What’s Wrong With The Red Sox & Nationals Defense?

BY MARK SIMON

The last two World Series champions, the Red Sox and Nationals, are off to slow starts. There are many reasons why, but poor defensive performance is definitely on the list.

TeamDefensive Runs Saved
Angels-12
Red Sox-11
Nationals-10
Pirates-9
Royals-9

If you watched the Statcast broadcast of Sunday Night Baseball, you probably heard it said repeatedly that the Red Sox ranked last in the majors in how often they turn ground balls and bunts into outs.

They’re not just last. They’re a distant last at 69%, nearly 4 full percentage points behind the next-closest team.

This isn’t a new thing. The Red Sox infield has rated below average the last few seasons, including 2018 when the team won the World Series. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers combined to cost the Red Sox 28 and 24 runs respectively, on defense the last two seasons. They’re already at -9 Runs Saved in 2020.

Both are capable of fantastic plays, like this.

But they’re also liable for some that leave broadcasters (and fans) asking questions.

The Red Sox infield issues extend to the right side. Their second baseman have combined to cost the team five runs.

The Nationals’ issues are primarily in the outfield where as a group, they’ve combined to cost the team 10 runs, tied with the Angels outfield for worst in the majors.

The Nationals’ overall out conversion rate isn’t out of line with the MLB average, but there have been a few missed balls that had a high impact on their Runs Saved total. Adam Eaton lost one in the sun against the Blue Jays and couldn’t get to a few balls out of his reach (whether his fault or not) during a recent series with the Mets.

When considering the Nationals’ defensive struggles, remember that our outfield Runs Saved calculation combines a player’s range and positioning into one number. Sometimes, a missed ball may be caused by the player’s ability to make the play. Other times it may be due to his being positioned in a spot in which he couldn’t get to the ball. And still other times, we should remember that plays can be tough to make.

Center fielder Victor Robles led all players with 23 Runs Saved at that position last season. He’s cost the team one run with his defense through 18 games.

Robles’ great Runs Saved total last season was partly the product of his throwing arm. He had 12 assists that didn’t require a cutoff man, which led MLB. In the first three weeks of the season, five runners took an extra base on a base hit against him. He hasn’t thrown out anyone unaided yet and his defense has otherwise been average.

The other defensive problem for the Nationals is at catcher where Kurt Suzuki is at -4 Runs Saved. This could be a tougher one to address than the outfield as Suzuki has one season with a positive Runs Saved total at the position since 2011.

The same caveat applies as does to everything else written about in the first few weeks of the season. The sample is small here, so keep that in mind when you consider whether the past can predict the future of these two teams. There have been plenty of times where it can’t. Just look at the 2019 Nationals as an example of that.

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