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A lot to like about the Rays outfield defense

By MARK SIMON

The Rays entered Tuesday with the best record in baseball and the second-best Defensive Runs Saved total in baseball.

The Rays have ranked in the Top 10 in Runs Saved in each of the last six seasons. So this is nothing new.

The Rays have excelled in both the outfield and the infield. Their outfield has combined for 13 Runs Saved, most in MLB. Their infield has combined for 16 Runs Saved, which is tied for second-most.

For the purposes of this piece, we’ll focus on their outfield.

Quite simply, the Rays catch the ball well and they throw the ball well. They are the only outfield unit to rank in the top five in both percentage of fly balls and line drives hit into the outfield that became outs AND outfield assists.

Highest Out Rate
Outfielders on Fly Balls and Line Drives

Team Out Rate
Brewers 64%
Dodgers 64%
Astros 62.5%
Rays 62%
Nationals 61%
* Among balls that stayed in the ballpark

What’s most impressive about the Rays’ outfield total is that Kevin Kiermaier is responsible for only 1 Run Saved. Manuel Margot leads the way with 8. Brett Phillips has 6 and Randy Arozarena has 4.

If you’re reading this, chances are you know that Kiermaier is typically awesome. So let’s educate you on the value of the other three.

Manuel Margot

Margot’s 8 Runs Saved are split between the three outfield spots, with 4 coming in right field, 3 in left field and 1 in center. The key to his success is in that he gets good breaks on the ball right off the bat and he has the speed to chase balls down. He ranked sixth in the quickness of his initial reaction per Statcast last season and does again this season. Both his sprint speed and split times are solidly better than MLB average.

Brett Phillips

Phillips’ Defensive Runs Saved stardom has been hidden from view because of how infrequently he used to play. He entered the season with 14 career Runs Saved in about a half-season’s worth of innings in center field. He also had 8 Runs Saved in just over 200 innings in right field.

This season, Phillips has 4 Runs Saved in just over 100 innings in right field partly due to 3 assists he’s recorded without the aid of a cutoff man He also has a Run Saved in center field and one in left field as well.

Catching up to balls has never been an issue.

Per Statcast data, he ranks in the top 10 in the amount of ground he covers compared to the average player in both the first 1.5 seconds after the ball hits and bat and what’s known as “burst” – how much ground he covers compared to the average player from 1.6 to 3 seconds. This might also explain why Phillips ranks so highly in MLB’s 90-foot split times.

Admittedly one of Phillips’ throw-outs was a gift – Salvador Perez was tagged out after thinking he hit a home run. But check out these two plays and we think you’ll be impressed with his defense.

Randy Arozarena

Arozarena hit 10 home runs in the 2020 postseason. But he’s made a name for himself in 2021 with his all-around play. He’s at his best when he’s in left field, where he has 6 Runs Saved. Arozarena doesn’t rate particularly well in either his initial jump or burst but he’s racked up a number of catches on low line drives and shown a penchant for making tough plays like these.

(note: Arozarena was fine after making this catch … he homered in the next half-inning)

One player we haven’t mentioned is Austin Meadows and that’s because he’s cost the Rays 6 runs with his defense this season. But the Tampa Bay staff is aware of Meadows’ shortcomings. He’s been the team’s DH in five of his last nine starts.

Even with Meadows’ numbers being what they are, the Rays have gotten the most defensive value. And we’ll see if those pick up even more once Kiermaier really gets going.

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