Notes on D: Examining Puig, Heyward

After making a catch against the New York Mets on Tuesday night, Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig fired a strike to the infield. A moment later, he realized that his catch ended the inning -- a harmless mistake, but perhaps indicative that Puig is still working on his focus in the field.

Puig has reached base in 21 straight games and is hitting .333 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs. As for his defense, that’s still a work in progress.

Puig has 13 defensive misplays & errors, one shy of the major league lead among outfielders. Last season, Puig had 22 misplays & errors, but he offset that with 27 good fielding plays (a stat tracked by Baseball Info Solutions). This season, his ratio of good to bad is 6-to-13.

Puig’s most common misplay in 2014 has been balls bouncing off his glove while he attempts to make a play. It’s happened five times, including back-to-back days over the weekend against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He had four such mishaps in 2013. The nine times combined is tied for the most in baseball since the start of last season.

Puig also rates below average at catching balls hit to the deepest part of the outfield. That’s a little odd, given that he rated extremely well at that last season, though it isn't unusual given how defensive stats can fluctuate based on a small number of plays in the early part of the season.

Though Puig’s mistake rate is high, his overall defensive rating still holds up as league-average for 2014. That’s thanks in large part to his incredible throwing arm. He has already thrown out four baserunners trying to take an extra base, matching his total from 2013.

He ranks first among right fielders in the stat of defensive runs saved, which measures the ability to deter baserunner advancement, with throws such as this one to nail Miguel Montero at second base.

There’s good stuff on the Stats & Info blog today about Puig’s development as a hitter. He has reduced his rate of chasing pitches out of the strike zone in each month of his career.

If he can do something similar with regards to his defensive lapses, we’ll be looking at a likely MVP candidate for years to come.

Spotlight: Heyward at the head of the class

Jason Heyward leads all major leaguers in defensive runs saved (15) and UZR (13.0), yet he hasn’t shown up regularly on Web Gems. How has he racked up such impressive defensive numbers?

Heyward usually rates as the best outfielder at catching balls to the deepest part of the ballpark. He’s a runaway leader in that stat this season, with catches like this one against David Wright of the Mets.

In all, Heyward has 12 catches with an "expected play rating" of less than 50 percent, third-most among outfielders behind Giancarlo Stanton (16) and Leonys Martin (13). In other words, Heyward has frequently caught batted balls hit at speeds and to spots that most right fielders are not reaching (based on historical data tracking). The play on Wright was caught in a spot at which only 21 percent of batted balls are converted into outs by a right fielder, earning him 0.79 points toward his rating (his biggest gain on any play in 2014).

Heyward has also been helped early on by a lower rate of baserunner advancement against him than he usually has. He has thrown out three baserunners trying to advance an extra base, two more than he had last season. Heyward’s throwing arm has typically taken away anywhere from two to five runs from his total of defensive runs saved. This season, his arm has bumped that rating by a run.


I asked my Twitter followers for defensive-related questions ...

From Steven Taylor (@torch02): Who shifts the most effectively this season?

The teams leading in defensive runs saved due to shifting this season are the Astros (8), Blue Jays (7), Rangers (5), Brewers (5) and Giants (5). The Astros, Blue Jays and Brewers rate in the top five in number of shifts utilized, as well. The Giants and Rangers rate middle of the pack. They seem to be getting the most value out of their shifts.

The Yankees rate worst with minus-4 defensive runs saved due to shifts. This is due largely to a five-game stretch in which the Brewers and Mets hit a combined .349 against them in shifted at-bats, including .385 on grounders and short liners.

From Seth Samuelson (@sethsamuelson): Who has the most putouts made when they leave their feet (jumping/diving catches)?

We don’t track that, but we do track a few other leaderboards (thanks to the folks at Baseball info Solutions) that might be of interest:

Most barehand plays by infielders: Nolan Arenado (8), Martin Prado (5), Cody Asche (5), Alcides Escobar (4), David Wright (4), Brandon Phillips (4)

Most assists made while on knees, stomach or back: Daniel Murphy 6, Andrelton Simmons (4), Brandon Phillips (4), Mark Reynolds (4), Albert Pujols (4), Alexei Ramirez (4), Brandon Hicks (4)

Most glove-flip assists (a stat Chase Utley usually leads): Brian Dozier (3), D.J. LeMahieu (2), Dan Uggla (2)

From Marcus Cooper (@Supa_Cooper): How does Andrelton Simmons' fielding range compare, going left vs. going right?

One of the reasons Simmons broke records in defensive runs saved last season was because he rated so well at getting to the ball deep in the shortstop-third base hole (27 plays above average), so much so that he was actually a hair below average on balls hit up the middle (perhaps due to positioning).

Simmons has recorded only two defensive runs saved this season, partly because he’s only five plays above average going to his right so far in 2014.

For a thorough breakdown on Simmons’ defense, check out our recommended read of the week from Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs.com.

If you have a defense-related question, tweet it at @msimonespn and I'll try to answer a few each week.