Ender Inciarte has once again formed the backbone of the Atlanta Braves’ defense turning in another stellar season in center field. After capturing his first Gold Glove award in 2016, Inciarte has picked up where he left off this season.
According to FanGraphs, Inciarte has been worth seven defensive runs saved this season which is tied for sixth in the major leagues among center fielders. If you narrow the scope to just National League players then he is second behind Odubel Herrera and tied with Billy Hamilton.
Inciarte comes up behind in Ultimate Zone Rating ranking eighth among all major league center fielders. Hamilton and Herrera are third and followed by San Diego rookie Manuel Margot who is fifth.
However, it is the Statcast catch probability leaderboard where Inciarte shines the brightest. Statcast defines 5-star catches as those with a catch probability in the range of 0 -25 percent. Inciarte leads the majors with six 5-star outs. 4-star catches are defined as having a catch probability of 26 -50 percent and Inciarte is third in the league with 15.
The only outfielders with more four and five-star catches combined than Inciarte’s 21 are Byron Buxton (24) and Mookie Betts (22). Buxton and Betts have only one five-star catch each so far this season.
One of the more interesting things about Inciarte’s defense is how he does it. If you look at Statcast’s sprint speed tool you will see that Inciarte ranks near the bottom in sprint speed feet per second checking in at 27.5. Buxton and Hamilton currently top the measure at 30.2. Inciarte makes up for it through positioning and instincts. He does an outstanding job of reading fly balls off the bat and those quick reactions make all of the difference on those four and five-star opportunities.
To put Inciarte’s defensive value in proper context you must consider the Braves’ overall defensive production. Atlanta has not been a good defensive team this season and would be even worse without Inciarte.
The Braves currently are 28th in the league in defensive runs saved with minus-35. That total is better than just the Mets who are minus-43 and the Athletics who are at minus-52 per FanGraphs. The Dodgers lead the league with 47 defensive runs saved and are followed closely by the Rays who have 46.
Atlanta fairs a bit better in Ultimate Zone Rating where they come in at No. 21 at minus-4.6. Team defense is an area that must improve if the Braves hope to move closer to contention over the next couple of seasons.