Why is Oakland Athletics shortstop Nick Allen a defensive player to watch in 2023?

Five different shortstops have won an Fielding Bible Award in the last five seasons: Andrelton Simmons, Nick Ahmed, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, and Jorge Mateo.

If there’s going to be a sixth in six years, that player could be Allen.

Allen saved 6 runs in just over 500 innings at shortstop for the Athletics last season. He also saved 4 runs in a little more than 300 innings at second base. Shortstop will likely be his spot in 2023, particularly given that he played his last 43 games there last season.

Allen’s strength was that he didn’t have a weakness. This is his page on FieldingBible.com. Take note of the absence of negative numbers that would indicate below-average performance.

Aesthetically, Allen looks most impressive when he’s going deep into the shortstop-third base hole, like this one.

We’re not sure if this is by design, but Allen went to the backhand a lot relative to other shortstops.

We track fielding methods for players on any ball they touch. Allen had 141 forehand plays and 102 backhand plays at shortstop in 2022 (along with 2 barehand plays counted separately). Allen’s 42% rate of attempting to field the ball on his backhand was the highest of any of the 35 shortstops with the most opportunities in 2022.

There are many ways to skin a cat, so to speak. Top defenders Allen, Andrew Velazquez, and Taylor Walls are among those with the highest backhand percentages. Peña, Crawford, and Carlos Correa are among the shortstops with the lowest percentages.

We should point out that Allen is among the best at fielding balls on his forehand.

Highest Success Rate on Forehand – Shortstops in 2022

Player Success Rate
Carlos Correa 95.5%
Nicky Lopez 95.3%
Xander Bogaerts 94.9%
Miguel Rojas 94.5%
Nick Allen 94.3%

Allen’s out rate on backhands wasn’t up among the best in the league. At 84.3%, he ranked 20th among those 35 qualifiers, though that doesn’t take into account play difficulty and how Allen may be able to touch more balls than others.

Regardless, he’s a little bit of an outlier in terms of approach  and it will be interesting to see if that style carries over to 2023.