No Batter, No Batter: The Charging of the Guards

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Steven Kwan
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports activities

So right here’s what occurred. I used to be watching the MLB sport highlights of Tuesday’s Marlins-Blue Jays matchup. I like MLB’s sport highlights; with the intention to maintain all the short cuts from feeling disjointed, they sort of simply plop some music on prime all the things unceremoniously, and typically the music can actually coloration your notion of the sport. This Mets-Padres sport from April is a superb instance. It was a nailbiter, but it surely misplaced a few of its nerve-wracking heft due to a soundtrack that’s a cross between John Coltrane, Kool & The Gang, and Tremendous Mario 3.

Two on, two out, backside of the ninth, and it sounds just like the monologue is about to begin on Saturday Night time Reside. Anyway, I used to be watching Tuesday’s Marlins-Jays highlights (the soundtrack for which feels like The Dwelling Finish on their union-mandated lunch break), and I seen this single from Luis Arraez.

Usually, a single from Arraez is in regards to the least outstanding factor in baseball. He’s the sport’s preeminent singles hitter (and relying in your worldview, maybe the sport’s preeminent hitter, interval). What caught my eye was how rapidly Daulton Varsho managed to chop this ball off, contemplating that Arraez slashed it only a foot contained in the left discipline line. Varsho will get improbable jumps, however I figured he additionally needed to be taking part in extraordinarily shallow. It occurred to me that possibly each outfielder is taking part in proper on prime of Arraez this yr, seeing as dumping liners proper in entrance of the outfielders for singles is his superpower.

I headed over to Baseball Savant to see whether or not outfielders have simply began taking part in proper on prime of Arraez this yr. I ought to provide you with a warning at this level. A pair weeks in the past, Baseball Prospectus lead prospect author Jeffrey Paternostro expressed a (very legitimate) concern that baseball writing is “being compressed right into a neutron star of ‘attention-grabbing stuff from my savant question.’” If that sort of article just isn’t for you, I encourage you to maneuver alongside, as a result of from right here on out we’re within the realm of unusual matter.

As you would possibly recall, fielders have been taking part in deeper since 2015, the primary yr that Statcast made that info out there to the general public. Middle fielders and shortstops noticed the largest change. Enjoying your outfielders deeper — accepting extra singles with the intention to forestall extra-base hits — makes loads of sense. Common outfielder depth leveled off round 305 toes in 2019.

As David Waldstein wrote a number of days in the past in The New York Occasions, issues are fairly regimented as of late: “Many groundskeepers chafe at a current pattern during which visiting coaches wander the outfield grass with vary finders earlier than video games. The gadgets are used to assist place the outfielders, and the coaches typically scuff out marks within the grass with their heels, blemishing the near-perfect sod.” Now greater than ever, there’s analytical rigor going into outfielder positioning. In different phrases, when you’re on the plate and the middle fielder appears to be like like he’s taking part in shut sufficient to seize some sunflower seeds out of the shortstop’s again pocket, he’s not the one one insulting you. There’s an entire cadre of analysts, scouts, and coaches who’ve combed by way of the info, crunched the numbers, and are available to the conclusion that you just’re an enormous wimp.

I pulled the common depth of the outfielders for each batter who’s made at the least 100 plate appearances on the street this season. It’s vital to throw out PAs at residence as a result of ballpark dimensions skew the outcomes fairly onerous. For instance, left fielders play 37 toes shallower after they’re taking part in in entrance of the Inexperienced Monster than they do after they’re in entrance of the Nice Wall of Baltimore.

At 313.3 toes, Ronald Acuña Jr. is first on the record. He’s adopted by a who’s who of sluggers: Austin Riley, Yordan Alvarez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Juan Soto… you get the image.

We’re not involved about that finish of the record, so from right here on out we’ll be turning it the wrong way up. Arraez is certainly fifth on this new record, however check out the gamers forward of him:

Common Outfield Depth Whereas Batting
Participant Workforce LF CF RF Common
Steven Kwan Guardians 276 310 293 293
Myles Straw Guardians 296 312 276 295
Andrés Giménez Guardians 285 318 294 299
TJ Friedl Reds 284 318 295 299
Luis Arraez Marlins 283 316 300 300
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

This text is not about Arraez; it’s about what the hell is occurring in Cleveland. The highest three gamers are all Guardians, and Kwan and Straw are separated from the remainder of the pack by 4 toes. We’ve written a good quantity about Cleveland’s no-strikeout, no-power method this yr, however that is nonetheless a surprising lack of disrespect. Opposing fielders would possibly as properly be chanting, “Simple out, straightforward out.”

The humorous factor is that the largest hole between the place fielders play the Guardians and the place they play everyone else is within the reverse discipline. Comparatively talking, that’s the place the Guardians have probably the most energy. Their 83.6 mph exit velocity is the fifth-lowest within the sport, however they’re lifeless final when hitting the ball straightaway and third-to-last when pulling it. Left fielders play seven toes shallower for Kwan than they do for anybody in baseball, and the identical is true of Straw in proper. Middle fielders play each of them at the least 4 toes shallower than Arraez, who’s in third place. In all three instances, we’re speaking a couple of full commonplace deviation between Kwan and/or Straw and the following non-Guardian.

It’s not simply Kwan, Straw, and Andrés Giménez both. Amed Rosario is eighth on the record. Will Brennan is ninth. Tyler Freeman doesn’t have sufficient PAs to qualify, however he’d slot in at eleventh. Right here’s a graph of the common outfielder depth for each workforce within the league. The Braves are in first at 309.7 toes. On the decrease finish of the spectrum, the Progressive Discipline grounds crew might drive a using mower between the Guardians and each different workforce.

I do know that I’ve now listed six Guardians who populate the highest of the record, but it surely’s not simply them both. For the desk beneath, I’ve dropped the PA necessities approach down so you possibly can see how the workforce stacks up as an entire. This yr, the league common outfield depth is 305.3 toes. I’ll spotlight the gamers who get performed shallower than that.

It’s Freaking ALL of Them
Participant LF CF RF AVG Percentile
Steven Kwan 276 310 293 293.0 1
Myles Straw 296 312 276 294.7 1
Meibrys Viloria 271 314 304 296.3 1
Brayan Rocchio 286 313 295 298.0 1
Cam Gallagher 296 316 284 298.7 1
David Fry 294 317 285 298.7 1
Andrés Giménez 285 318 294 299.0 1
Amed Rosario 299 317 285 300.3 4
Will Brennan 287 318 296 300.3 4
Tyler Freeman 298 318 286 300.7 5
José Ramírez 293 323 293 303.0 12
Oscar Gonzalez 298 322 290 303.3 15
Josh Naylor 290 323 298 303.7 19
Gabriel Arias 301 322 288 303.7 19
Bo Naylor 293 321 297 303.7 19
Josh Bell 294 323 295 304.0 22
Mike Zunino 300 323 291 304.7 27
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Not a single Guardian will get performed that deep. Not one! Amazingly, the one Guardian inside one foot of league common is Mike Zunino. Yeah, that Mike Zunino — the one with the 63 wRC+ who simply obtained DFA’d to make room for Bo Naylor. Zunino is within the twenty seventh percentile. In different phrases, on a listing of all certified MLB gamers ranked by the depth of the outfielders after they’re on the plate, you’d should scroll previous 73% of the league till you bought to at least one participant from Cleveland (and 78% of the league till you bought to at least one participant who’s nonetheless there). Zunino and Josh Bell are the one Guardians above the nineteenth percentile.

Kwan, who almost led the league in singles final yr, is at present working a 97 wRC+. Whereas he definitely doesn’t boast a lot energy, his inclusion might at the least conceivably be seen as a tribute within the vein of Arraez. He hits a whole lot of singles, so possibly groups are taking part in in much less as a result of they don’t worry his energy and extra as a result of they worry all these singles he’s hitting. It’s not a very sturdy case for Kwan, however he’s the one participant on the workforce for whom you possibly can actually make it.

The one actual shock right here is José Ramírez. By his terribly excessive requirements, his 130 wRC+ is a disappointment. After surgical procedure to restore a hand damage that sapped his energy for many of the 2022 season, his hard-hit price and common exit velocity have ticked again up, however opposing outfielders don’t appear to purchase that he’s again. No matter whether or not he’s hitting righty or lefty, they’re taking part in him 4 toes shallower than they did final yr. He has but to make them pay for it, working a .219 ISO, his worst since 2019.

The Guardians are performed three toes shallower than the following workforce, the Reds. Within the 9 years of knowledge that we’ve got, no workforce has ever had a spot that large. However the Guardians are additionally performed 5 toes shallower than league common, and two groups have had an even bigger hole. The primary, at 6.7 toes beneath league common, is the 2020 Orioles, who had been horrible, and about whom one sentence is greater than sufficient. The second, at 5.3 toes, is the 2018 Tampa Bay Rays, who gained 90 video games however missed the playoffs. They posted a 107 wRC+, sixth-best in baseball, regardless of being within the backside six of the league in ISO, barrel price, hard-hit price, and exit velocity. They had been common when it comes to walks, strikeouts, and baserunning, they usually largely BABIP’d their strategy to their success. They hit a whole lot of line drives, and their batting common on grounders was almost 50 factors increased than their anticipated batting common.

Cleveland might definitely use a few of that batted ball luck. The Guardians don’t have the worst offense in baseball this yr; that honor goes to the Rockies and their 81 wRC+. Cleveland is tied for twenty fourth place with a wRC+ of 88 however has the league’s lowest ISO, hard-hit price, barrel price, and common exit velocity. No one is afraid {that a} Guardian would possibly hit a ball over their head, and in contrast to the 2018 Rays, the batted balls have but to bounce their approach. When the Guardians are on the plate, outfielders play at a median of 300.3 toes, the identical as when Rosario and Brennan are on the plate. That’s to say, when you eliminated all the person Guardians and handled your entire roster like one participant, that one participant could be the fourth-least-feared hitter in all of baseball. All in all, it’s a reasonably attention-grabbing Savant question.

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