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What Makes Nolan Arenado a Great Defender?

February 4, 2021

What Makes Nolan Arenado
a Great Defender?

If you’re reading this, chances are you know that new Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado is a great defensive player. He’s won four Fielding Bible Awards and eight NL Gold Glove Awards at the hot corner. Even in 2020, when Arenado’s offensive numbers were a shell of what they’ve typically been, his defensive numbers were outstanding. He led all players with 15 Defensive Runs Saved.

Arenado’s 120 career Runs Saved rank second among third basemen to Adrián Beltré's 202. He’s played about half as many innings as Beltré has since Sports Info Solutions began tracking Runs Saved in 2003.

What can we quantify about Arenado that you might not know? Here's what separates him from other players.

Arenado covers a lot of ground, particularly on balls hit to his left. Last season, he made 11 more plays than the average third baseman would be expected to make on balls hit to his left based on historical out probabilities (58 in 90 attempts). Arenado’s +11 on those plays was the highest among third basemen. No one else was higher than +5.

The 2020 season was Arenado’s first leading third basemen in that stat, but it was the seventh time he finished in the top three at the position in his eight-year career.

Arenado’s other signature is making the barehand play. He’s made 84 successful barehand plays in the last five seasons. That’s not only the most by an infielder, it’s more than two-and-a-half times the total of the next closest infielder (Miguel Sanó, 32).

One reason that Arenado makes these plays is that he’s not shy about attempting them. He’s attempted 171 barehands since 2016. Eugenio Suárez ranks second among infielders with 85. Arenado’s 49% success rate converting barehands ranks best among the 20 third basemen with the most barehand attempts in the last five seasons.

However, Arenado made only two barehand plays last season after making 20 in 2019. We’ll see if a move to St. Louis brings about a return to Arenado’s barehand-play excellence or has him playing as he did in 2020. Either way, as long as he stays healthy, the results will likely wow you.

Most Successful Barehand Plays By Infielder – Last 5 Seasons

Player Barehand Plays
Nolan Arenado 84
Miguel Sanó 32
Kris Bryant 28
Anthony Rizzo 26
Eugenio Suárez 26


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