Former major league shortstop Adam Everett is a well-known and well-regarded figure in our world.
Everett was ‘the other guy’ in an article Bill James wrote comparing Everett’s defense with Derek Jeter’s. That article helped lay the groundwork for our flagship metric in which Everett fared very well, Defensive Runs Saved. He was an inaugural winner of our Fielding Bible Award in 2006, though he never won a Gold Glove.
Now retired, Everett is currently a minor league infield coordinator with the Phillies, helping coach the next generation of standout (and sometimes unheralded) defenders. We talked to him about how he played and how he teaches.
Mark: What do you remember about how you played defense?
Adam: I took a lot of pride in that I had a really good routine and I stuck to it. What motivated me was I didn’t wanna be embarrassed. So, I worked hard at it. There’s no secret I wasn’t the offensive player of some of the shortstops of my time in Jeter and ARod, Tejada, and Nomar but there’s one thing that I could do just a little bit better than them, and that was play defense.
Mark: One of the things that the Jeter vs Everett article noted in particular was that you seemed to play a very deep shortstop, and I’m curious how you defined where you played and how positioning was important to you.
Adam: So that was all part of my routine. Getting to know the field where I was playing at, whether it was at home in Houston, or whether it was on the road, say in Atlanta or Philly or whatnot, that the bases were always the same, but the cuts were different. Back in the day, you had to find your place on the field, and that’s what I did. So with all that being said, I like to play deeper for angles. I knew that I didn’t have the strongest arm, but I had a good arm.
So I knew my limitations, but at the same time, it really doesn’t matter if I can’t get to that ball, I still can’t throw ’em out. But if I can get to it, I can still give myself a chance to throw ’em out. There’s this conception that you need to get around the ball, so you need to make this big, we call it the big banana turn and get around it and do that.
I tried to make sure my angles were precise, that everything was where I needed to be, as opposed to, okay, so I’m gonna try and make this big looping circle to go to first base. I wanted to minimize my movements is the best way to put it.
Mark: Were there any fields in particular that were challenging to play?
Adam: Turner Field was challenging for me. I don’t know why. Playing in the Metrodome was extremely difficult because the seats were actually higher than the field. There were no actual field level seats. So it, I always felt like I was down in a bowl more so than you actually were. So it threw my depth perception off.
Mark: What about Fenway?
Adam: Fenway didn’t bother me. They used to make the front of home plate so soft and so wet. I actually played a half step in there, And one thing about U.S. Cellular is that the ball never goes foul. You roll it down the third base line, it stays fair, it doesn’t go foul.
That was a Doug Mansolino trick. He taught me to check certain things, and that’s why I was pretty particular, I guess you could say.
Mark: How much of the positioning that you did was on your own as opposed to being instructed from the dugout?
Adam: I’d go over it every day. I’d go over the lineup every day. And the most important thing for me was, guys have their stats, their career stats, and they’re their career stats, and they’re gonna always be the same. But what I like to look at was what did he do the series before, the week before, possibly even 10 days to two weeks before we went to play them, or they came in to play us.
What do most guys try to do when they’re not going? Well, back in the day it was, they tried to hit the ball the other way. In Albert Pujols’ prime, if he only got one or two hits the series before, I knew that coming into Houston, he was going to hit the ball the other way. You got to know little things like that.
We’d go over the lineups every day and I’d want to know what we were doing in certain situations. What are we gonna do when we knock their pitcher out of the game. Who’s gonna pinch-hit. It was a little more in-depth than it is now. Because now they just say hey, here it is, go stand here. That took the instincts out of the game a little bit.
I played with Roger Clemens later on in his career and he’d always tell me, ‘Hey, I don’t have it yet. I don’t have my velocity yet.’
So play everybody a step to pull more so than you would. And he says, “I’ll turn around and let you know whenever I get it back.” and it would be the third inning and he would be 94 to 96, and I could move back to where normal was for whoever I was playing.
I heard it the other day. I was just sitting around, heard a bunch of people talking. They were talking about football. And how in depth it is, and baseball it’s easy and there’s not much to it. And I was sitting there, I didn’t say anything. I just kind of let it go. But there’s way more to baseball than people think.
What if Dansby Swanson’s hamstring is bothering him a little bit. He may not be running as well. Yep. So maybe I could play him a half step deeper. I could play him a half step one way or the other and take away a little bit more from him than he doesn’t already have.
Mark: I was just watching some plays with an enhanced camera angle and the shortstops look a lot more impressive on plays. Does TV do justice to what playing shortstop is like?
Adam: You’re gonna find out the guys that can really play shortstop this upcoming year. Some guys are gonna get exposed that don’t have that good first step. You’re gonna have to cover a little more ground. I like it that they’re taking [the shift] away, but at the same time, I hate the fact that they had to actually implement a rule where you take away the shift. That’s another conversation for another day.
You’re gonna see a lot more teams that are gonna compete now because if they have that shortstop second baseman that can cover a little more ground. You can maybe move your third baseman off the line a little bit and maybe you can either pinch that hole or move your short stop to a little more straight up and you can cover that six hole. And if your shortstop has any type of range, you can kind of get that left side now without having to move guys all around.
Mark: How aware were you of something like the Fielding Bible Award that you won?
Adam: I knew I won, but it wasn’t that popular then.
You look at the center fielder for San Diego [Trent Grisham]; won the Gold Glove and he hit under .200. That never happened back in my day. As a matter of fact, if you didn’t hit, or weren’t well known, you didn’t win a Gold Glove.
So I think it’s fantastic that it’s finally people are getting the credit that they’re due and I love the fact that they’re showing how they can impact a game and how saving a run is just as impactful as sometimes driving in a runner too.
So it’s pretty neat to see. I’m happy that they got it in the right direction.
Mark: Were you bummed that you didn’t win a Gold Glove?
Adam: Absolutely! I wanted to more than anything in the world. That was my goal every offseason. That’s why I trained for that. That’s the importance of playing every day.
I’m bummed, but I’m not complaining at all. I had a great career.
Mark: Do you have any special memories of great defensive plays?
Adam: I’ve got a couple that come to mind immediately. The first one is the double play we turned in Game 4 of the 2005 NLCS. That was pretty spectacular. I actually thought he was going to first base and he threw it to me.
And it was kind of one of those reactions like, oh goodness, here we go.
And I think this one was in 2004. We were in Colorado, Clemens is on the mound and in the second or third inning, I let a ball go right between my legs.
I can just feel him on my shoulder, like right behind me. And I don’t wanna turn around. I turn around, he’s standing at second base and he goes ‘Hey that’s alright. I got you. Let’s go right here.’
The next batter was Matt Holliday. He hits a line drive up the middle. I dive and catch it. It sticks in my glove. We go to the dugout and Clemens is waiting for me. He won’t even cross the foul line until I get there, and I’m thinking he’s gonna be all over me. He goes ‘That’s what I’m talking about!’
I don’t think I made another mistake behind him the rest of our time playing together. What made it memorable was the way he reacted and the way he picked me up right then.
Mark: How do you teach defense?
Adam: I love teaching. I love being around the guys. And I think what I do is I try to implement all of my experiences playing, all of my good and bad, and I try to implement that into molding them, but not trying to make them a clone of me or anybody else.
One of my sayings is – you think you’re a big leaguer? They all do, of course. And we’re talking the young guys, and I’ll do this with the older guys as well, but the young guys particularly, I tell them, ‘Let’s go right to Yankee Stadium. We’re bottom of the ninth, winning, 3-2, two outs. Name a fast guy on the team. OK, what time of the year do you think it is?’ I say:
‘We’re in the playoffs now, it’s October. It’s a little cool right? And everybody’s running on the pitch. Okay. It’s been raining for the last three innings. It’s misty and it’s cold. You’ve gotta pick this ball up and throw it to first base.’
They all kind of look at me with big eyes, and I say ‘That’s where I want to get you.’
If I can get you to where you can pick that ball and I can turn my back and start shaking hands with the other coaches, that’s when we’ve got something.
And they start to understand that there’s not secret sauce to playing infield. It takes work and it takes experience. It takes being out there and seeing balls and making mistakes, and then catching a ball that you weren’t, you didn’t even know you could get to, or you weren’t expecting to catch it. And you go, whoa, okay. That’s why we do what we do. And that’s what I love about it. I love seeing their reactions.
They start to feel it, they start to understand it and then they really start to feel and grasp the game, almost the game within the game. And they start to play the game where they’re thinking along with the manager. They’re thinking along with the pitcher and catcher, and they’re starting to see things and read swings.
Starting to think with the game, that’s what I really enjoy.
Mark: How do you know whether someone is struggling in an area? Do they give you any sort of reports data-wise or is it just eye test kind of stuff?
Adam: It’s both. They’ve got data on guys’ first steps. But there’s an eye test as well. You still gotta have somebody that can see it, understand it and explain it. And explain it in a way that they understand it.
And you can show ’em the video and you can show ’em the stats and you can see certain things and they go, okay. Cause it’s just another tool, right? If you use it properly, everything’s a tool and it’s all can be used for good. And you go here, this is why you’re not getting to those balls.
And then then you can explain the depths and you can explain that this is the reason why your range is last in the league. It just validates what you’re seeing.
You can actually show it to ’em on paper or you can show it to ’em on film. And they start to grasp it and they go ‘Oh, okay. Now I’m understanding.’
Mark: Is there an example from last season of working with a player and seeing improvement?
Adam: Hao You Lee (a Taiwan native who played infield in A and High-A as a 19-year-old last season). The biggest thing with him was having him understand the importance of the pre-pitch setup and the importance of how you go after a ball. And he finally got it. That made my heart sing.
Mark: Is there anything more you want to say about your current work?
Adam: I love the game. I think it’s the best game on the planet. And take a lot of pride in what I do.