Are sons of players more sound on D?

June, 10, 2010
6/10/10
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With a one-run lead in the tenth inning of Sunday’s game, San Diego center fielder Tony Gwynn Jr. threw out Placido Polanco attempting to advance from first to third on a Chase Utley single to center.

The play was a picture-perfect example for Little Leaguers: Gwynn lined his body up before reaching the ball, fielded the ball cleanly in front of his left leg, and in one motion transfered the ball and made a perfect throw to Chase Headley at third.

Gwynn Jr., of course, is probably most famous for being the son of the Hall of Fame Padres outfielder with the same name. That play was so fundamentally sound that it made us wonder:

Does good fielding run in baseball families? Do the sons of former major leaguers make more good plays than expected? Let’s take a closer look.

The play in Philadelphia wasn’t an isolated incident. Gwynn Jr. has 11 “Good Fielding Plays” without a single “Defensive Misplay” or error in 2010. What does that mean?

Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays, a system originally developed by Bill James in The Fielding Bible and The Fielding Bible – Volume II, are recorded by the video scouts at Baseball Info Solutions. A Defensive Misplay (DM) is generally any non-error on which the fielder surrenders a base advance or the opportunity to make an out when a better play or different play might have gotten the out or prevented the advancement.

Examples include taking a bad route to a fly ball, the classic I’ve-got-it-You-take-it pop fly that drops between two fielders, misplaying a ball off the wall, or juggling a relay throw. We often group Defensive Misplays with Errors (and call them DMEs) to get a more complete picture of defensive mistakes.

On the other hand, a Good Fielding Play (GFP) is when a fielder records an out or prevents an advancement when we wouldn’t ordinarily expect it. For example, scooping a poor throw, reaching into the stands for a pop out, and robbed home runs are all GFPs.

I looked at 50 second-generation major leaguers who have played since 2004 (including Derrek Lee, whose father played in Japan) and compared their Good Fielding Play/Defensive Misplay totals to that which would have been expected from the average major leaguer.

Lee leads all second-generation players with 27 more good plays and 38 fewer misplays than the average first baseman would have had in that span.

Gwynn Jr. is off to a good start. He has 13 more good plays and eight fewer misplays than expected in his career. He rates third, just behind wall-climber Gary Matthews Jr., whose best defensive days seem to be behind him. He was let go by the Mets last week.

We’ve only been tracking since 2004, else Ken Griffey Jr. surely would have ranked higher than fourth-best among major league sons.

But to answer the question: Overall, second-generation players made four percent more good fielding plays than an average player. But keep in mind, they also made five percent more misplays. Apparently, inherited good habits come with the bad ones.

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