The Cubs Have One Of The Best Defensive Infielders And It’s Not Javier Báez So Far In 2020

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At the start of 2020, Statcast introduced a new defensive metric that really gives you an in-depth look at every single play made on a baseball field. Cubs shortstop Javier Báez ranked #1 in MLB in 2019, with a +19 OAA, (outs above average) however there’s a different infielder on the north side who ranks near the top of the league so far this season.

Báez ranks 39th out of 130 qualified infielders on the OAA leaderboard at +2 with just a couple weeks left in the regular season, but Cubs’ rookie Nico Hoerner comes in eighth overall in MLB at +4 OAA.

And if you really want to get technical, Hoerner’s +4 OAA is tied for fourth-best in the league.

You can see the entire leaderboard here.

OK, OK, you’re probably wondering what the hell is outs above average. Here’s the breakdown on what goes into this new stat.

Via MLB.com.

  • How far the fielder has to go to reach the ball (“the intercept point”)
  • How much time he has to get there
  • How far he then is from the base the runner is heading to
  • On force plays, how fast the batter is, on average

For example, this play below was considered to have a mere 10% chance of being converted into an out, since Carlos Correa had just 1.5 seconds to move 12 feet, then had to get the ball 147 feet to first base before Aaron Judge, who possesses above-average sprint speed (28.2 ft/sec), could get there. He did, so he adds +.90 towards his seasonal total of +9; if he’d missed it, it would have cost him just -.10.

Yet, it’s this aspect that takes the defensive metric to the next level because with Statcast technology, this can determine exactly how difficult each individual play is based on several factors.

As useful and effective as they’ve been over the years, DRS and UZR use either the eye test via video scouting or zone-based systems. The Statcast technology allows us to know exactly where each fielder stands, which is helpful in a baseball world where shifting and out-of-position defenders are commonplace.
What that means is that every tracked play is accounted for, regardless of if the third baseman is standing in his regular spot or at shortstop or in short right field. It allows you to know exactly “how far” and “how much time,” regardless of shifts.

So, besides Báez at +2 and Hoerner at +4, Anthony Rizzo is at +2 and although Kris Bryant hasn’t played enough to qualify on the overall leaderboard, he’s at +1.

Meanwhile, this list also points to why Hoerner should be playing late in games at second base if the Cubs have a lead. Again, he’s been one of the best defensive infielders according to OAA, while David Bote ranks 124th at -3. Jason Kipnis ranks 108th at -2.

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