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The surprising key to the Brewers outfield success

By MARK SIMON

The Brewers enter Friday ranked fourth in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved and their outfield ranks No. 1 in that stat.

I suppose that isn’t a surprise given the presence of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Lorenzo Cain. Except that while Bradley has done as he does and saved 9 runs with his defense, he’s tied for the team lead not with Cain, but with right fielder Avisail Garcia.

Garcia got some props nationally for this home run-robbing catch against Max Schrock on Wednesday, the play on which he gained the most Runs Saved value this season.

 

 

Part of Garcia’s story is that of a defensive progression.

From 2012 to 2018, he cost his teams 17 runs with his outfield defense. Simply put, Garcia didn’t catch as many balls as he was expected to in right field, based on where they were hit and how hard they were hit.

But something happened when Garcia signed with the Rays prior to the 2019 season. Tampa Bay’s coaching staff found a player eager to get better.

When I went to Yankee Stadium to track a game in the life of the Rays defense, the team’s outfield coach, Ozzie Timmons, made it a point to tell me how much better Garcia was than he previously had been.

“People underestimate him based on his size,” Timmons said that day. “He covers a lot of ground. One thing he said when he got here was ‘I like to play defense.’ He takes pride in it.”

Timmons’ words bore out that night as Garcia made a knee-high catch on a line drive in the game I covered.

They bore out for the season in which Garcia totaled a career-best 5 Defensive Runs Saved as a right fielder, all coming from his range.

With Cain opting out in 2020, Garcia was moved to center field and, from a defensive perspective, it didn’t go great. He cost the Brewers 5 runs and his range numbers were poor.

But back in his normal spot in 2021, Garcia has been just fine. His range numbers are tracking comparably to those of 2019. He’s gotten to what he should get to, and in a few cases, maybe gotten to what he shouldn’t get to.

 

 

The other aspect of Garcia’s numbers come from something else we track: baserunner advancement on balls that outfielders field.

The average right fielder this season has allowed just under half of the baserunners running against him to take an extra base (47.5% to be exact).

Garcia’s year-to-year percentage as a right fielder has typically been in the low 50s. His numbers have been boosted by throwing runners out. He’s had as many as 9 assists without the help of a cutoff man.

This season, it’s not so much those assists (3) as the runners he’s held in place. Only 17 of 59 baserunners have taken an extra base on balls Garcia has fielded. At 29% (remember the MLB average is near 50%), that rate ranks second-best in the majors trailing only perennial standout Adam Duvall.

The value of Garcia’s baserunning deterrence accounts for 5 Runs Saved.

I went through about a dozen instances in which a baserunner took only one base on a hit that Garcia fielded. They don’t make for particularly exciting video. In watching Garcia, I saw someone who got to balls at a reasonable speed. There were a few instances of runners reluctant to test his arm, like this one from a week ago.

 

But the assists are a little more fun.

Here are two of Garcia’s three unaided assists. It’s kind of funny that in both cases, the director cut away from a potential play, and had to quickly adjust to get a shot of the play at home. Perhaps they, like us, weren’t ready for Garcia’s good work.

 

 

They know now. So do we.