Baseball will never run out of things to measure. As technology continues to improve and things with radar and motion tracking continue to proliferate, there’s no telling what sorts of things we might have leaderboards on by 2030.
Now, in the present day, we already have a ton of numbers. It’s important to use discretion when presented with player stats, as all of them aren’t always relevant, nor are they always reliable. Your eyes can be just as important as the numbers when coming to a conclusion about a play, player, or team.
That said...man, these stats can be fun. And there’s another one out there now: Outs Above Average for infielders. This is an adaptation of a Statcast metric that already existed for outfielders, where players are directionally rated on their fielding abilities using Statcast’s player tracking data. It’s pretty cool! You can read an overview of how it works here.
Essentially what you need to know about it is this: OAA attempts to measure how many outs a fielder made based on where the ball was hit, and where and how far he had to move in order to make said play. This builds on top of legacy stats like UZR, which account for plays made or not made based on hit location, but did not account for a fielder’s starting position and the ground he ultimately had to cover.
Let’s take a look at what this new leaderboard has to say about the Phils’ infield defenders, both past and present, and what their strengths and weaknesses may be entering the season.
Full leaderboard available here.
Rhys Hoskins, 1B
We start things off with what might be a pleasant surprise to some, since I don’t often hear many folks talk about Hoskins as a good defender at first base. Here, Statcast’s data seems to point toward the conclusion that Rhys is a bit above-average with the glove, as his +4 OAA ties him for fourth among 1Bs behind Matt Olson, Christian Walker, and Paul Goldschmidt. That checks out as far as Gold Gloves are concerned: Olson is the two-time incumbent in the AL, and Goldschmidt has won three in the NL.
Hoskins rates highly on plays where he has to range in toward home plate, or away from the bag to his arm side. Below is a great example of the latter from last September against the Marlins.
Cesar Hernandez, 2B
It’s fitting that Hernandez, the embodiment of yo-yo play between solid contribution and head-scratching detriment, featured a mixed bag of performance that ultimately ended up with him being just above average. It’s too perfect.
And, again, it matches the eye test.
Cesar usually did seem to find a way to pull off a play that had him drifting back into the expanse of the outfield.
As for the other direction, well, I’ll leave it at this: Last year, the Phillies allowed 130 ground ball singles hit either up the middle to center field or on the infield at second base, 9th-most in the league. That’s not all on Cesar, but it does tell part of the story.
Jean Segura, SS
Segura is expected to be a full-time second baseman this season, much like he was in 2016 with Arizona. The problem we run into here is that, well, Statcast is too new to go back that far! So we don’t have these visuals and data for his time at 2B four years ago.
These numbers from his time at shortstop last year, though, certainly seem to justify at least considering his pending relocation.
I’m a little curious about what looks like conflicting information popping up between these two images. On the field graphic, it’s called out that Segura rated poorly (-7 outs) on plays fielded toward the 5/6 hole, yet plays that involved him moving that way, directionally, in order to field the ball come up as +1 per the second image. If I had to guess, this seems like a bit of a tell on his arm: When shaded or shifted, he was fine moving to his arm side, but plays that required farther throws (i.e., in that 5/6 gap) proved tricky even if he could reach the ball to field it. If true, a move to second base should help that.
Didi Gregorius, SS
Now, to Segura’s successor. Gregorius lost most of 2019 to rehab from Tommy John surgery, and the numbers were painful when he did eventually make it back onto the field.
Nothing about the above is pretty, really. Gregorius’s awful grades on charging plays really stand out and drag the whole thing down, even if every other number also falls below the line.
So, let’s try to be fair then. How did those plots look in 2018, when he was healthier?
Mm. Eh. Hm. Well, not a huge change, sadly! Gregorius seems to have an Achilles heel within an otherwise acceptable defensive portfolio. Plays in front of him — choppers, squibbers, soft grounders — all seem to give him trouble. But a quick look at some of the infield hits that went his way last season reveals a smattering of tough plays that don’t really come off looking like they’re entirely his fault.
Not sold on this verdict yet.
Scott Kingery, 3B
Kingery comes across like an average third baseman, which is impressive in its own right.
This is a guy who, coming into 2019, had made 13 career professional starts as a third baseman, and none had come before 2018. The deck has been stacked against this guy with learning positions on the fly, and he’s athletic enough to Make It Happen. Props. He doesn’t possess Maikel Franco’s arm, but what he lacks in arm strength he more than makes up for in range and athleticism. And, honestly, his arm isn’t terrible either. It certainly looks like it’s gotten stronger over the past two years. He still profiles like a second baseman being forced to play out of position, which he is, but he can at least occasionally make you forget that’s the case.
And speaking of Franco...
Maikel Franco, 3B
As much as I love Franco’s arm, there’s only so much it can do to make up for his clear-and-not-improving lack of range and quickness. It just didn’t compensate enough, and Kingery, despite not being a natural 3B, should provide a noticeable defensive upgrade even with an inferior arm.
We’ll always have plays like this, though.
Good luck in KC, Maik.