If you’ve watched more than a few Atlanta Braves games in 2017, the following won’t seem controversial to you.
The team regularly deploys one tremendous defensive outfielder and two... not so tremendous defensive outfielders.
Ender Inciarte, who took home a Gold Glove award for his efforts in 2016, is considered to be one of the best defensive outfielders in the sport. Even before arriving in Atlanta, the leadoff man regularly landed among the league leaders in defensive metrics including DRS and, well, that hasn’t stopped on the way to an All-Star appearance.
On the flip side, there is Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis. In all fairness to Markakis, Kemp operates on a much lower level at this stage and a new metric from MLB Statcast paints a bleak picture of his performance. The metric is called “Outs Above Average” and it is described as “the cumulative effect of all individual Catch Probability plays a fielder has been credited or debited with, making it a range-based metric of fielding skill that accounts for the number of plays made and the difficulty of them.”
Further definition and insight can be found on the link above but, in short, it reveals what most already knew. Matt Kemp rates as the single worst outfield defender in the league according to the metric and Nick Markakis lands in a multi-way tie for No. 185 among qualified outfielders in the league with a negative evaluation.
It should be noted that Markakis is often lauded for his ability to “make the plays he can make” and the veteran has been consistent in catching the balls hit to him. Still, this type of evaluation punishes him for his lack of mobility and DRS (-7 on the year) shares a similar view of his ability (or inability, in this case) to save runs when compared to other players at the position.
As for Inciarte, the 26-year-old lands at No. 2 overall, trailing only Minnesota uber-prospect Byron Buxton, on the list and that speaks to his overall impact. Not only does Inciarte “make the plays he can make,” this reveals his overall impact from a defensive perspective and he routinely makes challenging plays look easy in a way that the Braves have not seen since the prime of Andruw Jones.
Other metrics tell a (very) similar story, with Inciarte landing at +4 DRS and 1.6 UZR/150 when compared to Kemp (-17 DRS, -13.9 UZR/150) and Markakis (-7 DRS, -3.0 UZR/150). At the same time, Inciarte is only a strongly above-average defender in some metrics, whereas this new offering from MLB Statcast paints him as an absolutely elite player in run prevention.
As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle but adding new statistics to add context usually isn’t a bad thing. Ender Inciarte is tremendous on the defensive end of things and, at this point, he isn’t receiving much help from the players flanking him on either side.