The Closer: Little things win

June, 6, 2010
6/06/10
11:02
PM ET
Pitchers (like Ubaldo Jimenez) win games, but defenses save games.

Case in point, Sunday's road win for the Padres over the Phillies, a game that hung in the balance in the 10th inning when Placido Polanco tried to go first-to-third on a single to center field with one out.

Tony Gwynn Jr., in a play that would have made his father proud, made a terrific snag of the ball and threw on the run to third base to nail a stunned Polanco. One out later, game over.

Baseball Info Solutions charts plays in more than 80 categories, and groups them into two groups- "Good Fielding Plays" and "Misplays."

The definitions for each are very specific to encompass almost anything that could happen in the field.

Gwynn got credit for a "Good Fielding Play" for that 9th inning assist. He now has 11 "Good Fielding Plays" this season and more impressively NO misplays.

His net (good plays minus misplays) of 11 is the best of any centerfielder in baseball, two better than Astros centerfielder Michael Bourn.

Gwynn came up big when he was most needed. Let's look at who else did so on Sunday, a day that featured close games at every turn


That list starts with Jimenez, who got dinged for a home run and two runs, but nothing more in improving to 11-1 with a win over the Diamondbacks. How'd he do it?

The combination of 15 swings-and-misses (his second-most this season), only two balls hit in the air by right-handed hitters (who went 1-for-14 against him), and the coaxing of a double play in his first bases-loaded moment of the season, did the trick.

Brian Bannister became the second Royals pitcher in as many days to tame the Tigers, following up on Luke Hochevar's successful effort in beating Justin Verlander. Bannister got five strikeouts, four of them looking, and he got at least one whiff with each of four different pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, and change-up).

Bannister has won five straight decisions, and the combination of circumstances were the perfect storm for him. Deprived of a win against the Tigers earlier this season when his bullpen failed him, Bannister improved to 5-2 with a 2.16 ERA against the Tigers. He also, fluke or not, improved to 20-8 for his career in day games (he's 16-33 at night).

Speaking of day games, Jose Guillen had found the sunlight to his liking this season, adding a three-run home run to his ledger.

At bat and in the field, Robinson Cano was also an impact performer. He gave the Yankees the lead with an eighth-inning double, raising his batting average against fastballs (via Inside Edge video review) to .394 this season, second-best in the majors.

And did you notice how the Yankees positioned their infield defense against Jose Bautista in the ninth inning, pinching the middle of the diamond, by sliding Cano over a couple of feet from where a second baseman would normally play. That worked perfectly when Bautista lined one right at Cano for the second out.

That may at least partly explain why Cano entered Sunday ranked second in the majors in Baseball Info Solutions +/- rating for second basemen. The +/- rating compares how frequently a defender turns balls hit into outs, whether it be due to positioning, range, or any other factors that could come into play.

Two years ago, Cano ranked 35th-best in the majors. Now he's second-best. Something as little as a couple steps to the right can make a big difference in that regard.

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