Just in case you’re not friends with any die-hard Cubs fans on Facebook, who have been sharing this video nonstop today, check out Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo make a startling catch on the tarp at last night’s game against the Brewers:
MLB is already asking if it’s the catch of the year.
While I was verifying that it actually is the catch of the year, for the team at least—the Cubs have another fine candidate in the Lester-to-Rizzo putout below, which might be the throw of the year—one name kept coming up in MLB’s archive of the team’s best plays: Chris Coghlan.
Chris Coghlan? Yep. Coghlan made four of the plays we’ve highlighted. This seemed odd; while MLB’s fine digital team is exceptionally comprehensive, has Coghlan really represented such a high percentage of the Cubs’ most spectacular defensive plays? We’ve actually got the numbers for that.
“Inside Edge Fielding” is an attempt at measuring the difficulty of plays, based on how often a player at that position has made a similar play. The first category is “remote": players at that position make that play one to ten percent of the time, making them the hardest plays in the game. This year, Chris Coghlan has the third-highest percentage in the MLB for making remotely possible plays, at 33 percent. The top two are Russell Martin of the Blue Jays and James McCann of the Tigers, both catchers, and the numbers for them are odd; in fourth is Alex Gordon, considered perhaps the best left fielder in baseball.
Granted, 33 percent only means three out of nine chances. Some degree of luck is involved, and the broader metrics suggest Coghlan is not a very good outfielder, though he’s been solid on defense this season. Still, the fact remains: he had nine very hard plays to make in the outfield, and made three of them, and it was awesome. (A fourth great play that Coughlin made at second base doesn’t seem to show up in the data.)
It’s true, however, that spectacular plays are not necessarily an indicator that a player, or team, is good at defense. So we were curious whether the Cubs are a good defensive team. Defensive metrics are controversial and have a tendency to disagree, so depending on which ones you use, the Cubs are average (17th in Defensive Runs Saved) to good (7th in Ultimate Zone Rating, 6th in Fangraphs’s overall defensive measure, or Def). But they do agree that the Cubs are better than last year, when they were 22nd in DRS, 19th in UZR, and 17th in Def. Behind the flash, the Cubs have put together the fourth-best record in baseball on the foundation of an improving defense.
Check out a few more of the incredible catches from this season below.
Bonus: Cubs fans have proven themselves pretty deft at snagging some catches this year too.