By MARK SIMON
They’re not just the Slam Diego Padres.
The Padres are hot. They’ve won nine in a row and have scored opponents 66-18 in that stretch. They’re 30-17 and have the best record in baseball entering Monday night.
It’s easy to cite the Padres hitting and pitching for the team’s success in 2021. But let’s not forget about their defense.
The Padres rank first in MLB with 31 Defensive Runs Saved this season.
Why have they been so good?
Credit a stingy infield defense.
Of their 31 Runs Saved, 24 have been credited to their first basemen, second basemen, shortstops, and third basemen, as well as their infield positioning.
On a most basic level, they’ve converted an MLB-best 78% of ground balls, bunts, and short line drives (those basically within reach of an infielder) into outs. If you want to get more granular, we can.
The best thing about the Padres defense is how well they cover ground to the right of second base.
They’ve converted 89% of grounders, bunts and short liners to that area into outs. They are eight percentage points better than the next-closest team.
The MLB average is 77%. The difference between the Padres is already about 30 balls turned into outs … just on balls hit to one side of the field.
Looking even more closely, when the Padres have used a defensive shift and a ground ball or liner is hit to the right of second base, they’ve turned it into an out 93% of the time (138 plays made in 148 opportunities). MLB average is 79%.
That level of success explains how the Padres as a team have 11 Runs Saved from their shift positioning (credit those to the coaching staff if you wish). Only the Rays (12) have more.
The player most responsible for all that success (shifted or unshifted) is Jake Cronenworth, who has eight of the 10 Runs Saved that have been credited to Padres second basemen or first basemen this season. He’s saved six runs at second base and two more in eight games at first (he’s also cost them a run at shortstop). Here’s some of his best work:
The Padres success on the right side field has provided cover for their primary defensive weakness. Fernando Tatis Jr. has cost them four runs at shortstop this season. That is another subject that we may cover at another time as more sample accumulates.
For now, revel in the Padres success – at the plate, on the mound, and in the field in a way in which you may not have been aware.