By MARK SIMON
A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about the difference that Cody Bellinger should make for the Cubs, whose center fielders ranked worst in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved last season.
What Bellinger represents to the Cubs in center field is what Trea Turner represents to the Phillies at shortstop.
Didi Gregorius, Bryson Stott, Johan Camargo, and three other players combined for -13 Runs Saved at shortstop for the Phillies in 2022. Only three teams played worse defense at the position than that – the Blue Jays (-15 Runs Saved), the Royals (-18), and the Nationals (-34).
There are a lot of areas in which Turner excels. Defense isn’t necessarily one of them, but he’s still a huge upgrade at the position. Similar to Bellinger in center field, Turner has been exactly an average shortstop defensively the last two seasons (a little more than 250 games). He’s netted 0 Runs Saved in roughly 2,150 innings there. Zero is a significant upgrade from -13.
The specific impact will most likely come on balls hit to Turner’s right, where again he was an average defender and the Phillies’ shortstops were less than stellar.
Turner turned 62% of opportunities on balls hit to his right into outs, exactly the rate he was expected to get based on historical out probabilities.
The Phillies turned only 51% of balls hit to the right of their shortstops into outs, against an expected out rate of 57%. They made 14 plays fewer than expected on those balls (think of that as similar to a -14 in Statcast’s Outs Above Average specific to that direction).
Keep the following in mind with the new rules banning the use of full infield shifts: Turner has saved 5 runs with his play-making in non-shift situations the last two seasons. Gregorius, Stott, and Camargo combined for -9 Runs Saved in non-shifts in 2022.
Turner’s acquisition also puts Stott at second base, where he saved 1 run in 47 games last season. Other Phillies’ second basemen combined for -2 Runs Saved in 2022. The Phillies also made moves related to their up-the-middle defense last season, trading with the Cardinals for infielder Edmundo Sosa and the Angels for outfielder Brandon Marsh. They also return a two-time Gold Glove catcher, J.T. Realmuto, and a Fielding Bible Award winner among a pretty good group of fielding pitchers in Ranger Suárez.
Sosa can fill in at second base, shortstop, and third base and has shown particular aplomb at shortstop (13 career Runs Saved in 800 innings). The trade of Matt Vierling to the Tigers makes Marsh a full-time center fielder rather than a platoon player. Marsh rates better than Vierling defensively in center field but is still a little below average there for his career (-4 Runs Saved in approximately 1,000 innings).
The Phillies still have a fair number of trouble spots within their defense. At third base, Alec Bohm ranked last in MLB with -17 Runs Saved last season. In the outfield Kyle Schwarber ranked next-to-last (-14) among left fielders, and right field, where Nick Castellanos ranked tied for last (-8). Those are regular season numbers, of course, as you’ll remember Castellanos excelled defensively in the playoffs.
But at the very least the Phillies should be better in the middle infield than they were in 2022. And that should improve their chances of hanging with the Braves and Mets in the NL East.
For more on the Phillies, check out our interview with their general manager Sam Fuld on The Sports Info Solutions Baseball Podcast.