Taking a look at the San Diego Padres’ infield defense, according to OAA.
The various components of infield defense make it more difficult to measure statistically than other positions. But, recently Statcast added infield defense to the Outs Above Average metric, and the results painted an ugly picture of the Padres’ performance last year. Although this will not come as much of a surprise to anyone who watched the games regularly, the fact that Fernando Tatis Jr. rated a staggering -13 OAA does defy the eye test. The Padres as a team came in last with -23 OAA.
After years of mediocre, at best, shortstops, Tatis wowed fans with his acrobatics at the position. In game action, Tatis appeared to be the second coming of Garry Templeton or Khalil Greene. Unfortunately, the eye test doesn’t jibe with reality.
During A. J. Preller’s tenure as general manager guys like Erick Aybar, Dusty Coleman, and Alexei Ramirez have manned the position, and only Freddy Galvis, who played 160 games at the position in 2018, has performed well. According to OAA, he ranks tenth in MLB with 12, far better than any infielder for the Padres in 2019.
According to OAA, Javier Baez (19), Andrelton Simmons (16), Nick Ahmed (16), Trevor Story (15), and Paul DeJong (13) rank in the top five at shortstop with Tatis Jr. far behind at 136thwith -13 OAA. Although Tatis had no trouble getting to the ball, his throws botched the completion of too many plays. In fact, he had 14 throwing errors. In some cases, he should have just held on to the ball. But in others, his footwork let him down.
Mitigating factors include his age last year, 20, and his rookie status. The minor leagues do not match big league ball in the pace of action, quality of the opponent, or size of the crowds. Despite Tatis Jr.’s baseball bloodlines, rookie mistakes are inevitable. Can he improve? Definitely.
However, only one of Tatis Jr.’s fellow infielders received a positive rating, and that honor goes to Ian Kinsler (1) at second base. In Tatis Jr.’s absence, Luis Urias (-1), now with the Milwaukee Brewers, played 41 games at shortstop and only 26 at second where he may have been more comfortable. At short, Urias had nine errors, at second just one.
Critics noted that, after Tatis Jr.’s injuries, a better infield alignment would have had Manny Machado at short and Urias at second. In 119 games at third, Machado (-2 OAA) made 11 errors. In 37 games at short, however, he committed three errors.
Called the hot corner for a reason, Machado plays a more challenging position than the other high priced talent ($53 million combined) across the diamond. At first base, the least demanding position in the infield, Eric Hosmer (-6 OAA) committed 14 errors.
Although Hosmer brought four Gold Gloves to San Diego, the stats behind the curtain revealed his chronic defensive deficiencies. The best defenders at first, save their fellow infielders from errors, which would be especially important with young players at second and short. Although Machado should be expected to improve, as he will be more acclimated to a new team, new town, and new league, Hosmer has regressed on both sides of the ball in San Diego.
Ty France, not included in the Statcast Leaderboards, played 36 games at third, 21 at second and one at first. With the addition of Jurickson Profar, Machado cemented at third and Hosmer at first, and Garcia in the mix, France, will have a tough time just making the roster.
Profar’s addition won’t immediately improve the infield defense. He ranks 174th with -3 OAA. In 2018 he made 25 errors and last year 13 at second base. Right now, he’s slated to enter the season as the starting second baseman for the Padres.
Of course, defense alone does not define a player or a team. However, a team publicly committed to contending in 2020 and beyond absolutely must tighten up the infield defense.