Look, there were about fifty topics for About Last Night we wanted to write about. The absolute starshine that is Julio, obviously, as aptly handled by Eric earlier this morning, but we bandied about several other topics. First, what was probably Cal Raleigh’s best game to date, but also the deeply uncomfortable shot of him and Servais in the dugout between the second and third innings where Servais, aka management, is telling Cal to “fix it” and Cal is all “hey man I just work here,” a feeling very relatable among the LL staff members. The sheer grit of Sergio Romo also got a vote, as did, obviously, a full breakdown of the benches-clearing not-brawl, although Mariners Twitter seems to have that one well in hand. But I am going to answer a request from staff writer Zach Mason here, in repayment for his prophetically-timed Ty France HBP article, and examine the unsung hero of the night: Dylan Moore’s defense.
DMo didn’t have a great night at the plate, as once again he reached via HBP and no other way, striking out twice as he continues to battle to get above the Mendoza Line. If the Mariners had lost this game, Moore probably would have again been the subject of much consternation from Mariners fans, as he, Luis Torrens, and Abraham Toro all seem to share scapegoat duties among fans frustrated the Mariners aren’t performing better. Moore and Toro seem to get the brunt of the ire, as if somehow their presence kept the Mariners from going out and spending enormously on one of the premium infielders; however, Dylan Moore’s role has been pretty clearly defined since last season, at least: he’s a superutility infielder who brings average to above average defense anywhere he’s deployed on the diamond, a speedster who can take an extra bag or replace a slower player in a clutch situation, and who might provide some occasional pop or positive offensive value in a bench/pinch hitting role. That’s a valuable player, and one playoff teams have been using since the days of Ben Zobrist.
So far this season, DMo has been worth three OAA, Outs Above Average, in limited playing time: two in right field, and one at shortstop. That locates him among the top 50 players in baseball for accrued OAA, tied with defense-first players like Harrison Bader or Javier Báez. Defensive metrics are wonky, especially this early in the season, but that’s been backed up by the eye test. Please enjoy this highlight reel of solid-to-spectacular DMo plays from just this season:
And those are just the ones MLB Film Room thought worthy of inclusion! I’m sure there are other, tinier moments from this season that I can’t call to mind right now, but appreciated in the moment, because Competent Defense is one of my love languages.
Which brings me to last night. While Cal Raleigh and Julio Rodríguez earned (deserved) accolades for their big-boy homers, Moore also contributed, although in a way that might not have shown up in the box score as much. Firstly, in the Robbie Ray Disaster InningTM, there was this play:
The Astros broadcast seems to think DMo could have gone home with the throw on that, and maybe he could have as Maldonado is a vat of unfrozen Frosty mix poured into a City Connect uniform, but our Dylan knows his strengths and his limitations. He has fast little rabbit legs and good accurate hands, but not so much the cannon arm of a JRod or Jarred out there. Instead of risking a throw home from deep right that might not have been on target—a difficult throw even for a career, Howitzer-armed outfielder—Moore makes a split-second decision to pick up the out at second. It doesn’t keep the tying run off the board and won’t make any highlight reels, but it’s a smart play where DMo does everything right. He covers a massive amount of ground to get to that ball in the first place; look where DMo is coming from as the ball comes off the bat:
Next, look how he angles his body exactly in line with the ball so he can intercept the bounce off the grass:
He gets to the ball quickly, stabs it out of the air before it can roll to the wall, then executes a quick, clean transfer of the ball, all the while redirecting his momentum in the complete opposite direction, setting his feet for the throw, and making the executive decision to throw in to second for a higher-probability out.
José Altuve isn’t the burner he once was, only ranking in about the middle of the pack for sprint speed this season, and this ball was hit to a pretty deep part of the park, yet the throw beats him handily.
That would be the second out of the inning, and right after that, Michael Brantley singled, which probably would have brought home Altuve anyway, which would have still given the Astros the tie even if DMo had been able to throw out Maldonado at home. As it was, his decision to throw into second the play before and cut down Altuve saved the go-ahead run from coming in on Brantley’s hit, and the damage would be capped there after Álvarez flew out to end the inning.
That wasn’t DMo’s only fine defensive play of the game; the one that got all the highlights was his assist with Frazier to get Altuve trying to score, here:
The result is more spectacular, but this is a much more routine play from Dylan, although again, one where he does all the little things correctly: gets to the ball quickly, reads the carom off the wall well, and makes a quick, accurate throw to the relay man, in this case Adam Frazier, who himself makes a perfect throw home. Clean defense! Solid fundamentals! We love them! To be clear, this is a poor send of a slower-than-he-used-to-be Altuve on a ball with an xBA of just .390, but still, it doesn’t turn into an out without competent outfield play, something the Mariners have historically not always been able to depend upon. [Eyes the title of this piece.] This play also came at a crucial moment, and turned into a second, crucial out, leaving Robbie Ray to just deal with Alex Bregman with one runner in scoring position instead of two, and swinging the Mariners’ WPA chances of winning this game back to 60-40 instead of the even-fifty split it was creeping towards after Altuve’s single.
Being a utility man is a tough row to hoe, living at the fringes of the MLB roster, but it also gives the savvy player a variety of ways to contribute to the team. Currently, DMo is actually rocking a wRC+ of 127, close to his high-water mark in 2020, thanks to an OBP boosted by a double-digit walk rate and a handy ability to get HBP in key situations, along with a couple clutch extra-base hits and a smattering of stolen bases. But he doesn’t have to do all that, and play great defense, to be a useful player for the Mariners. All DMo has to do is keep making the best of the opportunities he’s given, and find a way to contribute positively to the team however he can, like he did last night. Keep stacking games like that, and he’ll keep finding his way into games, one way or another.