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Bobby Witt Jr. could be a plus defender next season

Defensive metrics are hard to trust without multiple years of data.

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

I am sorry that after writing about Bobby Witt last week, and then Matthew following with his own piece, that I still feel the need to write one more article in this vein. If you would like to skip my writing, this is really all you need to know. Defensive metrics in one season just do not tell you enough to draw lasting conclusions, two or three years is a lot better to know what a player is. I am going to write this, then post a poll to see where all of you are at on what his peak could be, and then hopefully I can let it go and start thinking about the offseason to be.

There are baseball players who put up plus advanced defensive metrics every year. By Defensive Runs Above Average (Def on Fangraphs) or Outs Above Average, Lorenzo Cain has never posted a negative number in a season. There are also players like Eric Hosmer, who are always negative. They are the exceptions, not the rule. Most players bounce up and down, and even Cain has everything from 0 to 14.7 runs saved. Every year you can build a list like this, to show the largest one year changes, and they tend to be huge. In fact, why don’t we do that for this year with only a couple weeks left.

Defensive Improvement 2022

Player 2021 Def 2022 Def Difference
Player 2021 Def 2022 Def Difference
Jonathan Schoop -4.6 21.7 26.3
Willy Adames 0 12.8 12.8
Rafael Devers -7 2.9 9.9
Myles Straw 6.3 15.8 9.5
Dansby Swanson 9.7 18.6 8.9
Xander Bogaerts 0.5 9.1 8.6

By this metric, Jonathan Schoop has been the most valuable defender in baseball. This is by far the best numbers he has ever had defensively in his 9 year career. His best season before 2022 was in 2016 at 13.3 Def, and he has had three seasons where he was zero or negative including last year which you can see above.

I cannot describe to you how happy I was when I saw Xander Bogaerts sixth on the list. He is the perfect example of why no one should panic, or write Bobby off as a lost cause at shortstop. Xander came up in 2013, but only for 18 games, so I am going to ignore that. In 2014 he played a full season, mostly at short, but also spent some time at third (sound familiar). His Def was -6.3, which is quite a bit worse than the current -4.1 that Bobby is sporting. In 2015 Xander played exclusively at shortstop and posted a positive 9.9 defensive runs saved. He was negative in 2016 again, then positive in 2017. He has seemingly whipsawed back and forth every year, but for his career, Bogaerts has been a positive at short overall.

Bobby Witt Jr. has not had a great defensive year by the metrics, or by the eye test. He has made some bad plays and some errant throws where his arm slot looks awkward. But he has also made some pretty spectacular plays. Bobby is athletic and fast and everyone agreed he was going to stick at shortstop in the majors when he was working his way through the minor leagues. There is no reason that he cannot become a consistently good shortstop if he cleans up some of the mistakes.

The Royals should be penciling Witt into shortstop in their brain for the next half decade. It is possible that next year this happens again, then maybe it is time to move him over to third, but giving up after an up and down rookie campaign is folly. Defense is just too volatile to actually know what he is yet. So, I leave it to you all, what kind of ceiling do you think is still attainable for Bobby Witt Jr.?

Poll

In Bobby Witt Jr.’s prime, what could he be if things go well?

  • 19%
    A perennial MVP candidate
    (80 votes)
  • 67%
    Multiple time All-Star
    (270 votes)
  • 11%
    Above average but short of great
    (45 votes)
  • 0%
    Average every day starter
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Below average
    (2 votes)
401 votes total Vote Now