Last night saw the Seattle Mariners sit second baseman Dustin Ackley and replace him with Kyle Seager, who's played mostly third base in the Majors. And with Seager at second instead of third, that left third open for Alex Liddi, whose defense was considered something of a concern by minor-league scouts. Despite this, last night saw the Seattle Mariners' infield turn in perhaps its best defensive game of the season, and the effort was powered mostly by shortstop Brendan Ryan, who was fantastic.
It was the infield defense I went to bed thinking about, and it was the infield defense I woke up still thinking about, instead of, I don't know, Vikings, or bagels. Ryan made, what, three or four outstanding plays? The Mariners beat the Tigers 2-1, scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth. Were it not for Ryan's defense, the Mariners might've lost. Or they might've won by more by replacing Ryan's bat. I don't know, I'm not a wizard, I'm just here to talk about defense.
Thinking about last night's infield defense got me thinking about the infield defense in general. The other day Matthew wrote about how the Mariners' team defense has been strong. I get a little weirded out trying to put a number to a team's outfield defense, but I'm comfortable evaluating a team's infield defense by seeing how it converts groundballs into outs. Here's where we get to the fun-fact part.
According to Baseball-Reference, there have been more than 11,000 groundballs in the Major Leagues so far this year. Those groundballs have led to 2,535 hits and 314 reached-on-errors. The league batting average on grounders is .225. The league batting average + errors on grounders is .253. Basically, three-quarters of grounders have been turned into outs.
According to Baseball-Reference, the Mariners have allowed a .198 batting average on grounders, which is the fifth-best mark overall. And as for batting average + errors, they come in at .220, which is tied for the second-best mark overall, with the Dodgers and behind only the Blue Jays. For the league, three-quarters of grounders have been turned into outs. For the Mariners, three-and-three-twenty-fifths-quarters of grounders have been turned into outs. I don't know why we were ever instructed to reduce fractions, that shit is terrible.
We're dealing with a sample of less than 400 grounders allowed so far, so we could see some fluctuation or regression. Last season, the Mariners allowed a .228 average on grounders, and a .254 average + errors. This season the numbers are way down. Maybe the Mariners have allowed slightly easier grounders to field. Maybe the Mariners' defenders have occasionally gotten lucky. Or maybe the Mariners' infield defense is just better. This year's infield defense hasn't had Adam Kennedy or Chone Figgins. We already know that Brendan Ryan is among the very best defensive infielders in the league.
Of course, the Mariners' infield also has a .675 OPS at the plate. The average infield has a .709 OPS. We're still waiting on Justin Smoak to figure something, anything out. We're still waiting on Dustin Ackley to catch not-literal fire. Ryan's hitting numbers are borderline revolting, albeit less borderline revolting than Smoak's, which is borderline revolting. It hasn't all been peaches.
But who would ever say that it's all been peaches? It's never all peaches. It's about dealing with the bad things and celebrating the good things, and so far the Mariners' infield defense has been a good thing. Never has that been more evident than it was Wednesday night. Thank you, Brendan Ryan, for demonstrating why you're valuable, even when your most visible numbers suggest that you're not.