Other than a brief period in early May and the Joc Pederson at 1B era, the Dodgers infield defense didn’t seem to be much of a problem. A solid majority of fans seem to consider the 2019 infield defense to be about average with a meaningful group considering them at least above average.
What did you think of the 2019 Dodgers infield (pitchers and catchers excluded) defense?
— Tim Rogers – SDDODGER (@SDDodger) November 3, 2019
The goal of this article is to take a deep dive into some defensive metrics to see how the Dodgers infield ranked among other teams in baseball.
Let’s get something out of the way, Joc Pederson played 149 innings of first base so the team numbers get tainted. David Freese is also retiring and he didn’t help the defensive numbers much.
Out of 57 first basemen that played at least 200 innings in the Major Leagues, the Dodgers had four that qualified. Below is each player and how they ranked in terms of the advanced defensive metric called Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF).
For just the basic fielding percentage, the Dodgers group of first basemen ranked 27th of the 30 teams. Fangraphs has a defensive category called Inside Edge Fielding that deals with how often a play is made based on the difficulty. For the first basemen this is how they ranked out of all 30 teams.
- Remote – 29th
- Unlikely – 9th
- Even – 5th
- Likely – 21st
- Routine – 27th
When Max Muncy or Cody Bellinger are at first base the position is in good hands. Something to keep in mind was that Bellinger did not play any first base during spring training. Overall the first basemen for the Dodgers had the following advanced defensive metrics (Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Ultimate Zone Rating/150 games (UZR/150), Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) ratings amongst the 30 teams
- DRS – 15th
- UZR/150 – 29th
- DEF – 29th
Max Muncy ended up playing over 500 innings of second base despite hardly playing it at all during spring training. He is a player that seemed to improve but his numbers at second base were actually better in 2018. Of course he played well more than 400 innings at second in 2019 than he did in 2018. Both Kiké Hernandez and Chris Taylor are upgrades over Muncy on defense. What I do expect to see is more of Gavin Lux in 2020 and he should also be an upgrade.
For the DEF statistic for 67 Major League second baseman who played a minimum of 200 innings you can see where the qualifying Dodgers ranked.
- Kiké Hernandez – 36th of 67
- Max Muncy – 52nd
The fielding percentage of all the Dodgers second basemen ranked 23rd of 30. Below are the Inside Fielding Edge rankings amongst the 30 teams for the Dodgers with some mixed results.
- Remote – 23rd
- Unlikely – 21st
- Even – 1st
- Likely – 2nd
- Routine – 18th
The FanGraphs advanced metrics for the Dodgers second basemen in 2019 against the other 29 teams are as follows:
- DRS – 4th
- UZR/150 – 21st
- DEF – 19th
Corey Seager returned to full time duty at shortstop after missing much of the 2018 season with two major surgeries. At the beginning of the season he seamed to be a bit tentative and out of step on defense. Then he got hurt in June. Once he got back after the all-star break he started to get better on defense. Below are the DEF rankings for the Dodger shortstops that played 200 innings.
- Corey Seager – 20th of 50
- Chris Taylor – 46th
For the season the fielding percentage for all the shortstops ranked 25th out of 30. Below are the Inside Fielding Edge rankings for the shortstops against the other 29 teams. Kiké was the only one that made “Remote” possibility plays.
- Remote – 10th
- Unlikely – 17th
- Even – 18th
- Likely – 17th
- Routine – 21st
The FanGraphs advanced metrics for the Dodgers shortstops in 2019 against the other 29 teams are as follows:
- DRS – 10th
- UZR/150 – 25th
- DEF – 22nd
Justin Turner started the season at the age of 34 but was pretty healthy for most of the season. His bat was a consistent and necessary part of the Dodgers success in 2019. From just the eye test though, JT started to have some troubles at 3B. On bunt coverages he was suspect and his range looked diminished. For the DEF numbers here is how the Dodgers third basemen ranked out of 57 that played a minimum of 200 innings.
- Max Muncy – 33rd of 57
- Justin Turner – 54th
The fielding percentage of all the Dodgers third basemen ranked 17th of 30. Below are the Inside Fielding Edge rankings amongst the 30 teams for the Dodgers with results that show they handled the expected plays but not the tougher ones.
- Remote – tied for last
- Unlikely – 18th
- Even – 13th
- Likely – 11th
- Routine – 8th
The FanGraphs advanced metrics for the Dodgers third basemen in 2019 against the other 29 teams are as follows:
- DRS – 19th
- UZR/150 – 28th
- DEF – 26th
The Joc At First Base Factor
For the 149 innings when Joc Pederson was given on-the-job-training at first base, it was clear from the beginning that he was struggling. Even pretty normal throws were adventurous and his footwork was awful. During that time I thought that the infielder throws were becoming more cautious as they knew that balls not on the money were going to be a problem. There were plenty of throwing errors that average first basemen would not have had a problem with.
Some interesting numbers:
- First 75 games – 22 runners reached on an error
- Joc 1B era of 33 games – 25 runners reached on an error
- Last 54 games – 15 runners reached on an error
— Doug McKain (@DMAC_LA) July 28, 2019
Joc did not play 1B in all 33 of those games but it was clear that the defense was very shaky during those times. An infielder needs a player at first base who they trust to get a majority of the bad throws. When an infielder has gone into the whole to make a tough play, they are just trying to get the ball over to first base. That first baseman needs to help finish off the play.
Good At The Basics
Based on the numbers the Dodgers seem to be pretty average at making the normal plays on the infield. When it comes to making difficult plays, which might demand more athletic ability, they are near the bottom of the league. A lot of credit for some of their defensive success is the positioning. From top to bottom the team has a run prevention plan that the players follow and it pays off. When you look across the infield there aren’t any spectacular athletes except Cody Bellinger and maybe Chris Taylor and Gavin Lux. The rest of them aren’t particularly fast and are limited. They’ll make most of the plays that they are expected to, which is good.
How Do They Get Better
There are rumors that Justin Turner might shift over to first base for 2020. If the Dodgers don’t make any major changes to the infield then it should look like this:
- 1B – Justin Turner
- 2B – Gavin Lux
- SS – Corey Seager
- 3B – Max Muncy
After JT’s contract is up, could it be time to move Corey Seager to 3B and Max Muncy back to 1B? The Dodgers have Gavin Lux and prospects Jeter Downs and Omar Estevez as middle infield solutions over the next couple of years. I do think Lux starts the season with the Dodgers. Keeping Muncy away from 2B and JT from 3B will be a big help. I know Muncy only played 234 innings at 3B but he was solid. Keeping Turner at 1B also helps keep him healthy with less wear and tear on his body.
Gavin Lux went yard in his first postseason AB. Doesn’t get sweeter than that. ? pic.twitter.com/57NSRwB08i
— Bleacher Report MLB (@BR_MLB) October 4, 2019
The Dodgers sometimes sacrifice defense for offense. We see that with Max Muncy playing 2B. That is something they don’t want to do but someone like Muncy and JT have to be in the lineup. If it were purely defensive based then Kiké Hernandez would be the starting shortstop.
Overall, I’d rate the infield defense as average as I am giving them a pass on the Joc at 1B era. However, it needs to improve and if they put players in their better positions that will help. No more Joc at 1B. Max Muncy does not play 2B any more. Justin Turner shifts to 1B. Those moves will help.
If they do get someone like Francisco Lindor in a trade, the infield defense will dramatically improve. We don’t know if that is even possible and we don’t know who would be involved in the trade. If the Dodgers stick with the same group of players the infield defense is average at best. Remember, every out that the defense doesn’t get is an extra out the pitching staff has to get.