When the Dodgers traded for shortstop Miguel Rojas on Wednesday, there was a lot of focus on his offense, which has mostly been mediocre in his career and was the worst it’s ever been in 2022.
Of course, Rojas spent the last half of the season battling a wrist injury, and it’s hard to know how much that affected his offense. Still, other than a huge 138 OPS+ in the shortened 2020 season, Rojas’s offense hasn’t been much to write home about.
But his defense. Oh, his defense. L.A. fans remember Rojas as the guy who saved Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter in 2014, just 12 days after the infielder’s big-league debut, and that play wasn’t an anomaly. Rojas has been somewhere between good and really, really good defensively throughout his career, and 2022 was the best he’s ever been. Sports Info Solutions shared a little taste of what we can expect.
“Good Fielding Plays” is a state SIS tracks, and Rojas led all shortstops in that category. I reached out to my friend Mark Simon from SIS and asked if we could get a supercut of all Rojas’s GFPs, and Mark said (paraphrasing), “I have a real job, Jeff, and I can’t bow to your every whim and fancy. But here’s one solid minute of Rojas being awesome.”
That’s why Mark is the best.
We don’t know for sure yet what Rojas’s role will be with Los Angeles. He might be the starting shortstop, or he might be a utility infielder. Some of that will depend on whether the L.A. hitting team can help him unlock some of the offensive potential we got a glimpse of in 2020. But Rojas’s defense is truly special, and Dodger fans might not fully appreciate how important that is.
Rojas was very bad offensively in 2022, and he was still worth 2.5 WAR because of his outstanding defense. If you’re a WAR skeptic, that might make you say, “See? WAR is so dumb it thinks this guy who can’t hit was valuable!” For me, what it says is, “See? Defense is crazy important, because the way you win games is by scoring more runs than your opponents, and every run you don’t allow is one more run you don’t have to score to outscore the other guys.”
Would it be awesome if Rojas were an amazing defensive shortstop and a great hitter? Sure, that would be amazing, but then his name would be Alex Rodriguez or Carlos Correa and we wouldn’t have gotten him in a trade for Jacob Amaya.
But Rojas’s defense is special and his bat has potential to get close to league average. After the last several years of Corey Seager and Trea Turner, we’ve kind of gotten used to solid-ish defense at shortstop. Rojas isn’t going to give us solid-ish defense. When he’s on the field, he’s a game-changer.
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