Defense is really hard to measure and its metrics, however useful they may prove to be, are often imbued with some misleading information. For example, in yesterday’s Pirates-Cubs game I saw a 5-6-3 double play on a ball hit to the right of the second base bag. Viva la shift, but the fact is that that sort of thing becomes invisible after the game is over. It’s not a major thing. Just a weirdness about defense.
Not that you can always trust your eyes either. Especially when you’re watching on TV. Jayson Werth did a great job of explaining that in Tom Boswell’s latest column:
Of [Denard] Span’s sprinting catch in front of the right field scoreboard on Wednesday night, Werth said, “He made it easy. Not saying Bryce wouldn’t have made that play. But it might have been one of these miraculous plays that he makes, where you’re like, ‘Oh my God! What an unbelievable play!’ Denard, like, jogs the last five steps, no problem. That’s where TV, it’s kind of like hockey in a sense. It doesn’t do the outfielders justice.”
I used to always notice this with Andruw Jones games back when he was with the Braves. He made a lot of spectacular looking plays, sure, but it was the boring-looking plays which always provided the true value of his defense. He’d camp under some ball as if he’d been there all day. Because he had been. His range was so great and effortless that he’d casually shag the balls someone less-talented than him would have to dive for. That’s what Werth is describing here.
The Werth quote, by the way, comes in the course of a really nice article. Boswell describes the Nats’ defense over the course of the Marlins’ series. It’s the kind of column that is really necessary specifically because defense is still so hard to measure and because our eyes — unless we’re watching every play from a good vantage point like a sportswriter is — can so often deceive us when this stuff comes up.