Ryan Braun and Infield Hits

While perusing the season’s infield hits leaders, I ran across a fair share of usual suspects. Ichiro leads the pack (as he is wont to do) and names like Juan Pierre, Brett Gardner, Rajai Davis, and Carl Crawford aren’t unexpected whatsoever. The sight of Ryan Braun, however, had me taken aback when really it shouldn’t have.

Braun is of course a former third baseman moved to the outfield who hasn’t latched onto the concept of playing good defense. His skill set as a batter is pretty well-established. He hits for power, doesn’t strike out too much, doesn’t walk too much either, but maintains a high BABIP in part because of his speed – he’s generally good for two or three full hands of stolen bases. I knew Braun stole some bases. Heck, I looked right afterwards to see whether: 1) Braun stole bases, and 2) if he often collected so many infield hits. Yet, I still didn’t feel comfortable with Braun being Ichiro-lite.

So I asked someone with more exposure to Braun than most people about it…Jack Moore. He surmised that while Braun was a poor defender, it had less to do with his speed and more to do with his instincts and angles. It adds up. Still, accepting that Braun has nearly as many infield hits as Derek Jeter (and more than Johnny Damon, Shane Victorino, Michael Bourn, Pierre, Crawford, and numerous others) the last three seasons felt odd because of his defensive limitations.

Thus I was wondering: what other players get poor raps on their speed and baserunning abilities because of their defensive reputations? The one name that I found more absurd than Braun is Jason Bay, who has 56 infield hits the past three years which is a few more than either Jose Reyes or David Wright have. When I think of Jason Bay, I don’t think of him busting down the line and beating out balls hit deep into the hole or down the line.

Who are some others with speed that simply doesn’t show up in the defensive evaluations because they lack other skills?



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Shane
Member
Member
Shane
6 years 2 months ago

While Bay doesn’t steal many, he rarely gets caught. Perhaps that perception helps him get the drop, but he’s got an 84% success rate.

Dan
Guest
6 years 2 months ago

I’m a Mets fan and, last night’s brainfart missed catch aside, have been pleasantly surprised with Bay’s defense and hustle. I think he’s probably better than his UZR suggests, although I can’t explain why.

I think part of the reason you don’t think him as being fast, though, is because of how the defenses play him. A cue ball down the line or into the hole are going to reach defenders more slowly than the same hit by light-hitting Alex Cora or “known to be fast” Jose Reyes. He’s given an extra few inches due to his power, and that makes a lot of difference.

Astromets
Member
6 years 2 months ago

You may be happy with his hustle, but i bet you are disappointed like myself with his power – worst ISO of his career.

To extend on your point, an infielder is going to rush to ensure they get Jose at first because they know every millisecond counts, but with Bay they may feel like they have a little extra time to get him out and by the time the ball reaches first he is safe

gorillagogo
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gorillagogo
6 years 2 months ago

In his rookie year, Bay almost set the record for most stolen bases in a season without getting caught. He had the record in hand going into the last weekend of the season, but inexplicably was picked off by the dreaded fake-to-third, throw-to-first play.

Regardless, Bay’s faster than a lot of people give him credit for, or at least he was before he had all the problems with his knees.

Steve Slow
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Steve Slow
6 years 2 months ago

If you’re fast, is there any excuse for not being league avg in the outfield? Maybe that’s unfair for me to say, but I’ve always felt like defense is a more learnable skill set than offense, and especially positions low on the defensive spectrum. Are his instincts really that bad that no matter of practicing can help?

Slevin Kelevra
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Slevin Kelevra
6 years 2 months ago

I was expecting an article about Ryan Braun crappy season, yes C-R-A-P-P-Y

His stats since he was plunked in the elbow by Tommy Hanson (May 10th) are:

– 50 games

– .243/.273/.379

– 9/38 BB/K ratio

Yes…..he’s sluggin under .400 in the last 2 monts

any comment ?

MattB
Member
6 years 2 months ago

Bay seems to roll over outside off-speed stuff more often than a typical hitter (Subjectively, at least. I didn’t look at any data.). I guess the fact that he’s a power hitter (which keeps the infield deep, as Dan mentioned) with at least average speed and a high tendency to hit soft ground balls to the left side adds up to more infield hits than one might expect.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
6 years 2 months ago

I was thinking the same thing.

Both Bay and Braun likely pull quite a few balls deep in the SS hole. Beating those out and beating out a routine grounder are likely two different things.

As you aslo pointed out, both guys “hit outside the ball” (roll over), resultig in pulled grounders on what could have been balls hit oppo.

Soriano does the same dang thing. I haven’t looked it up, but I would imagine that Alfonso also had quite a few infiel hits in his preious seasons.

Jason Collette
Guest
6 years 2 months ago

I’d also suggest that infielders are going to play back on their heels and further back for Braun than they would for Jeter.

MikeS
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MikeS
6 years 2 months ago

The opposite (converse? inverse?) is the guy who is fast so that many people think he is a good defender. But watch the bad instincts and routes of Scott Podsednik in the outfield and you realize that speed can only do so much.

Matt
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Matt
6 years 2 months ago

And Fred Lewis. I laughed so hard when the Giants went to Toronto and I got to see his defense finally help the Giants win.

Lee
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Lee
6 years 2 months ago

Ellsbury

Bill
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Bill
6 years 2 months ago

Best bet on this would be positioning. I have no idea if this is true, but it seems like shortstops and third basemen (primarily third basemen) will be playing a little bit deeper against a right-handed power hitter than a lefty hitter (or Jeter, who they know hits the ball on the ground a ton). So that lets guys with decent to above average speed like Braun rack up a few more infield hits on softly hit balls due to how deep infielders are.

You can sometimes see this because certain hitters like that are difficult double up on soft grounders because of how far off infielders play them.

Alex Statza
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Alex Statza
6 years 2 months ago

Matt Kemp seems like an obvious name to mention here. Consistently excellent Spd numbers (better than Braun’s) and consistently terrible outfielding in both RF and CF.

Whelk
Member
6 years 2 months ago

Akinori Iwamura is a slightly different but interesting case. I haven’t watched him in Pittsburgh, but when he was healthy with the Rays he got a ton of infield hits. His defense was always rated as average or below average (though he looked impressively quick in the field), and he neither stole a lot of bases nor had a good success rate, but he was way faster down the line than Upton and probably even than Crawford, often beating the pitcher to first base.

matt w
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matt w
6 years 2 months ago

His IFH% dropped to 4% with Pittsburgh, while his LD% fell to 13.3% and his GB% shot up to 55.6%, contributing to an amazing .211 BABIP. His range also fell off a cliff (UZR/150 of -27). The consensus among Bucs fans seems to be that he was a lot better than this even after his injury with the Rays, but that he put on a lot of weight in the offseason (perhaps because the injury interfered with his workout patterns) and this destroyed his speed and his value. He’s hit well in a few games in Indianapolis, though.

Jordan
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Jordan
6 years 2 months ago

i’d be inclined to believe that infield positioning has a lot to do with this. why you don’t mention that in your article is beyond me.

joser
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joser
6 years 2 months ago

Your first sentence contributes to the discussion. Your second does not.

Gilbert
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Gilbert
6 years 2 months ago

Looks like everyone has thought of playing deeper making it harder for the infielder to throw out the runner. This doesn’t happen as much now that the concrete turf stadia are gone, but on the high choppers if the infielder doesn’t get it on the first bounce he might as well put it in his pocket. So #1, if you are playing just one step back there are a couple of times you have to play the 2nd bounce. But is it also possible that guys who swing really hard at stuff just get a bit more arc on their mis-hits and if you don’t waste time slamming the bat on the ground and just get your average speed right out of the box that it might get you 2-3 more hits a year out of the 20-30 times you beat one into the ground down the line?

scott
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scott
6 years 2 months ago

The crazy thing is he is still up there in infield hits during a down year. Hopefully he gets it going in the second half.

SteveM
Member
SteveM
6 years 2 months ago

Back to Bay…
His defense in the spacious CifiField OF has been a very pleasant surprise given his bad rap on all the blogs. To my eye, he is no worse than slightly above average defensively, gets the ball in quickly and to the correct base, hits the cutoff man… no complaints at all.
As for the infield hits, while I agree that the opposition defense may play a step deep to respect his power, he busts it out of the box and down the line as much as any player I have ever seen. Along with David Wright and Jose Reyes, he sets the tone of maximum effort that one sees this year on the Mets. A great influence on the field.

boyonthedock
Member
boyonthedock
6 years 2 months ago

well, juan pierre and johnny damon are also known as bad defenders, despite their speed

Franco
Guest
Franco
6 years 2 months ago

Well, i don’t think they’re known as bad. It’s just surprising that they’re not great considering their speed. Also, they both have beyond pitiful arms which adds to the not so great rep.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
6 years 2 months ago

Topping the ball also results in weak grounders down the 3B line for a RHB.

This is a good example of a situation where a spray chart showing where Braun’s IF hits come from. It could very well be the combination of poor contact and deep playing IF’ers.

As a cutter-throwing lefty I’ve given up more than my fair share of these hits. The ball starts outer plate and ends up down and in, and the batter hits around and on top of it and the result is a grounder just hard enough to get by the p but not hard enough for the 3B or Ss to make a good charging play and still be able to throw out a runner with decent speed.

The batter has to hit the ball hard enough with regularity for the fielders to play deep.

I looked up Sorianos stats and until the last 3 years he was a 15-20 IFH guy too.

Phantom Stranger
Guest
Phantom Stranger
6 years 2 months ago

Anyone that has watched Braun regularly over his career knows he is a very fast baserunner. The announcers even mentioned it just a couple of games ago. My impression is if he wanted to beat up his body for an entire season, he could steal 30 to 40 bases at a solid clip. But since he already has enormous value as a hitter without the steals, either the Brewers or himself limit his attempts.

The left side of the infield tend to play him deep and he has a tendency to swing over the ball on ground balls. That combination leads to him beating out many dribblers down toward third base.

TedWilson
Guest
TedWilson
6 years 2 months ago

I watch Braun a lot. He is fast and he actually hustles 100% of the time on close plays. Also, the Brewers timed their players in the entire org 3 years ago and Braun was the second fastest, after C Hart. Ahead of R Weeks.

I am kind of surprised, however, anyone at FG would ever think speed = good defense. We should know by now that good D is a real skill in of itself.

Kevin
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Kevin
6 years 2 months ago

Whoa, Corey Hart was the fastest down the line?

Kyle
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Kyle
6 years 2 months ago

Corey Hart was insanely fast his first few seasons in the pros… scouts had him projected as a 30-30 guy for 5 to 7 years.

As for Bay, he was known as a fast, solid defender before his defense was picked apart by fans and sites like Fangraphs the past 3 seasons. He also had an above average arm in the minors, but I’m guessing injuries have just caught up with him. Also you have to see him defend to see how bad it can be(without getting errors.)

Franco
Guest
Franco
6 years 2 months ago

Reply to Kyle,
I’m actually stunned at how Bay has actually looked like a perfectly average defender in left. With his rep, I thought it’d be comedic having him in Citi Field. Decent arm, only one bonehead move that I can recall and average range.

Pandamonium
Guest
Pandamonium
6 years 2 months ago

Pablo Sandoval is in the top 35 for this year and last year.

GAHHH
Guest
GAHHH
6 years 2 months ago

Why can’t Ryan Braun hit lefties this year?????

He has crushed lefties his entire career. This is his bread and butter. If he can’t start hitting them again, he’s done.

D-Rock
Guest
D-Rock
6 years 2 months ago

I think I’d rather see a breakdown of why he has only 11 HRs and an OPS under .800.

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