BY MARK SIMON
It’s too early to draw conclusions from much of anything in small-sample-size land these days. So rather than write a highly-detailed analysis and extrapolation of anything, we’ll just point out some of the things we’ve noticed defensively from the first week of the season.
* White Sox center fielder Luis Robert Jr. has looked like a player in want of a Fielding Bible Award. He’s already made 3 spectacular catches (we call them “Good Fielding Plays”), including the season’s second home run robbery (Bubba Thompson had the first). Robert Jr. totaled 4 Good Fielding Plays all last season. It’s good to see him healthy.
* Speaking of outfielder-related subjects, the Dodgers outfield has been catching everything, relatively speaking. The Dodgers have caught 44 of 60 balls hit in the air to the outfield, good for an MLB-best 73% rate. Past performance doesn’t equal future results, but the Dodgers led the majors in that stat in 2020 and 2022, snagging 65% of flies and liners to the outfield in the latter season. They finished second in that stat in 2021.
* The Dodgers infield hasn’t been quite as sharp, but they’ve played against the top infield defense so far. The Diamondbacks, who opened with the Dodgers, have gotten at least one out on 44 of 50 groundballs hit against their defense. Arizona regularly starts past Fielding Bible Award winners Christian Walker and Nick Ahmed at first base and shortstop, respectively, and if they’re healthy, Arizona’s infield defense should be pretty good.
One thing we’ll point out – 88% success rates don’t hold up over 162 games. The MLB team leader in each of the last five seasons has had either a 77% or 78% rate.
* Putting three infielders on the pull side of second base is now verboten, but teams are still making plenty of defensive adjustments. SIS tracks what we call partial shifts, which are instances in which two fielders deviate considerably from “normal” positioning. Think of those as instances in which the shortstop or second baseman was almost at second base but not quite there.
Anyway, 62.3% of balls in play this season have come against a partially-shifted defense. For context, last season, 61.5% of balls in play came against full and partial shifts combined.
* A lot has been made of how stolen bases are up – and they are – to 0.68 per team game through one week of the season. That’s a pace for more than 3,300 stolen bases this season. MLB hasn’t even reached 3,000 since 2012.
But you wouldn’t know they’re up if you watched the Braves. They’re the only team in the majors not to allow a stolen base this season. In fact, they’ve surrendered only one attempt. Five teams have allowed only one: the Orioles, the Rays, the Cubs, the Rockies, and the Diamondbacks.
Again, we don’t want to draw any conclusions from anything just yet. The only conclusion that’s worth drawing is that it’s great that baseball is back.