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Did Alec Bohm improve defensively?

The stats say no, but the eye test sees some changes

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MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Fielding statistics are still so subjective to me. There has been so much improvement in trying to quantify the kind of fielder a player is now that we aren’t strictly going by fielding percentage and errors. Those two stats are still useful, but to a point. Player A might have a sterling .996 fielding percentage, but if he isn’t able to go more than two or three steps to his left/right, is he really all that good with the glove? Adding Hawkeye to stadiums has helped immensely as it is able to capture more granularly what a player is doing in the field, how well he moves, etc. so that we don’t have to rely on our own personal ideas about a player.

And yet, it still feels like we’re a ways away from being exactly right about each player. There are many different advanced statistics on fielding that could be either incrementally or wildly divergent from each other. If you trust Hawkeye as much as some, then you might rely on outs above average (OAA) as your statistic of choice. Maybe you like fielding runs above average (FRAA) as championed by Baseball Prospectus. Defensive runs saved (DRS) is your weapon of choice? Fine and dandy, but that’s what makes fielding stats so hard. The amount of divergence from one number to another can distort the reality of evaluating a baseball player’s ability to make outs with his glove.

I’m burying the lede, of course, trying to direct you away from the harsh reality that I can almost feel in my bones. You came wondering if there was some statistic that showed marked improvement from Alec Bohm in 2022 as compared to 2021 and I led you on with a diatribe about how frustrating fielding statistics can be.

So, did Bohm get better at defense in 2022? Well, that’s a little complicated.

There are four pretty standard statistics we use when evaluating defense. In two of them, Bohm got (a little bit) better. In one, he got a bit worse. In still another, the one that’s supposed to be so precise, he was quite a bit worse.

Bohm’s defense by the numbers

2021 -2 -6.2 -1.5 -13
2022 -9 -2.5 -0.2 -17

It’s this type of chart that makes things so difficult when it comes to analyzing fielding data. With hitting, though many publicly available stats are a few points different, they’re at least in the same ballpark. These fielding numbers are kind of hard to digest. One (FRAA) sees Bohm making some real progress with his glove, one (UZR/150) sees a little bit of improvement, one (DRS) sees him getting bit worse while the last (OAA) sees Bohm getting much, much worse last season. Who do you believe?

There are also people who have their own personal opinion about Bohm’s defense and, well, you can imagine what the “consensus” is among them. Without getting too far into the weeds, you can imagine that a simple Twitter search about Bohm’s defense talks a lot about the “eye test.” But social media isn’t always the best place to look. It’s reactionary, defining a player based on the last play he made, and doesn’t really paint the full picture.

So, I went looking to see if there was a definitive answer.

Let’s start with this magnificent article by Matt Gelb in mid August. We all saw the team hire Bobby Dickerson as a way to help Bohm improve that fielding. Gelb was thorough in pointing out how Dickerson’s philosophy with teaching fielding to Bohm helped get through to him and get him to improve, at least in the team’s eyes. From the article:

No one had pushed Bohm like that...“Not as honestly as Bobby does it,” Bohm said. “Coaches will challenge you and push you. Nothing against any of the other coaches I’ve had, but Bobby’s definitely challenged me in a different way. Sometimes it’s brutally honest. And sometimes it’s exactly what you need to hear. He’s definitely challenging you from a place of … you can tell he really, really cares about his infielders. He truly wants what’s best for them.”

Ok, the team offered some tough love. Sometimes that approach works, some times it doesn’t. If you base it off of this, it worked and Bohm got better. The team thinks he’s better...but what are they going to say? “Sorry guys, our hopeful cornerstone at third base looks like a statue out there.” Of course not, but the general feel of that story is that the team, Dickerson specifically, believes Bohm has gotten better.

But what about the definite changes that Bohm made to improve? Obviously, there was no digging into the details with that article, the team likely protective of the methods they used to help Bohm improve, so the next thing to do is look at some video to see if there are any changes.

We live in an age where every single pitch is recorded. Back in the days, we had to get used to some games on WPHL-17, some games on Prism and maybe a stray afternoon somewhere else on the TV. Now, we can look at any play we want by simply typing in the proper words in a search engine and bang - there is the thing we want.

But we still don’t have a camera on every player at all moments of the game. There simply isn’t the manpower to do so. So, we can’t really judge a player’s first step from one season to another. There are questions we’d like answered about a player’s defense - how well does he move from side to side, how quick is his first step, does he move better going in or coming out, etc. - and while we have data on some of that, video can often prove to be helpful.

What I can find are some little, mechanical changes that seemed to make some difference in his throwing. In 2021, Bohm was charged with 15 errors - seven fielding, seven throwing and one...unforced? I don’t know, Fangraphs doesn’t call it that, but that’s a lot of errors in 833 23 innings in the field. Last year, Bohm was charged with 13 errors - six fielding, seven throwing - in 1,146 23 innings in the field, much more palatable. It’s those throwing errors that got me thinking. Did the team do something to help him mechanically?

Now, I’m not infield coach, but there was a small, subtle change that had me wondering if the team was on to something. Here is a play from 2021.

Now, let’s freeze the play just as Bohm lets the ball go.

Notice the position of the glove. At release, it’s down near the belt, a good deal below the letters. To you and I, that’s probably nothing, right? Now, let’s move forward to 2022. Here is a play from September of this past season.

Nice, easy, clean play by Bohm (thank you, Vladito, for not running hard). Again, let’s freeze the play right at the point of release.

You might look at both screenshots and say that Bohm is more upright in his throwing motion to which I would counter: consider the runners on the play. The barely moving Guerrero vs. the hustling Enrique Hernandez probably changes the dynamic of his body positioning. Instead, focus on his glove. It’s up near his chest, something very subtle, but maybe a point of emphasis by the coaching staff in trying to get more accuracy on his throws. Unless the team comes out and says that that is what they were attempting to do, we can’t be totally sure, but it does look like it’s something.

Again, without the team telling us what they are doing (and there is no reason to expect they will), we’re kind of left on our own. Judging strictly by the numbers, the conclusion is that it’s mixed. Go by the team and they see demonstrable improvement. Me? This year just felt like less an adventure each time the ball was hit to Bohm. For the most part, I came to expect the ball to be fielded cleanly and thrown to the right place each time Bohm got his glove on it.

It sure felt like he was better.