Why are Nationals shortstop C.J. Abrams and second basemen Luis Garcia defensive players to watch in 2023?

Whatever Abrams does at the position as a full-time starter will almost surely be better than what the Nationals got for much of 2022.

Nationals shortstops ranked last in Defensive Runs Saved in 2022 with -34. That was the worst Runs Saved total at shortstop for any team in the 20-year history of Defensive Runs Saved.

Fewest Defensive Runs Saved By Shortstops – 2022 Season

Team Runs Saved
Nationals -34
Royals -18
Blue Jays -15
Phillies -13
Rockies -12

 In 2022 Nationals shortstops ranked last in our plus-minus (comparable to Outs Above Average) on both balls hit to their left (19 fewer plays made than expected) and right (15 fewer).

Abrams was only with the Nationals for about a quarter of the season. In that time, he finished with -4 Defensive Runs Saved in 43 games. SIS alum Eric Longenhagen put an OFP (Overall Future Potential) scouting grade on Abrams’ defense of 45 on the 20-80 scouting scale, meaning the expectation is that he’ll be a below-average defender (and perhaps moved off the position). But below-average is still a big step up.

The biggest beneficiary of this could be Garcia, who was one of the other shortstops last season and had a brutal time (-17 Runs Saved in 59 games) but has looked comfortable at second base the last two years (5 Runs Saved in 92 games).

With the acquisition of Abrams, whose first start with Washington was August 15 and the reinstallation of Garcia at second base 11 days later, the Nationals got much better defensive results the rest of the season.

Nationals Ground Ball and Bunt Out Rate – 2022

Out Rate Rank
Through August 14 69.5% 30th
Rest of Season 75.6% 7th

The Nationals will have new infielders at the corners with Dominic Smith at first base and Jeimer Candelario at the third. We’ll be watching to see just how much the results change in 2023.