Now that Memorial Day has passed, let’s look back at May's top defensive plays, according to the Plus/Minus system. The top Plus/Minus plays aren’t always the flashiest plays; sometimes, the fielder was positioned perfectly or got a tremendous read on the ball off the bat and was able to make the play with relative ease. We’ll go position by position:
First Base -- Ryan Raburn, Detroit Tigers, May 26, Bottom 7: Michael Saunders hit a hard ground ball that traveled over the base and into foul territory. Raburn (only 42 career innings at first base) dove, made the play and flipped to Jeremy Bonderman covering first. Not only does it go for a hit 97.5% of the time, but also that ball usually goes for a double.
Second Base -- Mike Aviles, Kansas City Royals, May 25, Top 4: Vladimir Guerrero is enough of a pull hitter that the Rangers employed the rare right-handed shift on him a few times last season. Apparently, Mike Aviles has been doing his homework, since he was ready for him. On a ground ball to the shortstop side of second base, Aviles ranged way beyond what is normal range for a second baseman and threw out the red-hot Guerrero. Aviles received a +0.99 for that play.
Shortstop -- Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks, May 15, Bottom 7: Martin Prado sent a rocket toward the 3B/SS hole that seemed destined for left field; in fact, hard ground balls at that angle go for hits 99.3% of the time. Drew laid out, came up with the ball and threw from his knees to nab Prado at first base. Drew also received +.99 plus/minus points for the play.
Third Base- Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland Indians, May 24, Top 8 and Don Kelly, Tigers, May 12, Top 6: Here’s an example where the flashy play isn’t necessarily the higher-rated play. Kelly’s play definitely looked harder, but Peralta was positioned closer to the line and managed to range deeper into foul territory and stay on his feet. Kelly’s play was made just 6% of the time over the past year, but Peralta’s play was made only 1% of the time and saved a certain double.
Left Field- Conor Jackson, Arizona Diamondbacks, May 25, Bottom 5: At Coors Field, Conor Jackson tracked down a Brad Hawpe fly ball deep in the left-center field gap. Had his momentum not carried him so far away from the infield, Jackson also would have doubled Todd Helton off of first. It wasn’t a flashy play, but Jackson had to cover a lot of group to save a sure RBI and extra-base hit. Similar balls fall for hits 88% of the time.
Center Field- Nate McLouth, Atlanta Braves, May 14, Top 2: After struggling with deep-hit balls near the wall earlier in his career (see the in-depth study in The Fielding Bible – Volume II), McLouth has played noticeably deeper, and it shows. Chris Young sent a deep fliner to left-center which McLouth caught at a dead sprint before crashing into the wall. Similarly-hit balls were caught only 11% of the time over the past year.
Right Field- Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians, May 1, Top 9: With no-pop Drew Butera up in the ninth, Choo cheated in a bit; he should have cheated more. Butera placed a soft fliner in shallow right, but Choo made a diving catch to save the hit, garnering a +.875 plus/minus score on the play.