How do you truly measure defense in Major League Baseball?
Some of the greatest defensive players to play the game have taken home numerous Rawlings Gold Gloves. Ozzie Smith didn’t get the nickname “The Wizard” because it was cool, his glove was simply magical.
Omar Vizquel will one day get into the Hall of Fame and it will not be largely due to his offense. Ivan Rodriguez is arguably one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game, thanks to the 13 Gold Gloves stashed away on his mantle.
There are two players in the game right now that don’t own a Gold Glove that could be considered amongst the best at their position.
Heck, I’m not the only one that feels this way. ESPN did a series of articles in the off-season called “Hot Stove U” and one article declared that Nyjer Morgan was the best outfielder in baseball.
As you can probably tell, Nyjer Morgan is one of the players that I love.
The other nabs a mention in R.J. Anderson’s article as the name “most analysts agree” as the best defensive center fielder in baseball, Franklin Gutierrez.
I don’t need statistics to tell you why these two are not only players I love, but two of the best in the business when it comes to chasing down the baseball.
I don’t begin to understand UZR or know where to start in comparing it to other numbers. What I do understand, what I do know is good defense when I see it. But in addition to that, I also see two players who contribute offensively as well.
Let’s start with Nyjer Morgan, who came over to Washington last year in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. For a team that is struggling to find an identity, perhaps Morgan should be a mainstay in their organization for years to come.
The 29 year old hit .307 last season and swiped 42 bases between Pittsburgh and Washington. On the surface, you can see he didn’t score as many runs as you would expect a leadoff hitter to score, but take in mind half of his season was played for the lowest scoring team in the game of baseball.
Yes, the Pirates scored less runs than San Diego. Washington was ninth in the NL, which is still far from anything spectacular, but not horrible.
Defense is where it’s at though and I’ve brought video evidence to show you.
Morgan can make even the most difficult catch look easy, track down doubles in the gap, make leaping grabs near the wall or diving ones in shallow center. He uses his elite speed to routinely catch up to balls other fielders simply cannot.
Pittsburgh used Morgan in left field, which didn’t suit his talents quite enough. Upon going to Washington, Morgan played 56 games in center field and totaled 16 more putouts than he did in his 63 games in left for Pittsburgh.
Before you say anything, he logged way more innings in playing left for Pittsburgh, 531, compared to center in Washington, 463. The point is he got more chances in Washington. Sure pitching might have had a hand in that, but the move to center gave him more opportunities to get to more balls and therefore make more outs.
Behind the stats, Nationals fans say it was an absolute joy to watch Morgan in center field last year. I have friends that are Pittsburgh fans that raved about him in left. Not only that, but he’s the ultimate fan favorite and he even has an alternative persona.
Just call him “Tony Plush.”
Why? I don’t know, but I love him for it.
Franklin Gutierrez doesn’t really have a cool nickname. I tried my hardest when he was a Cleveland Indian, but the only thing that stuck was his platoon name of “Chooterriez” with Shin-Soo Choo in right field.
But he doesn’t need one, because for my money, he’s the best all around defensive outfielder in the entire game.
And this is a statement that I’ve been declaring long before 2009.
Conveniently, the stat geeks are on my side this time around. As I mentioned, I don’t pretend to know or understand how Ultimate Zone Rating works, but the stat is easily explained as one of the more accurate ways to tell if a fielder is good or not.
Sure, UZR may not be the best evaluator for one year’s of worth, but UZR is just latching on to what I’ve known for awhile.
Gutierrez is magic . Seattle Mariners radio man Dave Niehaus nicknamed him “Death to Flying Things.” Better than anything I ever thought of, my cap tipped to you Mr. Niehaus.
And now he’s coming into his own offensively as well. All he needed was the confidence and assurance that he’d be in the lineup everyday. The result was 18 home runs, 70 RBI and a respectable .283 average.
When you save as many runs as Gutierrez does, who needs much more production than that? Not to mention, he’s hitting 18 home runs and 24 doubles with half of his games coming in Safeco Park, the pop in his bat is for real.
I’m not going to lie; I still hold angst towards the Indians for trading Gutierrez in the first place. But that doesn’t prevent me from saying the trade was the best thing that could have happened for his career. He felt the most comfortable in center, despite the fact he could play left and right just as well.
But Gutierrez wasn’t going to see the light of day in center field in Cleveland for this current period of time. The move to Seattle gave him the opportunity and he took advantage of it.
And now I’m proud to say that I not only love him as a baseball player, but he is in fact the best all-around defensive outfielder this game has to offer.
The day I figured this out was in a game against Toronto in 2008. Gutierrez made a unreal catch to save the game for Cliff Lee. It almost looked as if he floated towards a ball that looked uncatchable.
It topped his catch years ago against Cincinnati when he caught up to a ball that looked like it was ticketed for the right field corner. He made the catch and slammed into the gate in right, but managed to hold on. It was that point I had an inkling he was special.
Franklin, as well as Nyjer Morgan are both gifted with the glove.
They very well may not win Gold Gloves in 2010 as the award has become more of recognition for popularity and longevity more than anything. However, I don’t think either one of them needs it. Their own gloves are good enough.