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Which players will make the biggest defensive impact in the World Series?

By MARK SIMON

The Astros finished third in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved in 2021. The Braves finished eighth.

So you can expect to see the two defenses be impactful in a positive manner, perhaps highly so, in the World Series.

Who are the people you should be watching for and what are their best skills?

Here’s a handy guide:

The Braves Infield Coaching Staff/Analytics Team (32 Positioning Runs Saved)

Two weeks ago, Mike Petriello did a comprehensive breakdown for MLB.com, noting how the the Braves went from a team that for years rarely shifted, to one that shifts among the most often in the sport … and does it well.

The Braves ranked fourth in the majors in how often a ball in play came against one of their defensive shifts (71% of the time). The MLB average rate is about 55%.

Their infield ranked second in how often ground balls and bunts were turned into outs (76% of the time), including first when using what we call a partial shift – two fielders deviating from their normal position- (79%).

This postseason, they’ve turned 80% of grounders and bunts into outs, the highest rate among the eight teams that were in the LDS.

When shifted, the Braves have turned 81% of ground balls and bunts into outs this postseason (47 of 58). By comparison, the Astros are at 70%.

Certainly, plenty of credit goes to the players, but give the coaches their props too. The Braves finished second in MLB in our Shift Positioning Runs Saved stat.

Carlos Correa (20 Defensive Runs Saved)

Correa easily led shortstops in Runs Saved during the regular season. Where he excels is in maximizing his skills and minimizing his mistakes (as we wrote here.

Over the last three seasons, Correa ranks second among shortstops in Good Fielding Plays per 1,000 innings and has the second-lowest rate of Defensive Misplays & Errors per 1,000.

For those unfamiliar with Good Fielding Plays, imagine a tally of Web Gems and other plays that earned compliments from a broadcast crew. And think of Defensive Misplays as plays that weren’t officially scored errors, but could have been (like slipping and falling or hesitating on a DP turn).

 

Adam Duvall (19 Defensive Runs Saved)

Duvall tied Michael Taylor for the MLB lead in Defensive Runs Saved among outfielders, the primary reason being that he ranked second among outfielders in the Outfield Arm component of that stat.

But we should also note that Duvall’s not a one-trick pony. He’s recorded at least 4 Runs Saved at each of the three outfield positions and has positive range value at each of those spots.

For more, check out our interview with Duvall last month.

Chas McCormick (14 Defensive Runs Saved)

McCormick doesn’t have Duvall’s arm, but he has better value from his range and the same versatility component to his game.

McCormick has 7 Runs Saved in right field, 5 in left field, and 2 in cente field, though he hasn’t even played 300 innings at any of those positions.

The key is that he gets to balls. He’s fared best on those hit to shallow and medium depths. We talked to him about his defensive game earlier this season.

Austin Riley (13 Defensive Runs Saved)

Riley was a completely different defender in 2021 than he was in 2020, when he cost his team 10 at third base. Riley’s 13 Runs Saved this season tied Ryan McMahon for second most, trailing only Ke’Bryan Hayes’ 16.

Riley led all third basemen with 25 Good Fielding Plays during the regular season, one more than Nolan Arenado. He was significantly better in every aspect – whether it be in shifts or straight-up, to his left or right, or with his arm or his glove.

Kyle Tucker (11 Defensive Runs Saved)

Tucker was solid as the Astros everyday right fielder this season. He ranked tied for third in Runs Saved at the position. Tucker’s not particularly fast, nor will he blow you away with his reactions to balls off the bats.

But the bottom line is that he makes plays, which is the name of the game.

The rest …

 As Joe Buck and John Smoltz pointed out in Game 6 of the ALCS, there’s a reason that the Astros play Martín Maldonado at catcher ahead of Jason Castro, the reason being Maldonado’s defensive reputation.

Though Maldonado has a negative Runs Saved total this season (-2), he’s previously had four seasons with at least 10 Runs Saved. And he’s never recorded a negative value with regards to the basestealing component of Runs Saved. You saw him at his best getting a key caught stealing in Game 6.

Though Travis d’Arnaud does not have a good arm, he can impact a game with both his pitch framing, where he’s almost always rated well and pitch blocking, where he had his most impactful season. He ranked fifth among catchers in percentage of potential wild pitches/based balls blocked (94.4%) (** used qualifier of 50 catchers with the most blocks).

 If you want to watch a clinic in pitcher defense, watch either Max Fried or Zack Greinke. Fried has the most Runs Saved among pitchers the last three seasons and rates best at limiting stolen bases.

Greinke has the most Runs Saved for a pitcher over the last four seasons. You could make a case that when he’s out there, he’s the most athletic player on the field, next to Correa.

Freddie Freeman doesn’t usually rate among the range leaders in Runs Saved by a first baseman but if you ask Braves infielders, they’ll credit Freeman for much of their defensive success. In the last three seasons, Freeman has the most Runs Saved from handling difficult throws. He’s corralled 44 in that time while recording only one Misplay & Error on them.

Yuli Gurriel’s glove should likewise not be ignored. He’s second to Matt Olson in Defensive Runs Saved among first basemen over the last three seasons.

Alex Bregman has a good reputation at the hot corner, one better than his 2 Runs Saved this season. Bregman didn’t have a good year when it came to making impressive plays in 2020, but in 2021 he bounced back. He had the second-highest rate of Good Fielding Plays per 1,000 innings among third basemen.

Dansby Swanson’s Runs Saved dropped considerably from past seasons but Swanson may have righted himself in September. His 11 Good Fielding Plays from September 1 were the most of any player at any position. He made a nifty play to end the LCS too (here’s a new angle on it). I could say similar about the drop-off of Ozzie Albies, who is at 0 Runs Saved since 2020 but had 22 Runs Saved in the two seasons prior to that.

Lastly, Eddie Rosario has had the magic touch since joining the Braves at the trade deadline. So why couldn’t Rosario be high impact in the field too?

If he does, it will likely be with his arm, given that he typically rates well below average by our range metrics. Since 2015, Rosario is tied with Kevin Kiermaier for the second-most Outfield Arm Runs Saved with 26, two shy of Starling Marte.

Here’s Rosario’s best throw of 2021 … so far.