Flashing the Leather Like a Pro

Flashing the Leather Like a Pro

Andrelton Simmons of the L.A. Angels is one of the best defensive shortstops of his generation, as statistics like Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) plainly show.

DRS is an advanced metric that takes into account almost every measurement of a defensive player’s performance -- infielders’ range, double-plays turned, home run-saving catches, outfield arm, etc. -- in order to determine the rate at which they turn batted balls into outs, relative to their peers.

According to Baseball Info Solutions -- the data analytics firm that invented and popularized the formula -- a +5 DRS score is solid, a +10 is outstanding, and +15 is Gold Glove territory. In 2013, when he was just a 23-year-old rookie, Simmons’ DRS was +41.

This means he saved his team a run every fourth game that season, which is remarkable given the fact that 31% of the Angels wins that year were by one run. Bottom line: Stats like DRS make it clear that a shortstop’s defense can be just as valuable as a power hitter’s offense.

Hard Work Beats Talent
Simmons has taken the patented Derek Jeter jump-throw-in-the-hole to new heights; he covers more ground on fly balls than seems possible for an infielder, and he makes barehanded pickups as if he were wearing an invisible glove.

This athleticism is bolstered by a rocket arm developed during his early-career foray into pitching, and nimble footwork from his soccer-playing days in his native Curacao. But, according to many observers, there’s one other thing that truly sets him apart, and that’s his work ethic.

Braves bench coach Terry Pendleton -- who coached Simmons for four years in Atlanta -- estimates he would send upwards of 40 fungos to one side of Simmons before he even thought about switching to the other.

And Simmons’ college coach recalls the player’s habit of making diving stops all over the infield during batting practice, another anecdote to remind young infielders that even college players and professionals field ground ball after ground ball during practice and warm-ups.

Practicing Like You Play
Ultimately, it’s this sort of commitment that leads to defensive runs saved, and should give everyone hope. Even for next-level talents like Andrelton Simmons -- and Derek Jeter, and Terry Pendleton’s longtime teammate Ozzie Smith, and Terry Pendleton for that matter -- grinding it out on the practice field pays dividends.

There’s plenty else to do besides playing pepper and diving in the infield dirt, though. And fielders should receive instruction in both position-specific skills and team defensive skills if they want to record +DRS numbers, including:

Positioning - Understanding game situations and communicating before the pitch are crucial, especially for middle infielders who need to know their assignments and how to be good cut-off men, including how to turn and fire after catching relay throws.

Fielding bunts - Which infielder should charge the ball, when should they make their move, what base should they throw to, and how should they pick up the ball? These all need to be planned and practiced often if your team wants lots of DRS.

Double-play techniques - There are plenty of drills that incorporate the quick hands and agility that shortstops need to master the 6-4-3 double play, and plenty of others for the rest of the infield so they can turn DPs -- those pillars of +DRS -- smoothly, too.

Tagging sliding runners - Tagging seems like a basic skill, but it can be quite challenging, as infielders must watch plays develop, get in position correctly either standing or crouching, and receive the ball cleanly all prior to putting the tag in the appropriate place.

Rundowns - Runs resulting from botched rundowns are frustrating, and should never happen. Throwing accuracy is of course critical, but so is knowing how to tag upright runners properly and when to switch from one runner to another in multi-runner rundowns.

DRS is the New Cool Stat
Is Andrelton Simmons great? He has the stats, he has the DPOY awards, he has the Gold Gloves, and he passes the eyeball test with flying colors by doing everything the league’s other shortstops can do, and a whole lot of things they can’t do.

But he certainly got to where he is because of more than just natural athletic ability and a legendary work ethic. Skills-development exercises like the ones touched on above are just the tip of the iceberg, as there are exercises that address just about every stance, movement, scoop, and throw that infielders will ever have to make.

And once they’ve got the basics worked out, a +DRS is something youths can aspire to, just like other “cool” stats like HR, RBI, and ERA. Rick Strickland Baseball’s infielder training programs can help because they emphasize the fundamentals, include a few tricks of the trade, provide plenty of opportunities to get down and dirty, and help youngsters flash the leather like a pro.

Request more information

Request Information Now!