Ball off the Wall: Which outfielders make mistakes, which have not?

By Max Greenfield

In last Sunday’s Blue Jays-Astros game, Eric Sogard hit a fly ball to deep right center field that looked like it could go out of the park. Astros right fielder Josh Reddick made a leap for the ball, but couldn’t get it. Sogard ended up at third base with a triple.

At SIS, our Video Scouts (of which I’m one) track plays like that regularly. We chart them as Defensive Misplays for either “Failure to Anticipate the Wall” or “Wall Difficulties” resulting in a batter or runner gaining an extra base.

Recently, Mike Petriello wrote an article about two new Statcast measures released on Baseball Savant that measure “reaction” and “burst” to help measure the jump a player gets on the ball.

The work from Petriello and Savant led me to an idea on another way to evaluate outfield defense that isn’t thought about much: How well a player plays a ball off the wall.  I looked at which outfielders fare best and worst.

Here are some takeaways from looking through the data:

The first things that caught my attention was how Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader fared in his full-time position, center field. Bader is an aggressive outfielder who gets great jumps on balls. He entered Thursday with 1,036 innings played in center field this season without a “Failing To Anticipate the Wall” or “Wall Difficulties” misplay (he had two in right field).

Bader ranks third on Savant’s leaderboard measuring jump. Seeing him on the list shows he’s getting a good read on balls he both can and can’t reach. He’s aggressive, but not overaggressive. Bader’s teammate, Dexter Fowler, has the most innings of any outfielder with no Failing to Anticipate Misplays (1,150), including 963 in his primary position, right field.

Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco making the list could be more a factor of the park he plays in than anything else. Polanco deals with a large wall in right field at PNC Park making it more difficult to read the ball off the wall. He leads the majors with 11 such Misplays, a rate of 8 per 1,000 innings. By comparison, Andrew Benintendi, dealing with a similar wall situation in left field, averaged 3.6 Defensive Misplays per 1,000 innings

Christian Yelich was unscathed in right field until this past week when he committed his first such misplay in the last two seasons. Yelich’s defensive ability can often get lost with how great of an offensive player he is. Yelich is already an above average defender and he’s very good at knowing how to play the wall in Miller Park. He has one wall-related misplay in 1,091 innings in right field and one in 615 innings in left field.

Leaderboards for the stats we looked at are below. To qualify for the Most Wall Misplays Per 1,000 leader list, an outfielder must have at least 500 innings in one outfield position over the last two seasons. Calculating the rate of misplays as a per 1,000 innings scale gives us a number that is closer to a season total of innings in an outfield.

Most Innings at Position, 0 or 1 Wall Misplays – Last 2 Seasons

CF

Name Innings Misplays
Aaron Hicks 1,372 1
Albert Almora 1,364 1
Harrison Bader 1,036 0

LF

Name Innings Misplays
Alex Gordon 1,679 1
Joc Pederson 1,088 1
Tommy Pham 820 0

RF

Name Innings Misplays
Kole Calhoun 1,738 1
Andrew McCutchen 1,244 1
Christian Yelich 1,091 1

Most Wall Misplays Per 1,000 Innings at Position

Name Position Misplays
Gregory Polanco RF 8.0
Michael Conforto RF 7.8
Cedric Mullins II CF 7.4
Melky Cabrera RF 7.2
Trey Mancini LF 7.3
Teoscar Hernandez LF 6.0
Joey Gallo LF 5.9

The average outfielder committed 3 per 1,000 innings

 

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