One of the more impressive defensive turnarounds, at least through 46 games in 2020, has been engineered by Indians second baseman César Hernández.
Hernández, in his first season with the Indians after seven seasons with the Phillies, has saved 5 runs with his defense at second base in 2020, which ranks tied for fourth overall. That’s noteworthy given that he finished with a negative Runs Saved total in each of his last three seasons there. The Indians, despite their recent losing streak, rank second in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved, trailing only the Cardinals
It’s also notable just how much better Hernández looks in the field.
Our Video Scouts track Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays & Errors. Good Fielding Plays are Web Gem-type plays, as well as instances in which a fielder did something beneficial to his team, like keep the ball on the infield to prevent a runner from taking an extra base. Defensive Misplays are plays with a negative consequence that aren’t scored errors, such as slipping and falling, or bobbling the exchange on a potential double-play ground ball.
In 2019, Hernández finished with 8 Good Fielding Plays and 40 Defensive Misplays & Errors. Hernandez had the fewest Good Plays per 100 innings of any of the top 30 second basemen in innings played. And he had the worst ratio of Good Plays to Misplays & Errors of any of those players. This season, he has 6 Good Fielding Plays and only 6 Defensive Misplays & Errors.
What’s different for Hernández in 2020 is that he’s made the routine play a routine play every time. In 2019, he had 14 instances in which he failed to get an out on a ground ball with an expected out rate of 80% or higher. They looked like this.
In 2020, he’s had only one such play, which came last week against the Royals. For the most part, he’s been a ground-ball gobbler. One thing noticeable in watching video is that Hernández doesn’t handle every ball cleanly. But whereas in past years, he would lose the potential for an out by kicking the ball away, this season, he’s kept those balls in front of him and still recorded outs
The statistical impact on the improved defense is that the reward for making good plays has stuck because of a reliability that hasn’t been seen for a while. There are far fewer mishaps to put a damper on the impact of these plays. That’s how you end up with 5 Defensive Runs Saved.
Of course, in a short season, many things are possible. But if we look at what happened without any predictive considerations, we’d have to say that Hernández’s defensive success has been an integral part of the team’s defensive performance in 2020.