The fifth annual edition of “The Fielding Bible” is out, bringing us insight into the world of Defensive Runs Saved. I spoke with one of the authors of the book, Mark Simon, about two of the most popular Angels.
David Fletcher hit .290 with a .350 on-base percentage in his first full season last year, and played everywhere the Angels asked him. Over half of his starts in 2019 came at third base, but with Anthony Rendon now in the fold the hot corner isn’t much of an option. With Tommy La Stella coming off an All-Star season likely to see time at second base, Angels manager Joe Maddon will have to get creative to find ways to include Fletcher in his lineup.
The thing is, Fletcher has been good defensively at each position he’s played.
“He has rare multi-positional versatility,” Simon said. “In 600 career innings at second base, he has 14 Defensive Runs Saved. In 882 innings at third base, he’s at 11. That’s pretty good. I’m not sure if there’s anybody else you can say that about.”
In his season and a half in the majors, Fletcher has also started 30 games at shortstop and 18 games in left field. He’s above average defensively at both spots, with three Defensive Runs Saved in left and one DRS at shortstop.
“He seems to be pretty good at going to his right, regardless of whether it’s at second or third. He’s stealing singles at second base, and stealing potential extra-base hits at third, and not everybody can do that,” Simon explained. “Whatever he’s doing in that regard to put himself in position to make those plays, he’s doing pretty well. He’s kind of got a Zobristian feel to him from a defensive perspective.”
Ben Zobrist has carved out a very nice career as a multi-position star for the Rays and Cubs, and briefly the Royals. He wasn’t a regular until age 28, so Fletcher’s already three years ahead of schedule in that regard. Fletcher even added center field to his toolbox this spring, and given his defensive talents it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s a good defender there too, eventually.
The best in the world
It’s unlikely of course that Fletcher would see much time in center field, given that the Angels employ the best player in baseball at that position. Then again, Mike Trout hasn’t played more than 140 games since 2016, averaging 129 games per season in the last three years.
Mike Trout, Defensive Runs Saved
Trout’s performance in center field has been all over the spectrum according to Defensive Runs Saved. He peaked in his first full year, at +21 runs in 2012, but had -12 and -11 DRS the next two years. Since then he has been mostly positive, but dipped down to -2 DRS in 2019, ranking 20th among center fielders.
“The issue that Mike Trout had last season was on balls that were hit to the deepest part of the ballpark, he was not as good at getting to those balls as other outfielders,” Simon explained.
On deep balls that had a greater than zero chance of being caught, Trout caught 88 of 118 last year (74.6 percent), five plays below average. Contrast that with Lorenzo Cain, who caught 131 of 162 such balls (80.9%), 12 plays above average. This is why Trout dropped from +9 DRS in 2018 to -2 last year.
Position might be an issue, too, per Simon’s Angels essay in the book (available now at actasports.com):
“Trout’s average distance from home plate has changed the last three seasons. In 2017, he played an average depth of 324 feet from home plate at Angel Stadium. In 2018, the Angels moved him in—that number changed to 318 feet. Then last season, he moved up another six feet to an average depth of 312 feet. Trout fared best overall when he played at that 318-foot average depth.”
Maybe a slight move back can get Trout back into positive Defensive Runs Saved territory in 2020.