defensive ratings at the end of 2019, Jorge Polanco appeared at the bottom of the SS list. Using actual game data, Statcast found Polanco was -16 OAA (outs above average). Compare that to Javier Baez of the Cubs at +19 OAA, and you have a 2+ win spread over a season of play. What makes their outcomes so different?

 

Russell Easom at batflipsandnerds.com takes a deeper dive into the reasons why top defensive SS are superior to those at the bottom. Turns out the key is making all the easy plays. Later in the article, Easom includes video and a discussion of Polanco's problems. He's a near-average defender on tough plays but can't throw a lick. A good read.

 

I think a lot of us agree that this just confirms the eye test. Polanco has the athleticism to play SS. But can he ever find a comfortable throwing slot?

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#2 Sssuperdave

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Posted 25 February 2020 - 12:40 PM

Wow, I don't actually get to watch very many games so I hadn't seen any of the three Polanco plays shared in that article.Those were brutal.

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#3 DocBauer

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Posted 25 February 2020 - 03:22 PM

This is just my opinion, and I've stated it before, so take it for what it's worth.

Polanco doesn't have a great arm and never will. But I won't hold any defensive stat against him until after 2020 as he has now had a little short of an full season working on a new throwing motion. Did it work? To me, we will find out over the course and the end of this year.

Further, while a fine athlete, I have seen him mis-read some balls or simply drop them, despite getting to them and looking to be in position to glove them. In other words, he sometimes misses the easy play.

Now, I'm not banging on the guy because I like him very much and I think he's better than given credit for and has room to improve. I think experience, concentration, better footwork will smooth some of those errors.

So again, I'm holding out any real judgement until I see his overall growth through 2020.
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#4 RaoulDuke

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Posted 25 February 2020 - 04:38 PM

The Twins history of shortstops is pretty bleak defensively.

 

Polanco - decent range zero arm should be at 2nd

Escobar - lacked range ok arm much better at 3rd

Adrianza - decent shortstop without the bat to start

Plouffe - lol at this small window in Twins history

Punto - ok at short but better at 2nd or 3rd

Dozier - zero arm limited range quickly moved to 2nd

Nishioka - terrible

Bartlett - good shortstop

Hardy - awesome shortstop

Ojeda - mediocre at short better at 2nd

Florimon - good shortstop that couldn't hit his way out of a wet paper bag

Guzman - decent shortstop

Nunez - mediocre shortstop

Castro - decent glove zero bat

 

JJ Hardy is the only defensive stud.

 

Jason Bartlett and Christian Guzman could provide average defense and hit enough to hold the starting spot.

 

Polanco and Escobar could hit enough to overlook the defense.

 

 

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#5 jkcarew

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Posted 25 February 2020 - 04:46 PM

"Turns out the key is making all the easy plays."

 

Yes. And it's an amusing circle. We start with errors awarded by inconsistent (and biased) humans...because it's all we had. And then, the more data we collect, the more it points back to errors, the concept...if not, the statistic. Especially on the infield this is true. Extra range and even arm strength don't have nearly the value of simply making fewer mistakes on routine plays. If only we had data to award errors against an accurate, objective, and consistent standard.

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#6 jkcarew

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Posted 25 February 2020 - 04:49 PM

 

The Twins history of shortstops is pretty bleak defensively.

 

Polanco - decent range zero arm should be at 2nd

Escobar - lacked range ok arm much better at 3rd

Adrianza - decent shortstop without the bat to start

Plouffe - lol at this small window in Twins history

Punto - ok at short but better at 2nd or 3rd

Dozier - zero arm limited range quickly moved to 2nd

Nishioka - terrible

Bartlett - good shortstop

Hardy - awesome shortstop

Ojeda - mediocre at short better at 2nd

Florimon - good shortstop that couldn't hit his way out of a wet paper bag

Guzman - decent shortstop

Nunez - mediocre shortstop

Castro - decent glove zero bat

 

JJ Hardy is the only defensive stud.

 

Jason Bartlett and Christian Guzman could provide average defense and hit enough to hold the starting spot.

 

Polanco and Escobar could hit enough to overlook the defense.

The Twins moved from Washington in 1961...not 2001 :).

 

The guy with two world series rings was pretty good out there.

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#7 Linus

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Posted 25 February 2020 - 06:01 PM

Playing good defense at SS in the majors is hard. Not many can do it and unfortunately Polanco isn’t one of them. Let him play second where he could be quite good.
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#8 Platoon

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Posted 25 February 2020 - 08:28 PM

I had a player like Polanco. The harder the ball was hit the better he was. The three hoppers though, killed him. And as for his arm, it was acceptable strength wise, but like Polanco the people sitting past the first base bag were in mortal danger.  There simply are players like that. Expecting Polanco to become an acceptable defensive SS is a waste of time. He can hit, of that there is no doubt. Can he hit enough to overcome the glove is the question. But at the premier defensive position in baseball that takes a lot of hitting. 

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#9 Vanimal46

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Posted 25 February 2020 - 09:16 PM

I had a player like Polanco. The harder the ball was hit the better he was. The three hoppers though, killed him. And as for his arm, it was acceptable strength wise, but like Polanco the people sitting past the first base bag were in mortal danger. There simply are players like that. Expecting Polanco to become an acceptable defensive SS is a waste of time. He can hit, of that there is no doubt. Can he hit enough to overcome the glove is the question. But at the premier defensive position in baseball that takes a lot of hitting.


“If Polanco has it that day, heh, your troubles are behind you. If Polanco doesn’t have it that day, get the women and children out of the first 4 rows behind 1st base!”

- Dark Star
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#10 Platoon

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Posted 26 February 2020 - 06:51 AM

 

“If Polanco has it that day, heh, your troubles are behind you. If Polanco doesn’t have it that day, get the women and children out of the first 4 rows behind 1st base!”

- Dark Star

The Dark Man has a point, but in this case 4 rows may not have been far enough. One throw, talked about to this day, cleared the fencing, the bleachers, and the street. Neighborhood children were not allowed to play outside, nor be near east  facing windows in the house during game times! :)

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#11 Riverbrian

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Posted 26 February 2020 - 02:05 PM

"Turns out the key is making all the easy plays."

Yes. And it's an amusing circle. We start with errors awarded by inconsistent (and biased) humans...because it's all we had. And then, the more data we collect, the more it points back to errors, the concept...if not, the statistic. Especially on the infield this is true. Extra range and even arm strength don't have nearly the value of simply making fewer mistakes on routine plays. If only we had data to award errors against an accurate, objective, and consistent standard.

Defensive stats drown in the vast oceans of routine play. I'm amazed how often they are quoted as gospel. I'm amazed they are allowed to infiltrate WAR.

It comes down to outs and timing. Steal an out with an amazing play and the odds decrease significantly that the team will score that inning. Give an extra out in the inning by booting a ball that should have been caught and the odds increase significantly that you will be scored on that inning.

Tim Anderson produced the most errors. He committed 26 errors over 532 chances. Roughly 1 error every 20 chances. 122 games for a little over 4 chances a game.

About an error every 5 games and that led the league.

Javier Baez committed 15 errors over 546 chances.
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#12 High heat

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Posted 26 February 2020 - 02:54 PM

Based on my eye test Polanco doesn’t have enough arm for SS, and he knows it.  To compensate he has a quick release (sometimes rushed) and he moves into the hole between 3rd and SS to eliminate that momentum going the other way making the long throw across the diamond.  This leaves him limiting range up the middle.  
 

I believe Polanco has good range, justCompensates for lack of arm and miss plays with his arm.  I believe he would be an elite 2B defensively. 


#13 obtusebanter

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Posted 26 February 2020 - 02:56 PM

 

It comes down to outs and timing. Steal an out with an amazing play and the odds decrease significantly that the team will score that inning. Give an extra out in the inning by booting a ball that should have been caught and the odds increase significantly that you will be scored on that inning.

 

I've always wished someone would do the work to compile a fielding WPA. Maybe someone is? If they are, I haven't found it. A lot of gray area to navigate but it's at least conceivable. 

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#14 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 27 February 2020 - 08:19 AM

 

"Turns out the key is making all the easy plays."

 

Yes. And it's an amusing circle. We start with errors awarded by inconsistent (and biased) humans...because it's all we had. And then, the more data we collect, the more it points back to errors, the concept...if not, the statistic. Especially on the infield this is true. Extra range and even arm strength don't have nearly the value of simply making fewer mistakes on routine plays. If only we had data to award errors against an accurate, objective, and consistent standard.

 

I don't know.. extra range means you're getting to stuff that others cannot. Every time that happens, you make up for one of those errors. 




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