Simply the best: White Sox defense No. 1 so far in 2020

By MARK SIMON

Nice catch, Adam Engel!

Yes, Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter featured 13 strikeouts, but to complete his no-hitter on Tuesday night, he needed help from his defense right to the last pitch.

Balls like Erik Gonzalez’s funky line drive to right field that was caught by Engel result in the batter reaching 39% of the time. That percentage is based on where the ball was hit, how hard the ball was hit, and what type of batted ball it was. That Engel made the play may have been a testament to something that our Andrew Kyne wrote last year – that those who play center field who move to right field (as Engel has done) add value to a defense.

The White Sox defense was there for him as it has been for its pitchers all season. The team leads MLB with 19 Defensive Runs Saved entering Tuesday. This would be a huge improvement if maintained in the second half of the season. The White Sox ranked 26th in Runs Saved last season, their defense costing the team 56 runs.

Two players have made improvements that might come as a surprise and both played a role in last night’s game. Shortstop Tim Anderson handled this play without issue.

Anderson cost the White Sox 12 runs with his defense last season, but has saved them 2 runs thus far in 2020. First baseman Jose Abreu was on the other end of that throw and made a nice pick to get the out. Abreu made another good play on an Anderson throw in the sixth inning.

Abreu is tied with Matt Olson for the lead among first basemen with 4 Runs Saved this season after costing the team 8 in 2019. Though Abreu’s total largely comes from covering a good amount of ground, his work on Tuesday is part of a larger story. Abreu has only once finished a season with a positive Runs Saved total at the position.

Other keys to the White Sox defensive success this season:

* Rookie Luis Robert has handled center field well, though he didn’t get much of a workout last night. White Sox center fielders have an MLB-leading 8 Runs Saved in 2020. Watch Robert a little bit and you’ll see his 7 Runs Saved come from making hard plays look routine and being well positioned to make plays.

* Second baseman Danny Mendick, who didn’t have any difficult plays last night, has 4 Runs Saved. That ranks tied for second in MLB.

* Catchers Yasmani Grandal and James McCann have shored up an issue from 2019. They’ve combined for 3 Runs Saved after the team finished with -10 Runs Saved in 2019. By making McCann the backup, the White Sox were able to let Welington Castillo go and limit the playing time of Zack Collins. Those two players cost the White Sox 14 runs last season.

* Lastly, let’s revisit where we started with Engel making the play in right field. White Sox right fielders have a modest 2 Runs Saved in 2020.

That play might not have been made last year.

White Sox right fielders ranked last in MLB last season costing the team 23 runs with their defense. Ninety six percent of the White Sox innings in right field this season have come from players who were not in their right field rotation in 2019.

Giolito was glad that Engel was the one there last night.

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